While he has worked in the
industry for almost twenty years, Daniel Clowes is
perhaps most recognized as the creator of the
serialized comic, Ghost World. Following
the exploits of two cynical teenage girls directly
after their graduation, Ghost World caught on
with both longtime fans and new readers alike.
It became so popular, in fact, that Crumb
director Terry Zwigoff made a movie out of it (the
screenplay was written by Terry and Dan). A
brilliant piece of cinematic art, the film has already
spurred Oscar talk. Aside from Ghost World,
Clowes is also responsible for David Boring and
Fantagraphics' longest-running comic, Eightball.
Slush spoke to Clowes about Ghost World, his
career, and...Sassy Magazine?
Why was Ghost World the project that drew
you into Hollywood?
It was more that it interested the people I
wanted to work with, which was Terry Zwigoff and this
person Lianne Halfon [producer of Ghost World
and Crumb]. They both thought those characters
could work well in a movie. That was the first time
that anyone that I had real respect for approached me
about working on something with me.
What had people approached you to do before?
Mostly it was independent guys who didn’t have
any money. They would want to do something where I do
all the creative work and they take credit for it. It
made me really uncomfortable when they were pitching
to me. They would say stuff like “you have all these
great ideas, if you could come up with a bunch of
ideas then I will direct it and put my name on it. A
lot of graduate students, guys who are just out of
film school and are looking for something they could
afford. But luckily I didn’t get involved with them.
I waited this long and look what happened. I got
involved with a few things early on, little film
school projects. I did them because I thought they
would be a funny thing to show at a party. But the
minute they made the thing the filmmakers would want
to send it out to festivals and you’re attached to
What was it like pitching Ghost World?
Explain to me one pitch meeting. Did you psychically
kill one studio executive’s fish with your mind?
That did happen, yeah. It was a meeting that we
shouldn’t have gone to. It was one of those things
where somebody calls you down to Hollywood for a
meeting and you go because it’s a free trip and you
don’t know what they want. Within five minutes we
knew we didn’t want anything to do with him. He
wanted to do some TV show and they didn’t even know
what they wanted and they wanted us because we were
edgy or something. We were just in the worst mood and
were trying not to look at each other because we knew
we would start laughing like in fifth grade when the
idiot teacher is looking at you. There was this
oppressive bad mood emanating from us. Then, as we
left, the guy says, “Hey, my fish just died”. It
was truly like the psychic energy destroyed this
You and Terry Zwigoff were planning on making Ghost
World with Christina Ricci; did you and Zwigoff
see American Beauty and start thinking about
Thora Birch instead?
Well, Christina was attached right after The Ice
Storm, she was 18 years old and I was very adamant
that the girls in this film be 18 years old or less.
We could never get the right amount of money to make
the film the way we wanted to. It kept dragging on and
then Christina was 21, 22 years old. She just didn’t
seem right anymore; she seemed like she was an adult
actress and not a teenager. Then we saw Thora, and we
were so happy that we had waited because she was the
perfect Enid at the perfect time. I think Christina
could have been great as well. Even Christina was
somewhat well known and might have shaded the
character somewhat, while Thora is a bit of a blank
Thora Birch had mentioned that she had hung out
with you to get a feel of the character of Enid. What
did you do?
I was there the whole time in pre-production and on
the set. I think she learned how to play Enid from
observing me and Terry and how we acted.
That’s interesting because neither one of you is
an 18 year-old girl.
I think she adapted our world-weary sensibility
into an 18 year-old girl. I think that’s what the
character of Enid is in some ways. I also think the
way that Steve Buscemi played the character of Seymour
was not at all from what Terry told him to do but
instead from watching how Terry walked around the set.
Would the story of Ghost World be much
different if it was 2 teenage boys?
Yeah, very much so. Boys are just very different at
that age. They’re not as developed, it wouldn’t
have been believable. It would almost only work it was
two men: one, 53 [Zwigoff], and the other, 40 [Clowes].
With the character of Enid both in the film and the
book: isn’t not wanting to conform a form of
That’s a reductive or at least the easy sound
bite way to characterize Enid. She doesn’t know what
she wants. She’d be happy to conform to something
that she liked. But she has a sense that’s there is
a better way to live that what she sees. But she doesn’t
know where it is.
In the Ghost World comic book, Enid makes a
harsh criticism of Sassy magazine. It turns out
that they had wronged you what happened between you
and Sassy magazine?
