Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

14 May 2016

Giant Days, v. 1

Collects: Giant Days #1-4 (2015)

Released: November 2015 (Boom! Box)

Format: 128 pages / color / $9.99 / ISBN: 9781608867899

What is this?: Esther, Susan, and Daisy deal with their first semester of college, and all its attendant problems: boys, the flu, boys, idiot university administrators, idiot boys, and girls.

The culprits: Written by John Allison and drawn by Lissa Treiman

I’ve followed John Allison’s web comics since the beginning of the century: through most of Bobbins, all of Scary Go Round, and everything to date of Bad Machinery. (Allison admits the weight of the comics he’s put out over 18 years is a bit daunting, so he wrote out a chronology / background of his universe of strips.) I’m a big fan of his strips, which have evolved away from strict joke-a-day comics and into more structured, long-term storylines that manage to combine humor, drama, and well-drawn characters. I can’t think of a webcomic writer I’ve followed as long as Allison.

I’m not trying to present myself as an uber-fan of Allison’s, although I admit to buying t-shirts and dish towels from Allison’s Topatco store, if that tells you something. I’m admitting all this to state my biases before I say Giant Days, v. 1, by Allison and Lissa Treiman is one of the best trade paperbacks I’ve read in ages. It is consistently funny, occasionally touching, and always entertaining.

Giant Days, v. 1 coverIt’s not necessary to have read any of Allison’s work to understand what’s going on in Giant Days. Allison introduces the reader quickly and efficiently to Esther de Groot, Susan Ptolemy, and Daisy Wooten, who have met as freshmen at a British university and have become fast friends. (Their earlier adventures, mentioned on page 2 of issue #1, were released as webcomics on Allison’s site, but they seem to have disappeared online. You can buy them at Allison’s Topatco store, though.) Daisy is home-schooled and naïve, quite fond of her grandmother; Susan is pre-med and determinedly practical. Esther, a featured character in Scary Go Round, is a pale Goth surrounded by a drama field.

I love all the characters in Giant Days. Do I like them so much because I’ve read them before? I dunno. Other than Esther, though, I haven’t read many stories featuring htem. I identify with the mousy Daisy and logical Susan; I can’t help being entranced by the spectacle that is Dark Esther, even if I’m still miffed she cheated on The Boy between Scary Go Round and Giant Days. I sympathize with McGraw, a former friend of Susan’s who rejected her romantic advances. I kinda sympathize with Ed Gemmell, who pines for Esther, but Esther is so out of Ed’s league his head would probably explode if she ever paid him the kind of attention he desires. (That’s not a slight on Ed; remember, Esther has that drama field around her.)

For those who have read Scary Go Round, Giant Days is much more grounded. SGR had plotlines that included bringing a cast member back from the dead, first as a zombie, then fully resurrected as a normal human; that cast member’s sister was transformed into a six-foot Amazon by spoiled off-brand Pepto-Bismol, then ensnared with a magic spell by a villainous headmaster and sent to hell by a different spell that wiped them both from everyone’s memory. Giant Days is a straightforward story of college life, although the stories are exaggerated in the way that all comedies are.

The biggest difference from Allison’s online work is that he isn’t providing the art. Instead, Treiman draws Allison’s creations, and the result is weird — an outstanding weird, but weird nonetheless. Treiman is a great artist, with a beautiful, fluid style and a great comic touch. Her art is vastly different than Allison’s, taking Allison’s character designs, then making the cast her own. She also has a great sense of when to exaggerate features and reactions, always going far enough but never so far that the characters seem to belong in a cartoon.

Allison’s work as a daily comic strip writer shows here. His later two webcomics have had long arcs while maintaining a steady stream of humor, and he adapts that approach to individual comic issues. Each issue is a complete story, with enough loose ends and character work to lead into the next issue, but Allison always remembers to be funny. The jokes are earned, never cheap jokes put into the mouth of a character who wouldn’t say it.

My only complaint is the ending of #3. Even by Giant Days’ / Allison-verse’s logic, I don’t think maternal displeasure has much effect on the kind of bros who objectify women. I admit, the bros’ comeuppance is welcome, but any sort of retribution they receive would be pleasing. Vengeance the protagonists participated in would have been even more satisfying.

My recommendation is to read / buy / steal / demand Giant Days. I feel remiss that I haven’t recommended it earlier, but, well — I blame my retailer, and he probably blames Diamond. I ordered it in January, and after four months of not getting the book, I took matters into my own hands and bought it from Amazon. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Go get Giant Days now.

Rating: Giant Days symbol Giant Days symbol Giant Days symbol Giant Days symbol Giant Days symbol (5 of 5)

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Blogger Marc said...

Thanks for recommending this! I've never been much of a webcomics follower, so I wasn't familiar with John Allison before reading your post. I've now read a few strips via the chronology you linked to, though, and they're quite good, even some of the early stuff that he doesn't seem particularly proud of anymore.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

I haven't re-read those early strips in quite a while, but I remember enjoying them quite a bit. I have a feeling Allison's reservations about his early work comes from the personal evolution a lot of artists have: they see how they've grown, the old stuff (style / themes / etc.) doesn't interest them any more, and they are excited about what they are doing and what they plan to in a way that casts a shadow over their body of work.

Now, if you want to see a comic whose beginnings the artist should probably not be proud of, look at Questionable Content ( The actual content isn't risque, but the art in early strips looks so incredibly primitive compared to his current work.

12:41 AM  

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