By Ryan K Lindsay
G’day! This issue of Giant Days is chock-a-block full of little Aussie moments that are unreal as well as bloody unreal, so I thought I’d bring my homegrown knowledge to the table for this set of annotations for Giant Days: Where Woman Glow and Men Plunder.
Get your double pluggers on, we’re strolling through the issue right now as we follow Ed Gemmell on a romp to and through Australia to spend time with the girl he’s falling in love with, Nina.
We open on an establishing shot of Ed’s house in England. His father is warning him about the dangers of the Sydney funnel web spider – their fatality rate and their penchant for hiding in shoes. This is an appropriate opening gambit because Australia is so often equated with spiders – and! It is something that’s not just an elbow nudge kind of laugh because they are legitimately everywhere. I nearly walked into a palm-sized one today that had a 5 foot wide web and was perched in it directly at eyeball height.
Ed’s mother warns him to be careful about tapping his slippers before putting them on, and I can confirm that this is a timeless Aussie tradition. There’s a reason we always wear bloody thongs [yeah, that’s what we call ‘em] and it’s because nothing hairy and ready to run up your leg can hide effectively in those skimpy pieces of footwear.
Here Ed’s father tries to get Ed to talk about Nina’s physical qualities, culminating in him talking about Ed’s mother having “cracking pins” when she was younger, which means really nice legs. It’s both a harmless tet-a-tet and also a perfect showcase of the foundation Ed is coming from, and then specifically not emulating. He doesn’t want to objectify Nina, and we know this from the start.
At Heathrow Airport, Ed’s father tries to give some fatherly advice about women. He sounds like he’s coming from a pretty stupid angle, generalising about gender, but he also says something pretty sharp when Ed rebukes his offer – “Ah, well, it’s only a lifetime of wisdom, son.” It’s a great line because the old man clearly knows, to some degree, what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t know how to get it to connect with his son.
The perils of age, and the frivolity of youth all summed up in one interaction as they pass like ships in the night. The father tries to be genuine, for a brief moment, before reminding Ed to use a “sheath” [condom] to save him from any sexually transmitted issues that might arise.
I’m sure this is some kind of Homer-coded hero’s journey moment, but I’m here to annotate the Aussie stuff, so I’ll move it all along.
Ed is in Singapore Airport, munching on an oversized Toblerone chocolate bar. Anyone who’s ever flown overseas out of Australia, and needed to stop in Singapore, has definitely seen one of these. I’ve just never seen someone eat one like a triangular chocolate sub, but I now live in hope.
Ed tells border patrol he’s visiting a friend outside Canberra, which was a moment that made me smile as I live in Canberra, so thanks John Allison for including my neck of the woods.
Ed is shown a board of biosecurity risks, and while it includes silly things like apple and marzipan, it also includes Fluff, and I can tell you most people think that marshmallow spread is the sandwich condiment personification of all that is wrong with America, so we definitely aim to keep it outside our girt by sea borders.
Well done on a good job making the airport baggage claim look like the one we have in our airport, bravo.
Ed gets swamped by Nina, who lays a bone-crunching hug on him, and then a separate panel for a big love-heart endorsed, pink background “PASH!” – the only way to describe a kiss between two love birds when on our island.
Nina’s father makes an appearance and introduces himself as Alf. Any Aussie worth his salt will absolutely know this is a reference to the Australian All-Father Alf Stewart – he of renown from the ancient Aussie mythological landscape of traditional stories known as the soap opera Home & Away.
Just to segue here, so you all know, Home & Away is one of two titanic soap operas that absolutely every single Australian has found themselves watching religiously, every weekday, at some stage in their life. It launched in 1988, and Ray Meagher played Alf in that pilot, and the show still runs today. It’s screened 7,475 episodes [correct at time of publication] and I can imagine if Alf appears in only half of those episodes, then that means he’s raised more teenagers across our wide brown land than any other man alive [unless it’s Dr Karl Kennedy, as played by Alan Fletcher in rival soap Neighbours, who might be a more raunchy preference for some].
They all drive out of Canberra and pass the Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve as they cross state lines [the name is real, but the comic has a typo with one less R than is needed]. This means they’re driving north-east out of town.
