If you don't read my blahblah about it until the end:
at least read the comic & watch the movie (in this order!)
Btw.: I'll not spoil anything just want to get you hooked and share some thoughts ;)
To blurt it out directly: I am very pleased with the movie-adaption of Ghost World (and this even though I love the comicbook!). What Terry Zwigoff makes from Daniel Clowes artwork is very discrete from the original, but also very, very close in the mood and insight it transports.
The director of the movie seems aware of the specialities of comics as a medium, he respects it as an artform for itself and doesn’t just (ab)use it as a script/ready-made story board. Thus the film shows many variations in the storyline but they do not seem helpless, they don’t try to hide. They’re obvious, honest. They say: „Look, I am not just a reproduction“.
GW is kind of specific in adressing readers. The main characters Rebecca and Enid are not exactly those you want to identify with, neither in comic, nor in the movie. They are kind of cynic, pseudo-intellectual outsiders. Even though I’d say that they stay more abstract in the comic and therefore maybe a bit more open to identification (which must not be true, it could also be the case that they are more sympathic in “real” person in the movie and that being abstract in the comic also keeps the reader on a distance...).
They are “too cool for the world’ and see themselves as coolness outriders. Outsiders or outriders – in any case the comic depicts the teenage typical moments of opposition to all conventions and rules, of provocation (expressed for example in the extensive use of youth slang in the comic). That offers identification potential to pretty much everyone who lives or remembers his/her teenage years.
The comic starts with the anti-heroines intentionally declaring a totally lame looser (comedian Joey Mc Cobb) to be their "god". We are directly thrown into their togetherness, entering the room through the window. In the film we approach more slowly, observing different people through the windows finally landing in Enids room. This sets a very poetic visual language that continues through the film. What I thought about the the originally light blue backround of the comic, the ghost world’ish impression - depicting the town with all its aimless and apathic people and television-images flickering through windows, is realized explicitly in the movie.
The music, a distinctive feature of the film of course, is here and later, as it often is in the real world, object and expression of identification and distinction. It also functions to mark the inner conflict between growing up (song: Devil got my woman) and childhood (song: A smile and a ribbon). The latter also takes a role in the comic, but there the written lyrics work more like an extern comment on how the heroine feels, in the movie its is working more on an unconscious level.
The comic is in many parts episodic and the episodes are not nescessarily built upon each other. They are the framework for something that is not sayable in concrete words, but only traceable through the narrated incidents. This gives a relative freedom to rearrange them in the movie. It appears as kind of an animated flipping through the book, as GW is in its episodic structure very convinient for this. It doesn’t steal anything from the story. Even though many scenes are added or missing, I find it very, very remarkable, that the tone and tendency of film and comic are so close to each other, that I started to confuse whether I had seen something in the movie or if I had read it in the comicbook.
It is obvious, that movies are much more in need of an ongoing story arch. This causes a slightly shift in focus. An intimate girlfriendship is the pit of the story in the comic. In the movie the focus lays more on the divergence between the image the girls want to have of themselves and struggle for – cool, special, intellectual... – and what they really are and need.
I think this search and building of an identity without knowing what you want is a strong motif transported in both, a bit stronger in the movie, whereas the affectionate observance of the falling apart of one of these teenage friendships you believe to last forever (what they actually never do) is stronger in the comic (in the movie it is less supported through storyline as in the comic but rather pointed out by very strong looks the girls give each other every once in a while throughout the film, not understanding each other anymore).
Published in 1988, Ghost World, is not exactly reflecting today’s young generation but rather that one of the early nineties. I would say, it depicts the typical apathy and aimlessness of the 90ies „slacker“ youth subculture. In this aspect the comic is clearly stronger, the movie from 2001 has a different group of recipients and is therefore a bit different. Also it would be hard to enthuse anybody about watching “nothing really going on” (as in the comic) as a movie in cinema.
We see that alone the transfer from one medium to the other, and be it as perfect as possible, changes the content too (remember Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message”). But by the reflection of one young generation of course topics are covered that are important for each and every young generation, such as friendship, gender, body, relationships, fears, independence and future. And these aspects are well 'discussed' film and comic.
The splitting into two persons (one of the two girls is kind of a „man-hater“/“man-repeller“, whereas the other one is more the girlfriend-type searching for a (the one) boy) that could be understood as two conflicting aspects actually present both in many young women in one person – the attraction to and the tendency to forget themselves over men, and on the other hand the struggle to stay selfdetermined, strong and selfconfident even without a man on their side – is lost a little in the movie.
The ending of the film leaves us more confident, the story is more or less round, with and ending, and be it an open one. The Comic leaves the reader more confused, stuck with no solution for the struggle. This could be a reason for people to not like the comic after watching the movie, or not really getting into it.
But I find it not at all a reason not to watch the movie and enjoying it (after reading the comic, which you really don't want to miss)!