Review: Giant Days #18

Can I just take a moment to reflect on how rare it is to find a book that consistently brings me joy. I don't mean a perfect book (those are rare too) but one that is somehow joyful the first to the final page. Despite loving comics, I find my default reaction to them is ambivalence, and even the books I do like can sometimes become a chore as the issues go on. Loyal readers (who may or may not be imaginary) will remember that I wasn't thrilled with the last couple of Giant Days issues. As such, it pleases me to say that Giant Days #18 reminded me why I like the book so much in the first place. John Allison's series pairs confident wit with an excellent ensemble cast as he once again allows his characters to bounce off of each other in a manner that is energetic but never frenetic. GiantDays_018_A_MainIssue 18 has a looser story than the previous two issues, centering a variety of small plots around the central theme of the last days of school and the impending demolition of the old student dorms (Daisy dejectedly notes that 'living in a 1970s-style youth prison made her a better person'). Esther and Ed are still trying to figure out the legal ramifications of being involved with a essay-fabrication scheme. Wisely, they choose to involve resident crime expert Susan who takes them to a 24-hour law office that would make Saul Goodman proud. This plotline wisely plunges fully into its own ridiculousness, ending, somehow, with an absurdly overblown press conference by the schemes original culprit.

Meanwhile Daisy comes to terms with the end of a school year and the emotions tied up in such things by having a good mope (a method I use on a daily basis). Having just enjoyed 17 issues of school adventures, one can't help but get on board with Daisy's anxiety about saying goodbye, even if it's just for a little while. And on the outskirts of these two main points, the characters interact with each other with the fast-paced patter that defines the book's sense of humor. Special mention goes to a scene that has Daisy and McGraw playing billiards. As far as I can remember those two have never shared a scene, but it's credit to the strength of the characters that they immediately appear to have a warm, familiar chemistry.

Issue 18 also raises my estimation of the work of Max Sarin. While I have been indifferent to some of her cartooning in the past, I'm starting to warm up to Sarin's style, which can be whimsical and energetic. I still don't like all of the facial expressions (which can come off as over simplified and over-exaggerated in equal parts), but Sarin has a grasp of comedic body language that brings a lot of life to the proceedings. One moment sees the three main characters stop mid-dance when the music is turned off and displays three entirely different, hilariously awkward dance poses.

Nothing makes me happier than to see a book I thought was slipping have a strong issue (and it doesn't always happen, see this week's Batman review). Giant Days  #18 is a delight from start to finish, and, most importantly, promises more of the same going forward.

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Giant Days #18 Writers: John Allison Artist:  Max Sarin Colorist: Whitney Cogar Publisher:  BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


Review: Giant Days #17

As it heads towards twenty issues, John Allison's Giant Days is a book that is undergoing some changes, for better and for worse. A lot has changed since Allison chose to spin the Esther character out from his webcomic into a printed series for Boom! Firstly, the book stretched from a mini to an ongoing, amicably losing original artist Lissa Treiman in the process.  As a consequence, the story and character have had to stretch to fit the wider canvass of a story with no ending in sight. But Giant Days is undergoing a deeper change as this changeover happens as well, finding a style that is a little sillier and exaggerated than what came before (an impression bolstered by Max Sarin's playful pencils). This new tone is more in line with Allison's webcomics and is a good deal of fun, but some part of me misses the more contained, slice-of-life tone of the first few volumes. As with issue sixteen, this month's Giant Days splits the cast apart into three stories--a move which, more apparently than before, weakens the structure considerably. Daisy deals with a mean professor on her archaeological dig project, Esther investigates a shady money-making deal with Ed's flatmate, and Susan deals with the reality of McGraw's new girlfriend. The weakest of these GiantDays_017_A_Mainplotlines is Daisy's which sees a setting a little too far removed from the world of the university meet up with a story that doesn't do much to develop Daisy as a character. It has some fun beats but feels fairly disposable. Erin's story is better (as any chance to spend time with Ed is bound to be), but again, the money-making scheme seems to lean towards the zany end of Giant Days. Finally, Susan's story is slight but well-wrought, as she deals with the reality that McGraw has moved on and she has no right to be unhappy about it.

The problem is, these character work best as a whole, moving in and out of each other's orbits constantly like college roommates really do. Splitting them into separate stories makes for some awkward logistic issues (the characters talk to themselves lot) and fractures the setting a bit too much. Frankly, there's no cohesive throughline as the stories are too disparate to add to much. In other words, the book is, in its individual pieces still as charming and warm a read as you'll find anywhere, but the seams are showing a bit more as it goes onward.