50km later – and I appreciate them using kilometres, and not miles – they pass Lake Knut, which is a fake name. I’d assume given their direction that they mean Lake George, but changed the name for some reason. It’s a funny old lake because for years it was completely dry, but more rainy years recently means it finally has some water, and I’d assume this is the true joke behind the dialogue of Nina saying she found her love of boats there, and that her dog temporarily drowned there. Pretty hard to submerge your dog in a “lake” that looked like a desert for a very long time.
They then arrive in the town of Hunter. I’ll admit, it took me a minute to work out where this was supposed to be. There’s a Hunter Valley region, but that’s north of Sydney, which wouldn’t make sense, so I figured it must be something just north of Lake George. A small town. Then I saw it, the town of Collector. So John Allison, sharp fella that he is, has changed Collector to Hunter in the story, which is ace because there’s a fantastic Aussie band called Hunters & Collectors, so this made me smile very much once I cracked the code.
Alf is certainly set up to be the stern unemotional patriarch we’ve come to expect.
Nina hopes Ed won’t mind some sneaking around, and then she leaves him to rest. Fair enough, too, flying to Australia is exhausting from just about any country in the world, but particularly deep in Europe. Ed is clearly cooked.
Hats off to Allison for drawing a super authentic outdoor area. The table/chair setting is ubiquitous over here, as is the uncomfortable and impossible to keep clean sitting couches made of scratchy cushions, rough woven wicker, and usually about 5kg of spiderwebs.
Nina calls Ed a ‘drongo’ which is one of those really ocker slang words that you don’t actually hear a lot of over here on the street in any authentic way, but it means an idiot.
Aidan, the cop brother, then delivers a bone crunching hand shake as Ed is still shaking from the encounter. Another example of classic familial hazing that we seem to revel in throughout Australia.
Nina’s mother, Shirley [which is just a cracking old Aussie name, especially when shortened to “Shirl” – i.e. “Get us another beer, ay, Shirl!”], tells them to stop pulling Ed’s chain and then he meets Nana Joan – a loveable halfling-sized weapon of truth, hugs, and a loveable spirit. Ed is clearly taken with her, which is nice because he needs to start feeling comfortable with someone in this trip.
You’ll note, so far the ladies of the Archer family are nice to Ed openly and up front, and the men are fairly distant, or do their best to be presented as oppositional forces, but in a jocular way. Yeah, this is classic Aussie male bonding. You never actually show you like someone openly, and you do your best to always push against them in minor passive-aggressive ways. It’s constant, but it is changing, somewhat.
We now flashback to Alf first running for Mayor because his father was Mayor, and we learn he originally lost to an opponent named Digger Devlin, a name that sounds more suited to professional wrestling and yet could totally fit in throughout most aspects of Australian culture, politics included.
An “outdoor dunny” kind of town means a town that’s no longer behind the times, because a dunny is a toilet [having stemmed from the UK ‘dunnekin’ and become much more Aussie by shortening it and throwing a Y sound at the end], and having one still outdoors on your property is a sure sign you are not modern yet.
The town used to dump its waste into Lake Knut – something I could totally see happening here – and once they stopped that process, Nana Joan thought they could use the water space to hold a huge annual regatta. Alf is proud of this, but not as proud as he is of the event now hosting his calling card of the state’s longest snag [a sausage, usually cooked on the bbq]. Which does make me wonder, if it’s only the state’s longest, then there’s at least one other, longer snag out there in the country.
When Nina explains they are both no longer drinking grog [alcohol], we get a full panel of Alf’s back as he turns it on Ed. This is a pretty common response at most Aussie bbq settings as drinking alcohol – especially in groups of males – is considered a pastime so deeply ingrained I consistently wait for two blokes smashing down some Victoria Bitter cans to replace the kangaroo and emu on our coat of arms.
Having fallen into the pit trap of refusing a bloke’s beer at his barbie, Ed is then asked about his favourite sports by Aidan. Sport, especially when in male groups in Australia, is something you are expected to have a deep passion for, and the ability to talk about it in ways that suggest you’re studying it, maybe you play it, or at least you believe you could coach it better than any professional of that field on any given day of the week.
Naturally, Ed fails this second test by referencing birdwatching, which elicits tears of laughter from Nina’s brother. In one page, we see how the men of the Archer family will see Ed as “less of a man” for these things, and while they don’t completely annihilate him for them, he is quickly ignored, excluded, and mocked for these traits. Poor Ed really is up against it instantly in this trip.
