Giant Days is a brilliant, weird, funny comic about three girls living together at Sheffield University in the UK. Created by John Allison and drawn by talents including Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar, the series has been going strong for several years now, and has amassed a rightfully devoted fanbase.
As it’s set in England, though, and because Allison has such strong instincts as a writer, there are a lot of jokes and references which might fly over the head of the international audience. Howay for Shelfdust, then, as we pledge to annotate every issue of the series in turn! Get ready for a world of adventure and learning!
We start with a splash of Daisy, Esther and Susan sat in Susan’s room together. Esther is reading a book, or at least pretending to whilst scraping her boots along the wall. Longterm fans of John Allison will know Esther from his webcomic ‘Scary Go Round’, where she was part of the teenage cast, which makes this series technically a spin-off from his 2004 work. All Allison’s comics are technically set in the same world and on a continuing timeline, with Giant Days preceded by a series called Scary Go Round and followed by Bad Machinery, which is published by Oni Press.
The comics don’t all feature the same characters, but are set in the same world, and some characters and concepts wander through all of them. The fictional town of Tackleford is one of them, where Esther went to school as one of the recurring characters in Scary Go Round. She then heads to University here for three years, following which Allison returns to the school – sans Esther – for the Bad Machinery stories, which are kid detective comics.
Susan is surfing her computer, pack of cigarettes nearby and ready. In the corner of her room is a skeleton – she’s studying to be a doctor. We’re not getting to see them meet for the first time, because they’ve already met for the first time – Allison released several Giant Days comics himself before coming to BOOM! for this run, and that’s where the three girls first met one another. You can buy all three of them from his store here. Theyre also getting a ‘remastering’ this year, and will be collected together with new colouring for each issue.
And in fact, those original stories are now recapped, one at a time. Allison wrote and drew three Giant Days books, which each take place during one of the first weeks of the university term.
The first one saw Esther save the day through prolific violence, as seen in panel two where had to fight off a pack of mean girls who were causing trouble. The third panel shows the second comic, and the fourth panel shows how, in the third comic, Esther teamed up with Scary Go Round‘s Erin Winters to take down a sinister society. Erin subsequently became a hell queen for a while in a one-off comic called Mordawwa – more on that later.
Page 3 and 4
As Esther walks off to class, her giant boxing gloves poke out her bag. The first Giant Days comic established her “Foxy Boxer” persona, wherein she combines a tutu with the boxing gloves in order to beat up any and all villains in the area, and clearly she’s continuing her boxing training here.
Esther references “Girlsworld”, a magazine for girls full of fashion and styling advice. More importantly, it launched “styling heads”, where you could buy a full manikin head complete with makeup and hair accessories, so kids could practice their lippy techniques years before they needed to. Most Girls’ World manikins ended up with all their hair cut off, although Esther’s plans are more likely to include hair dye than extreme styling.
This page introduces Ed Gemmell and Graham McGraw, the boys of Giant Days. The previous stories established that Ed has a hopeless crush on Esther, that poor fool, whilst clearly McGraw – as he shall so be known – has some sort of history with Susan.
I went to have a look round Warwick University when I was trying to work out where I should go study. It’s actually based in Coventry, because England is a confusing place.
Esther references High Noon, a Western famous for a scene where two characters stare at each other for an incredibly long time, each of them waiting for the other to crack. Susan has a lot in common with Clint Eastwood, really. It might also be why she’s so interested in staring at McGraw all the time – who my friend Clark thinks might actually be an anthropomorphised version of Quick Draw McGraw. This has not been proven, and they don’t wear the same hats.
“Flipping flippity flop” is the sort of thing that people say in the North of England. It’s a lot easier to get it published in a comic than any of our more famous swear-words.
Esther brings up ‘The Boy’, a character who recurred in Scary Go Round. His real name is Eustace Boyce, another one of the kids who went to Tackleford School with Esther. During a trip to Wales, the two slept together for the first time – an important story point in that comic – and they dated for a while. During the self-published Giant Days comics she cheated on him whilst in her first few days of University, which led to them breaking up. He still lives back in her home-town, and she’ll probably have to see him again during the holidays. His story is explored more in Mordawwa.
Susan’s refrain “Stand up, be strong” might be a reference to Bleach, as there’s a song by that title on the original soundtrack.
Daisy is caught watching something naughty on her computer. Although there are many hints at a darkness within her, these usually turn out to be somewhat less dark than predicted. She’s a good ‘un is Daisy.
Walking down the street, Esther passes by some green recycling bins. Those usually go out on a Tuesday, although recent cuts to the council budget mean things have changed to a fortnightly schedule moving forward. Never without a skull or some kind of goth merch, she’s got a skull hairclip in.
