Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Giant Days #23. Written by John Allison (Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery) with art by Max Sarin, inker Liz Fleming (Regular Show, Bee And Puppycat), and colorist Whitney Cogar (Bravest Warriors, Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy), this issue provides a steady stream of serotonin to combat the current events blues. (This review reveals major plot points.)
Two weeks into the United States’ new presidential administration, it’s impossible to escape a climate of fear, despair, and hatred. Look at the news or a social media feed and you’re likely to find something to be terrified about, no matter where you fall on partisan lines. Entertainment may seem unimportant in the face of this parade of doom and gloom, but it’s not healthy to wallow in misery. People need to give themselves the opportunity to experience happiness, and if that means turning to escapist entertainment, then more power to them.
Few comics function as a conduit for happiness quite like Giant Days, the Boom! Box ongoing series about three British university students navigating the early throes of adulthood. Written by John Allison, who made a name for himself with his delightful webcomics Bobbins, Scary Go Round (which Giant Days is a spin-off of), and Bad Machinery, Giant Days tells deeply relatable, consistently hilarious stories about the trials and tribulations of growing up, realized through the wildly expressive artwork of Max Sarin, inker Liz Fleming, and colorist Whitney Cogar.
Esther De Groot, Susan Ptolemy, and Daisy Wooten are in their second year of higher education, and they’ve moved into their own place, a transition that comes with a new set of responsibilities. Giant Days has turned shopping for Ikea furniture, getting robbed, and dealing with a curmudgeon neighbor into rich comedy, and this week’s issue has the women tackling another adulthood rite of passage: throwing a dinner party. This event is smoothly tied to the ongoing storylines for all three roommates: It forces Susan to interact with her ex-boyfriend and his new flame, spotlights the obnoxiousness of Daisy’s new girlfriend, and gives Esther valuable knowledge she later uses to secure a job at the local comic shop. A common refrain throughout this issue is the phrase, “It’s the adult thing to do,” and despite the characters’ opposition to these courses of action, they ultimately follow through because they want to feel like adults.
Allison’s background in webcomics is a major influence on the storytelling of Giant Days, with each page functioning as a standalone moment, usually ending with some sort of punchline. This structure makes the series doubly satisfying. You get a complete sequence on every page, but they all add up to form an engaging larger narrative for each issue. The structure also ensures that there’s never a break in the humor, and it forces Allison to come up with fun new situations for each page. This is still a book firmly grounded in reality, so these situations are always rooted in real issues, whether it’s the alienation of walking into a comic shop for the first time, the struggle of giving up smoking, or the disgust of living with messy roommates who leave food out overnight.
Max Sarin is currently responsible for the best facial expressions in American comics, taking cartoonish exaggeration to an extremely heightened level that makes the emotions on the page way, way larger than life. It’s always crystal clear what each character is feeling at any given moment, and Sarin’s control of expressions adds significant depth to character relationships. For example, Daisy’s primary emotions around her girlfriend, Ingrid, are discomfort and embarrassment, and even though the two women are obviously not compatible, Daisy doesn’t have the heart to turn Ingrid away. She’s Daisy’s first girlfriend, and given Daisy’s kind, non-confrontational disposition, she’d rather give Ingrid a chance than break her heart. Daisy doesn’t have to say these things out loud because they read on her face, and Ingrid’s obliviousness to these signs speaks to the self-absorbed nature of her character.
Sarin’s artwork amplifies the humor of Allison’s scripts, and often there will be multiple big laughs on each page because the individual panels are so effective. Some especially amusing images in this issue are Susan going supernova after attaching four nicotine patches to her arm, Ed Gemmell’s soul-crushing despair after Daisy invites his horrible roommate Dean to the dinner party, everyone’s reaction to Ingrid’s awful toast, and Susan’s raw fury when she storms over to her neighbor’s door after he calls the cops on their demure get together. (Shark-toothed Susan shows up a lot because she has a very short fuse, and it is always great.)
The best moment of Giant Days #23 comes during Esther’s interview for the comic shop. She doesn’t read comics and doesn’t have a very deep understanding of nerd culture, but she desperately needs money, and desperate times call for desperate measures. After bungling her first three interview questions, Esther is asked who would win in a fight between Wolverine and Hulk, which just so happens to have been a miserable topic of conversation at the dinner party thanks to Ingrid and Dean, who should never be allowed in the same room together. With her face contorted like she just smelled a demon fart, Esther realizes that the only way to get this job is to use Dean’s wisdom, a prospect that causes her spiritual pain.