Of course the suggestion came from McGraw – but why didn’t he offer some ideas about outdoor DIY for poor Ed?
Nina assists Ed into bed, calling him “champ” as she does, which is particularly encouraging any time it is used. He is ready to pass out so the ever-understanding and completely sexually liberated Nina allows him a “sexual raincheck.”
This page opens with a small panel of a Christmas tree under a sweltering hot sun, just to remind you that Australia’s position in the southern hemisphere means we get Xmas in the middle of our summer, and it’s always insanely hot on and around the date.
Shirley greets Ed in the morning with what I believe is the comic’s first use of “g’day,” a phrase that is absolutely unironically used in every city and town.
Nina and Cait talk about Ed being mansplained about Shane Warne’s legendary shadow over spin bowling in cricket. Which is very true: despite Warney eventually becoming a bit of a cultural punchline through his arrogant nature, use of balding reversal technology, somehow dating Elizabeth Hurley for a brief stint, and now using enough botox to resemble a cricket ball, and not a cricket bowler, it has to be said his abilities in the sport are still worthy of 45 minutes today.
Nina excuses herself to go “lighten my burden” and when Cait responds that England is making Nina a proper lady she confirms she is by saying she’s got “class out the arse” – which is the classiest thing any Aussie can do: rhyme with a very mild pseudo rude word.
Nina walks past Tug, a local tough guy in a sleeveless shirt, exposing some tattoos, and sporting a man-bun of sorts. He stops her as she approaches the door to the “Dolls” toilets, reminding me that Aussies love to label their toilets anything over than Boys/Girls and it’s usually something cringeworthy.
Nina specifically references “Macca’s” and then an asterisk leads to an editors note-style caption explaining that it means McDonalds, which makes me wonder why Allison didn’t drop notes to explain every Aussie saying in here. Nina then tells Tug to remember to tip his waitress, which is a little strange because no one in Australia ever tips anybody.
Cait mocks Tug by saying he won the “Bogan of the Year” award, which is not a real award, but means Tug is obviously high up on the bogan chain. Bogan, here, meaning uncouth, unkind, low socio-economic, rough around the edges, slightly idiotic person.
We see Digger’s grief shown by the “SHIRL” tattoo he has on his arm being X-ed out and replaced with “MERV HUGHES,” another titanic figure of the game of cricket, and one whose bowling was eclipsed by his epic handlebar moustache, which Digger has replicated on his own upper lip.
Ed attempts to pay for the meal and Nina swats him away as she pays, another subtle shot at Ed not fulfilling the traditional masculine role that’s expected, and is fairly well embedded into Australian culture in many of its areas. The pay counter has two mugs where you can put in a bottle cap to vote between two choices, and the Vote Mal looks empty enough for cobwebs whereas the Vote Alf mug is overflowing. Many Australian cafes/restaurants employ this model of allowing the diners to make a choice, usually about which charity will receive the business’ monthly donation.
This page is just the Creek Boys talking about their plan to wreck the regatta by attacking the long snag, and in doing so we learn another one of their names is Cooko. Which is one of the two authentic and accepted versions of a name Down Under: you either add an O or a Y to the end of the name. Cook = Cooko. Dave = Daveo. John = Jonno. Gilchrist = Gilly. Steve = Stevie/Steveo.
PAGE TWENTY ONE
Nina and Ed stack the beer for the regatta and while the boxes look like they’re labelled with the generic beer name of XXXX Beer, I can assure you that XXXX is one of the major Aussie brands of beer, and it is decidedly generic. Though if Hunter is in NSW then there’s no way they’d be stacking XXXX as the primary ingredient as XXXX is a Queensland beer and New South Welshmen hate Queensland and everything that comes from there.
Also, XXXX tastes like sweaty wombat arse.
I wonder how many international visitors to our country freak out at every shape and movement thinking it’s a spider.
PAGE TWENTY TWO
Channel 7 news interview Alf Archer, leading to the chyron “Hunter Mayor prepares to unveil his snag,” which is definitely code for him flopping his tockley out [if you know what I mean].
