In a world of movie plots that are recycled from stories for simpletons who love big explosions, Ghost World is a breath of fresh air. Nothing is a given in this engaging coming of age story of two girls who graduate from high school and drift apart. The protagonist, Enid, is looking for proof of authentic culture, something that might not even exist. In the process she finds Seymour, who’s existence is a bittersweet exercise in nostalgia. Based on the comic book of the same name, Ghost World ignites the senses like a trip to a foreign country. One that looks and feels vaguely like our own, only with better characters.
Carlye Archibeque: I know you don’t know me, but I’m going to ask you personal questions anyway.
Dan Clowes: (laughs), OK
CA: I read in a pre Ghost World interview from a while ago that you were really excited about the possibility of getting the movie made, and I was wondering if the film met your vision of what it should be?
DC: I think it’s as close to what I could have ever imagined. Terry let me have just unbelievable amounts of involvement for a screenwriter throughout all of pre-production and everyday on the set and for two months after it was over. So if anything was wrong with it, it would be as much my fault as anyone else’s. I’m very happy with it.
CA: Would you change anything you did with the movie?
DC: I would go back and cut out all the stuff in the beginning that we cut out at the end so we would have had more time to work on the rest of the stuff…but that’s one of those things you would never know. Even after making ten films I don’t think you would know what to cut out before you start shooting, and then to expect to do that on your first film.
CA: How did you like the movie making process.
DC: I liked some of it, some of it’s a little work intensive. The way these schedules are ten hours a day for every single day. Up to that point you’re doing nothing and after that you’re doing nothing. You sort of think, if only we could have started a little sooner or ended a little later, or gotten some sleep in between.
CA: So you were totally involved. It wasn’t one of those productions where the writer was told to back off.
DC: No, Terry sort of understood that those were my characters and he wouldn’t be the one to understand them. I was like an expert on UFOs on the set of Close Encounters or something. “Ask him what kind of socks Enid would wear.”
CA: So you’ve as much as admitted that you are your characters.
DC: I don’t know how to write a character. I’m not a good enough writer to just make someone up out of bold cloth. I have to sort of impersonate them for awhile.
CA: So how did you come to impersonate teenage girls.
DC: That was the idea originally is I said I’ll take the two characters who are the farthest from me and I’ll be able to create these two characters who aren’t just stand ins for me. But somehow they turned into that even though they’re young girls.
CA: You’re really just narcissistic aren’t you?
DC: Pretty much. All writers are that way. You wouldn’t be a very good writer if you weren’t. None of us can afford therapy that’s all.
CA: So originally Christina Ricci was cast in the role of Enid, but Thora Birch stepped in. Was that just a scheduling issue?
DC: It was a big scheduling problem in that we met with Christina when she was about 18 just after she finished the Ice Storm and she would have been great at that time, but the project dragged on and we couldn’t get the amount of money that we wanted. Then all of a sudden she’s 20 or 21 and had moved on to more adult roles and we wanted someone who was a teenager. That was like the one stipulation I gave at the beginning, that we’re not making this film with the 31 year-olds like on Beverly Hills 90210. I want them to be actual teenagers who seem and feel like real teenagers. So we were both very adamant about that. Then we didn’t have anybody, and we were just sort of panicking and really desperate and by some sort of miracle Thora Birch appeared in our lives. And we were like, there she is, there’s Enid.
CA: And she was fabulous, so was Scarlett Johansen.
DC: They were both great. They’re both so unconventional compared to most teenage girl actors. But they’re both still really, really likable, but they’re not that typical perky teenage image.
CA: Absolutely. Now, Steve Buscemi, how did you get him? This has to be the best thing I have ever seen him do.
DC: It’s because no one ever casts him in a role other than “the crazy psycho” The minute we wrote that character we thought, it’s got to be Steve Buscemi, he’s the only guy who can play him. But no body wanted to cast him, they said, oh he’s just the psycho. He only does independent film, he never does anything like this. And we just said he’s the only one who can combine humor and sadness in the way it needs to be combined in that character. And finally we were just so relentless that they just gave in. That was just the greatest day of our lives when we heard that we got him for the film. And he turned out to be exactly as we’d imagined.
CA: It seems like you held out to get everything you wanted, and you did get it. That’s kind of a success story in Hollywood cause it seems like everyone has to give in to the production company eventually.
DC: I would give all the credit to our producer this woman Lianne…she was there from the beginning with me and Terry, sort of part of the triumvirate that got the film going. She was the one who never let us give in. There were a lot of times when we said, are we just not going to get it made if we don’t get this or that? We were sort of willing to try to compromise many times and she said no, you shouldn’t make the film unless it is what you want to make. So we would always look to her, and she was always right. She lost about twenty years off her life making this film.
CA: I noticed John Malkovich was one of the producers, have you ever met him?
DC: I had lunch with him once. I think Terry and I have each had lunch with him once. He lives in France so it makes it kind of hard, and he was working on his own film during the time we were working on ours. He was very supportive and very helpful making phone calls to people and getting actors into the film and getting financing for the film. He was really great.