Resigned to this sad truth, Esther recounts Dean’s argument while the artwork shows her mental image of what Wolverine and Hulk look like: Wolverine is a man with a wolverine skull wearing a gray cape, red tights, tiny briefs, and a string of pouches along his thigh. Hulk is a blue Hulk Hogan with a white bandana over his eyes, Xs on his nipples, and tiny briefs. She has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about, but the comic store owner is impressed by her recitation of Dean’s knowledge, giving her a job that she is totally unqualified for. She jumps for joy after getting hired, but her excitement is quickly cut short when she realizes that now she owes Dean a solid, which might be a fate worse than unemployment.
Sarin’s work on Giant Days is especially impressive because this is her first major comics project, and while she started strong, she’s only gotten better with each new issue, pushing expressions further while bringing more detail to character and environment designs. The addition of inker Liz Fleming to the team sharpened the visuals, and Whitney Cogar’s vibrant coloring energizes the linework while adding to the book’s joyful atmosphere. This series takes an exaggerated approach to real-world situations, and Cogar’s work reflects that by embracing a wide spectrum of colors, with particular emphasis on creamy pastels. Cogar also plays an important role in setting a specific tone for each page, most notably in this issue with the scenes in Ed, McGraw, and Dean’s apartment. The ghastly faces emanating from the spoiled food are colored with a toxic neon green, and a paler, sicklier green is used across the entire page to drive home the nastiness of their living situation.
Artist Lissa Treiman departed Giant Days after issue #6, but she’s stayed on as cover artist, creating gleefully evocative images that are brimming with personality. Treiman’s cover for Giant Days #23 is a perfect encapsulation of each character’s temperament as they stand side-by-side for their mug shots: Susan is relaxed and aloof, silently resisting authority by turning to the side with one hand resting on her belly and one eyebrow cocked. She refuses to face forward, and she’s not afraid of the consequences of not following directions. Esther doesn’t have that combative personality, so she’s doing what is asked of her. Her head is turned down in shame, which is appropriate for a character who is deeply concerned with her reputation and the image she projects to the rest of the world.
Daisy is the goody-two-shoes of this group, and she’s in a full-blown panic on the cover. She’s holding her placard upside down, and her eyes are glaring straight ahead, magnified by her glasses, with tears bursting down and out. When the police show up in the actual story, Daisy immediately crumbles and begins confessing to crimes they didn’t commit because she can’t argue with authority figures. Maybe they are running a brothel in their house and she forgot about it. Daisy is easily embarrassed and runs away from conflict, and she has a very hard time saying no to people, especially if they are in a position of power.
Giant Days also features some very nice design work from Michelle Ankley, who fills the inside front cover and back cover with little doodles that you might find in a college student’s notebook. This notebook idea is reinforced on the back cover specifically, with the bottom of the page having the appearance of lined notebook paper while the top of the page showcases a panel from inside the book. (Fitting for current events, that panel is the one where Susan calls her scooter training class fascists for kicking her out because of her persistent cough.)
The main content of Giant Days #23 is superb as always, but it gains an extra layer of importance when the story ends. In her editor’s note at the end of the issue, Shannon Watters writes about how tough the last few months have been and how difficult it can be to muster a sense of joy in fearful times. She says that she imagines nothing profound has come out of the editor’s note in the back of a book, but her honesty and commitment to continue putting out sincere, pleasant comics is a moving display of solidarity with readers who are worried about what the future holds:
I will keep helping wonderful creators make hopeful art for you, with the intent of being a tiny beacon in the dark. My fervent wish is that you make the hard, gut-wrenching effort to find joy when and wherever you are able, and find strength and hope in those moments. Your bravery to stay here, stay alive, to keep fighting? That is my beacon, that is my joy. Stay strong, stay true, take care of each other.
Boom! Box titles like Giant Days, Goldie Vance (which returns this week), Jonesy, Slam!, Lumberjanes, and The Backstagers are trying to make comic-books a more inclusive medium, inviting readers from all walks of life to enjoy fun, energetic stories by creators from different backgrounds with distinct perspectives. If these books can bring even a few minutes of joy into a person’s life, they’re doing something good, and Watters’ dedication to telling these kinds of stories is admirable and necessary as the world gets bleaker every day.