by Tom Humberstone
In just a few pages Tom Humberstone took me back to my youth, to stumbling, angst-ridden, fumbling relationships that took place more in my head than in reality. And when you read it, which you should, you’ll feel just the same. Humberstone captures exactly what it is to be young and desperately looking for love.
As you can gather from the title this is the tale of Humberstone’s ten days of dating one particular girl. Humberstone’s not had much luck in the dating game, and from the start you can see why – tentative doesn’t begin to describe how he goes about it. A chance meeting leads to much agonising over exactly how to approach the girl, even whether he should bother or not. This is so like reading a comic where I’m the star – it’s almost painful at times to see Humberstone’s absolute antithesis of smooth at work. But the pain does make the pleasure so much sweeter…. even if it is only temporary.
(I love this page so much – because I can remember living that page when I was younger. Humberstone nails every little fear, every little nagging doubt and utterly nails the amazing moment of pure bliss …… we kissed.)
But even though How To Date… seems, on the surface, to be just a tale of a short near-romance it’s about so much more. It’s about living life with a freedom and an abandon that allows for these things to happen. It’s about going out, it’s about being young, thinking too hard about what you’re meant to be doing, about the moment and wondering why you never seem to be able to find it. And more than anything, it’s about friendship. True, lasting friendship.
Humberstone’s friends in this are the reason he goes out, the reason he gets in touch with the girl, the reason he dates and, when it goes wrong, his friends are there to pick up the pieces and say all the right things. Friendship matters. And never moreso than when you’re 20-something and careering through love and life.
The beauty of How To Date A Girl In Ten Days is found in it’s honesty and it’s truth and the fact that we can all recognise the characters that Humberstone writes about. I had my girl, I was just as terrible as Humberstone and I am thankful to this day for the friends that were there at the end of the phone, whatever the time, to rescue me from whatever disaster my love life spewed up. It’s that recognition that makes Humberstone’s book such a great read. Try it and I guarantee you’ll recognise everything here as things that have happened in your life. And you’ll be glad that someone as talented as Humberstone managed to get them down on paper better than you ever did.
(Everyone needs a friend like Astrid. Well, every awkward, self-obsessed 20-something with no confidence anyway.)
The art shifts through various styles throughout the book and too be frank, it doesn’t always work. Reading it, I couldn’t help but play compare and contrast and found I much preferred the thicker line of the third part – it seemed more confident, less scratchy and just nicer to look at. But if Tom would have done the whole book in the scratchy style of the first two chapters, I wouldn’t have minded – it’s just the inclusion of the better style of chapter three that points out the failings of the earlier artwork.
The other problem I have with How To Date a Girl In Ten Days is that there are times when Humberstone’s narrative wanders – not because the story fails – just the structure. Too often the narrative wanders because you really struggle to read a page – the captions and the speech bubbles and thought balloons seem to sit vaguely on a page, meaning you have to almost choose your own path through the page – it’s possibly meant to indicate the randomness and flow of conversations and thought processes, but there are better ways to do it – ways that don’t interrupt the flow of the emotional narrative.
(Humberstone’s tighter (and better) art style kicks in in the last third of the book – but his delicious way of detailing an oh so familiar conversation is still spot on.)
But perhaps that seems like picking too much fault in the book. Not something I really wanted to do – because How To Date A Girl In Ten Days is, for all it’s faults, a perfect nostalgic look at youth, at the wonder of friendships, at the sheer joy of chasing love and the misery of rejection (and, lets face it, the rather enjoyable wallowing that comes with it). There’s so much to love in the storytelling, in just the raw emotion, that criticising it on a pure technical aspect seems a touch harsh.
Suffice it to say that I recognised all the faults and did not really care all that much – the emotion and the journey through Humberstone’s life (or at least 10 days of it) were quite enough to make me want to be that age, that wonderful age of instant love and near-instant loss all over again.
How To Date A Girl In Ten Days is available through Humberstone’s website (there’s also a lot of preview material there – but don’t read too much – buy the damn comic and enjoy it as a whole.)
Richard Bruton would like to dedicate this one to Deb Hackett. His Astrid. Who was there everytime I needed her to listen to how crap my love life was. Thanks Debs.