Giant Days sounds like an indie comic dream. What starts as a web-comic is reshaped into a self-published print comic book, which is then picked up by a respected publisher and goes on to be shortlisted for major awards, all the while retaining the original edge that made it popular in the first place.
Three young women attend university. That’s it. No big twist, or superpowers, or magical notebook uncovered in the basement that sets in place a fourteen part quest to defeat an ancient evil. Just three characters, living and working together through normal, late-teenage stuff. It’s a “slice of life” comic, but actually fun. Quick witted, packed with dry humour, yet retaining the reality of student life.
We’re first introduced to these characters and they seem to be painted with a pretty wide brush. Esther is the pixie goth. Daisy the naive nerd. Susan the slightly dowdy but sensible Mary Sue character. But within a few pages these expectations are turned on their heads and we get a trio of compelling and original characters who equally shift between lead and supporting roles.
With sparky artwork by Lissa Treiman, and backed up by confident colouring by Whitney Cogar, Giant Days gives us a slight cutsie slapstick, with expressive character inhabiting a mostly realistic world. There are some nice understated artistic choices, like characters visually calling for flashbacks, or colouring being deliberately incorrect during a hangover. Lettering is provided by the ever reliable Jim Campbell.
Giant Days addresses major issues, but does so in an approachable, PG13 way. Just the first few episodes include casual drug use, coping with coming out and online bullying. Overall though, Giant Days is about forming adult friendships and the obstacles that life puts in the way.
In addressing important issues, the comic never descends into a Very Special Episode of Giant Days. For example, in issue four a character experiments with pills. We’re never told “drugs are bad, just say no”, or even “hey, drugs are fun, kids”. Instead, we’re shown a character having a good time, dancing to the sound of a hand dryer and looking really silly in front of elderly relatives. She is supported by non-judgmental friends, and everyone moves on without having to hammer home the lesson. There’s no moralising here and the dialogue is never less than hilarious.
Giant Days approach to online shaming has particularly won plaudits. When Ester finds herself singled out by the laddish “Bantserve” website, the selfish behaviour of a group of men-children threatens to have a real and damaging impact on her life. As we get a sneak into the lads’ home, the language they use might be caricature, but their behaviour is all too familiar, as it the response of the university’s authorities who struggle to grasp the impact the behaviour might have, or why they should care.
The storyline then goes further than might be expected, as Susan’s knee jerk reaction becomes just as sexist, punishing the wrong man in response. Giant Days might be primarily focused on the lives of female characters who largely regard men as an uninteresting enigma, but recurring male characters are given weight by clearly having their own lives “off camera” which would just as easily be the subject of a companion comic.
Giant Days is one of the funniest, and also kindest, comics we’ve ever read. Filled with originality, with just the right amount of familiarity.