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!
By Steve Morris with Clark Burscough
Freshers’ flu is experienced by 99% of students. Wherever there is a mass of bodies wandering around in close proximity, it’s bound to happen that somebody will get ill and then pass it on to thirty of their closest strangers. You get it at a lot of comic conventions too, which is why so many people in Artists Alley carry around hand-gel nowadays. We’re the walking infected, and nobody is safe.
For that same reason, Esther’s decision to lie down on a public couch isn’t a smart one.
Pashing is another way of saying “smooshing faces together hardcore” which is also sometimes known as “kissing” amongst polite circles. Of which we must hold no part – pash on, Shelfdust readers!
Coughs and sneezes spread diseases! As the NHS used to tell us in the 1940s through a series of informative and vaguely cruel videos.
I had a blister at university, and one of the other girls in our corridor got dead excited about the prospect of popping it. Rather than run a pin under a tap, though, she turned the kettle on and held the pin over the steam as her way of disinfecting it before we used it.
That bat-shaped logo on Esther’s outfit looks a bit familiar.
It can be easy to roll past the SFX in comics, but they’re always worth pausing on in Giant Days. This issue in particular does a brilliant job in throwing onomatopoeia at your in ways which makes the illnesses feel ever more real.
We’ve all been that curious ginger girl in the cereal aisle at one point in our lives.
Susan is reading Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut as she lies on her bed. His seventh novel, Wikipedia tells me that one of the main themes of the book is free will – exercised on this page, if I stretch enough, by the way the three girls all handle their illness. All of them take to bed – which is the only place students can typically sit down in their room because god knows nobody is giving them a chair to use – but try to pass their illness over through different techniques.
As Esther gets sicker, more and more of the skull pattern on her bedding gets revealed.
Daisy has made the poorest choice, if you ask me, because a five-hour nap is only going to ruin your day. She’ll have a horrible headache, I reckon. Susan has made the smartest choice, because reading a book is way better for you than staring at a screen all day.
The Mesolithic period came between the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, and marks a “between” bit when hunter-gatherers started to get a little more domesticated and civil, if my cursory glance at Wikipedia is right. I really only started these annotations as a way to write about the cultural references, I had no idea I’d have to form basic understanding of human civilisation.
Poundland is a shop where everything costs, surprisingly, £1 exactly. My dad used to know one of the owners of Poundland, and said he had a chair made out of melted-together coins. I’m not sure I believe that.
Britain is one of the most diverse countries in the world, because everybody has invaded here at least once. That’s led to a lot of political debate and newspaper outrage over the years, but it’s also led to most supermarkets having at least one aisle which sells native foods and products to random countries with a nearby community. It’s common now to find Polish food and drink sold in a particular shelf, for example, which is probably where Ed found his magic medicine.
“Niebezpieczna lekarstwa grype” translates roughly to “dangerous influenza medicines”.
For more about Polish medical regulations, why not head to the World Health Organisation?
Fever is generally caused by inflammatory response molecules being released into the bloodstream, which changes the base point for temperature regulation in the hypothalamus (the body’s thermostat, pretty much). Sometimes it’s caused by things from outside the body, but the end result is indeed shivering, as well as vasoconstriction (blood vessels getting smaller to prevent heat loss) and some biochemical processes to heat the body up to the “new” normal point that’s established. Fun fact: if you get too hot from a fever, your body’s enzymes will start denature and you may have irreparable damage done to your brain and other organs.
(I didn’t write that – Clark did)
Susan is a medical student, so you should probably pay attention when she tells you about antibiotic resistance. She is also a smoker, though, which is a surprisingly common trait amongst medical students. Here’s a fun article about how antibiotic resistance is building us all up for a body-horror apocalypse.
One perfect little touch on this page is that Susan, in the grips of illness and suffering from withdrawal, heads off to the pharmacy without taking off her dressing gown. She just puts a coat on over the top. Student towns are usually full of girls in dressing gowns and onesies nowadays, which I think is a positive sign of our forward progress over the years as a society.
If you’re in the NHS you can get discounts as a surprising number of places. I used to get discounts off KFC all the time, and the best thing was that there was no set standard in place for what percentage the discount should be. Sometimes you’d get 10% off, but sometimes as much as 20%! It was a glorious time.
