By Ned Barnett
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. And as a Christmas Present, we’re heading back into Christmas past with guest annotator Ned Barnett! Ned, tell ’em about the 2017 Holiday Special, ho ho ho!
I’ve somehow tricked Steve into thinking that I am British, and therefore qualified to explain the humour of Giant Days to an international audience. I am, however, an American who did his MSc at Edinburgh Uni and married a Brit so… you get what you pay for.
It’s the start of winter hols! The girls are bored! They could go home early – but who wants to do that and revert back to their teenage selves?
S.A.D. is seasonal affective disorder, a depression which is caused by the Winter months. You can buy lamps to combat it and everything.
Good thing Brexit is coming so we can RECLAIM OUR CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and fight the war on Christmas or whatever – Steve.
Esther decides that it’s time to do the most magic of things: Go to London just before Christmas and stay with her friend Shelley Winters. Who she isn’t even Facebook friends with?!
Esther’s laptop has a Jack Skellington sticker on it, because she is a goth.
And they’re off to London on the MegaBus! I have never ridden a Mega Bus but I have Heard Stories. I have stories…
We find out that Shelley works for the government, in the Ministry of History (which doesn’t exist in the real world).
Reptiles use the Jacobson’s organ to convert tastes into smells, which is why I’m glad we chose to evolve.
They arrive at Victoria Coach Station, a real place Daisy knows London from HP Sauce (brown sauce) bottles – not to get political, but HP Sauce is the superior condiment for putting on your baked beans and toast.
Dick Whittington and His Cat is English folklore about a man who comes out of an impoverished childhood to become a wealthy merchant and later mayor of London, inspired by actual wealthy merchant and former mayor of London Richard Whittington. The folk-story was first written down in the seventeenth century, and has been adapted into numerous theatrical performances, including: puppet theatre with Punch, an opera, and a panto.
Oh, more explanation required. Pantos – or pantomimes – are a uniquely British holiday tradition where actors perform a play loosely retelling a classic story and featuring slapstick comedy and musical numbers. I have never attended a panto, but I hear they are like a family friendly version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Who told you they were family friendly? Clearly they’ve never seen Des O’Connor and Julian Clary rock Woking Theatre.
Our heroines reach Shelley’s street! It looks just like where Bridget Jones lives. Her flat is gorgeous. Shelley is gorgeous.
Shelley’s landlords are Ernie and Bess, a Pearly king and queen. Pearlies are so called because they sew mother of pearl buttons onto their clothing in order to draw attention to themselves and aid in fundraising. The Pearly tradition is a lifelong commitment to raising money for charity, and is distinctly working class. Pearlies are cool – go read about them.
Shelley lives in a Utopian Dream Home, complete with a bunk bed nook. The only thing reminding us that she is a Real Woman in Her Twenties is the ubiquitous Audrey Hepburn picture on her wall.
Shelley is, of course, a romantic comedy heroine of the Richard Curtis movie variety.
Shelley continues to be gorgeous. The neighborhood cat is outside her window and wants to come in, but alas, Shelley is allergic. Chekov’s cat, if you will.
“why do I love the things I can’t have the most” – a Richard Curtis heroine, you say, Ned?
The girls get stuck on Oxford Street, which is The Big Shopping Street in London. There are so many people!
Silk Road was an online black market and the first modern darknet market, best known as a platform for selling illegal drugs. As part of the dark web, it was operated as a Tor hidden service, such that online users were able to browse it anonymously and securely without potential traffic monitoring. Of COURSE Susan knows this.
TO THE UNDERGROUND.
The V&A is the Victoria and Albert Museum, named after Queen Victoria and her beloved husband.
Someone steals Esther’s phone! Susan will destroy him.
Susan destroys him.
Esther is worried the pickpocket had a knife. Knife crime is far more common than gun crime in the UK, given that guns are illegal in the UK and knives are… not.
Daisy is prepared for anything.
Esther enjoying a bit of the ol’ white privilege there, to be honest.
Esther goes to visit Shelley at the Ministry of History. Which, again, does not exist.
None of the clocks on the walls have the same time, or even the same minute hand.
There’s a new guy named Sid who is making a departmental documentary, and he dresses like Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation. This is probably just coincidence.
I’m sensing a Love Actually stalker angle from Sid already.
Is Shelley a SPY?
It’s quite Richard Curtis-y for the older boss to be a bit inappropriate around the young women he works with. Stop paying attention to skirt length, perv!
Waiting For A Star To Fall is a song by Boy Meets Girl. It’s not good. Here it is!
Our heroines reunite! Susan smells mansplaining – and sure enough, Shelley and Esther are being entertained by Hugh-Grant-alike Grant Poplar. I desperately hope that Poplar is an extended play on Hugh Grant’s name. Hew-a-tree. Poplar.
Sounds like Hilary Mantel’s gone on a bender at the art gallery. Grant works at an art gallery!
He’s so self-centered his motorcycle says “GRAAAAAAANT” as he zooms away
We meet Cecil, Shelley’s nerdy-yet-charming neighbor who is carrying an Alan Bennett book for her to borrow. Bennett is an English actor, playwright, author, and screenwriter, who has written works including The Madness of King George III and The History Boys.
