Comic book review: Giant Days

(cover art courtesy Boom! Studios)

 

Giant Days is one of those comics you fall in love with almost instantly.

To be honest, instantly.

How can you not? The three main characters – Esther de Groot, Susan Ptolemy and Daisy Wooton, all first year students at the University of Sheffield when the series opens – are a diverse delight, as different from each other as it’s possible to be, and yet close, firm friends, who would, and subsequently do, pretty much anything for each other.

The writer of Giant Days, John Allison (Bobbins, Scary Go Round) introduces the three protagonists of this whimsical yet emotional-grounded series with a pithy elegance that sums each of the new uni students up perfectly without pigeonholing them or reduce them to cardboard-thin stereotypes.

Daisy Wooton is easily the sweetest and most naive of the lot – homeschooled by her grandmother, she treats every new thing in her life from music festivals to her first kiss (with a girl no less, her reaction less revulsion that “Is that who I am? Maybe? OK I guess”) with adorable enthusiasm.

The two main artists,  Max Sarin and Lissa Treiman, who give these appealing ladies and many of the equally-compelling supporting characters, such rich, colourful, and yes cute visual life, invest each of Daisy’s thrilling life discoveries with eye-popping vivacity, literal stars appearing to surge right out of her large, owlish glasses.

Naive she might be but she’s not stupid, either scholastically or emotionally, the first one to race to help her close friends, who end up uni soulmates by dint of adjoining rooms in their dormitory.

Esther de Groot by contrast, rich girl soft-goth whose parents are paying her way through higher education, is a little more ditzy, more impetuous, more prone to leap first and work out if there is anyone or anything to catch her later.

She’s the one constantly falling in and out of love, coming perilously close to failing all her classes – at one point she goes to see a minister and joins the campus Christian group, not out of a need for religious awakening but simply to make up for loss studying time in her New Testament studies (she’s a literary major) – and finding the grim realities of life, such as when her parents turn off the financial tap afraid she is too pampered and too divorced from the vagaries of life, all a bit too much to handle at times.

In stark contrast, Susan Ptolemy is Miss Practical, except when she’s ignoring sleep and the principles of basic hygiene to get someone elected to the presidency of the student union, ruthlessly dismissive of other peoples’ feelings when it suits her but as good a friend as you could ask for, racing across Britain during one school holidays to save Esther from her own foolish, quick-witted decision-making.

 

(artwork courtesy Boom! Studios)

 

Not exactly three peas in a pod but then that’s what uni is about – finding people you would never have had the chance to know before that, finding out you do have lots in common and bonding fast, the better to survive the vicissitudes of uni life.

All the usual travails of growing up into early adulthood are on full, glorious comic display with Allison brilliantly exploring how absurd it can all be to commit to a particular line of study, which could come to define your entire early adult life and beyond, when you’re not even sure who you are exactly.

Take Daisy for instance.

Growing up in the sheltered world of home schooling, which was rich in knowledge but not so much in interpersonal life skills, she is surprised to find out she’s head over heels for the lovely, exotic Nadia who doesn’t realise the well-meaning curly-haired girl she’s showering so much attention on doesn’t see it friendship but love.

Or whatever the hell it is leads up to love.

Daisy doesn’t take well to finding out she’s been inadvertently friend-zoned by Nadia and begins to question if she’s gay; it’s all part and parcel of growing up, and the refreshing thing is that Allison doesn’t set limits on his characters, recognising that growing up is messy, full of leaps forwards, steps back, confused zigzags and a mix of a whole lot of stuff and nothing at all.

In other words, the business of being human, especially at the start of adulthood is not exactly a straightforward, linear track, nor is it as black-and-white as more conservative types would have you believe, with Susan assuring Daisy at one point, that she might be gay, she might be straight, she might be both, but she is, above all, Daisy.

 

(artwork courtesy Boom! Studios)

 

It’s this deeply-appealing mix of comic hilarity, which finds expression in fevered flu dreams and setting up home trips to IKEA, strange bus trips and excursions into bad student-level filmmaking, and gritty emotional resonance that make Giant Days such a rewarding pleasure to read.

One minute you’re laughing at the surreal nuttiness of the girls trying to divert a mud river from their tents at a characteristically bohemian music festival, and the next you’re crying with Susan as she splits from her longterm boyfriend or anguishing with Esther about whether uni is really for her.

This beautiful balance of emotional truisms and over the top comic gold is all underpinned by an insightfulness into the human condition that is always sympathetic, understanding and never judgemental.

Sure the three close friends make mistakes, big messy, all over the shop mistakes and pay for them but it’s all chalked up to the business of growing up, an appreciation that try as we might to get it right, we usually end up getting it wrong a lot before we figure out which way is up and which way is down.

Or, at least, come close to doing that that we don’t kill ourselves physically or emotionally getting through the day.

All this thoroughly enjoyable figuring out of adulthood is accompanied by gorgeous artwork that is Disney-level cute without once looking cloying or childish.

The artwork in fact, as noted earlier, goes a long way to drawing out the absurd silliness or searing life lessons of a story such as when a sick Esther thinks she was cured by some weird voodoo ceremony in someone’s room only to find she’d actually crashed a cheese and wine night.

Or the simply but brilliantly-effective slapstick of Susan sliding down a snowy hill which ends, as you might expect, in an inglorious but very funny, heap at the bottom of a hill.

The same artwork captures how sad things can get too, the perfect marriage of narrative and visuals that never wastes a frame, that draws as much from the words as it embellishes and enriches them.

Giant Days is an absolute joy to read – funny, heartfelt, witty, silly, profound and insightful in equal measure, an encouraging reminder that we’ll likely never gets things right, but that as long as we have good friends around us, and a willingness to lick our wounds, learn from our mistakes and be endlessly forgiving of ourselves, that we’ll survive life just fine.

Volumes 1 to 5 of Giant Days is currently available wth vol. 6 due for release on 24 October and vol. 7 on 27 March 2018. A Christmas-themed issue, based on modern festive film classic Love, Actually is due out in November.

 

(artwork courtesy Boom! Studios)

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