CA: How did he come to be involved in the project.
DC: We were working with the producer Lianne, who was really the unsung hero of the film, and she had produced a play with John in Chicago and John wanted to start his own production company and make his own movies, so he brought Lianne on board as he head executive, sort of in the midst of making Ghost World she went from being an independent producer to working with him. He was sort of brought in after it was all set up. He was the one guy, who when we showed the rough cut, and everybody hated the film, which always happens when you show the rough cut of a film, he was the one guy who said, this is going to be great, don’t worry. Very supportive.
CA: He makes interesting film choices, I thought Being John Malkovich was amazing. Did you see that?
DC: Oh, yeah. And when Terry and I heard about that, which was the day we had our meeting with him, we both very strongly said, you’d be our of your mind to do that. And of course it was like the smartest thing he’s ever done. Great career advice.
CA: It was just so brave, and the ultimate postmodern film.
DC:It’s just cause it was written so well. In description you just would never imagine a film like that would ever be written so well, that there’s just no hope for a film like that. And then we saw it, and we realized he had really, really smart stuff to do and say, and of course then it seems like a good idea.
CA: Do you draw everyday?
DC: Sometime it’s like torture. And I draw or write everyday
CA: Not a talented example, but Jackie Collins, used to refer to her writing room as her torture chamber.
DC: Well, you’ve got to get it done, but the writing part is hard.
CA: So you like drawing better?
DC: I more confident doing that.
CA: So dialogue is your weak point
DC: No, I think I’m better at the writing part, but I don’t know as much about what’s expected, where as with drawing I know, sort of, the goal I’m trying to achieve.
CA: Since you’ve become more well-known as a comic artist, do you feel any expectation from your public.
DC: No. I don’t worry about that at all. That’s the one lucky part of my make-up, that I don’t really care what they think at all.
CA: Well it’s probably part of what’s kept your work fresh too.
DC: And from killing myself too, I have friends who are utterly despondent over the lack of notoriety that they get.
CA: You would still be as attached to your work if it hadn’t gained all the notoriety?
DC: Yeah, I pretty much just do it for myself and once it’s done I don’t care about it all that much. So when people start talking about it, I feel that it’s already something that somebody else has done.
CA: So you separate from it right away?
CA: You seem really well-adjusted for a cartoonist.
DC: Either that or just amazingly deluded in some crazy way. I think it’s actually the opposite of well-adjusted.
CA: I was just going to ask if there was a difference between well-adjusted and deluded in the world. I mean isn’t being well adjusted to the world a kind of delusion?
DC: And anybody who appears to be well-adjusted turns out to be totally out of their minds.
CA: But in that kind of normal way that’s much more frightening…it’s creepy
DC: It’s much scarier and more dangerous.
CA: George Bush is well-adjusted.
DC: I agree, although sometimes he lets it slip…his seams are showing every once in awhile.
CA: Speaking of well-adjusted and weird, I remembered that you did the poster for Happiness, the Todd Solantz film. How did you come to do that?
DC: It was sort of weird. He was friends with Terry Zwigoff, and Terry had given him my number and he had sort of called out of the blue and he sent me the script and he wanted me to do this sort of comic book adaptation of the movie as a promotional thing. I told him that I would be done with that about the time the film came out on hologram in 2014. Something like that would take me 20 years, so he said OK and abandoned that idea. So about six months later a PR company called and said, oh, we’re doing the poster for Happiness and we’d like you to draw it. And I said, did Todd give you my number, and they said, no we’ve never talked to Todd. So it’s just a thing where my art was somehow suggested by that film. After I saw the film, I could certainly see that.
CA: I thought it was a brilliant film.
DC: It was one of the few good films of that year.
CA: It was so brave.
DC: I liked the film a lot. And I felt a very similar sense of humor. It was kind of a dream of mine as an illustrator to want to do a movie poster someday. As I kid I would see these really cool drawn movie posters, but they kind of stopped using drawn on movie posters. I would have done any movie poster, I would have done like a Gabe Kaplan movie if they’d asked me.
CA: Do they have Gabe Kaplan films?
DC: They do, in fact it came to mind because there was a really good poster for one of his films called Fast Break. I even bought the poster.
CA: You had also mentioned in some interviews that you were sad that Ghost World, as a comic, wasn’t getting quiet the audience you wanted it to have, and now you’re probably going crazy with all the publicity around it? Is it a case of “be careful what you wish for.”
DC: I don’t know, it’s not like I walk down the street and people run after me. I got a little glimpse of that just hanging around with someone like Thora Birch, or Steve, and see how they get out of a car and get mobbed by people. It’s a vision of hell.
CA: So you’d rather stay a writer and not be quite so famous.
DC: Well, even as a writer and even a cartoonist, I get letters from people who want stuff everyday. It’s like, can you read my script and give me some pointers.