The comic I want to talk about today is based on a short story by acclaimed fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, covering a topic that has befuddled the minds of awkward teenagers for countless generations: “How To Talk To Girls at Parties”. Hey uh, quick question: kids these days still use the word “befuddled” in sentences, right? Mind you, I can’t actually hear you because the technology isn’t uh…isn’t quite there yet, so I’m just going to assume you’re all saying “yes” to your screen right now, or maybe just giving me a nod of agreement. Perfect, then let’s press on…
The story begins with two teenage boys — 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 sheer luck or, perhaps, by some strange twist of fate, the two boys stumble across a house party late that night, though it’s certainly not the party they’d imagined.
For one thing, there’s a peculiar sort of music that 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, the most beautiful girls Enn has ever seen, and yet there’s something ever so slightly off about them. Left to his own devices, 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.
Whatever your opinion of Gaiman’s writing may be, he seems to have a real talent for coming up with fantastic tales, whether it’s through his short stories, his long-form 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 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 artwork in titles like Daytripper, The Umbrella Academy, and Casanova to name but a few. These two are undisputed 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 look this good. 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.
This whole book is great, but there’s one sequence in particular that I have to share with you, in fact it’s the whole reason I was compelled to review this comic in the first place. 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 one of the girls enters. Her name is Triolet. Enn doesn’t say much, barely managing to stutter out a quick “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. When I discovered this comic on the bookshelf, the first thing I did 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 with the 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 adaptation of an already entertaining fantasy story. I highly recommend checking 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. Well, if this is the level of quality we can come to expect from future releases I say the more the merrier.
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.