REVIEW: Giant Days, 1-2 – John Allison, Lissa Treiman

Author/Artist: John Allison (twitter / website) and Lissa Treiman (twitter)

UK Publisher: Boom!

Genre: Graphic novel, humour, contemporary fiction

Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of hand-wringing boys, personal experimentation, influenza, mystery-mold, nu-chauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of academia, they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive.

I’ve been reading John Allison’s work since I was approximately 12 years old, starting with Bobbins, before following through Scary-Go-Round, Bad Machinery, New Bobbins, and Bobbins.horse. These, officially or otherwise, form some kind of broad, multi-generational saga based around the town of Tackleford, where nothing is ever quite as simple as it ought to be. I always loved his tongue-in-cheek, deadpan, surrealist humour. It’s a bit like the Mighty Boosh in that respect, if a little less frenetic. Giant Days began as a spin-off from Scary-Go-Round, charting Dark Esther’s adventures as she leaves Tackleford to go to University. The original three volumes were drawn and printed by Allison, and act as a prologue to this comic series, more in-tone with Scary-Go-Round than the new Giant Days, but acting as a bridge. They can be bought together through Allison’s website or as a collected work published by Boom! if you would like the bit of context to the start of the Giant Days narrative. As Giant Days recently won two Eisner awards (Best Continuing Series and Best Humor), it seemed only fitting I get my act in gear and finally review some of the work I’ve loved.

I only, so far, have the first two volumes of Giant Days, so whilst I am aware that the series changes artist later on (Max Sarin from issues 7-37, 40-47, and 49-54; Julia Madrigal for issues 38 and 39; and Allison himself for issue 48), I can only speak to the art of the beginning of the series – which is, as you would expect, excellent.

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It was at first a bit of an adjustment as, whilst the humour is still undeniably Allison’s, the setting and style are very different from Tackleford. One of the things I always loved about Allison’s art is the sharp angles and straight lines – it worked so well with the humour which is often taken to linguistic whimsy rather than, perhaps, more natural speech patterns. Pairing that with Treiman’s art is a strange juxtaposition, because her illustrations seem to be constantly in fluid motion. They’re extremely dynamic, very bold and characterful, just a different character from the one I’m used to with Allison’s other work. Another adjustment was the change in not exactly tone or style, but… almost genre I suppose. Dark Esther (now just Esther, but forever Dark Esther in my heart) comes from a world of urban surrealism, whilst Giant Days is a real life, but a bit exaggerated. No devil bears, goblins, or accidental summonings of space robots here. Despite later cameos from Tackleford characters, this isn’t a Tackleford story. Perhaps key evidence of this is that Esther never seemed particularly dramatic in Tackleford – most dramas seemed to be the result of Tackleford’s otherworldly denizens. Esther always struck me as fairly stable and pragmatic throughout it all. In Giant Days, Esther has her own ‘drama field’, and makes questionable decisions re: relationships and studies. This could easily be justified as University-fever, as many teens will go a little wild when out in freedom, but I think the better and more sensible way to consider it would be to just look at this as entirely divorced from Scary-Go-Round.

In many ways, that’s not hard. Giant Days exists in its own bubble, in much the same way it feels like the world entirely exists around University when you go there – particularly if you live in halls. This series so entirely captures the essence of the first term at University, whilst also encapsulating Allison’s larger-than-life storylines. Northampton’s gangsters, hidden relationships, a sudden obsession with a certain TV show, secret crushes, and exam panic are all stuffed into the pages. Allison has such a great way with words and characters, and his ideas always delight me, whilst Treiman’s art is the perfect accompaniment.

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From an aesthetic perspective too, the books are gorgeous. Bold colours, a really lovely matte cover finish, and just the right size. They’re extremely pleasing as finished products and the perfect package for this wonderful story.

Everything about this series is a delight, from Susan’s occasional PI Noir narrative style to Esther’s blithe disregard for responsibility, Daisy’s optimistic naivety to Ed’s determined crush, and McGraw’s frankly incredible moustache. I think that might be one of my favourite details actually – there was a lad in my halls of residence and on my course when I was at University, the same age as me, but he had the most incredible moustache that everyone assumed he was a mature student. This sort of detail is exactly what makes Giant Days so great. University is such a weird and nonsensical time, with a huge mess of random people slammed together to try and co-exist, and this series captures the essence of that perfectly. It takes me right back to my student days, with the likes of Chainsmoking Andy, Pirate Skateboard Guy, and the entire contingent of Rocklands House. It’s accurate and funny, and warm and endearing, even when the narrative goes further than would be realistic – but actually, given the crazy things you get up to at University, it also seems entirely probable.

Briefly:

  • A series from a comic writer I love, whose work has always been incredibly observed and witty. Paired with a different artist, this story is funny, warm, dynamic, and perfectly packaged.
  • The main trio of Susan, Esther, and Daisy are an absolute delight together, three very different women but all written with a lot of care and consideration, as well as being the perfect example of the total randomers you can end up married to for your University life if you happen to bump into them in Freshers’ Week. Do they have anything in common? Not a thing. Are they going to be together for the entirety of their University experience? Absolutely, yes they are.
  • If you’ve read Allison’s other work, this has all the same humour but none of the fantasy elements. Whilst the narrative might tend towards melodrama, everything is grounded firmly on Earth. Sheffield, specifically. Don’t expect the magical adventures of his other comics, but don’t let their lack put you off.

Rating: 5/5 – There aren’t many long-form printed comic series I read, preferring standalones or short series for budgetary reasons as much as anything else. This series is one I do intend to buy all of.

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