Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is it that time again? Time to re-read Ghost World?

Ghost World.  You've seen the movie.  You've read the book.  So have I.  Let's form a club, okay?  We'll meet in my tree fort out back and read Ghost World over and over again, and act out the scenes and we won't let anybody join we don't want to join!

That's a stupid idea.  Sorry.  But the feeling I should read Ghost World one more time is growing deep down inside, a brilliant idea which somehow sprang from the exact same place as that stupid one.  To read Ghost World again requires the purchase of Ghost World, which I can easily afford.  I have a battered pre-movie version back in the States.  Yes, I was into Ghost World before it became a movie.  I'm not bragging or trying to pose as some hipster cognoscenti.  It's a matter of chronology.  Time and setting.

Ghost World just crept up on me in a melancholy, mysterious fashion that seems completely fitting.  It was the way back when, during that time we called the mid-90s because we were in the middle of a decade that started 199 and finished with a number somewhere between 3 and 7, Bill Clinton was president, Kurt Cobain had just died and I was in college for the second time, studying art, spending a lot of free time between classes at the student bookstore.  I kept finding Ghost World on the shelf among the humor books for some reason.  I guess because a lot of them were cartoon-based.  Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, The Far Side.  College faves.  And, for some reason, the trade paperback of DC's Camelot 3000, which they probably still have.  Every once in a while I'd pick up Ghost World, scan a page, get some kind of misjudged message from it and suddenly feel very alienated.

Which wasn't an unusual feeling.  I lived in a party dorm with a series of the most mismatched roommates possible-- first an Eagle Scout/Eagles fan/outdoorsman who littered the room with belongings and food, and over the course of our semester together completely coated the mirror with his sebaceous eruptions but objected my my beard shavings in the sink; then two jocks who pledged frats, one of whom would bring his girlfriend back to the room for strangely chaste yet very loud make-out sessions early in the morning after Date Night or whatever event it was her sorority sponsored that weekend.  That I was drunk or high myself most of the time did nothing so smooth our relations.

With 8 a.m. studio classes and an amateur 24-hour a day casino open in the room next door, I developed a hyper-sensitivity to noise which led to several confrontations with other students, culminating in the most excruciating one of all.  When you can't ask someone to please close her door or at least make sure she's actually inside her room when she wants to enjoy loud music without being asked later that evening by your RA to fill out a form stating you're not a racist, then you have no place in dormitory life.

But I've always been an Enid Coleslaw.  Too smart to accept life at face value, too stupid to do anything about it.  It's only in the past few years I've dropped at least some of my cynicism and contempt for pop culture and tried to embrace it.  Probably as a result of over-exposure to post-modernism, where ironic enjoyment of the kind Enid and her pal Rebecca Doppelmeyer specialized in has become mainstream.  Mass culture has appropriated our outsider stance, leaving us with nowhere to turn except sincerity.  Like Enid, I even had a somewhat more popular best friend who shared my sense of alienation and otherness, with whom I could heap mocking scorn on such daring targets as America's Funniest Home Videos and generic dance music.  Like Enid, I left town to start a new life.

Unlike Enid, my Rebecca turned out to be even more dysfunctional than I was.  Instead of growing into a beautiful young woman, he died of an accidental overdose in 1999, in a hotel room, on a business trip.  So maybe I was Rebecca after all and all my Enid-isms-- so Enid I even to this day occasionally wear ugly plastic rimmed glasses and occasionally have for years and years and years-- were just a pose.  Well, I don't know what to think about that.  I guess I'm just one more of those people.

By the time we buried that guy, I'd finally read Ghost World.  Multiple times.  Flash forward two years and I was so excited about the movie.  I watched the trailer at work-- a private office, a souped-up Mac with the fastest Internet connection available at the time made that possible-- then went with friends to the little shopping center theater where the movie played. Liked the parts that captured the disconnected, ambivalent tone of the book, felt a little let-down by the emphasis on jokes and linear plot.  Good performances.  Kinda want to see it again, too.

Yes.  It is decided.  Today, I order Ghost World.  After all, if I do produce my own comic, I need something to rip o-- I mean, provide inspiration.

Oh, yeah.  I also relate to Clowes's original "Art School Confidential" short story.  Hilariously accurate, perfectly acidic take-down of art school.  The movie, on the other hand?  It stinks.  Maybe I need to read that story again, too, while I'm at it.

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