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Daniel Clowes’ Considerable Comprehension

Illustrations from “Ghost World,” part of the MCA’s “Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes,” hint at a humanistic honesty.

By Arts & Culture

The relationship that Clowes creates between Enid and Rebecca offers more than the nauseating surplus of BFF female friendships that dominate contemporary movies and TV shows. Their brazen exchange as recounted above, and their bond, is as destructive as it is intensely personal. I’d like to say that every woman has had a friend like Enid or Rebecca, a connection so incomparable that they emotionally develop into one person. It becomes a dependency issue, and Clowes hones in on a very specific and complex classification of female friendship; one that is based on shared insecurities, self-loathing, and an idolization bordering on obsession, spawning bitterness and jealousy. As a teenager I was both Enid and Rebecca, but mostly Enid. My “Rebecca” was a girl named Tamara Leikin* and we were inseparable. It was a friendship edging towards lesbianism and obsession. Tamara had dyed her hair to look like mine, and similar to Rebecca’s proposal of moving in with Enid to find a job nearby as Enid goes to college, it became too much. My relationship with Tamara was suffocating. That’s what happens when you try to fit two people into one identity.

Again in the introduction to “Ghost World: Special Edition,” Clowes writes, “…I still, on some level, think in the syntaxes of an inarticulate teenager and that apparently the leap to a female version thereof is not so distant…on another level, Enid (and even more so Rebecca) are all me…” In fact, “Enid Coleslaw” is an anagram for Daniel Clowes. In that he is congruous with his own reflections as an adolescent, Clowes allows for the contrasting ideas highlighting male/female psychology to blur, and be potentially erased. Instead of focusing on what is strictly “male” and “female,” he grants his characters the anomaly of being both.

Clowes is more than a “man” interpreting or rendering “women.” He is an empathetic individual who is confident enough in his fundamental attitude towards the world to be accessible to everyone and, consequently, positively obscures the societal understanding of gender and what a “woman” should be like or act like. At the very least, he introduces other possibilities of “female” characteristics. Clowes delves deeper than the shopaholic, makeup-obsessed mallrat. He dives right into the hearts of the contemporary teenage girls who look up to Harriet from “Harriet the Spy,” or read “Go Ask Alice” and “Pride and Prejudice” underneath their desks at school. These are the girls who listen to Suzi Quatro, The Runaways, Lunachicks, Bratmobile, and The Ting Tings in their spare time (even though Enid might cringe at a couple of these)!

Clowes didn’t exploit the sexuality of Enid or Rebecca, nor did he portray them as prudes. Instead, he’s honest. As a woman, I am sexual, I curse, I self-hate, I’m critical about how women are rendered in the media, and I consider myself to be an intellectual. I have opinions. I, too, am complicated, and my relationships with women are complicated. “Ghost World,” and its literary cousins that give female characters three dimensions, attract individuals who demand honesty from the material they read.

The women or men who hail to a work like “Ghost World,” whether it is a comic, a book, a painting, a film or a song, expect an amount of humanity in anything that they do. Clowes is an individual who values that humanity, and it’s apparent in his work.

*Name changed for anonymity.

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