By Claire Napier
Before Giant Days joined the BOOM! Studios Soc, it existed as a series of three self-published comics by John Allison. The three stories tell essentially the origin of the bond between central characters Daisy, Susan and Esther, following their very first few days at Sheffield University as they seek to attain scholarship supreme – or at least, to get through some box sets and have a bit of fun on their own terms.
You can pick up the books either in print or digitally through ComiXology.
Once done, you’ll probably be wondering what exactly was going on – well wonder no longer, and instead join Claire Napier as she delves back through the sands of time and offers her annotations for the original series of Giant Days!
Esther’s dad went to uni in Exeter, which is a very Esther kind of place. It has “Underground Passages” and a Gothic cathedral, for example. Currently their website boasts that the University of Exeter “offers research and study in sciences, social sciences, business, humanities and arts,” which provides a strong home-life basis for Esther’s choice of an English degree.
Esther’s family were rarely seen (in John Allison’s webcomic Scary Go Round, which established the world Giant Days inhabits) prior to this page, though Esther herself was a long-established character.
A joss stick, in mid-late 20th Century white English parlance, often implies an awareness of the ability of the individual to “get high.” It doesn’t say “I do drugs,” but it does say “hey, if you do drugs, I think you’re cool… and I’d like to be your friend.”
Daisy enters the scene. Firmly and immediately established as a rube, in her inability to ask for help, immediately accept necessary help when offered, or parse sarcasm.
Esther is crying when her parents leave, because even though she is a challenging winner, she is also a soft-heart.
The Head Girls are seen in the background, because the sun of a good storyteller casts foreshadow.
Nazi gold. Esther does not really believe there may be nazi gold in this trunk. She is using a common shorthand for “lost, taboo mysteries” to imply by comparison that Daisy’s trunk is ridiculous.
We meet Susan. A smoker. This makes her intimidating (smoking is cool), but also foolish (smoking will kill you). This is echoed in her pointy teeth, which she keeps until the third page of issue two— like a shark, she may devour you, but like a shark, she cannot stop moving and is slightly too intense for her own good.
Esther calls Susan “S Ptolemy” instead of “Susan” or “Susan Ptolemy.” This is how schools sometimes referred to pupils in the early 20th century, which Esther probably knows because of and has borrowed from the literature of the time: there is a massive mine of School Stories in the brit lit archive.
Daisy nails Esther’s superpower: levels of confidence previously unseen. This made her stick out rudely in Scary Go Round, a story about a small town. Giant Days is where Esther’s corners begin to get knocked off, as she’s now a confident fish in a medium-large pond.
Esther’s poster is not for ISIS, the militant group. It is for Isis, the Boston metal band.
Eustace Boyce, Esther’s boyfriend, appears via… what were people using for messages in 2011? Facebook DMs? They flirt by being charming and funny, and careful application (or non-application) of punctuation, further displaying Esther’s facility with the language. Esther has skulls on her bed, which will be a recurring design choice for her in stories to come.
“Let’s go MENTAL” meaning “let’s go crazy” meaning “let’s get drunk and make our own fun.”
Esther’s too-long sleeve here illustrating both an element of the “scene kid” style and making Esther’s ambivalence extra-clear. She looks like a lost waif.
“Paid-for educations” means that the Head Girl squad all attended private school, also called public school (we love our little jokes, here), which means they didn’t go to normal school paid for by taxes, but instead to hyper-refined schools for which their parents had to pay fees. This is the basis of much of Britain’s class warfare.
Susan has a skeleton in her room because she is a doctor in training, but we don’t know that yet. She just looks like a halloween weirdo. Daisy fears weird.
“Flip you” means “f**k you” but you can say it in front of a child or the perfume counter or a lenient headmistress. The posh chat on this page proves Allison’s facility with dialogue by changing the formula through which he’s writing.
We learn that our girls are living in Catterick Hall of Residence, which I don’t think is real. However the details of these Halls are very true to life (though all modern halls, everywhere, are probably pretty much the same).
Esther is smart and throws away her sambuca, although hopefully nobody slips on it later.
Nita can get a serious drug habit, because she is rich. She can afford either the drugs themselves or the rehab. And then to get back onto the drugs again.