Don’t pretend you don’t know what a downstairs lubricant is. I refuse to annotate that panel for you perverts.
McGraw’s medicines are called “Gertrude” and “Doris” for some reason. I don’t know what that means, but I will note that Doris was my grandma’s name. As you already know my surname, I’ll leave you to enjoy her magical rhyming name at your leisure.
A Mooncup is the brand name for a make of menstrual cup. It’s not a bad word to aim at McGraw on the spur of the moment, really. Susan shouldn’t be so hard on herself.
Esther’s fever dreams appear to have awoken her third eye and interest in Sheffield’s concrete architecture. There’s also a good chance that she’s travelling in third time dimension, which is incredibly complicated and distressing for soft minds like mine – so here’s an article you can read which explains it properly.
Taking to the internet to diagnose yourself will always lead to the worst-case scenario. The sort of scenario where you diagnose yourself with meningitis despite not having any red spots on your skin, for example.
It looks like Esther’s reference to a bustle last year may actually be backed up by the fact that she owns a dress with a bustle, which is hanging up in her wardrobe. You can also see the tutu she wore in the original Giant Days comic, hanging up on the right hand side.
The hat is a bit much. Notice how the skulls following her down the corridor match the ones from her duvet cover?
Esther immediately decides that she’s walked into a Santeria gathering. Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion which incorporates elements of Catholicism into a largely Yoruba-based system of practice. It means “way of the saints”, which is because it’s a primally-experienced religion wherein people at gatherings will play rhythmic drums in order to encourage spirits and deities to enter their bodies and pass on messages.
Animal sacrifice is a large part of the religion, but it’s not as cruel as some would say. Rather, any animal sacrificed is used as food for the people who are currently relaying messages from the spirits. Animals aren’t killed for prophecy so much as they are to ensure that the people running the religion actually get something to eat this week. I don’t believe that these ceremonies usually take place in Sheffield.
Daisy has brought a typewriter to university with her, it appears. They’re best known now for being Tom Hanks’ favourite collectable, but there are some who – like the people who insist on only listening to vinyl – perceive a higher value in the danger presented by a typewriter.
Daisy is a keen ornithologist, as we’ll learn later on in the series, which explains her ability to identity the woodpigeon outside the window despite the fact she’s tripping on dodgy foreign medicines.
The pigeon explains that the central ingredient of Daisy’s medicine is probably going to be caffeine. She’s not recovering from her 24-hour flu bug, but rather she’s so bugged out and wired that the effects of the illness aren’t as noticeable anymore.
Also, as a general rule, pigeons can’t speak English.
Was the nicotine gum pushed under Susan’s door by McGraw? Yes, it was.
Esther, the English student, recognises a piece of modernist fiction when she reads it. I think every student buys something by James Joyce at one point, but nobody ever reads the damn thing all the way through. He’s impossibly dense to read, and does have a few issues with the ol’ use of grammar. Ulysses is seen as one of the great works in modern fiction, probably because everybody is too embarrassed to say they never finished it.
(The Joyce book I bought at University was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
The Graveyard Cuckoo is a brilliant name for a band. It’s also pretty apt for the goth princess who stole her way into someone else’s nest the other night and tried to roost down.
The Spanish-speaking students are communally recycling, which is how things are done in Continental Europe. Rather than everyone having three-four bins per house, countries like Spain tend to have communal recycling areas near every block of houses, where people can throw away their recyclables in modern harmony.
“Mind your own beeswax” is another way of saying “mind your own business”. According to my gran, it was invented by a bunch of women who owned a candle-making shop – literally, they asked each other to stick to their own candles and not spend all their time worrying how the other staffers were doing. I’m not sure if that’s true or not.
I’ve never seen a stick and thought “that could be a good doorstop”.
Kleenex are the cheapest brand of tissues in my local Tesco, and this new rucksack technique is a gamechanger. I’m surprised that Boom haven’t branded these – you could make a fortune selling them at comic conventions. They’re a hive of disease, after all.
Giant Days #2
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Lissa Treiman
Coloured by Whitney Cogar
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
Many thanks to Clark Burscough for his help with our annotations!