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. Luckily Claire Napier has agreed to step in and annotate each issue, to give us a little more guidance and understanding! And as we reach the end of the first year of University for the girls, she’s joined by special guest annotator Kieron Gillen! Off of comics!!
By Claire Napier and Kieron Gillen
Kieron Gillen: They’ve just announced Giant Days is ending. Let us have a ceremonial moment’s silence.
End of Year One Episode! This is going to be like the bit in Grease when they fly into the sky in a car. Spoilers, obv. It’s been a while since I’ve read this bit of Giant Days, and clearly, being a man of infinite age, realising that it’s the End Of The First Year Of University, I recalled my own end of the first year which was basically all about going to my first Glastonbury festival, and then I flick forward a few pages after this, and remember that they absolutely do the end of first year festival story. Man, this comic. Can I come back next issue, Claire and Steve? Pllllease?
Claire Napier: I’m very excited about this issue, Guest Gillen, because a small bird has informed me you are something of a “big brain” on the subject of the pop music. I might not, maybe maybe, have to google a single thing this issue! Which is to say: yes, absolutely, lend me your KNOWLEDGE. I am no Dr Lady Sounds.
KG: Don’t trust me, Claire. I will only lie to you about pop music for my own terrible amusement.
CN: What’s better than a good story? I love lies. Tell me lies!
CN: I also remember the last week of my first year, sort of. I was very, very miserable, but to such an extent that I had reached the hell party: a sort of “nothing is real” carefree enjoyment of feeling like death. That’s quite different to here, which is nice. The idea of going back to the uni flats does sort of still make me want to hurl, but in a very mild way. It’s nice to imagine a different, museum version of them, which is what Susan seems to be doing. There’s an interesting hedonism in the enjoyment of the crap.
KG: Susan is being sweet. I’ve actually vaguely headed back to the Hall where I lived during the first year, during a low-fi crappy psychogeographical version of London Orbital where I wandered around Bath, in all the places I left it. It was a… wary moment. I really didn’t want to go back to that building.
But formally, look at that Pasta Kettle. A+ Pasta Kettle drawing formalism.
CN: I’m pretty sure that we never saw Daisy start a pasta kettle fire, which is a great decision in my opinion. Some would say ERRRR RETCON??, maybe, but it’s more like there is more to life than the stories we’ve already told. There’s always more of someone, right?
KG: It’s very much like Calvin’s Noodle incident, innit? I do like the idea characters lives are busier than can be fit on the page, because any storytelling is editing. You don’t see Captain America poop often, after all.
CN: On the commentary to Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley said “Style is selection,” which is basically the best line I ever heard. Giant Days is very stylish, because it makes these selections.
KG: For the record, I actually did set a fire involving misadventures with grills halls, so I’m very much the Daisy in this scenario. The “these people haven’t a fucking clue how to effectively Human” is one of the many great things about Giant Days. Been that person. Been it hard.
At this point, I’m trying to work out what Daisy’s T-shirt says. Olympia Hat Show? Olympia Cat Show? The latter seems more likely.
KG: Boat Show!? Olympia Boat Show!?! Oh no. I have realised that Daisy, for all her charms, most reminds me of a friend of mine at university who protested she wasn’t that rich because “Daddy has had to sell the yacht.” Bless her.
CN: Never sell the yacht!! Boats don’t lose their value over time, and are therefore life’s best investment. I learnt this from a novel, so it mightn’t be true.
Olympia Boat Show is a real boat show, I looked it up. It was founded in 1955, and got its very own stamp.
McGraw is standing exactly where I would stand to drink my outdoor tea. My room to the left of me, smokers to the right, here I am: stuck in the middle of my own crusted nostalgia trip. Giant Days blesses… but it also curses. Help!
KG: I always think McGraw is like 8 years older than the rest of the cast. Is he? Did I miss a panel about that? There was a guy in my first halls who we all thought was impossibly ancient, as he was 27 years old.
CN: He’s not—he was at school with Susan. He’s just Eternally Hot.
Hama beads, of course, are those little… tiny bits of piping… that you put on a hedgehog board… and iron. Why? I don’t know. That’s the nature of crafting.
KG: I presumed it was witch stuff. This may just be my assumption that anything involving a goth probably involves witch stuff.
CN: I can’t believe we’re on Opium again. Are there poppies growing outside your work shed, John Allison?
KG: John Allison, gentleman, last of the opium eaters. He is very much comics answer to De Quincey. This has just given me the idea of a new comic, of Thomas de Quincey: MD. Eric! Eric Stephenson! Are you up for it?
CN: I’m going to buy them all.
