"Ghost World" is the anti-thesis to all the terrible teen flicks which were bombarded with each year. This outsider film was summed up by a fan earlier in the year as "a film about 2 girls who hate the world and don't own mobile phones", which was reason enough for Designer Magazine to declare it the Best DVD / Video of 2002 ahead of A.I. and From Hell. We got on the phone to talk to the author of the original comic Daniel Clowes to tell him the good news and also to find out the latest about his new book "David Boring" which continues in Clowes' vision.
Q: If we could start by taking it back to your childhood. I've read in previous interviews that you were a very bookish child. What was it about the world of comics that attracted you over art forms?
A: I was not necessarily bookish, but I was in a world of my own and amused myself. As a very young child we didn't have a television set and so comic books were the best form of entertainment I had. I had stacks of old comic books that my brother left lying around and that was the first media that ever really attracted me.
Nobody ever took me to movies or anything so I had no real sense of that whole world. I would just spend every single night reading these old comics and even before I could read I would look at the pictures and try and figure what was going on. As a kid I thought everyone read comics and it was only when I got to school that I was quite shocked that only 3 kids in my class read comics...especially when they only cost 12 cents!!!
Q: So how did you get from reading comics to actually becoming a published author?
A: Even before I could read I was drawing imitations of the comics I was reading then. I would draw the word balloons coming from the characters and put chicken scratches and marks because I couldn't write letters. I think I had a sense of drawing comics from before I could even write sentences. It was something that kept me going out of my mind a few times. It was a way for me to organize the events in my life and try and make sense of things in some way.
At certain point, around 20, I wanted to get away from it all because "it was a dying field - this is not going to be around in 5 years"...but I couldn't get away from it. I just kept coming back to it. I was trying to be a magazine illustrator and I wasn't enjoying it and I just kept doing comic books in my spare time. So I thought if i'm going to spend so much time doing this I might as well try and make a living out of it.
Q: What was it that kept you interested in comics throughout all this time?
A: I just felt there was more to do with it. I felt these really talented people would do comics and then they would just stop at the level designed for a 13 year old. They would assume there was nothing more you could do with it than do super hero comics or really low level humour comics or newspaper daily strips which are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator reader. I just felt there was so much more you could do with it if you just kept going with it and trying new things and right around that time there was a whole bunch of artists who clearly had the same idea (people like the Fernandez Brothers and Robert Crumb). It just felt that something was really going on and it felt exciting all of a sudden.
Q: After the Lloyd Llewellyn comics it was the Eightball Series that really made your name in the world of comics. What was the concept behind Eightball?
A: After a while I had outgrown the Lloyd Llewellyn concept, which was very limited by design. With Eightball I wanted something where I could just do anything that came into my head with every issue and it all made sense. I wanted it to be like the very early MAD magazine where it was all this crazy stuff by different artists...except in my case it was all by the same artist drawing in different styles.
Q: We'll talk about the adaptation of "Ghost World" from the comic to the movie later. But when you were writing "Ghost World" you wanted to portray girls in a way you felt they hadn't previously in the media. Could you elaborate on this?
A: I wasn't necessarily think on those terms. I just wanted to create 2 characters that I thought were interesting compelling characters and once they came to life I couldn't stop working on those characters - it was like they were living in my head and I couldn't turn them off!!!
I always put the same amount of myself into every character and they come out in different ways. And I've had people talking about my characters saying this person is a really despicable horrible person and I'll think it's just me just slightly tweaked in a different direction. I don't know how to write otherwise, other than to find some part of me that is similar to the character.
Q: Throughout "Ghost World" there were bits you could just sit there and laugh, but at the end it offered this really bleak view of friendship. Was it always the intention to avoid the usual happy ending scenario?
A: I wouldn't say it's necessarily bleak because it seems that it's something that everybody has to go through at a certain point. It was very tempting to have the two of them stay together as friends at the end, but then that just seemed unrealistic. It seems that that isn't what happens with those kinds of intense friendships...they can't last forever...they're just too close. It's very hard for somebody to move on when they're that close to somebody, I think it's too hard for you to rethink of yourself as an adult.
I had close friends, but nothing like that. Nothing where I even really noticed that the friendship was over...it was just like one day I realized I hadn't chatted to him in years. But I knew people who specially had friendships like that and they always used to end in tragedy. There was something terribly sad about it because it was just so cool to watch these 2 girls that were closer than any family members you would ever meet...and to see that end it always seemed like a real tragedy.
Q: How was it seeing your comic book transferred from paper to an actual film?
A: I was very much involved in the film, so it was something I was working on a day to day basis. We started off trying to make the film almost mirror image of the comic book and it wasn't interesting to me because i'd already done the comic book. Then once we started changing it and making it into a new story it got really interesting to me and to work with the same characters and give them new situations to work in - it was really a lot of fun.
Q: Everything you have ever done is written from the viewpoint of the outsider. As someone now in your early 40s and married do you still consider yourself to be an outsider?
A: It would be very hard for me to write a character that was part of the community and happily in place. I couldn't really relate to that unless it was viewing that as an outsider. I think what ever your identity is when you're 10 years old is pretty much the identity you'll have throughout the rest of your life. You figure out different ways and strategies to make it palatable, but in my case I can't imagine feeling any way other than nervous and alienated.
Q: Moving onto the new book "David Boring". I believe this is the first character that is not based around yourself. Could you tell us a little about the book?
A: That was the idea...and then of course that never quite happens. It slowly turns into me more and more even though I was fighting it all the way. The comic was intended to be such a complex story that nobody could ever condense it down into a sound bite. I was trying to tell a story that was somewhat like an old Fielding or Dickens novel where the searcher goes through a series of adventures and ends up in some place that he was trying to get to the whole way. It's a young mans adventure....
Q: Finishing off. Were doing the Best of 2002 and "Ghost World" is in the Top 3 for the Best DVD / Video category alongside A.I. and From Hell. How does it feel have "Ghost World", a comic which you never even saw as a film, end up in the best video category?
A: When we were writing it and it was starting to come together I thought if we could even get 10% of this on film it would be a really good film. Then when we making it, I was so close to it you couldn't tell if it was good or not - you don't laugh at the jokes you've written and re-written 500 times. It was all very technical at that point and then to see it with an audience and watch them react to it was amazing.
To be up there next to A.I feels ridiculous, because you look at a film like that and there is more money spent in one shot on A.I. than there is in the whole budget of Ghost World. It's almost like comparing a movie to a play or something so it's hard to compare them. In a way it's very flattering and in another it just seems absurd.
"Ghost World" is out now on DVD and Video in all good stores
"David Boring" is published by Jonathan Cape in the UK
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