By Michael Eckett
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. Here, then, are our annotations to help guide you through life at Sheffield University, provided by our Guest Annotator Michael Eckett!
Alison starts the issue referencing issue #43, when she entered an essay writing competition.
£2,000 being $2,724.50 at the time of writing. That equates to 21.6% of the highest annual UK University tuition fees vs 7.6% of the average annual U.S. college tuition fees. Definitely not making any point here or trying to radicalise anyone, just putting it into the context of the comic…
Susan returns home to a seemingly hastily abandoned flat. McGraw’s cricket gear lies strewn across the floor, with him probably leaving for home in a rush. When my dad died I had to abandon a training course for data analytics software; though a mouse left askew and an unfinished set analysis calculation probably made for a far less dramatic scene.
Yes, this was my cunning way of dropping that I’m also here to provide context for the concept of grief like some sort of disturbing children’s programming.
Susan refers to her plants as “poor sods”. “Sod” in the use of British vernacular is derived from the word “sodomy” which is the act of anal sexual intercourse. We tend to use “Sodding” or “Bugger” as euphemisms for harsher swear words and the use has softened over time to the point where their use can be quasi-affectionate. We’re an odd, little country that considered these words less offensive than those based on heterosexual intercourse… but still didn’t completely decriminalise gay sex until the year 2000. No, really.
We use the phrase “a good send off” for our farewells, whether that’s someone leaving a job, to travel or most often a funeral. Because we’re wishing them well before their: spirit/soul/ashes travel on to the afterlife/ be reincarnated as a bear/a mantelpiece, inside a 3D printed urn shaped like their face.
British people absolutely try to solve all problems with tea and cake. A larger problem does not constitute a more serious intervention but rather an endless supply of unfinished mugs of tea stacked on top of one another and a larger cake or, in Daisy’s case, every cake she can find.
A graduate scheme is a paid training role in an organisation to train new university graduates in various areas of the organisation over a couple of years before usually resulting in full-time job with the organisation. Rotating graduates around is kind of the perfect way of training your new leaders as it gives them enough time to learn everything you do but not enough time to realise everything you do wrong and that it’s a terrifying place to work they should flee from.
I feel like funerals exist to give the people closest to the deceased something to concentrate on so they don’t fall apart. There’s a lot of emailing and planning so there’s barely any time to wallow.
And weirdly what you’re organising is mostly for the benefit of the living; trying to include anecdotes or stories so no one feels left out or causes a scene. Or arguing over how many vol au vents need to be made because your great aunt remembers the deceased ate a vol au vent that one time. But honestly obsessing over tiny pastry is better than thinking about literally anything to do with grief at that moment.
Susan’s shark teeth are always a welcome sight – Editor.
Spick and span means the place is so clean it’s as if it is new. The phrase is an imitation of Dutch spiksplinternieuw (literally “spike-splinter new”), used for describing a freshly built ship.
Susan seems to be offering mini kievs as a last resort which they are anything but. Chicken Kiev are chicken fillets rolled around garlic butter and coated in breadcrumbs. British hubris has meant we have attempted to improve the Kiev by creating miniature balls of poultry with a garlicky, cheesy filling and coated in breadcrumbs. You can fit a whole one in your mouth and instead of losing garlicky goodness onto a plate, the kiev will burst the juices over your tongue like salmon roe but for peasants and better because of the garlic.
Are you sponsored by chicken kievs, Michael??
McGraw is still clearly grieving as, even though he ate, he turned down mini kievs.
How much did the chicken kiev lobby pay you Michael.
Game of Thrones was a popular epic fantasy television program based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novels which was so poorly run it violated the geneva convention. It was mostly about a heap of incompetent, entitled people screwing other people over to try and be in charge of a country and then after becoming monarch realising that it was boring, hard and they didn’t like it. A lot of people were disappointed that the show didn’t end with some sort of democracy being formed as a perceived improvement but these people are clearly unaware of the British Parliament.
PC World is basically what the name suggests; a large chain of computer stores that merged with the retail chain Currys which confusingly is not what the name suggests and does not sell curry. Currys sells electronics and home appliances and if you think it’s odd to get computer advice from someone also trying to sell you a washing machine then you have overestimated the competency of PC World.
Daisy was clearly affected by only being offered mini kievs and so has batch cooked for her friends to give them a break.
As far as coping mechanisms go whilst grieving, hoisting oneself up onto a roof doesn’t seem too dangerous. It’s a time of having to continue with your regular life but it’s just feeling hazy and off and there’s a need to do something different or just do something. You might, for example, foolishly go to the cinema three days in a row and end up watching Moonlight, Fences and Logan. Spoilers for those movies, I guess, but this is something I highly recommend not doing if your dad has just died.
Guy Fieri is the answer to the question “What if a chef had a Hulk?”
Susan doesn’t seem as committed to her bit about Esther being pregnant as I would expect if she is about to offer her a caffeinated beverage.
The Peak District is a National Park and surrounding towns in the English Midlands. England doesn’t have the most creative names for its areas; the Peak District has a lot of peaks and the Lake District… well it has a lot of peaks but it also has a lot of lakes.
Esther’s heart-shaped grin on this page is a design of pure joy.
Ah the local trains of the UK; they’re often a seemingly random and inconsistent number of carriages; are vulnerable to too much weather, not enough weather and leaves and every part of them squeaks. Just like me!
I feel like we’d need Rob Brewer to tell me exactly what kind of train this is though.
Maria Bamford is an American comedian who does real risky stand-up.
The village of Bamford in the Hope Valley is a real place. It takes about 37 minutes by train from Sheffield and they would have also stopped at Dore & Totley, Grindleford and Hathersage. No, I am not making any of this up.
Village train stations are, in fact, as sparse as “two bus shelters next to the train track”. Bamford doesn’t even have a ticket office so really the only way of knowing the train stops there is that there are slightly fewer trees.
This country can be quite nice sometimes. I live in a city so unless I go visit places like this the closest I get to nature is when mould starts growing out of discarded takeaway boxes on the street.
I agree with Ed: floral Esther is very discomforting. I do appreciate that she kept it hidden under that black coat for the full journey just to do the dramatic reveal.
McGraw is spending a lot of time making objective statements about things, a way for him to not have to exist in the moment or feel emotional.
A charity shop is the UK equivalent of a thrift store. They’re run by charitable organisations selling the items to raise money. This means we don’t have to feel guilty about offloading a terrible book onto an unsuspecting store and future reader because it will benefit charity.
We met Shelley in London in the last Giant Days Christmas special.
E is short for EDGE or Enhanced Data for Global Evolution and is essentially 2G. It is no longer cutting EDGE technology.
Draughts is the game the U.S. refers to as checkers. Differently named because the U.K. game is the early version and the U.S. version still hasn’t finished its revisions.
I think the gradual breakdown of McGraw on this page by Sarin is stunning work. The draughts game triggering memories of his dad and leading to the breakdown is very relatable. Grief never really leaves you, it dissipates over time and you move on but you can get a sudden flare up. Grief’s a lot like herpes in that way. These innocuous things which bring up thoughts and feelings can be life events, shared games or a fun little comic book you like which suddenly makes you have to put it down and go for a walk.
Again, Sarin evoking McGraw trembling with the sketchy lines around him is such a devastating technique.
I really feel for McGraw. There was a dry joke in my family that my dad, who was very sick, would somehow outlive us all. Obviously he didn’t, or he’s playing a very odd and elaborate trick but there was something in me that somehow believed that ridiculous statement. And the shattering of it made me feel kind of foolish. Grief is a bit weird like that; it’s not just feeling sad or that something is missing but it triggers a bunch of other weird feelings like guilt, career anxiety or a reignited obsession with childhood favourite food like mini kievs.
This page is a testament to how good of a doctor Susan will be, what with the empathetic bedside manner and accurate tear based medical information.
The Scunthorpe and Shanghai Banking Corporation is a riff on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), the largest investment bank in the U.K.. Scunthorpe is an industrial town in the U.K. famous for setting off internet obscenity filters.
I think “Life has to get bigger to make death seem smaller” is a beautiful sentiment and one that will stick with me for a really long time.
One of the shops in the background just has a sign that says “BUY OBEY” like we’ve put on the sunglasses from the John Carpenter movie, They Live. Another shop is Superdrug which is a real health and beauty retail chain in the U.K. even if it sounds like the name of a shop from an anti-consumerism sci-fi film.
I hope Esther is okay in London; I wouldn’t trust anyone who lives there…
Giant Days #51
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Max Sarin
Coloured by Whitney Cogar
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Michael Eckett is a London based writer and podcaster whose work includes the comic book Forged, the children’s book Leaves are Green (Except When They’re Not) and the Comic Book Classroom podcast. You can find him on Twitter here.
He takes being silly very seriously.
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!