KG: I love all of Esther’s body language throughout this. Oh, Sarin, you are spoiling us. She has no chill, and I love her.
CN: Youtube is terrible, but it’s also a repository of fantastic teaching. Let’s list the things we’ve learnt there:
- How to do eyeshadow
- What a “diffuser” is, in hair drying terms
- How to make melon pan
- Which online clothing brands run true to size & quality of photography
- What’s in various celebrities’ bags
- How to prepare a whole squid.
I cannot hear that crow line in any voice other than Roger Moore’s. If you think about it, Giant Days really does shoulder the cultural legacy of SPICEWORLD.
KG: I’d comment, but I just noticed Ed’s cargo shorts, and am horrified. Oh, Ed. Ed. ED.
In passing, the segue of clothes in the seasons is just wonderful in Giant Days. I can’t think of a book which more gets clothes in a low key way than Giant Days. Both Ed and Esther’s outfits speak to their character, and the exact moment of the year – this is basically what my social group looked like as they were about to traipse off to Glastonbury.
CN: A hundred years ago when I had my “own” blog I wrote about the fashion in Scary Go round and Johnny A (or an impostor??) left a comment about harem pants. Probably if he hadn’t I’d never had written about comics again.
Dean Thompson is such a MYSTERY. He’s full of contradictions! Would such a snooty guy say snitches get stitches? Apparently so. Fascinating.
KG: They contain multitudes. MULTITUDES.
The worst thing I did in exam season in the first year was phone my most stressed friend the day before the first exam and ask her why she hadn’t turned up. I did tell her after she had a little scream, and later got a drink thrown on me for it, and rightly so.
CN: Oh my god?????
KG: I knnnooooooowwwwww!
Let’s move on.
CN: I miss summer being as sacred as it used to be……………..
So, Games Workshop. I feel like this is your area more than mine. Which, in context, feels like I have insulted you? This isn’t my fault. It’s the text.
KG: The thing is to insult Games Workshop this specifically implies you know Games Workshop enough to be specific, which means it’s always a self-own. You reveal yourself, Allison. At C and my wedding, the one actual geeky note I added was naming the tables after the Warhammer 40k Space Marine primarchs (though we lost any which were clearly too sinister like “Mortarion.”) This is the sort of high level geek reference which is basically invisible to any sensible people, who’d presume historical figures or something. However, I caught a somewhat cooler friend peering at them, and asked me, pointedly, “Kieron – do I know these references?” To which I smile and ask “I don’t know, Seth… do you know these references.” To mock me properly, he’d have to had outed himself. I digress.
CN: Full on court intrigue at the Games Workshop wedding!!
KG: (Of course, Esther making a D&D alignment joke shows she’s a bit of a Seth Bingo on the quiet.)
I can’t help but think Allison doing the alignment joke is Gail-Simone style trolling, as Warhammer has never used a 5-point alignment system.
CN: Annotation annotation: Gail-Simone style trolling being, of course, upsetting overinvested people by pretending you’re ignorant about nerd things whilst being in charge of nerd things.
KG: You can tell this is a fantastical hyper-real universe, as Games Workshop never stock anything which they don’t make, so the anime girl statue in panel 3 simply wouldn’t be there. The weirdest thing about Warhammer is how un-sexual it is. It probably explains why all the angry men are so angry. Sexual frustration is a hell of a thing for a Space Marine.
CN: I bet there’s fan fiction about that. Something to google this issue after all!
KG: In passing, at least in the UK, one of the most interesting things about GW in the last decade is that it’s clearly done a bunch of training in terms of welcoming people to the space. I often wish there was a comic shop chain which had the basic level of customer relations training as GW does now. I mean, clearly it’s a male dominated hobby, but when C goes in to buy something for me, they’ve clearly been trained to not presume she’s buying it for someone else.
Oh god. I’ve turned this into a serious discussion and I’m also getting a bit thirsty for the dragon in panel 4.
CN: Kieron Gillen is a dragonfucker, everyone!!
KG: I am offended. I am a Dragonlovemaker.
CN: Safe as houses… and then a house destruction vehicle appears. God. That’s so good! Such a good joke! And it remains unstated! It’s so well arranged! So streamlined! J K Rowling is no longer Britain’s Best Plotter.
KG: Strong lettering in panel 3 as well. See – I’m drawing attention to the contribution of all the creative team. This is how you do it, reviewers. You don’t want an angry Hassan chasing you down, mark my words.
CN: Hassan is like the least scary person in British comics! LETTERING IS FAKE, ANYONE COULD DO IT! I’ll never face retribution for this~
KG: I love that Esther is the Official Grown Up Who Will Judge You. It took me until around episode 34 of WicDiv to realise that our norns were basically “What If The Giant Days Cast Got Superpowers”, with Daisy as Cassandra. Go Daisy! You’re the best!
