Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #140: Giant Days: Not On The Test Edition Vols. 1 & 2 by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, and Max Sarin

Once upon a time there was a town named Tackleford, somewhere in the bits of England that Americans like me understand only dimly -- not near or part of London at all, not even defined by being near or part of some other UK city we've heard of. Cartoonist John Allison set his webcomic Bobbins there, telling a loose skein of related stories about the people in that fictional town.

Time went on, and Allison reconfigured Bobbins into Scarygoround, to feature longer stories and shift the cast of characters somewhat. One of the major characters of Scarygoround was Esther De Groot, a pale teen and half of one of Scarygoround's great love stories.

But time continued to go on, and Allison set his stories in time. So Scarygoround, in its turn, ended, and, as part of that ending, Esther left the main narrative to go off to Sheffield University -- name changed slightly, I think, to underline it is not exactly the University of Sheffield -- and appeared in three self-published print comics by Allison under the title Giant Days. But Allison's major follow-up project focused on a new, younger generation of Teckleford folks: Bad Machinery, in which six originally-tweens solve somewhat supernatural mysteries and take the piss out of each other.

And time? Yeah, it kept going on. And Allison came back to Esther, and Giant Days, with what was originally planned to be a six-issue miniseries drawn by Lissa Treiman. Today I'm looking at two big hardcovers that reprint the first sixteen issues of that now-ongoing series -- issue 38 has just hit as I write this -- so once again one of Allison's creations has surprised him and us and gone in unexpected new directions. (Which is, obviously, entirely a good thing -- repeated serendipity is something to look for in a creator.)

Treiman left the book after those first six issues, and was replaced first by Max Sarin alone and then Sarin inked by Liz Fleming. Whitney Cogar has provided colors for all of these issues. (And, yes, all of the creators besides Allison are women -- Giant Days is a story about women, something unusual in the boy's club of print comics.) In the way of comics, Giant Days was first collected into paperbacks, with four issues each -- and then, when those were successful, two paperbacks were jammed together along with additional material (so far, one of Allison's self-published Giant Days stories in each, plus variant covers and sketch pages) to make the Giant Days: Not On the Test Edition. Volume One came out last summer and Volume Two in January, with a third big hardcover scheduled for November.

The two books are subtitled with a semester: Fall and Winter. Since actual British universities generally only have Fall and Spring semesters, the titling may be slightly off -- and I'm curious to see how they'll handle the second and third year without being completely confusing. But, since the end of this second book seems to be close to the end of the actual second semester at Sheffield, my current estimate is that with three years of college, two semesters a year, and eight issues per semester-book, Giant Days could potentially run to 48 issues. (If a year has three or four "semesters," that will stretch things out somewhat, obviously.) Since all of Allison's previous projects actually ended, I'd expect Giant Days to run its course and stop as well.

I've already written about all of the pieces re-collected in these two books -- the original paperback volumes one and two and three and four -- as well as writing longish posts about the related Allison projects Scarygoround and Bad Machinery (collections one and two and three and four and five and six and seven), and this post is already quite long, even without actually mentioning anything that happens in these books. But let me, no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

At Sheffield, Esther (goth, drama magnet) quickly fell in with Susan (studious, sensible) and Daisy (home-schooled, innocent), who live on the same hallway. Male hangers-on comprise Ed Gemmel (quiet, nice, at first infatuated with Esther) and McGraw (good at building things, has a history with Susan). They do the usual young-people-in-college things -- studying, dating, fighting corrupt student administrations, taking tests, attending balls, making films for a contest, obsessing about where to live the next year -- with Allisonian twists on them.

It's good; it's mostly focused on women and their lives and is a great entry-point into the larger John Allison universe, since the quirky supernatural stuff is almost entirely absent. Allison writes great dialogue and sets up naturalistic but silly plots, while first Treiman and then Sarin (and then Sarin + Fleming) give it an expressive, open art style that rhymes with Allison's own work but doesn't try to imitate.

Look: if you read comics about anything like the real world, particularly the parts of the real world that actually have believable women in them, you need to check out Allison. And Giant Days is one of the best, easiest ways to do that. So do it.

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