Welcome to the inaugural edition of what I’m tentatively calling Just Add Comics, where I hope to shine a light on stories from other forms of media — movies, TV, web series, books, etc. — that have been adapted, for whatever reason, into comic books. I don’t really have a set format established for this yet, but for now I’m going to start by providing a brief summary of the source material, talk about some of the talent behind it, and then get into the comic itself. The story I want to talk about today is by acclaimed fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman, with a title that recognizes a timeless problem that has plagued so many awkward teenagers:
The story begins with two teenage boys — the handsome playboy Vic and hopelessly shy Enn — as they stumble around the streets of London in search of a party, without any clear idea as to where the party is. Vic has his mind set on meeting some pretty girls, while Enn is hoping he’ll have the guts to talk to one without tripping over himself. By luck or by some strange twist of fate, the two boys stumble across a house party late that night, though certainly not the party they’d imagined.
A peculiar sort of music fills the air, familiar but almost otherworldly. It also seems like there’s a lot more space inside the house then there ought to be. And then there’s the girls, as beautiful as Vic or Enn have ever seen, and yet there’s something ever so slightly off about them. Young Enn is left to drift through the house on his own, noticeably uneasily but determined to prove he can talk to a girl, both to Vic and to himself. They’re just girls, after all, it’s not as if they’re from another planet.
I’m not gonna lie to you guys, when I saw How To Talk To Girls At Parties had been adapted into a comic book, I got hyped. Any trepidations I may have had about a comic book adapting a short story vanished instantly once I saw the creative talent attached. First and most obviously there’s the writer behind the story: Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman has a real knack for penning some really clever fantasy, whether it’s through his short stories, novels, and, perhaps most notably, his comic books. Having gotten his first big break penning seventy-five issues (not including spin-offs) of the classic DC Comics title, The Sandman, I know that Gaiman has a real love and respect for comics. I’m sure that Gaiman wouldn’t approve have approved this adaptation unless he was certain it would be a worthwhile product.
That passion for the medium is reflected in the choice of artists to adapt his story: the artistic dynamo that is twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. I am not understating it when I tell you that these two are some of the best artists working today, in comics or otherwise, bringing to life some amazing titles like Daytripper, The Umbrella Academy, and Casanova to name but a few. These two are masters at their craft, bringing their own distinct look to whatever project they’re working on, featuring some of the most visually pleasing pages I’ve ever seen in comics.
Seeing either Moon’s name or Bá’s attached to anything is enough to guarantee I’ll check it out, but combined with Gaiman’s words? I couldn’t have snatched this book off the shelves fast enough.
So does translating a story that was previously only words into a predominantly visual medium help make this a more enriching experience overall? Well, I can tell you this: it certainly doesn’t hurt when the visuals are drawn by a pair of professional artists with a resume of incredible looking books behind them. Bá and Moon clearly did their due diligence when translating the story into a comic book format, using every detail from the short story to enhance the overall experience.
Bá and Moon have a particularly good eye for finding the right colors to effectively communicate the overall mood or tone for any given scene they draw, and this comic is no exception. Their use of warm colors is definitely worth singling out, especially when you look at where the artist’s are using it the most: the dancing scenes. Typically colors like red, purple, yellow and orange are used to draw the viewer in, but Moon and Bá are nearly drowning their colors in heavy black shadows. It’s a supremely effective way of placing the reader in the same position as our hapless protagonists: there’s that feeling of getting getting lost in the beat as you sink into the crowd, while at the same time there’s a feeling like there’s something else going on; something dangerous.
The girls themselves are each drawn with their own unique look that perfectly captures their personalities, a doubly impressive effort given the sparse amount of material Bá and Moon had to draw from (no pun intended). Each one is distinct and memorable with their own unique quirks, but what adds even more distinctiveness is the way the art team uses the environment around them. They get to play around with lights and shadows a lot here, and there’s a particularly inspired kitchen sequence that takes a bunch of normal wine bottles and transforms them into something truly fantastical.
Still, there’s one sequence in particular that sold me completely, and it doesn’t involve any props at all. I’m going to put up an excerpt from the book below so you can compare, but first a little context: Enn has just retreated to the kitchen to make himself a drink when another girl enters the room, introducing herself as Triolet. Enn doesn’t say much, barely managing a “pretty name”.
“It’s a verse form”, she says. “Like me.”
“You’re a poem?”
It’s been years since I last read the short story and I had forgotten a lot of the specifics, but for some reason this little back-and-forth between Enn and Triolet was one of the few things I could still remember. It’s kind of like one of those things you would hear a child say — something simple but accidentally profound — and it stuck with me. When I discovered this comic on the bookshelf, the very next thing I did after reading the artist’s names was flip through the book until I found this exact sequence and, sure enough, there it is.
This may sound stupid after all the legitimately impressive things I’ve rattled off about this book, but just seeing the visual of Triolet counting on her fingers, then flipping them over for the “biped” bit? That’s my favorite part of the whole comic. Like, did anyone else read the excerpt from the text and imagine that visual in their heads? Because I certainly didn’t, and now I wonder how much else I’ve been missing out on. Even reading the short story on it’s own now I can’t imagine a more effective way to do that exchange in my mind. As Triolet mentions at one point in the story ” you can’t hear a poem without it changing you”, and I definitely feel like that’s the case withthe fine work done here by Bá and Moon.
When it’s all said and done, How To Talk To Girls At Parties is a fantastic retelling from artists Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon, who take Gaiman’s already entertaining fantasy story and find new ways to enhance the reader’s experience. I highly recommend checking out it out, along the original short story featured in Neil Gaiman’s collection of short story fiction and poetry: Fragile Things. As I understand it, Dark Horse Comics is actually releasing a series of graphic novels from other artists adapting more of Gaiman’s short stories as part of the Neil Gaiman Library. If this is the level of quality we can come to expect from future releases than sign me up! Like any good party, the more the merrier.
So here’s my obligatory discussion prompt: are there any adaptations that you prefer over the source material? Maybe you prefer Peter Jackson’s take of The Lord of the Rings over J.R.R. Tolkien’s. Perhaps you preferred Fahrenheit 911 as told with Michael Shannon and Michael B Jordan over Ray Bradbury’s book. Or hey, maybe you watched the film adaptation of How To Talk To Girls At Parties (with Nicole Kidman???) and think it’s better than Gaiman’s version. I don’t know, like what you like!
Hardcover editions of How To Talk To Girls At Parties are available to order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Things From Another World, and your local comic book retailer. Digital copies are also available for the Kindle, Nook, and the Dark Horse digital library.
How To Talk To Girls At Parties is the property of Neil Gaiman. Adaptation and artwork are the property of Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, and Dark Horse Comics, Inc. Text excerpts are taken from Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, and is the property of Neil Gaiman and HarperCollins Publishers. I own nothing.