If Grant Poplar is the Hugh Grant in our story, then Cecil is the Colin Firth.
A third suitor has entered the fray! The girls discover a bouquet of red roses on Shelley’s doorstep – who could they be from? Signs point to Sid.
You should always pay attention when Daisy doesn’t like someone.
Shelley rushes off because novelist Martin Amis has had too much to drink and is fighting people at Grant’s gallery! It’s an Amis/Mantel battle!
Susan wants to snoop. She uses a pencil to pick up the evidence, because she’s an experienced professional.
Susan wins, they snoop and find all the paraphernalia of a romantic comedy heroine ala Bridget Jones. Lots of empty wine bottles – but plenty of full ones. Used tissues. Her record collection has Boxer by The National. Alphabet magnets that spell “butts.” Shelley’s life is lonely and sad.
Having run out of cash (London is expensive), the girls decide to help Shelley’s weird London life!
Step one: get a big beefy Christmas tree.
And get her thinking about “trading up”!
Step two: Get the big beefy Christmas tree stuck in the stairs.
So Cecil hears!
Step three: When Cecil offers to help, get him stuck with Shelley.
If you enjoy Circadian Control of Dendrite Morphology, here’s an essay for you to enjoy with your eggnog.
Cecil has little white hairs at the side of his head like Mr Fantastic!
Susan’s talked about white knighting before. It’s probably all that time with McGraw, who would’ve almost certainly acted in exactly the same way Cecil did.
Esther goes to the office with Shelley, and Susan disappointingly shows Daisy around the decidedly less-seedy-than-she-remembers SoHo, London’s version of the Red Light District. Gentrification in effect.
Susan continues to traumatise Daisy.
A spot-on artistic detail is National Lottery signboard outside the shop. Great touch by Jenn St-Onge!
Sid confesses to Esther that HE sent the flowers… to her. But Esther ignores this detail.
Esther has a word with Sid, and can’t see that he’s editing the documentary – and it’s all video of her! Just like we said – he’s that guy who’s obsessed with Keira Knightley in Love, Actually.
Esther tells him to follow his dreams – assuming his dreams are about Shelley. She tells him not to watch her sleep because that’s an Edward Cullen move and creepy.
Ina Garten is the Barefoot Contessa – as we’ve seen in previous issues, the girls are obsessed with her.
It looks like Shelley and Grant are going steady. Wink wink nudge nudge.
What a curiously protracted horse riding metaphor.
Susan’s instincts are poor!
Return of Chekov’s cat.
Shelley gives the girls money and coupons. Londoners are obsessed with coupons. They never travel without a second wallet full of the things.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done” is a Charles Dickens quote. Esther doesn’t finish it: “it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Shelley’s Strong Female Protagonist apron is a reference to Strong Female Protagonist, a web comic by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag.
Shelley’s face is all swollen up and she doesn’t realise it! Grant suggests a candlelit dinner and just looks at his food – until Shelley catches fire! It’s a hilarious romantic comedy!
Shelley yells ‘Baw’ which is Scots for ‘testicle’ but that’s probably not what Allison was going for, I don’t think Tackleford is near Scotland.
Daisy let Satan in.
Shelley is drinking Half & Half, which I don’t think exists in the UK. Half milk and half cream? Why don’t we have that?!
Grant, of course, is a coward and runs away from the puffy-faced, flaming Shelley. But fear not! Cecil comes to the rescue with water and antihistamines! And they are still on for their date so all is not lost. Cecil is a good boy.
The girls head back to Sheffield! They run into Cecil in the hall – he has flowers for Shelley! All’s well that ends well, right?
A triple wink – good lord, Cecil, don’t blow this.
Daisy’s really gone ham on that scarf, hasn’t she?
After congratulating themselves on a job well done, Esther’s drama detector goes off as Grant GRAAAANTS on by
Grant quotes Elvis Presley (or 10 Things I Hate About You) AND Jerry Maguire.
Cecil challenges Grant to a duel of fisticuffs just like in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
And then in comes “Waiting for a Star to Fall” by Boy Meets Girl.
What on earth is Sid doing on the back of a lorry dressed like Santa surrounded by other Santas? Declaring his undying love for someone, of course. Romantic comedies taught him that this was appropriate behaviour!!
Cecil and Grant are united in their hatred for Sid.
Shelley clarifies that this hellish float is for Esther, not her. As Grant and Cecil kick Sid’s ass, he screams the iconic “to me you are perfect” from Love, Actually as Esther looks on in horror.
And like a good rom com heroine, Shelley has a flask. Chaos continues to reign. Happy Holidays everyone!
Giant Days Holiday Special 2017
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Jenn St-Onge
Coloured by Sarah Stern
Lettered by Jim Campbell
When not watching Richard Curtis movies, Ned Barnett makes comics about history! You can find out more about his comics work here, and follow him on Twitter here! You can also support Ned over on Patreon here!
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!