I guess it makes sense that a comic set in Australia would have a huge bbq and snag as the centrepiece because Australia loves snags on the bbq, and we love big things, as shown by our Big Banana, Big Merino, Big Prawn, Big Jumping Crocodile, Big Avocado, Big Dead Fish, the Golden Guitar [trust me, it’s big], the Biggest Little Town in Australia [Mullumbimby, a nice place to visit], the Big Mosquito [Ozzie the Mozzie], and the Big Axe [located in Kew, but if you’re going to visit Kew, you really have to take the extra step and see what all the fuss is about in Far Kew].
PAGE TWENTY THREE
The Creek Boys prepare their plan, revealing another name, Ricky [staying with the sound convention] and then another name of Turtle, skipping the ending sound, but instead opting for the more rare, but still just as acceptable, dumb animal name as a nickname. In fact, sometimes I think Aussie nicknames are better the stupider they become – I’ve known a Horse, a Greenie [because he wore a green cast on his broken leg one time], a Dunedoo [because he came from Dunedoo], a Chook, a Ferret, a Gumboot, a Shitlips, a Doorknob Dave, a Funky, Red Dog, and the Dorrigo Devil
That Cold Chisel shirt signifies both a great taste in music alongside a penchant for the more “pub scene” lifestyle.
PAGE TWENTY FOUR
Nina’s cop brother, Aidan is called away because “some lads are hooning around town” – lads meaning young men, and hooning usually meaning going fast and somewhat dangerously. A perfect clue this is the Creek Boys and their plan.
PAGE TWENTY FIVE
Cooko grabs Alf’s brother as he sits in the van and hauls him out in plain sight of everyone else, with his face completely exposed, and he names his accomplice audibly in their getaway. This feels pretty likely to occur around here, yes.
PAGE TWENTY SIX
Back at Devlin’s property, the Creek Boys lament their current issue – and in doing so get to say “We’ve got a snag with the snag” and reference the Bungle Bungles, which an editorial note clarifies is a mountain range in Western Australia, a true fact.
They joke that “nans die in hot vans,” referencing the nationwide alert that kids die in hot cars, and Aussie cars get bloody hot in the sun. Nana Joan is having none of the joke, nor the dying in the van, as she lets the boys have a mouthful.
PAGE TWENTY SEVEN
“stoked” – an Aussie word for excessively happy that I was stoked to see used here because it’s such a great word.
PAGE TWENTY EIGHT
As Ed and Nina wheel in an exceptionally long and winding sausage, they try to work out the best plan of action to resolve the great disappearance of Nana Joan. Nina says her brother will be too busy as the “cop shop” is occupied with the fires, and if other countries don’t latch onto the phrase “cop shop” after this comic then I don’t even know what’s wrong with the world.
There is no one to safely turn to, so Nina confirms that the rescue lies in their hands alone. Ed looks very apprehensive about this.
PAGE TWENTY NINE
Ed is worried about gunplay in this family war, and Nina isn’t sure what to expect. She thought the week would be low key, going to the flicks [cinema] and “pashing off in the ute” [which could mean kissing in the parked ute, or kissing in the back tray of the ute, either are acceptable].
The two rescuers walk away, but Nina knows Nana Joan is there because she spots their van despite some creative decorative camouflage – pARCHERy MEAT + BEERds – proclaiming that she’s “no mug” [meaning, not a fool – and I have no idea why it means that]..
As Nina puts Ed into the tray of her ute, as part of her plan, I realised her name is on the back of the ute, NEEN proudly displayed across the tray’s rear hatch. Considering the comic is about Ed feeling emasculated by the entire trip and nation, Nina driving a ute, which is seen as a “manly man car” down here is a perfect fit.
PAGE THIRTY ONE
Nina quickly flirts with Tug and gets him talking about his muscles, which is the plan of distraction while Ed slinks out of the ute unseen and goes hunting for Nana Joan.
PAGE THIRTY TWO
Ed has to navigate rusty farm machinery, hanging carcasses of meat, and a dangling friendly spider on his way to track Nana Joan, and then he thinks he can hear her.
PAGE THIRTY THREE
If you’ve ever met an emu, you know this could happen easily, and we’d all be left in the same fearful position. We didn’t have an Emu War for over a month in 1932 for no reason, it’s true, look it up.
PAGE THIRTY FOUR
Luckily for Ed, Nana Joan sweeps through for the rescue, bopping each emu on the noggin before they scarper away from her. She’s a brutal wrecking crew, calling them mongrels and threatening them with a future in a stew pot. But she still thanks Ed when he takes a moment to show some chivalry and hand her back her hat, showing that Ed is someone who should be proud of himself for the way he carries himself.
