I imagine that if you like Ba, Moon, or of course Gaiman, then you’ll probably enjoy How to Talk To Girls At Parties. For me, something just didn’t work here in the partnership: too many of the nuances were lost from the source material and the art dominates rather than accentuates. This isn’t so much a harmonious balance of art and story as it is a competition for the reader’s attention. As such, the witty observation of youth from the original short story are lost in favor of highly stylized, eye-burning visualizations. Separately, they must be wonderful. Together, it becomes messy.
Story: Enn is 16 in 1960s London. He finds girls completely confusing and doesn’t understand how his smooth operator bud Vic is able to charm women so easily. When Vic convinces Enn to go to a party, with the promise of showing his protege how to pick up girls, Enn agrees reluctantly. But when they show up at the wrong party, things will begin to get strange very fast.
I have not read Gaiman’s award winning short story, so the art had to convey the subtleties for which his work is known. The problem here is that the brother Ba and Moon don’t have a subtle bone in their body. Highly original but very hyperreal illustrations heavily color washed in strong colors do suggest the trippy 1960/70s in which the story is set but doesn’t do much with furthering the story. Enn and Vic remain ciphers – their age as indeterminate as Enn’s complaint about how he can never figure a girl’s age. I never got a feel for them in the art as the words were able to give in the story. Without that, I was quickly disenfranchised as a reader.
Because the flow is abrupt, we’re supposed to believe that girls randomly sprouting very odd and metaphysical ramblings wouldn’t turn off a gawky 16 year old. Perhaps the suggestion is that it was a gentler and more naive era, that today’s boys would have jetted after the first two sentences with a ‘whatever!’ along the way. But the scenes of Enn trying to ‘make it’ with a girl clearly off her rocker just don’t work here without being guided better. The emphases were all in the wrong places here.
I’ll go on record as saying that I’m not a fan of the art. It’s hard to get into the story when I’m so completely distracted by the odd (but distinct) linework and coloring. The big ‘anime eyes’ on the girls contrasting with the beady eyes of the boys could, yes, be used as a contrast that Gaiman makes about boys and girls reaching maturity separately (the boys’ eyes are still closed to the world but the girls’ eyes are fully open and see it all). But at the same time, it’s hard to get there to that point when I’m wondering why the girls all looked like someone just startled them.
I still find it amusing that boys seem to feel the girls have it all figured out at 16. But there are some keen observations made by Gaiman before it all begins to get very astral. I think this is one story best kept in the written form rather than as a graphic novel. Of course, I’ll be curious to see where the movie will take this that the graphic novel didn’t. Reviewed as an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.