Luke Howard’s graphic novel Talk Dirty to Me, reviewed.

The Life’s Journey of the Phone-Sex Operator

The Life’s Journey of the Phone-Sex Operator

Arts has moved! You can find new stories here.
Reading between the lines.
Sept. 9 2016 12:03 PM

The Life’s Journey of the Phone-Sex Operator

A witty and sexy comic about a woman trying to figure out her life.

Luke Howard

AdHouse Books

When Emma and her husband move to a new city, she finds herself alone in their bare apartment all day, tasked with “figuring out what she’s going to do with her life.” That’s a tall order when it’s easier to fantasize about one day basking in the love and admiration of others than it is to figure out how to actually make your way in the world today. When Emma stumbles on a help-wanted ad for an old-school phone-sex company, she applies for the job—and begins reminiscing on a life in which the realities of disappointing sexual experience don’t match her fantasies. Luke Howard’s Talk Dirty to Me is a frank and funny story of a quiet young woman who’s still working out how she feels about her own desires, who might end up being a kind of star—just at a job she can’t tell her husband about.

Howard wrote and drew Talk Dirty to Me, and it feels refreshing on several levels. It’s sexy without being vulgar, curious without being exploitative. It gives its heroine agency over her choices while still recognizing the precarious hold she has on her own twentysomething self. And Howard’s cartooning is endlessly inventive—the traditional six-panel page bends, slows down, speeds up, stops on a dime, and then rockets into a new surprising place. Howard has a remarkable knack for bringing abstractions to visceral life on the page, and he makes desire both comic and erotic with a quavering line and a vivid pink-and-blue palette.


Emma does, eventually, figure out what she wants to do with her life, at least for now. With Talk Dirty to Me, Howard, a 2013 graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies, shows he’s doing what he ought to be doing with his life as well. We’re delighted to have Howard illustrating the September issue of the Slate Book Review.


Talk Dirty to Me by Luke Howard. AdHouse Books.

See all the pieces in the Slate Book Review.

Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate’s culture department. He is writing a book called How to Be a Family and co-writing, with Isaac Butler, an oral history of Angels in America.