Actual, Daisy’s trip up Whimsy street makes her the best. Maybe they’re all the best.
CN: CULTURE TIP: If you enjoy the image of a large bird with a sinister man’s head, you may also enjoy The Vulture (1967)!
KG: Thanks, Claire!
I wonder if Esther has the two-noose image saved for occasions like this. I suspect so.
CN: A doctor is always prepared.
CN: Is “melts my butter” a good thing or a bad? “Burns my biscuits,” a sister phrase, is a bad thing. But Susan seems to be enjoying herself. And melted butter is a good thing. We are pushing boundaries and creating new ground, here. Like Shakespeare. (Non-sarcastic!)
KG: I also love the Evil Mastermind Finger Pose. Note also Esther’s delirious eyes.
CN: Is a 24 hour law firm a real thing? As an exam prankster of the above-stated magnitude, I assume you know about the wider world of criminal defence.
KG: We’re in a universe where Games Workshops sell other companies’ products. Anything is possible.
CN: Susan loves dinginess and grot! This is why I so easily mistake myself for “a Susan.” That and the multi-directional hair. All of these Giant Girls are so keen, always, to explore. Of course, I’m actually an Esther in disguise. GUEST GILLEN: Which are you?
KG: I think I’m an Esther too.
CN: The jacket full of skulls! Of course.
CN: Look at that secretary design. That’s such a real-looking woman! For one panel!
KG: Yes! She is so wry and real. I want to hang out with this character and know about her life as the receptionist in this hellish 24 hour lawyer. Spin off series! Immediately!
Pile of cigarettes in the ashtray is a nice storytelling detail as well.
CN: I believe in “It’ll be fine”
KG: Yet I still don’t believe in the Olympia Boat Show.
CN: It was cancelled this year, Kieron. Look what you’ve done.
KG: I am full of shame. Oh! There is no such thing as a bad afternoon at Games Workshop. Every afternoon at Games Workshop is a blessed time.
CN: McGraw and Daisy are such nice friends! They’re like lovely hobbits.
KG: Ah! You’ve just made me realise who McGraw reminds me of – it’s amazing cartoonist Tom Humberstone. Buy Tom’s stuff. He’s ace. For my 40th birthday, C threw me a surprise Lord of the Rings themed birthday party, based around Bilbo’s going away party. A bunch of folks turned up in fancy dress, with several hobbits. Most people did a kind of broad comedy hobbit. Tom turned up in a strong Hipster Hobbit look, who you could imagine leaning against the bar, sipping real ale while watching the Decemberists in the mid-00s. I think McGraw would do similarly, and then frown at the state of the carpentry around my home.
Man, Daisy is so good at pool. Are you good at Pool? It’s one of my weaknesses. I didn’t spend enough time bumming around the pool hall in my first year, I suspect.
CN: I’m OK at Pool but I always assume I’m better than I actually am, which makes me worse.
KG: I presume you’re better than me. I will never have my own pool pole 😦
CN: The hair, the arms, the sensual embarrassment. Look at Ed’s knobbly elbow. Adorable.
KG: This is where the Giant Days cast differs from my social group, in that we would have inevitably had sex at this point. The social group was so incestuous that it makes a Game of Thrones family would raise an eyebrow.
KG: If only we had tried the capital glass of water. It would have prevented so much drama.
CN: You’re weaving a great intrigue here. It’s very compelling!
KG: It was a time. In terms of the big headline here, My essays are also barely English, so I have my sympathies here.
CN: Satan loves a self-deprecator. Don’t do his work for him—the young people are watching!
KG: Don’t worry, I know I’m the the best at self-deprecating.
High Quality Journalism is back, in the form of this clearly not self-indulgent set of notes.
CN: Sheffield Super News: not a real newspaper.
KG: Day 1 of 1 is a very funny joke.
CN: A nice bit of varied architecture, here! This is actually an identifiable building—Firth Hall, of the University of Sheffield. So for those of us who’ve idly wondered if we’re maybe in Sheffield Hallam, or an unreal and imaginary ur-University… we’re not. We’re at Sheff U. CASE CLOSED.
KG: You’re right! I missed this in my read-through, despite knowing the various Sheffield Universities quite well. In fact, I actually set a story there. Generation Hope 9, servicing corporate trademarks fans.
CN: Self-deprecation well balanced by this sudden blast of self-promo. Alright… I approve.
KG: Anyway – now that Claire has provided an actually useful fact, these annotations have justified themselves in terms of added value. This must be what Jess Nevins’ feels like all the time.