Her red and black striped jumper (or sweater, for our international readers) is probably nodding to The Beano, where most of the naughty characters wear some combination of the colours in their standard outfits. Minnie the Minx and Dennis the Menace both wear the red/black stripes in their outfits. Despite her claims to the contrary, she is a bit of a drama queen.
It’s impressive that they got away with putting the phrase “having a fiddle?” in the script. Esther’s mind lives in the gutter.
Esther is absolutely loving the fact that everybody else is living a drama right now and she’s managed to keep things straight for a day.
Susan had a few narrative boxes on the first page of the comic and now she’s badgered into leading us into a flashback sequence. Is she aware that she’s a comic book character, do you think?
Her depiction of Northampton – another town I looked at when picking my University – seems a little bit unfair, to be honest. It’s one of the largest towns in England, and I don’t remember it being quite as apocalyptic as the flashback sequence suggests. Hometown hero Alan Moore may disagree with that, though.
“Dinner time” is a formally-recognised meal in the UK, although the timing for it varies depending on the area of the country you’re in. You might be wondering why it looks so light outside if they’re heading off for dinner, but typically in the North of England dinner takes place at around noon. Especially on a Sunday, where many people in the country have a Roast Dinner as a way of celebrating the end of the weekend and intentionally wrecking their Monday morning. As she’s from the midlands, Susan says “dinner” rather than “tea”.
“Un dish delish” is not French. “Delish” is short for delicious, in case you were wondering, which does at least mean that she’s got the adjective and noun in the correct order.
Looks like the girls have gone to a catered hall for their first year of University, which is a smart move. You get given a canteen card which you pre-pay (or better yet, ask your parents to pre-pay for you) and then all year round you can get free food whenever you need. That still leaves you room to cook when you’d prefer, but this way means you always have a safety net in case Alex from down the hall eats all your turkey twizzlers.
Susan’s list of alternative topics include feminism and the Bechdel-Wallace test – a satirically-minded test designed by Liz Wallace before being popularised by her friend, the cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in the comic Dykes to Watch Out For. The idea is that if any story features two named female characters who talk about something which isn’t a man, the story automatically then passes “The Bechdel-Wallace Test”.
It’s a shortcut way to see if a story is paying its female characters due respect – or, in fact, that it has any female characters to begin with. This issue passes the test on page one.
Pages 15 and 16
♬ Everybody knows Graham loves MASHED POTATOES! ♬
…We might need somebody to annotate this annotation.
Gravy is an important part of life in Northern England, and differs greatly from that stuff Americans eat. Here, gravy is a meat sauce, in essence, which is derived from stock and sometimes vegetables. We have several varieties, depending on the meal required. If you’re having beef, we have a gravy for that. If you’re having turkey, we have a gravy for that. And if you’re having chips… well, we just pick whichever.
In the Victorian Age women were encouraged to wear large dresses, because they were prudes who were scared of seeing a rogue ankle. However, such a lot of fabric meant that the dresses dragged along the floor, and so a framework known as a ‘bustle’ was invented to pick up the dress and create a sort of cloth bumper around the ol’ bum area. Esther is having a very specific imagination here
Never put your hand on a university boy’s shoulder. They’re in a very sensitive state of mind.
Autonomous sensory meridian response – known as ASMR – has become absolutely huge recently. The idea is that there’s pleasure in hearing soft noises, such as a whisper (or in this case, somebody folding napkins) which helps people relax, feel calm, and generally just feel nice about themselves. It creates a tingle-y feeling for some people which runs across their skin and down their back – like the reverse of when you rub polystyrene or chew tin foil, which are the worst experiences imaginable.
There can be sexual connotations to ASMR, although not always. Grace Allison did a NSFW comic about it over at Oh Joy Sex Toy, and let me just reiterate that I did warn you this was NSFW.
Page 21 and 22
You’re told a lot of stuff in your first few weeks of university which you immediately forget – even important things like “they’re knocking down the building at the end of the year”.
McGraw’s neatly unpacked suitcase is the first sign of a mature mind, as my dad tells me before every family holiday. His easel, though, is a bit pretentious. In general, McGraw looks to be vaguely modelled on Sam Elliott, who seems to have made a career in playing practically-minded and earthly wise characters in film and on telly.
The trick he does with Ed’s keys does work, although whenever I saw it happen it was because somebody stuck the pencil in the lock rather than rub it on the key. Whatever works, I guess.
Giant Days #1
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Lissa Treiman
Coloured by Whitney Cogar
Lettered by Jim Campbell