They had always been really nice to me. If they
wrote reviews of other comics they always mentioned
stuff and me like that. Then one day my wife brought
home an issue that had a big illustration by me just
taken from one of my books without anyone ever asking
me. I figured that I would be really cool about this
and instead of screaming and yelling about this I
would just send them a bill for a low amount. I wrote
them a letter saying “you forgot to inform me that
you were going to use this, so here is my bill for
this illustration.” Then they completely ignored me
then I started writing slightly angrier, asking them
to please pay me for this. They had all these excuses
for why it ran but nobody was paying me or really
doing anything about it. Then they became my mortal
enemy after that [laughs].
I never pictured Sassy having such vengeance
It was just really annoying and it’s a really
obnoxious thing to do and I could sure them for all
kinds of money and instead I was being nice about. I’m
sure it was some intern that I dealt with the whole
How did John Malkovich end up producing Ghost
Originally and throughout the entire film we were
working with this Terry Zwigoff’s longtime producer
Lianne Halfon. Without ever mentioning it to Terry or
me she was very close friends with John Malkovich and
had produced his stage play of Libra, based on
the Don DeLillo book, in Chicago. So Malkovich wanted
to start a film production company [which eventually
became Mr. Mudd]. The first person he thought of to
hire was Lianne. This was right in the midst of us
packaging Ghost World; his company then became
the production company. He was not really present
during the making of the film. He was very supportive
of the film and was also helpful in making phone calls
when we needed him. He’s a genuinely good guy, which
you wouldn’t expect from a big celebrity like that.
I know that you created your book David Boring
while working on Ghost World. Did the making of
Ghost World influence you while creating David
Yeah, but not necessarily while making the film but
while writing the script and trying to get the film
made. David Boring is very much about
frustration and that’s what was going on in my life
trying to get the movie made.
David Boring was very different from what you
have done before. To me it was as depressing as Chris
Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan.
[laughs] It was a grim summer when those two books
And the book companies promote them like any other
book. I wonder if they even read them.
I wonder that sometimes myself.
You had said that the book came out of
frustrations. Does that feeling go away once you
finish the book?
It’s hard to say. It does to some degree. But the
underlying problems that made you write these books
never go away. There’s always something new to take
Probably one of the first things I read of yours
was PUSSEY! [Which collected every story starring the
nerdish comic book artist/superstar from the 15 issues
of Eightball]. Are you amazed by how much of
that book has come true?
I was telling my publisher that I wanted to take
that book out of print because it’s so mild compared
to the reality of the situation. At the time I did it
was supposed to be a caricature of the business. Now
there are so many more stories that are so much worse
that I hear on a daily basis about the comic book
business. It just seems pointless to have that book in
Well, except for how the older were treated, I
thought it was somewhat mild but totally true.
At the time everybody thought I was the meanest guy
in the world for doing that stuff. Industry people
were calling me a total asshole. Now I’m sure they
would be flattered by it. Pussey came out of
when I first started doing comic books and I really
tried to understand the comic book business and go to
conventions. I used to feel so alienated because I
would be stuck in between two Dan Pussey types. I
hated the business I was in. it came out of the anger
at that and then after I while I stopped dealing with
that whole part of the comic book world. My anger
really dissipated and now I don’t really care. It’s
not something I even think about anymore.
Many creators such as Mike Allred [Madman, X-Force],
while selling their books through so-called
independent companies, were still much more mainstream
than you. Many of them are moving into mainstream
comic books for Marvel and DC. For example, just
recently there was a book called Bizarro Comics
released by DC Comics.
I actually did the original cover for that which
they rejected. They hired Chip Kidd and he called me
to do the cover. I did it and I thought it was very
funny. The higher-ups at DC did not get the humor of
my cover so they cancelled it. Chip and I both quit
because of that. Then they got Matt Groening’s
assistant to do a cover and sign his name to it. Which
is about as alternative as DC gets. But then after I
saw the book I was so thrilled that I wasn’t
associated with that thing. It had a few stories that
were ok -- like that Tony Millionaire story was really
nice - but boy, most of it was such crap. I couldn’t
imagine that anyone was buying it. The great news that
I heard was that they made the price on the book so
low so they are actually losing money on every copy
They were able to get this banned “Superman as a
baby” story into it. So that was good.
Yeah, supposedly they are going use my cover in
their next book. So they will keep banning something
then reprinting it later.
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