CN: I swear I’ve discussed a seed drill in this column previously.
KG: Plot seed, if you will. Ahahahahahahahahahahahaahhahadies.
CN: “Fanny pack” is indeed a funny and ridiculous term—but so is bumbag, the homegrown name for it. Let’s not abandon the humour that lies near at hand.
KG: I like the little star by Dean’s head in panel 3. Dean, more than a superstar.
CN: A steamer trunk is a sturdy and stowable form of early suitcase—for people taking passage on a steamer (ship), for example. Basically a big ol’ rectangle you can cram full of stuff and slide under your bunk. Ole fashioned and outmodedly formal, much like Dean; often found to be containing dead bodies or other evidence.
Panel three: extremely good. That’s a panel for the ages.
KG: And four! And five! An action sequence. Good bounce through the window into the Tax car he’s making his escape in. Presumably he has a friend in the tax services who’s aiding his escape.
Oh – Ed says it was a Taxi. I am not good at this, Claire.
CN: It’s your first time. We’ll be OK!
CN: DRESS DISSECTION: Daisy is flapperesque and youthful, ready to be sexually daring and blossom. Susan is making the barest concession to the “event,” and is dressed like an adult. Esther is a 1980s cowboy bride, rejecting our reality and substituting her own. It’s all so beautifully tone-accurate.
Ed, the shame of our lives, wears “a t-shirt” and “some trousers.” I suppose at least neither has any words on.
KG: He is a total disappointment. I’m glad him and Esther didn’t sleep together now.
I am quite fond of the theme of this episode of heavy machinery being commented upon as metaphors by the cast.
CN: Heavy machinery which they don’t like. Making it… BAD machinery?? Well played, Johnny A!
CN: Girl-Shaggy has come to shag Ed. Such good character design. Such good body language. Panache.
KG: Yay! Panel 4 is solving the problem of comics that it’s very bad at showing small movements without using multiple panels, so you have to do some shorthand. On last page, we had “Pat Pat” of Susan of Esther’s shoulders – the other standard option there would be motion lines, but Giant Days is clearly more onomatopoeia. Here, we have Jenny lampshading the gesture she’s meant to do to i) make it absolutely clear what’s happening and ii) make a joke, so we’re not taken out of the story by being that hand-holdy.
In passing, sarcasm is one of the things which really recognisably identified in comics unless as lampshaded as this. This has been a cause of ongoing frustration for someone with my tendencies.
CN: Practicality is such a drag!
But wait a minute. Did we just have a dance… with no… music? No music references? Have I squandered my wild card?? Well that settles it, you have to come back next week. I’m not doing a festival on my own.
KG: Alas, I’ve blown all my university stories in this episode. There are no more.
(There are many more.)
The “Music cutting out symbol” is cute, but also not enough to absolutely signal that the dancing has stopped. Hence Esther helping us out. Otherwise the reader may think the cast are afraid of an alien, scuttering across the ceiling.
Strong pose from Daisy here on the dancefloor.
And for the second time, a glass of water replaces more salacious activities. Industrial machinery and glasses of water are the language of Giant Days.
KG: Three silent panels of romance are adorable. Fun choice of pose as well, especially in the first panel.
CN: Egregious formality is such fun, isn’t it?
KG: Quite. Let’s note Daisy’s expression of total evil in the last panel. She has a time ahead of her.
KG: Sitting on an enormous piece of industrial machinery, thinking of the future and the destruction they have yet to wrought. THEMATICALLY SIGNIFICANT HEAVY MACHINERY again.
CN: Daisy actually has a steamer trunk (or is it more of a landbound chest?), bless her heart.
KG: Steamer Trunks are just a great visual – they look great, signify adventure and treasure and all the good stuff. I also like the duck.
I’ve only just remembered that the knock on the door of my Dad picking me up from University in the first year, and I had company, which was (er) embarrassing for everyone. Daisy’s last day is far better than mine.
CN: You also received unexpected help in “handling” your “trunk”? Haw haw haw
KG: Thought if my Gran knocked on my door, it would likely be worse? I honestly can’t tell.
“Avon Valley Festival” is such a glorious off-brand name for the Glastonbury Festival. Unless it’s an actual festival. Who can tell? You know, I’d have thought they’d have gone to Leeds festival for their adventures rather than Glastonbury. It’s a long way to traipse.
CN: And we can see why we as a people moved on from the trunk era of journeying. They’re unwieldy if you don’t have the staff!
KG: And lift from your legs, not your back, Esther! You’re going to do yourself an injury.
Giant Days #18
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Max Sarin
Inked by Liz Fleming
Coloured by Whitney Cogar
Lettered by Jim Campbell
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