PAGE THIRTY FIVE
Nina takes the workout routines Tug has written up for her, while lamenting the fact his spelling is atrocious because he would “wag” English lessons, meaning he wouldn’t turn up, which is a great Aussie high school pastime.
Nina drives her ute away, with Ed and Nana Joan hidden away. Once at a safe distance, Nana Joan reveals she lied to the Creek Boys about living with daily medical struggles of pills and wounds and bags and they freaked out and let her go.
PAGE THIRTY SIX
With the Archer family reunited, we get an interesting insight into the Creek Boys from the outside. Alf is furious and wants retribution. Nana Joan comments that “they’re not bad boys, they just grew up without opportunities.” I think Nana Joan’s view is a delightful take, that speaks to the culture around how poor Aussies fall into the bogan/hooligan/criminal mold. It absolves them of some responsibility, but we’ve also seen that the Creek Boys are super sub-sub-crime types of criminals, and we saw how brash Tug acts and then how kind of puppy dog heartbroken he is when Nina walks away from him. They’re a complicated bunch of boys.
Ed’s reaction is to confirm he thinks they are bad boys, but he seems more distanced in his judgement. Not quite fearful, but he certainly wants to keep separate from them and hope they can’t pull their malarkey around him again. Nina agrees that they are bad boys, but her face and font formatting seems to suggest they’re the type she likes.
Regardless, there’s nothing to be done about them at present because the regatta is set to start, and everyone deserves a good time.
Alf emerges to his crowd, and amidst the chanting someone screams “Show us your snag!” And this is definitely someone wanting a look at the mayoral junk.
PAGE THIRTY SEVEN
Everyone stands around the insanely epic, somewhat perhaps murderous bbq, and you can even see one of the chefs standing off to the side, sweaty, weary, leaning over and being administered some water by another person. Just cooking Alf’s snag is running close to being a life-taking occupation.
Ed and Nina eat some hot dogs [a missed opportunity as these don’t quite look like the authentic snag receptacle which is a square slice of bread folded from corner to corner like a little boat, and then filled with onion and tomato sauce [dead horse] all around the snag], and he laments the fact he’s failed yet another physical challenge by needing Nana Joan to scare off the emu. Nina tells Ed she doesn’t care about any of that. She finally states what’s important, and that Ed should have known all along. She loves him, and he flew across the world to be with her, and she loves him even more for that.
Ed and Nina kiss before a backdrop of fireworks and it’s a romantic panel, but also one where the tension from Ed completely melts away.
PAGE THIRTY EIGHT
Back at the house, Ed thanks Alf and he tells Ed that the morning is about to bring one last job, a challenge, something absolutely monumental. After such a win on the previous page, you can see Ed feeling instantly demoralised all over again.
Naturally, he fears the challenge might be spider related.
PAGE THIRTY NINE
Alf thanks Ed, and relates that he didn’t feel like a man because he didn’t know how to resolve the situation, and it’s a nice roundabout lesson for Ed to realise. Everyone has something they can’t do, some shame, and they wear it like a badge across their chest, but no one else can ever see it, so it’s not really all that much of a sign of shame then, is it?
Alf says he knows his daughter is in safe hands with Ed, and that’s a bloody nice thing to be said.
We end at the airport, as Ed and Nina prepare to board their plane to England, and Ed apologises for not being able to successfully exist in Australia. He feels too weak for Australia, and by extension for her. Nina refuses to hear it, because it’s not the country that matters, it’s that they are together. And she appreciates him running the gauntlet of the most feared aspect of our country, the Australian Family Unit.
Nina loves Ed, and Ed can see it when his eyes are open. Hopefully he remembers to keep them that way going forward.
The two fly off into the sky with a “Happy Holidays’ trailing behind the plane and I know those two are happy, which definitely makes me happy as we close this comic.
Giant Days: Where Women Glow and Men Plunder
Written and drawn by John Allison
Coloured by Whitney Cogar
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Ryan K Lindsay is Australia’s finest, and the writer of comics like Deer Editor, Negative Space, Eternal and Everfrost. For more, you can find his website here, subscribe to his newsletter here, or follow him on Twitter here!
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!