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John Allison Revisits University Life in “Giant Days”

by  in Comic News Comment
John Allison Revisits University Life in “Giant Days”

Surviving college is not without its challenges. Unfamiliar places and faces abound, and classes offer new challenges, but all of that is nothing compared to the drama that goes on in the dorms. John Allison captured much of the craziness of college life in his webcomic “Giant Days,” and in March, he’s back for more with a new, six-issue series at BOOM! Studios.

RELATED: “Bad Machinery’s” John Allison Talks 15 Years of Webcomics, Looks to the Future

Joined by artist Lissa Treiman, Allison returns to his trio of leads — Susan, Esther and Daisy — with an all-new series that requires no knowledge of the previous incarnation. This time around, Allison plans to mix single-issue storytelling with larger character arcs featuring familiar subjects for any college grad, including sweeping flu outbreaks, pesky classes and awful dude-bros.

CBR News spoke with Allison about reinventing his series for the traditional comics format, the challenges of writing younger characters and working with an artist other than himself.

CBR News: “Giant Days” started out as a webcomic and a one-off minicomic; what about that concept or that world lends itself to this larger, six-issue series?

John Allison: The webcomic comprised three distinct issues that I always intended to print, so it’s kind of tailor-made for the monthly format. It’s about starting university. I remember those first months at college as a hyper-compressed time where so much seemed to happen. Six episodes is a traditional length for a British sitcom season, so I thought in terms of our national comedic arcs!

Do you think it would help new readers to go back and check out the original stories? Will those be included in the eventual trade or as their own collection?

It won’t hurt readers to read the original stories, all of which are available from comiXology or in print via Topatoco. But the BOOM! series doesn’t presuppose that knowledge. The relationships set up in my original series are present and correct. I’m pleased with the way we’ve handled the first issue. I’ve no plans to reprint the original issues — they’re all still available as singles — but who can say? 

“Giant Days” focuses on a trio of friends who meet in college and deal with a variety of issues inherent to that experience. Did you draw on personal experience for those elements?

I drew on my personal experience, my friends’ experience, my girlfriend’s experience — I magpied anything that might be useful. It’s very easy to drift into a sort of trance thinking about when I was young, remembering old faces, thinking about the road not travelled. I have to be careful, though — I went to college nearly 20 years ago, and “times have changed,” or so I hear. I can’t fill the book with references to Hootie and the Blowfish.

You bring up an interesting point about writing kids twenty years after being in college. Do you have a resident college kid to run things by to see if they sound authentic?

No, I don’t. But the thing about young people is that they’re everywhere, and they’re quite noisy. I use public transportation. The youth of today are not keeping what they’re up to a secret.

What can you tell us about Susan, Esther and Daisy. What makes them click as friends, aside from being neighbors?

Esther is the kind of person who owned the school because she found everything easy. At university, it’s like she’s a superhero who’s lost all her powers. Susan is much more capable, she’s seen a little of life and the world, which makes her much more resilient. Also, she’s extremely tough. Daisy is homeschooled and pretty unworldly. They all have a sense of basic decency that makes friendship easy, but Susan, the archetypal lone wolf, is suddenly mother bird to these two, and finds that she likes it.

How would you describe the structure of the six issues? Are these more one-and-done stories or ongoing tales with overarching parts throughout?

Each issue has a theme and a story, but there’s an overall arc, too. You’ll get mini-closure each issue and then maxi-closure at the end. I hope.

The first issue is a reintroduction to the characters. I set out to really test the parameters of their friendship. A stress test! Every “Giant Days” story is a war between innocence, experience and chaos. Which is best? 

It’s difficult to flag up the overarching story without sounding very bland or giving away huge spoilers! In each issue, there’s a problem to be overcome, but the character arc takes six issues to get where it’s going. I hope you enjoyed those boilerplate sentences. There’s an issue about flu. There’s an issue about gross bros. I’ve watched a lot of Preston Sturges movies and episodes of of “Gilmore Girls.” I know what “shine theory” is. We have to hope this all works.

You’ve done a lot of work yourself as both writer and artist. How has it been working with Lissa Treiman on “Giant Days?”

It’s great! She’s an incredible talent. I love drawing my own stories, but working with someone whose skills outstrip my own by such a distance is like a dream. And though I’m pretty quick, drawing does take ages. I couldn’t mount a new, second project like this and give it everything if I had to force more drawing into my day.

How did you and Lissa hook up to collaborate on this?

Lissa submitted a guest strip for me back in 2008. Her take on my characters blew me away. Their whole personality as I had seen it in my head was there, but they looked — and I’m choosing my words carefully here — better and more like themselves than I could ever have imagined.

Have you hit an unexpected hurdles working in the more traditional print format than the one used for the webcomics?

The only issue is length. 22 pages an issue is tight! I’ve always had room for digressions in the past, because if I wanted 24 or 38 or 32 pages of story in an issue, the only person who could tell me “no” was me! And if I did it on the web and glossed over something that maybe needed a little more room, I could stick another couple of pages in the print version. But working with Jasmine and Shannon, my editors at BOOM!, alleviates a lot of my more slapdash tendencies. It’s a good collaboration.

“Giant Days” #1 stomps into shops on March 18 from John Allison, Lissa Treiman and BOOM! Studios.

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