How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman

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For those of us who feel like the world is constantly overflowing with a barrage of wonders and curiosities of inexplicable brilliance, this comic will make a lot of sense. It’s a charmingly clear example of what the ‘magic realism’ genre can stand for: an ordinary situation, with an ordinary protagonist, filled with extraordinary events and characters. The crux is that the protagonist doesn’t react the way we think he/she might. They don’t run around screaming and calling the cops, instead, they go to the kitchen, mix a cocktail and return to the conversation as if everything was normal. Because the fact is that life is mad most of the time, and we spend our days, weeks and months navigating the variations of that madness to different degrees.

If some days seem more incredible than others, well it’s just the day – I, for example, have always had weird Tuesdays. It’s hard to explain, but on a Tuesday the walls between one possibility and the next just seem, thinner. As if a gust of sturdy northeast wind could rip them apart and suddenly all truth would blow away. Along with gravity, time, and the notion of cause and effect. That’s what this comic feels like, like a really good/bad Tuesday.

The story starts somewhere in the suburbs of East Croydon. Vic and Enn are looking for a party. They are not yet sixteen, they go to the same all boy’s school, and they are an unlikely pair of friends. Vic is a strapping young lad with a solid jaw and an urchin’s grin. He’s the kind who always gets the girl. Enn, on the other hand, is the quiet type. Weedy and introverted, he hates parties. Saying he always ends up in the kitchen talking to someone’s mum.

‘I don’t know what to say to girls.’

‘They’re just girls, they don’t come from another planet.’

Together they trudge past row after row of houses until eventually the steady TUM-TUM-TUM spilling from a window means that they’ve reached their destination. There are smoky silhouettes shimmering within, but otherwise all looks ordinary. Vic boldly knocks, and the door is answered by Stella. And from the moment Enn catches sight of Stella, he knows she must be the most brilliant girl there. Problem is, Vic knows this too. And Vic is good at getting what he wants.

Once inside, Enn is left solo as Vic and Stella fall into irritatingly easy conversation. He wanders the rooms forlornly, meeting three very different but equally extraordinary girls. The first is Wain’s Wain. Sitting alone in the conservatory, she tells him she’s a second, a progeny of Wain. She tells him she travels, while her sisters remain at home in stasis, because they are firsts, and she is a second.

She tells him that this place is like a world of children, or elves. Enn doesn’t exactly know what to say, but like a gentleman he offers to get her a drink of water. When he comes back, however, she is gone.

He offers the water to another girl instead, a girl who tells him she has visited the sun, and swam through the sunfire with the whales who told her their histories. She says she could have gone back, but she came here instead. She resents being embodied in a decaying lump of meat hanging on a calcium frame. She laments the certain and terrible knowledge that dwells within the flesh, and the pain of breath, of life, or not-understanding. Enn, meanwhile is trying to casually put his arm around her shoulder. To comfort her, no doubt.

All seems to be going well until Vic calls him away to say that they’re actually at the wrong party, but it doesn’t matter, because:

‘They’re all tourists here anyway. It’s a foreign exchange thing, innit.’

Then he and Stella disappear upstairs, much to Enn’s chagrin. He strops off to find a drink, and here meets the third girl: Triolet. He makes her a cocktail and she tells him that she is a poem, and a pattern, and a race of people whose world was swallowed by the sea. She is infectiously charming and absolutely gorgeous; but Enn can’t stop thinking about Stella and Vic upstairs. That is until Triolet leans forward and plants a kiss on his lips, along with a lethal offer to tell him the poem. He nods foolishly, and the world begins to blur and shimmer and skim… and then Vic pulls him away.

And here the story starts to wrap itself up, and the darker depth of the narrative pokes it’s head above the surface just a little. As the two boys rush out the door, Enn sees Stella at the top of the stairs. She is dishevelled, half-undressed, staring down at Vic, and she is not happy. Not happy at all…

‘You wouldn’t want to make a universe angry. I bet an angry universe would look at you with eyes like that’

I can’t emphasise enough how brilliant a story this is. The structure, dialogue and substance are all utterly on point. Of course, we wouldn’t expect any less from Neil Gaiman, the graphic novel heavyweight. But I first encountered this piece when it came out as a short story in Fragile Things, and I didn’t think it could possibly get any better, but the brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá have breathed new and exciting life into the narrative. The colours absolutely burst off the pages and the subtlety of the line art is both mesmerising and very moreish. There’s a delicious carelessness to the watercolour: you get the feeling the artists have no interest in your approval, because they already know they’re bloody good. It’s the sexiness of confidence. The mark of a true pair of pros.

The whole comic is barely 60 pages long, but it hits you right in the heart and the gut- the gutheart. You’ll be left breathless and dazed, needing a drink and wondering what day it is. I guarantee, more often than not, it will be Tuesday.

How to Talk To Girls at Parties is published by Dark Horse Comics and is available here.

Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman grew up in England and, although Jewish, attended Church of England schools, including Ardingly College, a boarding school in West Sussex (South of England). During the early 1980s he worked as a journalist and book reviewer. His first book was a biography of the band Duran Duran. He moved from England to his wife’s hometown in the American midwest several years ago. He and his family now live in a renovated Victorian farmhouse where (he says) his hobbies are writing things down, hiding, and talking about himself in the third person.

Read our review of The Folio Society Edition of American Gods here.

Read our previous review of Anansi Boys here.

Read our review of Norse Mythology here.

Artists

Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon

Reviewed by Philip Webb Gregg

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