Susan self-narrates like a hardboiled protagonist. This fades away in BOOM!’s Giant Days, which is nice because we all grow up. Later we learn she’s an amateur sleuth, so this narration “makes sense,” but it’s a realistic and acceptable affectation either way.
Susan and Daisy are walking past a Jerk Chicken shop because Halls are usually quite near to a variety of takeaway restaurants. For obvious reasons.
Daisy is immune to Susan’s projected Coolness, because she is the purest rube. Susan can appreciate this, which says a lot for her.
There is a whole wikipedia page for the description of British road-naming schemes. But since you are here, a B-road is so-classified due to its lower traffic density than an A-road. Implication: Daisy’s home is out of the way and not much visited, even by passers-through.
The cadence of these posh girls’ speech is just terrifically observed!
“We LOVE you” — note how the “we” is assumed. Pack mentality and entitlement! Everything about them is there, to be seen.
The girls make fun of Daisy having labelled her food because labelling one’s food in shared accommodation is often viewed as quite gauche. It suggests a lack of trust in one’s fellows. In Daisy’s case, it’s being seen as weak, and so marking her as an easier, better target.
The Daisy/Susan/Esther friendship is fully forged. All wandering about to get breakfast together, convening as if by chance on one person’s bed: it’s organic, it’s natural, it’s Right. Or at least, it’s very “university experience.” Esther has a coffee, Susan has a bowl of cereal, and Daisy gets some toast. I’m sure this foreshadows each of them in some way, but I’ll leave such thoughts for you, reader.
Enya: aggressively unaggressive, defined by non-definition. A paradox of gentleness, just like Daisy.
We learn what Daisy and Ether are studying.
Dick Bruna is the creator of the children’s book character Miffy; he does not have a building in Sheffield, but he does have one in the Netherlands. Sheff Uni does have named buildings, like “Sir Henry Stephenson Building.”
Ed Gemmell arrives, wearing the most “Ed Gemmell arrives at university” hoodie imaginable. It’s got too much pattern, he’s trying too hard to be interesting. This hoodie is Ed Gemmell’s joss stick.
A-Levels are the exams English students take before they go to University. They’re set up to be a big deal, but ultimately their only use is in deciding whether you’re going to go to University or not.
Esther and Ed get on in a way similar to Esther and Eustace, having fun with words. Poor Ed.
Ed Gemmell doesn’t understand fashion (that’s why he’s wearing his try-hard hoodie and a pyramid belt and jeans that do not fit). But he doesn’t understand it in an open-minded way: he doesn’t realise that “why are you wearing that” is an undermining question, because he thinks there must be a reason.
Esther takes revenge by undermining Ed’s nerdery. Femme vs Masc! But in the end, for both, a friendship of intellectual acceptance.
Esther has a “Mastadon” sticker on her bag – they’re a heavy metal band from Atlanta, Georgia.
The Head Girls attempt the crappest trick in the book, “pretend someone is smelly.” They are destined to lose, because they are basic.
“Plebs” aka plebians. In Rome, in times of ancient yore, this meant “a commoner.” It also means that in 2011, and now. It’s rude, don’t use it.
Daisy is home-schooled, which allows her rubery to stand uncontested. It’s not that home-schooled children know nothing of the everyday world, it’s that they could.
Facebook was still #1 social media hub, in 2011.
Daisy says “Hay” instead of “Hey” because John Allison understands phonics.
“You like the sort of person who likes dancing, Esther.” After thought, this could be a typo: “you LOOK like the (etc).” But let us take it as it is, and see Daisy as somebody who can prescribe a person’s personality to their face, and make it a shy gift of sweet attention.
“The povs” means “the people in poverty” aka “the poor people, who are different to us, who are rich.”
Daisy shouts over the music because she doesn’t have the knack for making herself heard. Because she doesn’t have much life experience! Which leads neatly into her inability to parse Esther’s gestures. (Esther’s Gestures: good name for… something)
Susan is called “Witch Hazel,” which is probably a reference to witch hazel being a primary ingredient of spot treatment, especially spot treatment marketed heavily towards teenagers in the 1990s.
