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 Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman 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
Susan’s room is starting to get very worrying! A full ashtray, boxes of takeaway lying around everywhere, and most worryingly of all – a single slice of pizza on a plate, sat just at the part of the floor where you take your first step after waking up.
A trowel is one of the fundamental pieces of kit for any outside activity. It’s like a small shovel/spade, and you can use it for planting flowers, digging up fossils, or setting up a campside toilet. Fun for all the family!
Fifty grand means £50,000 – a grand is £1,000, maths-fans.
The skeleton appears to have come to life, and he is equally as incredulous as Daisy! Incredulous skeleton was the name of my university improv group. Just kidding, my university didn’t let us set up improv groups and to this day I think that’s been my downfall.
Should you sue your university? Probably not.
Amongst other things, one of the papers stuck to Susan’s war details ideas for a victory song, complete with lyrics.
T.B. Sheets is a reference to Van Morrison, and his song of the same name. “so open up the window and let me breathe”, as the song goes. Should you wash your TB sheets to make them safe? This review suggests yes, but only if it’s with a high temperature wash. Thanks for that link, Clark.
The fog of war refers to the way neither side of a conflict can ever truly be sure of where the enemy are based or their movements. You can have a general idea, but not be totally. Of course, you may also know it from the literal fog of war which hid the enemy from you in Command and Conquer. I like the little foggy faces emanating from Susan’s sheets, like evil spirits rising up from the grave.
McGraw has the shiny eyes of sadness, poor thing.
Let’s talk for a second about how good Max Sarin is at using eyes to convey emotion/for comedic effect in general – REALLY GOOD. Big anime eyes when someone’s sad/lovesick, pupils going from circles to more like a cat’s eyes when they’re angry, etc. Lovely stuff.
Dim Sum! Great for breakfast or brunch! It typically consists of a series of steamed buns, dumplings and rolls, each filled with vegetables, chicken, pork or beef. When you’re smoking as many cigarettes as Susan, I guess your appetite has been suppressed even to the point of not wanting delicious Dim Sum.
Don’t leave your puppy dog out in the rain!! Not ever!! Don’t you do it!!
I went to a school of medicine once and it was 80% less bright than the lovely colours seen here. You have to allow for a little magical realism!
Kully’s tactics seem pretty sound. The main point of UK politics is to essentially agree with everybody else you’re meant to be opposing, but just make it sound like you vaguely disapprove or don’t care about them as people. We have three ‘major’ parties, and they all basically seem to think the same thing. We dream of a world with an opposition party, but I guess it just doesn’t seem very sporting. We also have a storied history of “satirical” candidates – see here – which only compound the theory that our entire political system is a joke. Sorry, 2018 has been kind of grim.
Actually, this slogan might be better. “More of the same” has worked for the last fifteen years or so in our country… folks, do you remember when this was just a fun annotations column, rather than a biting and satirical take on UK politics? Those were the good old days, I wish we could go back to them. Ah! Actually, that’d be the most successful political slogan of all!
The Brachial Plexus is a network of nerve fibers that run from the spine, passing through the cervico-axillary canal to reach axilla. I’d say there is a 0-1% chance that Susan has “bossed” it. Susan and Cully’s expressions in the third panel, eh? Those are some good nervous faces.
“I’m brickin’ it” means, uh, he’s about to poo himself with fear. I tried to write that in a euphemistic way, but I couldn’t find the right way to say it!
We’re never going to know where cupcakes came from, and that makes me sad. I like this depiction of (what appears to be) a traditional English traditional German traditional Christmas market. So many layered traditions when all you really want is a pretzel.
It may seem like cliche to suggest England is full of daft craft shops but: no, we do have them. All the time. If you like the idea of wooden wind chimes then ours is the country to visit!
Do you see the magic eye puzzle in the pashmina? I cannot believe they snuck that into Giant Days! For shame, Max Sarin, you sauce-drawer!
It’s so sad that it’s when he finishes whittling down the Queen piece for his board that he thinks to give Susan a call, only to find she’s not there. I mean, it is 11.55pm at night when he calls, but Susan is a medical student and she’s not meant to have a bedtime.
Susan may be stressing out, but at least the incredulous skeleton has hung himself back up on the rig, rather than causing more mischief.
Welcome to the other side, friends…
John Allison’s stories have always had a very strong thread of magic realism weaving through them, but this might be the most overt we’ve seen in Giant Days? All it took was not sleeping for a week to bring it to the fore. Godspeed, Susan Ptolemy!
So okay, Susan has some very strange sleep deprivation going on, and in a student town that’s only going to make her a series of odd friends. Thankfully there’s a willowy blonde around to wave them off, and it’s brilliant how one of the people literally covers his mouth with his sleeve as though he’s some kind of cut-price Nosferatu.
Daytime kinda IS government propaganda, if you think about it. Why do we all have to work 9-5? What if we want to work 11-7pm? Why can’t we do that? Why??
We really like the panel composition on these pages – they’ve gone from a very clean/trad comics layout, to objects within the images creating their own dividing lines – and a lovely inset panel where our mysterious blonde helper leans her head against a panel within a panel.
Susan appears to have bought a pack of rusks to eat.
Time has no meaning anymore for the night-dweller. There’s a jump in time between each panel, and it does a fantastic job in mirroring Susan’s ability to keep up in the moment. McGraw is trying very hard, but he’s dealing with her symptoms rather than working out the cause of her issues. It’s tough.
Everyone in the room looks terrified. I don’t blame them. I did English Lit but I still shudder when I think back on the first time somebody handed me one of James Joyce’s books and told me I only had one week to memorise it.
Giant Days can shift its form and genre quite easily, and this is probably the closest to straight-up horror it’s ever got, isn’t it?