Let's take a moment to talk in depth about Max Sarin's art. I've avoided doing so when I've written about Giant Days before mainly because it seems unfair to compare with the work of Lissa Treiman which is ridiculously good.  Sarin's work has a certain charm to it, but it is sparse and cartoony in a manner that feels more underdeveloped than I'd like. Characters make exaggerated bugged-out eyes and plasticene facial expression that look straight out of a Looney Tunes short. The backgrounds are sparse, often using a few generic cartoon shapes to imply the world, leaving it feeling a little cheap and unfinished. Don't misunderstand me here, Sarin is talented to be sure and I am likely nitpicking, but coupled with a downtick in the writing for this month, it all feels a bit stretched.

So why then, might one well ask, with all this negative to say, am I giving Giant Days #17 a four out of five rating. Well, Giant Days is, and has been, a breath of fresh air in a medium that can at times feel a bit stale and monotone. That hasn't changed. Giant Days remains witty and firmly rooted in strong characters. The single knock against it which I've tried to get across in this review is that it's not as good as it was at its start. This leaves it as a good book with the constant potential to be a great one. I end Giant Days #17 wanting more, but hoping that next month it might go back to being truly outstanding, which, as any longtime reader knows, it can be.

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Giant Days #17 Writers: John Allison Artist:  Max Sarin Colorist: Whitney Cogar Publisher:  BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


Review: Giant Days #16

For anyone who may doubt how charming and intelligent Giant Days is, know that this issue ends with the line "Do you need to go somewhere and repeatedly fail the Bechdel test?" Not only is this line a great, nerdy reference in its own right, but it's not even the first time John Allison has referenced the Bechdel test for a joke. I don't normally like obvious reference to internet culture, but then again, there's a lot I don't like in comics that Giant Days is somehow making work. Fifteen issues into a planned six-issue mini (for once comics publishers made the right call), Giant Days has settled into a comfortable rhythm that taps into the same witty, comfort food quality that people responded to in Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and Scrubs. While I may have just outed myself as a lover of sitcoms, let's ignore that for the moment and explore issue sixteen of Giant Days. This issue deals in three primary plots: Daisy is tasked with leading a college tour that quickly goes off the rails, Esther sets out to solve her money problems, and Susan takes up internet dating with predictably mixed results. I admire immensely Allison's dedication to telling a full story in the space of one issue, and the script for this issues is paced brilliantly. The issue starts and ends GiantDays_016_A_Mainwith the three girls together and manages in the middle to balance all three though a series of carefully interwoven sequences. The way the issue manages to jump from Daisy's frazzled tour, to an awful date with Susan to an Esther brainstorming session and then back without feeling awkward or giving too little time to any story element is frankly most praiseworthy because you don't really notice it happening.

I recently saw Giant Days accused of being inconsequential, and it is the case that the stories are light and don't always have a huge lasting effect on the characters. However, it's a rare quality to have a book with consistently written set of likeable characters even if it doesn't necessarily have a huge sense of forward momentum. In this issue, for example, the Esther and Daisy plotlines show a little character growth but are mainly extended characters gags. But Susan's dates, which could be two dimensional parodies of dating culture, instead end up being three decent, flawed guys who end up highlighting for Susan and the reader, just how far she is from being over McGraw. It's all warm and silly with fairly low stakes, but making things too dramatic or momentous would rob the book of its basic conceit, that this world and its denizens are loveable and occasionally witty but more than a little silly (i.e. college students).

Speaking of silly, let's talk about Max Sarin's artwork. It's about time I stopped missing Lissa Treiman and started recognizing the loopy, squiggly charm of Sarin's new stylings. Every part of Sarin's characters burst with energy. If Daisy feels hopeful, light from heaven shines down upon her like a halo. If Esther feels dejected, her body takes on a blocky hunched quality that I think in retrospect I may have for most of my day. I still dislike how flat and simple the backgrounds are (mostly just blocky colored shapes, never with much detail ore design flair), but it's hard to ignore that Sarin is complimenting Allison's script nicely.  In other words, despite my declaration above, I may never fully get over the departure of Treiman, but plain and simple, Sarin's art is working very well.

I deeply love Giant Days and I've not spent one review and one essay trying to explain why and I don't know that I totally have. It's funny and sweet (and a hell of a lot less twee than it has any business being), but it's also, as any great book is, extremely specific. Allison is writing a certain well defined group of characters in a specific quirky way aided by the appropriate style of Max Sarin. It's a book with a voice and an energy all to itself and, while that probably means it won't be for everyone, for those like me who have been won over by its charms, issue sixteen is a pleasant reminder that the book continues to fire on all cylinders.

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Giant Days #16
Writer: John Allison
Artist:  Max Sarin
Colorist: Whitney Cogar
Publisher:  BOOM! Studios
Price: $3.99
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital