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 Faculty!
Clark Burscough: Ah, the classic time jump, a noble tradition in popular culture. Steve! Can I talk at length about the series finale of Dawson’s Creek? No? He’s shaking his head.
Steve Morris: As we’ve heard about several times in the past, Dame Hilary Mantel has a tendency to leave a trail of chaos in her wake. It’s good to see that Esther has finally got the rogue author under control.
Amy Garvey: The plant over Esther’s shoulder looks to be a rubber tree [ficus elastica], of the same genus as the very trendy fiddle leaf fig. On the edge of her desk in the final panel, I’m very confident, is a snake plant which, whilst it will not die in low light, actually loves bright light. I definitely didn’t start using house plants as a coping strategy during the lockdowns, don’t be ridiculous.
Tim Maytom: Despite Esther’s protestations, there’s only one real definition of “horseplay”, meaning rough or boisterous play and hijinx. It comes from the 16th Century, when “horse” was used to describe anything big, coarse or strong, unlike today, when it means “artists’ least favourite animal”. This meaning of “horse” is also where we get “horseradish” from.
Steve: A macerating toilet is an upflush toilet system. It sends waste to a unit behind the toilet in a large container or in a container in the wall. High-powered blades liquefy the waste before it is pumped out of the unit through a pipe that is directly tied to the main drain line. I figured you’d be worried if I didn’t explain thoroughly.
Clark: Ah, the classic first horrible job out of uni, a noble tradition in England. The demonic faces of the dual Cressidas in panel 4 is a nice touch.
Kelly Richards: Skinny is absolutely not winny.
Steve: Daisy has stayed in Sheffield – and is now living with Saffy!
Clark: A time-jump means new haircuts and new outfits! The hard hat was invented in 1919 by Edward W. Bullard, and was originally made from canvas and leather, while M&Ms were first made available commercially in 1914 by Forrest Mars, Sr. I think it says something about the state of the world that those particular items arrived on the market in that order.
Kelly: Khaki cotton drill is incredibly durable and versatile so it wouldn’t surprise me if curse prevention were amongst its uses.
Steve: Cheerios are a breakfast cereal in the UK. If I remember correctly they’re made with cheeri-corn, cheeri-oats, cheeri-rice and wheat.
Michael Eckett: I love the tiny slither of the flatmate at the very edge of panel 4; that’s one grumpy looking muppet of a person.
Steve: In issue #54 Daisy was warned never to open the cursed tomb of Derek Dooley, former player for Sheffield Wednesday.
Clark: Although his goal-scoring abilities are what he’s best remembered for, I really like that Derek Dooley titled his autobiography DOOLEY!, which is, frankly, delightful.
Kelly: If you’re interested, you too can be mummified and sealed in a sarcophagus for about $67,000. That doesn’t include the funeral or mausoleum but it is totally legal.
Steve: I think Nurse Kovacs is a reference to Goran Visnjic‘s character in E.R., Dr. Luka Kovač?
Tim: CRISPR is a genome editing technology. The letters stand for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”, so you can understand why they shortened it to a name that sounds like an app that keeps your salad fresh. The “Cas9” that Susan mentions is an enzyme used in the process that acts like a pair of “molecular scissors”, so her description isn’t far off.
Michael: So glad Tim explained CRISPR because I was flashing back to my Biochemistry degree and getting some models out. I read Giant Days to envisage an exciting University life, not my own.
Clark: Speaking as a molecular biologist, I don’t think that you can look at DNA under a microscope to determine which sections you want to excise using gene editing enzymes. The illusion is broken, I am pulled violently out of the fiction, like in the documentary Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
Steve: Looks like McGraw’s picked up a job at Timpsons, a chain in the UK of shops which cut keys, reheel shoes, and fix devices broken by clumsy doctors.
Clark: Harry Hill always had my favourite line about the peculiarity of shops like Timpsons – “What is it about people that repair shoes that makes them so good at cutting keys?”
Tom Shapira: The final panel shows the return of Susan’s shark teeth. Just like Daisy has her stars and Esther her skulls. A sign of power surging in preparation for the final battle! (I am still disappointed we never got a Giant Days fighting game – wouldn’t you want to commit a 27 move combo against Dean Thompson?!).
Kelly: McGraw and his masters working in retail is too real and I need to lie down for a minute while I dispel the memories.
Steve: Shelley Winters: successful author. Which means she now has to work twice as hard as she did before.
Steve: Much like Kelly Richards, Esther also cannot accept that Ed got a haircut, and clings to a photo of days gone by.
Kelly: And she’s right to do so!
Amy: This has me wondering, if you had to give up 15% of your skeleton which parts would you do? Do you go for a whole limb or try to chip away with an inner ear bone here and a tailbone there?
Tim: Amy, the clear answer is make all your bones 15% thinner and pretend you’re Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable.
Steve: As we saw in the epilogue at the end of our last issue, Esther’s been ghosting her friends – and not in a cool goth way, as you could reasonably expect to happen, either.
Tom: As odd as it is to believe, it appears there is no Brain Splatter arcade game. There is something called Brain splatters but that does not appear to have an arcade cabinet. My suspension of disbelief is shattered!
Clark: Growing up as I did near Cleethorpes, the economy of which was 90% driven by teenagers spending money in arcades, you very quickly learned which games would just chew your money instantly, and Brain Splatter looks like exactly that kind of game. Go on the 2p machines instead, Esther and Ed!
Steve: Lady Vengeance is a South Korean psychological thriller film directed by Park Chan-Wook. Susan does seem like she’d be a great protagonist for a South Korean revenge flick.
Clark: Try seeing that SEGA logo without hearing the SE-gAAAAA startup noise in your head. You can’t! It’s a literal impossibility. Scientists are baffled by it.
Tim: Unlike Brain Splatter, Super Hang-On is a real racing arcade game, released by Sega in 1987. You can actually play a version of it within the game Yakuza 6 when your character visits an arcade, just like Esther and Ed.
Michael: A SEGA machine in a London arcade makes me nostalgic for the old SegaWorld London themepark in the Trocadero which ran from 1996 to 1999. The Trocadero still had a large number of arcade machines until recently when it was resolved into *shudders* a hotel.
Tim: Remember: HR exists to protect the interests of the company, not to protect the rights of employees (such as the right to wear big goth boots).
Kelly: Esther abandoning goth is almost as offensive as Ed’s haircut.
Steve: Susan and Daisy walk past the Danger Nebula, the comic book shop where Esther used to work during her student days.
Clark: Speaking as someone who moved from The North to That London for work, I can confirm that life is indeed an endless harlequinade, and a pint really will cost you six quid/you can’t get decent fish and chips for love nor money.
Kelly: Finally some more information on the Derek Dooley curse situation! Although it’s still not clear if the leg returned in a spooky ghost way or a gross zombie way.
Kelly: Also, I hate how grown up they look. Like real adults.
Tim: Daunt’s is a London-based chain of bookshops. It was founded by James Daunt, whose actual first name is Achilles(!), and who subsequently bought UK bookstore chain Waterstones and Barnes & Noble in the US. Clearly a man who enjoys a good read.
Clark: Some nice spider-web motif in panel 4 – Esther has gone from the spinner to the spinned. Spun?
Steve: I don’t know her name, but the protective grey-haired lady was the one who offered Esther this job back in issue #52.
Steve: I love the background detail of Daisy’s biscuit snapping off into her tea, so she throws the whole thing in the sink.
Tim: Dunking is a high-risk, high-reward approach to biscuit consumption. I recommend a Ginger Nut.
Clark: Our first glimpse of skulls in the issue, which, featuring Esther de Groot as it does, is likely a new record in TTS (time to skulls), confirming the loss of Goth Esther.
Steve: Kiehl’s is… a skincare company? Please can someone else help me annotate this, I am not the person to talk on beauty products, I don’t even own a mirror.
Amy: Not to reinforce gender stereotypes, but; Kiehls is a skincare brand rather than a make up one. Their vibe is very apothecary/based in science which is why there’s always at least one skeleton wearing a lab coat in every shop, plus a smattering of beakers and conical flasks.
Michael: A skeleton is the last person I’d go to for skincare advice.
Tom: Sorry everyone, but I’m trademarking “One Erotic Doctor” as a new book series. You snooze you loose!
Clark: I wouldn’t google ‘erotic doctor’ if you’re using a work device/in a public space.
Steve: Susan channels the Phoenix Force, as is her right.
Amy: Cambridge is about 2 and a half hours from Sheffield by car. A totally manageable distance for a relationship to work I think, but then I spent 10 months between Glasgow and London and all I got was a marriage and a baby.
Steve: McGraw is also a Phoenix, interesting.
Clark: Good use of Pokemon elemental types on this and the previous page to accentuate the drama.
Clark: If Steve can make X-Men jokes then I can make Poke-men jokes, those are the rules.
Steve: “Do not relax for one second until I come back” is such a super-specific sentence to say out loud. Susan knows how a doctor should speak to patients, and as a consequence she also knows exactly what to say to devastate people.
Clark: Some surprisingly modernist artwork that, presumably, was chosen by McGraw there – ceci n’est pas une clé.
Matt: That second panel is some really aces cartooning from Sarin in order to emphasise the distance between Esther and Susan. In the old Jazz parlance, it’s what’s not drawn that’s more important as the cut from medium-shot with background to wide-shot without leaves them with no surroundings but the existential void of their awkward feelings.
Steve: Susan storms ahead of Esther, treating this as an obligation more than anything else.
Steve: “Notebook” has the t crossed out, and replaced with a p — Susan’s “Nopebook”.
Kelly: I love that she keeps it to hand.
Clark:There are ghost-type pokemon, but not poop-type. Thankfully.
Amy: That final panel is our life right now with a newborn, poop flying everywhere (even on the skirting board) but the poops don’t have the decency to have smiley faces on them.
Steve: What… is… this box of terrors?
Kelly: It’s magical, Steve. It’s the purest expression of friendship!
Clark: I’m not sure where Daisy managed to get one of Slipknot’s masks from, but it’s a story I would very much like to hear.
Steve: Susan sure has a predilection for genetic freaks today. Where art thou, Scott Steiner?
Clark: A good rule of thumb, when buying beers from the corner shop, is to go for the bottles that have the most elaborately continental spelling of “beer” on the label. They fancy.
Amy: I strongly disagree with Susan that excessive hair shedding disqualifies one from being considered a perfect woman.
Michael: For the sake of my marriage I also disagree with Susan and agree with everything Amy says.
Tim: As Matt observed on Page 16, Sarin once again drops the background detail in panel four as Esther grimaces her way through an assurance that she’s doing fine.
Steve: A few people have said “Here Be Monsters” in the past, but I always think about Geoffrey Rush in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Michael: “Here Be Monsters” is based on the idea of the phrase “HC SVNT DRACONES” or “Here are Dragons” being used on maps where potential dangers were thought to exist. However this has only been found to be used in a couple of places and “HIC SVNT LEONES” or “here are lions” was much more common.
Clark: Sheffield tram and train station is the 40th busiest station in Great Britain, per an audit carried out in 2017/18.
Steve: “Favelas” “primitive”, ugh.
Clark: The Tamagotchi (or “egg watch”) was released in Japan in 1996, spreading to the rest of the globe a year later, and being banned by schools usually within a week of their arrival on the grounds, if not sooner, for disrupting lessons.
Tim: I’d definitely buy a Tama-gothy. You’d have to feed it Cure singles on vinyl and cheap cider to keep it happy.
Steve: Daisy imagines that Esther is living the life of a Pearly Queen – a very distinctive charitable organisation who decorate their suits with pearls so they stand out in the street. Each group has a Pearly King or Queen, and there’s about thirty mini-monarchies currently active in London. More here!
Amy: In Daisy’s vision they are also speaking in a Cockney accent with some rhyming slang thrown in. “Apples and pears” meaning “stairs” although in general use the actual rhyming word is often dropped to just “apples”.
Clark: Cressida Monkton looks reminiscent of Cruella de Vil in panel 5. Wait. Cruella de Vil… Esther de Groot… No. That’s nothing. Carry on.
Steve: Kissing on the cheek, AKA the “will Steve dislike you on sight” test.
Clark: I always think I like Negronis more than I do, and then there’s instant regret on the first sip that I didn’t just order a Manhattan like I normally would. Never change your habits, they might save your life one day.
Michael: A farthing was some pre-decimalisation British currency which was one quarter of a penny. There were four farthings in a penny, twelve pence in a shilling, and twenty shillings in a pound; so 960 farthings in a pound. This was until the 70s! Some countries had sent people into space and in the meantime British people spent hours doing algebra to buy a pint of milk.
Kelly: The Cressidas are truly vile.
Steve: Susan’s Phoenix Force has now turned blue. This is an unexpected and potentially non-canonical development.
Clark: This page brings up the important question of Susan’s adherence to the ethical principle of ‘do no harm’ – there is a singular rage that burns in Dr Ptolemy.
Tim: I don’t want to truck in stereotypes here, but given all the indicators we’ve seen from the Cressidas, I have a feeling their trip to the bathroom has less to do with freshening up and more to do with other, less legal activities…
Kelly: Esther looks like she’s been taken hostage.
Tim: Working men’s clubs are private social venues that were typically established in the 19th Century in industrialised areas, especially in the North of England, Wales, Scotland and the Midlands. They typically include a bar, some snooker or pool tables and a hall for events like bingo nights, raffles and gigs (although these are less likely to be jazz and more likely to be a Status Quo cover band). With the decline of industry in the UK, many have died off and the buildings have been repurposed as venues.
Steve: “ruddy” is another way of saying “bloody”. “Bloody hell” = “ruddy hell”, and so on.
Kelly: The Cressidas referring to Susan and Daisy as Sarah and Doris is top tier disrespect.
Kelly: Pill is slang for a disagreeable person which ok maybe that’s fair but still!
Steve: Jim Campbell is clearly having a brilliant time with the lettering on this page. “Biddly biddly bawwwwp” indeed!
Clark: I’m very tempted just to write ‘jazz is rubbish’ and then leave Steve to deal with the fallout, but I shan’t.
Tim: The way Sarin abstracts the background in the final panel makes me think of neon signs. A lovely jazzy touch.
Steve: Here’s a question: did Esther bring the ghost blankets up with her or did Susan have them stored in her flat?
Clark: Follow-up question, if it’s the latter, then did Susan also provide the ghost print pyjama bottoms?
Kelly: I think if you had planned to stay with a friend fairly regularly you would leave sleepover stuff there but more importantly where is McGraw sneaking off to? Is it work? Its probably work.
Steve: I adore that both Daisy and Susan are absolutely burying Esther here, but in completely in-character ways. Susan is sat being a toast gremlin and saying mean things to Esther’s face, whilst Daisy’s being passive-aggressive without realising it until the words have come out her mouth.
Tim: I especially like Susan punctuating her point with an emphatic push of the cafetière filter.
Clark: Daisy predicting the lockdown sourdough craze of 2020 here. Prophetic.
Steve: Really appreciate how Daisy doesn’t let Esther off the hook. Just because Esther is going through a hard time, it doesn’t justify the extent to which she’s dug the hole she’s currently trapped in.
Clark: A nice shift back to the warm colour palette of the cafe as Daisy provides sage counsel here, ahhhh, comics are great, aren’t they.
Steve: Did you know that, scientifically speaking, it only ever rains in Sheffield when goths are feeling sad? The sun comes out whenever they cheer up.
Tim: The “bank error in our favor” line is a reference to one of the Community Chest cards from Monopoly, a truly awful board game that was originally designed to demonstrate how awful capitalism is, and is now used to make families hate each other at Christmas.
Steve: That sausage trick genuinely works on a touchscreen phone, by the way. Organic material, see. I heard that in really cold countries they carry around sausages to activate their phones, so they never have to take their gloves off. I don’t know if that’s true though.
Matt: Energy Vampires, huh? A real couple of Colin Robinsons. Speaking of What We Do in the Shadows, I think Esther would quite take to Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja.
Kelly: Let Susan at them.
Steve: Okay, so… is anyone else seeing this change in their word balloons….??
Steve: Genuinely unsettling character modelling from Max Sarin, here.
Steve: It’s all come full circle. The trio first united by taking on a gang of posh head girls, and now they’re finishing the series in the same way.
Steve: Susan with a move straight out of 1980s Coronation Street here, luring the villains into a treacherous tram trap.
Tim: As ever, the girls are fortunate to be in Sheffield, which has one of only eight tram networks left in the UK.
Clark: Ah, the classic rite-of-passage of fighting your evil colleagues who are a demonic hive entity, a noble tradition in England.
Steve: Architrave is a type of interior moulding that sits around the frame of a doorway or window. Gosh, I wonder who taught Susan THAT word?
Kelly: Maybe she is a fan of the Australian reality TV show The Block because that’s where I learned it from.
Tim: Even without McGraw to support you, I feel like a Timpsons would be an excellent place to weather a supernatural attack.
Steve: Daisy’s always been a dab hand with a post-it note.
Clark: Susan applying some classic adventure game logic there of “I just received this item, so it is likely needed to solve this puzzle/dungeon.”
Michael: Love that woman getting increasingly angry at Susan for jumping the queue over three panels.
Steve: Do goths vape? That doesn’t seem like their brand.
Kelly: Goths absolutely vape.
Steve: The power of FOOOOOTBALLLLL.
Steve: I think this whole thing is – Desmond Fishman aside – the only time we’ve seen supernatural stuff on-panel in Giant Days. We finally made it!
Clark: Bearing in mind what else goes on on the regular in Tackleford, I think this localised haunting is a light reprieve for Sheffield, and has undoubtedly positive consequences overall.
Steve: So there are two less women in literary publishing but one additional football-based ghost roaming the streets of Sheffield. Bittersweet ending?
Clark: A really good face to close out what has been a series with some exceptionally well cartooned faces. Lovely stuff.
Kelly Richards: I am ashamed to say that the first time I picked up Giant Days I didn’t get it but listen, I was wrong. So wrong. I can’t remember what brought me back or why but Giant Days has become the book I recommend to anyone who will listen, the book I gift, and, thanks to Steve, the book I have joyfully spent the last however long annotating. And it has been joyful. And weird. And affecting. Because Giant Days is all those things, sometimes all at once. It’s genuinely a delight and I’m sad that it’s over.
Clark Burscough: To wax lyrical for a moment, as I am wont to do, John Allison’s webcomics were some of the first that I found when I started developing my own nascent tastes for the form, rather than just nicking my dad’s graphic novels, so they’ll always have a unique place for me. The ongoing evolution of the stories that come out of Tackleford are pretty special in British comics, representing something akin to an internet-age Gasoline Alley, but also putting me in mind of the comic strips of Bill Tidy, and their depictions of anarchic northern humour and odd cultural quirks of The North.
Taken on its own, Giant Days is a genuinely brilliant slice-of-life comedy, and hits me especially hard as I spent my uni years bouncing around Yorkshire, so the nostalgia wrapped up in it just adds to the delightful mix of warm humour and exceptional cartooning throughout. I’ll miss the series, but all good things need to come to an end, and John Allison doesn’t seem to show any sign of completely stopping telling stories about strange goings on in West Yorkshire. I give Giant Days a first class with honours.
Amy Garvey: Giant Days captures, beautifully, those uni and young adult experiences while simultaneously being very silly and always funny. Esther, Daisy and Susan’s friendship reminds so much of the relationship I have with my oldest friends. Forged in school and uni, they see you as you’re discovering yourself and even if you don’t see each other for a year you it’s no different. For that it will always bring me joy and is always on my recommend list.
Michael Eckett: Giant Days was coming out during the time when I was reading and reviewing a ridiculous number of books every week and the characterisation and juggling of the plotting made it the stand out book for a number of years. It really cannot be stated enough how incredible it is that a slice-of-life comedy book about uni life could run for five years. Giant Days is an astounding achievement and it’s no wonder there is still an appetite for people to share it and to continue to read thoughts about it.
Tim Maytom: I came to Giant Days relatively late in its publication history, finally listening to every friend and critic who had breathlessly recommended it. As such, the honest, warm depiction of British university life in the series was tinged with nostalgia for me, something that especially hits home in this special. Seeing the girls deal with drifting apart and coping with post-university life but ultimately come together reminds me of so many long-postponed reunions I’ve had with friends from that time in my life.
Despite the great potential it has for drama, comedy and emotional resonance, university is an underserved setting in contemporary comics, especially in the West. That Allison, Sarin, Cogar and Campbell were able to maintain a dedicated audience for a monthly slice-of-life title speaks to the quality of the storytelling at work, and I think it’s a title that will continue to find fans for years to come.
Matt Sibley: Likewise, Giant Days was a big book for me and a large chunk of it ran concurrently with my own uni experience. It made me a fan of Allison, Sarin and Cogar’s work for life (especially the former as I fall further down the Scary-Go-Round rabbit hole with each passing year) and I don’t quite know if the space on the stands left following its conclusion has really been filled.
Returning to this issue in particular with a couple years of distance from publication and my time at uni, I find myself most struck by Esther’s line at the top of the page – “I don’t really know what I want to do, I just know I want to do something.” – as much as this is a great slice-of-life book about uni, having this coda to the previous issue’s graduation allows it to hit upon that transition into early 20s malaise.
Like all the best issues of the series, As Time Goes By is a treat and a delight, but it also manages to speak to the anxieties of the time. Leaving uni means leaving education means the guard rails have finally been lowered for a person. It can be easy to fall off the course we set for ourselves, but all we can do is hope to have friends as good as Daisy and Susan to help get us back on track.
Claire Napier: John Allison is an all-timer of comics; his work is not only funny and sexy and pleased with itself (a GOOD thing) but also always, always takes and gives a delight in the details of mundane life. His characters are always doing something while they’re doing something; moving while they’re talking, interacting with props and environment, physically, emotionally, intellectually. They fiddle and downplay and impact.
That it was possible for collaborators Treiman, Madrigal, Cogar, Fleming, Campbell, and, especially, such an early-career find as Sarin to match this energy and conviction of engagement, and to hone and carry it to subsequent projects, is amazing and very wonderful. I don’t think it’s only down to the Allison input that these other tremendous, dedicated creators achieved these visual heights, but I do think that without him collaborating on this work as a writer who is also the cartoonist that he is they would have been different ones – that the Allison touch was as vital to the finished pages as everyone else’s gorgeous input.
It is not just in the dialogue that the sparkle one can recognise from the early days or the continuing solo-cartoonist appears. It’s in the vivacity that runs throughout—a perfect, seamless collaborative success between a passel of powerhouses. Every one of them picked up what he puts down, and baked a big beautiful cake with it.
A round of three cheers from me, despite the impossibility of remaining dignified through such a noise. HURRAH, HURRAH, HURRAH.
Giant Days: As Time Goes By
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Max Sarin
Coloured by Whitney Cogar
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Clark Burscough writes every week for The Comics Journal, which is probably because of his previous work with these annotations over the years. You can follow Clark on Twitter here!
Kelly Richards is an Eisner-winning critic who has written for sites including WomenWriteAboutComics and Sidequest. You can find more of their thoughts over on Twitter here!
Tim Maytom is a writer and critic who has spent a lot of his time thinking about The Wicked and The Divine. You can find more of his writing here alongside Alex Spencer – and you can follow Tim on Twitter here!
Tom Shapira’s writing has been featured on many different websites, ranging from Multiversity and The MNT right through to recent pieces published at The Comics Journal. The best place to find him online is on Twitter, right here!
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.
Matt Sibley is a writer, critic and podcaster who is most commonly found writing for Newsarama as part of their “Best Shots” reviews team. You can find him on twitter here!
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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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