At least Dr T is supportive.
When Clark was studying biology, the teacher had a great idea to show how the lungs work by bringing in some pig lungs and inflating them by blowing into a tube inserted into the trachea. Four people fainted clean off their chairs.
Can you imagine going through life being called Clara Croft in a post-Tomb Raider world? It would be like if you were called Clark and got involved in comics and then had everyone ask jokingly if your surname is “Kent” when they meet you. Shudder.
Nobody in politics is “secretly” erotic, girls.
Kully is open about having no political beliefs but he has genuine concern for Susan’s health. He might actually BE the best candidate of the lot?
Daisy is so proud of herself for making that joke. She also appears to be growing in height with each panel, like a beautiful sunflower.
I did google “cross dimensional aphasiac somnipathy” to see if it was real. It’s not real. Please don’t tell anyone that I didn’t know cross dimensional aphasiac somnipathy wasn’t real.
The first rule of night world is you do not talk about the problematic elements of Fight Club.
This all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
In panel 4, Esther seems to be channeling Dream from the gothiest of goth comics – The Sandman.
Also, the way it looks like the ethereal skulls are peeling off her rucksack and floating away is TOP NOTCH.
Hedda Gabler is a 1891 Norwegian play written by Henrik Ibsen. The play is considered a landmark in theatrical realism, and is often connected to Freud’s thoughts on psychoanalysis – making it prime fodder for English Literature courses, which are friggin’ obsessed with id, ego, and superego.
If you know who the photo is of, you’ve just enjoyed one of the great moments in the comics medium. If not: that’s Mark Kermode, probably the most famous film critic in the UK. He’s seen all over the BBC’s cultural output, talking about film and music in fairly stern, sometimes snobby, sometimes head-noddingly.
You don’t usually write “the end” at the end of an essay. You usually have to spend five extra hours compiling an appendix. Oxford style for life!!
I like how Esther prepared herself by wearing a jumper with a Moon on it. That’ll help her get on with the locals.
At first I thought nobody was able to stand looking at how pale Esther was, the Goth, until I realised she’s flashing her phone screen at those poor night residents. Clearly she should put her phone into night mode and shift the screen’s glare towards the red end of the spectrum!
Speaking of the red end of the spectrum, I like that we get a reinforcement of the idea that the night world inverts the real world with worstway/bestway and the streetlight having shifted to a neon pink. Spooky!
“Conserve your candle” is not a phrase we use in the UK. Until today!
Continuing the idea of realism – Edward Hopper was a realist painter from America. His most famous work is “Nighthawks”, which depicts a few local residents late at night at a classic-style dinner.
The cars are alive! The staff are robots! Turns out that the Night World may have given Stephen King most of his ideas.
That sundae switches from being made of delicious ice cream to being made of skulls. Somebody should tell Stephen King, there’s a miniseries to be made out of this.
“Trust in me” is famously uttered by the treacherous Kaa the python in the Disney version of the Jungle Book. This is a good way to quickly determine if someone should/should not be trusted.
Maybe these ol’ eyes are mistaking me, but isn’t Susan staring at a solid flatted green area of the panel? In Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space, attempting to comprehend a colour outside of the (spoilers: terrestrial) visible spectrum sends the observer insane, so perhaps we shouldn’t dwell on it too much.
Esther’s hair is getting longer as she succumbs to the night.
Esther calls Susan a “Miranda”, in reference to Sex and the City. Miranda was typically the one of the group who was a bit more practical and real-world than the others: her issues were less about big dramatic moments and more about the general chaos of life and relationships. Susan probably is a bit of a Miranda, really, although McGraw is a lot better than Steve was.
Daisy arrives in the form of a giant… raven? I think? Even Esther’s boots look scared!
Esther, for some reason, quotes Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” in the final panel of the page. I’m guessing Clark is going to respond to this by saying “there doesn’t NEED to be a good reason to quote Whitney!” and you know what? Hypothetical Clark is right!
Daisy is carrying them away like Kevin Costner carries Whitney away at the end of The Bodyguard, so maybe that’s reason enough.
The night Daisy raven puts Susan to bed – and hey, is there anything better than fresh bedding? Ooh, I could go for some of that right now. As soon as I finish these annotations, you can bet I’m heading straight to the tumble dryer for some classic times!
I like that the ashtray is sparklingly clean. If ever there was something that never needed to be that, it’s an ashtray.
Oh dear. Four simple words and yet you already know where this is going.
Pages 20 and 21
I’m glad McGraw is plying his trade. It’s always smart to try and earn a little extra money during your university days.
This is a really upsetting scene, but it speaks to the characters at this point in time. McGraw is such a practical person that he sees it as a personal attack that Susan didn’t bring his issues to her so he could fix them like he’d fix a broken door. But at the same time, these aren’t things for him to just fix – this is part of who Susan is, and perhaps if they were a better fit for each other they’d be able to realise what was going on with the other and reconcile things. As it is, they both jar against each other.
The worst part is when he says he still wants to be friends. It’s not possible to be friends after a breakup. Maybe in time, but this… no. Bad call, McGraw
It’s going to sound like Clark’s obsessed with eyes (and he is a little bit, they’re absolutely fascinating, seriously, go read up on the anatomy of the human eye, he urges), but look at Susan’s eyes on these pages – the way they change with her emotional state is some properly sublime cartooning.
And all this is happening on Susan’s birthday! Ah, this is awful.
That clown puppet is probably going to murder someone before this series is over. I imagine it’ll form a team-up with the incredulous skeleton and start terrorising the drama studios.
Clark’s last thing about eyes, for today, but if you really want to go on a little voyage of discovery then read up on the eyes of squids, because they’re completely bonkers
Red Rum! Red Rum!
Giant Days #11
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Max Sarin
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!