Half brilliant, original innovation, half masturbatory exercise in self-loving, Ninja Sex Party: The Graphic Novel will only tell fans of the band part of the story.
Ninja Sex Party: The Graphic Novel
Dan Avidan, David Calcano, Lindsay Lee, Brian Wecht (writers); Samuel Blanco & Ittai Manero (Colors); Alberto Belandria (Letters); Ittai Manero (Inks): Ittai Manero, Juan Riera and Lindsay Lee (art)
May 5, 2020
Ninja Sex Party: The Graphic Novel is half-brilliant and half-masturbation, At its worst, its a white-bread golly-gee-ain’t-fame-swell-look-how-hard-I-struggled handjob for the band’s collective ego; at its best, it reveals new vulnerabilities and facts about its early formation with pulse-pounding, soaring art. But it reveals more about the band by what it leaves out.
The story begins with the band’s 2019 Chicago arena concert — a first for them — and uses it as a springboard into the past, from Brian Wecht and Dan Avidan’s childhoods to their lives as adults, concluding with their very first in-person meeting. The story is told uniquely, splitting the story between Avidan and Wecht’s personal experiences. Dan’s story is on one side of the book and Brian’s story is upside-down (or right-side-up) on the opposite side, meeting in the center when they see first one another face-to-face. This innovative layout twist sadly loses some of its punch when you read this in a digital format.
Avidan — the child of upper-middle-class parents staked out in the suburbs — was, in his own telling of the story, a nerd who always wanted to be a musician but who had to battle conformity and the practicalities of the real world to make his dream come true. What’s striking about his story is what he’s chosen to leave out of the mix. Anyone familiar with Avidan’s work on the Let’s Play channel Game Grumps knows exactly what he’s chosen to bleach from the equasion — the fact that Skyhill’s sole album was inspired by a break up with a girl he intended to marry, for instance. While Avidan doesn’t censor his history with drugs, he definitely neuters his sexual and romantic history, a very odd choice to make when he’s been so open about it previously on Game Grumps and various livestreams. Additionally, Avidan’s grandparents, his grandmother especially, have always factored into his stories regarding his love of music. Here, they barely score a cameo appearance.
Ittai Manero’s art also does Avidan’s section a disservice, occasionally coming off like amateurish WikiHow illustrations versus the more refined and creative parts of Wecht’s tale. It’s not that Manero doesn’t get in some interesting moments (for instance, there’s a panel where Avidan’s frequent marijuana use is portrayed with pop-art surrealism). But when it comes to character art, Manero’s work is so bland that it’s hard to make visual distinction between Dan at sixteen and Dan at twenty. He also creepily draws Janelle, Avidan’s teenage crush, to strongly resemble Dan’s mother.
By comparison, Wecht’s entry — illustrated by Juan Riera and Lindsay Lee — pops with innovation and energy. The art is beautiful and creative, and Wecht’s written contribution feels a lot more honest and the picture he paints feels a lot more complete, even if some seminal moments in his life which he’d previously spoken about were skimmed over or left unaddressed. The section narrated by his wife is soul-searching and lovely, and he comes off as less self-pitying than Avidan does. A comedy writer and actress in her own right, Rachel Wecht did not receive a writing credit for the part ‘narrated’ by her, and I had no idea if these sections truly came from her pen until Wecht revealed in an interview that her point of view originates from monologue material of hers.
For NSP die-hards like me, Ninja Sex Party: The Graphic Novel should be both an impressive feat and a simplified one. We know what’s been left out and, in a few cases, what’s been distorted.
If there’s a second volume, I hope their account of their rise to fame will match the stories they’ve given before. There were some people involved in the band’s rise who do not get a mention, and certain omissions will definitely be noticed by fans who know how the band became as famous as it is. But this volume, in its first incarnation, combines a dash of genius – and the sound of one hand fapping.