Baba Yaga is a Russian hag. The hag part is the insult, here. Back in 2011 the cold war was the kind of history that wasn’t even really taught much in school.
This “fact” about Head Girls is not true. Actually it might be; I wasn’t one.
Ed Gemmell’s mad rush is indicated clearly in his horrible trousers appearing even more ill-fitting than usual.
“Cruller Derby” may have been a real band, but isn’t now. A cruller is a sort of fancy donut. Roller derby is a wheeled sport. They have been humorously combined. Going on pre-BOOM! Giant Days #3, I’d guess this is a JA Original.
Esther’s room smells “so nice,” which would be sexist if it wasn’t also “such a mess.” Well balanced.
“scanty” isn’t a word used much these days, but it means “small” in the lingerie sense.
Ed’s glasses have become wonky in his distress, which is in probably the top three Comedy Motifs of this noble land we call “England.”
Min Otomo helpfully tells the reader how to pronounce “Ptolemy,” in case any were unprepared.
A “sit-in” is a classic student tradition that has been used to protest for many valuable causes.
George Harrison appears here in his Yellow Submarine form, making a statement about Allison’s place in the British illustrative tradition. George Harrison, my babies, was a member of “The Beatles,” who were a pop band of some repute. Yellow Submarine was their 1968 animated movie. They got pretty into “eastern mysticism,” which brings us back again to the joss stick/doing some drugs aesthetic of the C20thwhite Brit. Anyway, that’s why he appears here to guide Daisy with her yoga.
It’s all got a bit Scott Pilgrim, which is fine.
Esther’s statement of “likes” is one of the ways Allison’s work stands out— his girl and woman characters really do have intellectual lives and widely varied aesthetic pursuits.
The Beast seen on Esther’s bag here is a Scary Go Round motif.
Esther’s fighting style is Marquess of Queensbury Rules. M of Q Rules were a code of boxing introduced to the spot in the Victorian Era. They mandated the use of gloves, and other formal aspects. Marquess of Queensbury Rules is also a commonly used joke, as they’re often implicitly too pure of heart and distinct of form to be of any practical use (they are no longer in use in sport boxing). It’s very “Indiana Jones just shoots the guy doing fancy swordplay” (the sword guy is the one adhering to the rules). Esther is a winner with these rules, though, because Esther is a Winner.
“you’ve popped out” means “your tit has escaped its fabric casing.” A cue to put it away wired deep into the brain of a majority of boob-havers, and at immediate speed. Not very Queensbury, but not actually disallowed.
Foxy boxing is a real subgenre of boxing; it’s fetish boxing featuring “foxy” women. Esther uses the term here to congratulate herself on being a winner and a babe.
Nita’s furry boots trapping a fashion moment in amber forever, here.
Honestly it seems a little unlikely that a private school head girl would have especially flammable hair extensions. But that’s nuance, I guess. Who knows why Nita needed cheaper hair? She appears to be wearing a nicotine patch, so perhaps she thought her days of being flammable were over?
“As if they were never there…” Allison’s way with horror and supernatural elements sneaks in around the edges of this story. Very traditional, very comforting.
Only coming out of your uni room because you have to go to the loo: a rite of sad passage.
Esther acknowledges her fashion, because the narrative commitment to it is real!
Pink hearts for emphasis of feeling and unreality of wonder. To be in love at university… what a time.
Esther teases and torments Eustace with her horny nonsense because she can. She is a confident fish, and he is a tiny little water feature.
She doesn’t share what actually happened, which is very traditional, again, not necessarily a bad sign… but is also the shape of things to come.
Ed Gemmell is similarly tormented by Esther’s sexual exuberance. Likewise, this outlines the next forty-two issues and seven real-world years of Giant Days publication. Esther likes them, but, the boys around her… they are not strong.
Claire Napier is a writer and editor, and has been published by The Guardian, ComicsAlliance, and of course at WomenWriteAboutComics, for which she served as Editor in Chief for several years. You can find her on Twitter here, you can find her website here, and you can buy her comic Dash Dearborne here!
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These annotations are great. Thank you!
Catterick is also the name of an army garrison in North Yorkshire. Maybe the implication is that the hall is like a barracks, providing spartan accommodation.