Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá Transcend Adaptation in Neil Gaiman’s How To Talk To Girls At PartiesMain Art by Fábio Moon Comics Reviews Neil Gaiman
Original Writer: Neil Gaiman
Adaptation By: Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: June 22, 2016
In the perilous universe of possibilities that is young adulthood, parties are the celestial communion to which we all gravitate. As crucial as any compulsory education, they are the spaces where we learn and grow as social creatures. We bond, befriend, negotiate, entertain. Maybe even fall in love. Or maybe you’re more like Enn from Neil Gaiman’s How To Talk To Girls At Parties, the wallflower nursing a Jack & Coke away in the kitchen, “listening to someone’s mom going on about politics or poetry or something.”
This graphic novel presents the story of Enn and Vic, two young men at the peak of their adolescence, strolling aimlessly in search of a party to which they’ve been invited. The two could not be more appropriate foils for each other, the cocksure and charismatic Vic leading ahead of the more timid and socially bewildered Enn. Finding themselves lost, the pair opt to politely crash another nearby gathering, this one consisting near-entirely of girls. Vic, by his nature, roams away to the dance floor in the company of Stella, one of the most beautiful girls in attendance, while Enn, our timid protagonist, floats from one corner of the party to the next, in hopes of striking a connection with one of these beguiling young ladies by way of “just talking to them.” With each new woman he speaks with, it becomes increasingly clear that this affair and its inhabitants are not at all as they appear, though many of these glaring signs are lost on Enn in his youthful obliviousness.
On the short list of artist/writer duos uniquely suited to transposing writer Neil Gaiman’s brand of ornately worded dialogue and magical-realist sensibilities into graphic novel form, twins Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon certainly sit near the top. Graphic novel translations, apart from the author’s native comic production, are not unfamiliar territory for Gaiman—this is far from the first comic adaptation of his prose work. But Bá and Moon wrest something special out of the author’s short story, with illustrations channeling the breathless euphoria and halcyon enthusiasm of youth in deep, expressive line strokes and emotive watercolors.
The original iteration of “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” was powerfully informed by the soundscape of the late 1970s, with casual mention throughout of Neil Young, The Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk and David Bowie. This adulation remains in its graphic novel form, albeit manifested through beautiful sound effects that waft through the frames with calligraphic flourish. The brother’s talent for illustrating benign, non-verbal gestures is also worthy of mention; one scene features Vic fanning his hand to encourage Enn to chat more with a new friend, conveying intent, personality and communication in only a few lines—a rare skill.
Moon and Bá’s talent as writers are also on display here, though perhaps less conventionally. The comic exists in service of retelling Gaiman’s story through a visual accompaniment, and is largely absent of the twins’ own writing. But their scripting shines not in writing, but in editing, subtly pruning, pacing and contextualizing the expository details of the original story that would otherwise be lost in translation to a comic, without robbing them of their significance. The duo’s distinctive lettering talents, present through such past works as their 2005 one-shot ROCK ‘N’ Roll or their 2010 magnum opus Daytripper, is to credit for the book’s parseable pacing.
With this degree finesses and craftsmanship, Neil Gaiman’s How To Talk To Girls At Parties is more than a successful adaptation, remaining faithful to the precedent of its source material while giving it renewed life through reinterpretation. It’s an all-too-rare and wonderful marriage of three creative talents working in tandem to make something beautiful and innovative out of an established work, already gorgeous and fully formed—a story of longing, loneliness and the sparks of connection that spur us through youth into the precarious uncertainty of adulthood.