Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Giant Days

A couple of years or more ago I spent some time on the blog discussing some of my all time favorite comics. They overwhelmingly represented the past, mostly from the 1980s. These books are the ones that helped form me in my early adulthood. I have read many, many comics since then but it has felt like very few have inspired the level of love that I have for the old stuff. That’s part of getting older and the same paradigm seems to apply to music and books and movies and whatever else that helped make you the person you are.

As a comics retailer it part of my job to keep up with new releases so that I can make smart recommendations. I admit to a little bit of burnout. There are a lot of comics coming out these days, and many of them, particularly Marvel and DC, seem to this old reader to be a continual rehash of stories and concepts I have read too many times before. It felt like it had been a long time since anything had captured my imagination. But, I’m happy to report, that in the last few years there are several ongoing titles that I have been happily engaged and genuinely excited about. I’ve been feeling the need to write about new loves rather than, like the publishers, rehashing my past. I’ve just been a slacker about actually writing. But last week at San Diego Comicon something happened that told me to get off my ass and write about something.

Giant Days won the Eisner Award for both Best Ongoing Series and Best Humor Publication. I’ve been hyping Giant Days to anyone who will listen for a couple of years now. It’s a book that just makes me happy. I was excited to see that it received the Eisner nomination, but I honestly thought it might be a long shot. I know I love it, but I was unaware of it’s reach and impact. I feel a little giddy that it won.

Yes... I said giddy.

It’s about three young British women in college and their wacky adventures with friends. It’s fun and funny and touching and real. I’m really not the demographic I think Giant Days is aiming for, though there are definitely reasons I like it. I tend to describe it ‟as more adult than old-school Archie comics and far less adult than Love & Rockets.” I’m a big fan of both of those and Giant Days just hits a sweet spot that captures elements of both for me. My own comic from long ago, Grey Legacy, was the story of young people in college, albeit in more of a sci/fi fantasy setting. This was created much closer to my own college and grad school experience. Years later when I produced a short run of a comic strip set in the same world I focused on a young woman named Brix and her wacky adventures with friends, but even then I was aiming for the audience of Chatham University students. Obviously there is something in this trope that speaks to me.

But back to Giant Days...

Daisy Wooten was home-schooled and as a result is socially awkward and slightly na├»ve. She’s also brilliant, ridiculously optimistic, and highly organized. She tends to act as the conscience of the group. Susan Ptolemy is a med student. She’s overworked, down to earth, cynical, and sometimes a little mean and impatient with foolishness. Esther DeGroot is the beautiful Goth girl that everything comes easy to. She’s a whimsical force of nature, lucky, creative, and the object of every misplaced male crush. She’s also much smarter than she gives herself credit for. In spite of their differences they develop a beautiful friendship.

Somehow, I relate to elements of all three of them.

JohnAllison, the creator, writer, and sometimes artist of the series has a long history in comics. He has been creating web comics since the late 1990s. Giant Days is a continuation of some of the settings and characters that appeared there. His characterizations are deft and his comedic pacing is immaculate. Giant Days is a genuinely funny book. But the characters are not merely cartoons. We feel for them and become emotionally invested as they go through relationships and heartbreak and deal with the pressures of school and impending adulthood. In a recent story someone’s father dies and the story is deep and heartbreaking and incredibly insightful about dealing with grief.

I can’t say enough good things about the main series artist MaxSarin. Their drawings are full of life and energy. The characters are animated and feel as though they are always in motion. Sarin is a master of body language, subtle and not so subtle. The facial expressions can be wildly exaggerated, utilizing all of the tools of cartooning, but you are never taken out of the reality of this world. The drawing make you feel what the characters feel. When Daisy cries it is hurt down to the level of her soul.

As a middle aged man I’ve wondered why this appeals to me so much. Some of it is just sheer admiration for the craft of making good comics. Even though I am many years removed from the college experience I am surprised at how many moments in the series, like in every issue, something happens that has a direct corollary to something I have experienced in my own past, or speaks to who I am now.

I had this exact experience with a tripping friend
once. I was in the role of Esther that time.
This is an uncannily accurate description of me.

A large part of the appeal is the nostalgia factor. That’s something I think anyone can relate to. That time in your life, whether it was in college or high school or some other setting, when you were officially an adult, but still hadn’t figured out what that meant. The time when you were experiencing all of your firsts. When everything felt heightened and was tinged with importance in ways that can never be completely recaptured as you get older. When you first started to meet people who would be your chosen family and you can’t imagine life without them in it. For younger readers, those who are the age of the characters, it mirrors their life. For those of us who are older it reminds us of just how important and formative those times were.

Giant Days indeed.

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