By Stefania RuddGiant Days is at once the most wonderful and most important comic book you could ever read.

It’s funny. It’s wistful. Giant Days simultaneously makes you ache for yesterday and appreciate today. The characters here are people — they’re people we’ve never met, certainly, but people we could definitely know, or have known. People that we’ve loved, maybe. Esther de Groot, Susan Ptolemy, Daisy Wooton, living their lives during some of the most important days of their lives. (That’s where the title comes from, but you already knew that.)

John Allison and Max Sarin unite to tell a story that feels achingly honest. Together, the world contained within Giant Days feels habitable, largely because most of us — whether we’re cognizant of it or not — have experienced it in one way or another. It’s one of those collaborations that feel almost legendary in its perfection. Like a Disney movie, it’s warm and inviting. But it’s often witty and observant too, like some indie movie from the early Nineties.

These days, Giant Days has quietly become one of the more lauded series published today. In 2016 it was nominated for two Eisner Awards, and just this past week, artist Max Sarin, along with inker Liz Fleming, became this year’s recipients of the Reuben Award. (In the Comic Book category, naturally.) If you’re not reading Giant Days, you owe it yourself to change that. Jump in wherever you like — odds are, you’ll sink right in.

John Allison and Max Sarin took time out of their schedules to speak with DoomRocket contributing writer Stefania Rudd about Giant Days, personal growth, and those fleeting halcyon days that came to define us.

Cover to ‘Giant Days’ #27. Art by Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, and Whitney Cogar/BOOM! Studios

1. ‘Giant Days’ is a spin-off series of your webcomic, ‘Scary Go Round’, with Esther Fenella de Groot acting as the gateway character. Why did you decide Esther should be the person to begin a new series?

John Allison: Esther was a popular character in Scary Go Round, but she was also something of a blank slate—the sort of character who had room to grow in a new series, given more space. Thanks for remembering her middle name, because I certainly didn’t, and it wouldn’t have been long before she got a new one.

2. Being set in a university allows for a lot of freedom — characters come and go through the story at ease. How do you decide who gets to stick around for a storyline and who gets to make a brief appearance?

JA: I’m a firm believer that characters appear when they’re needed, and vanish when they have nothing more to say. Someone like Dean Thompson offers very rich territory, though, obviously; I can’t go mad with issue after issue of his exploits because not everybody likes grotesque Ignatius C. Reilly characters as much as I do. In cases like that, I get it all out of my system with an issue like issue #26.

3. ‘Giant Days’ feels very authentic, with the characters’ personal developments and the scenarios in which they find themselves. How much of your own life experiences do you draw from for these stories? Are any of the characters based off of people you know?

JA: I draw on my own life, the lives of friends, anecdotes, half-remembered interactions, and I make a lot of it up. I went to university 20 years ago; some of the material is decidedly non-fresh. Everything I do creatively is about keeping your eyes open and taking an interest in everything around you. Ed Gemmell was based on a kid I saw on a train one Saturday with big hair, glasses, and a wild print hoodie. I’m never bored.

4. John — how did you handle the transition from writing and drawing webcomics to taking on sole writing duties? 

JA: Initially I was a little embarrassed to have to write down what the characters were thinking. That had always been secret, and it’s very important to how I draw them—I act it all out in my head as I go. Now it’s important to translate that to the script. I’ve been lucky to work with excellent interpreters of this internal dialogue.

Interior page from 'Giant Days' #11. Art by Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, and Whitney Cogar/BOOM! Studios

Interior page from ‘Giant Days’ #11. Art by Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, and Whitney Cogar/BOOM! Studios

5. Max — how did you approach the series after Lissa Treiman’s first six issues?

Max Sarin: The way you do when you need to fill someone else’s shoes: with dread and constant fear of failure. But all that aside and since then, I’ve been doing my best to brighten someone’s day while helping tell the characters’ stories. John’s excellent writing makes that really easy. His writing is so inspiring. I want people who read the comic to get as much enjoyment out of it as possible, which is why I like to add small details in the background whenever I have the time in hopes they give someone a chuckle or two.

6. What drew each of you to the world of comics?

JA: I was bought comics as a small child, and from about the age of 8 or 9, I wanted to make them. So, I churned out, in fits and starts, terrible comics. I manifested no discernible talent, right up to my early twenties, that would have suggested that I could have a career in the industry, but I did thousands of pages of webcomics, which was pretty good practice. In comics, you can be in charge of everything, and I think that suits my personality.

MS: I didn’t really have friends growing up so I spent my time reading comics and writing stories. My grandmother had stacks of old Tarzan, Alice in Wonderland, and Bamse comics, [which were based on a popular Swedish cartoon]. In the library near my school, I found Tex Willer, Asterix, and Tintin, and Finnish comics such as Ontot Kukkulat by Petri Hiltunen. Our family also subscribed to Donald Duck like most families in Finland.

My brother, who was five years older than me, had Marvel and DC comics, which I read over and over again. I then started to draw comics, trying to be as good as John Romita, Jr. or Alan Davis. It’s funny that even after reading this huge range of different comics it wasn’t until after reading Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis did I realize I could draw with any style I wanted. I always knew I had to tell stories, but this was when I knew I had to become a cartoonist.

7. What (and/or who) inspires your writing/drawing?

JA: It was always the case that if I didn’t write, I would have nothing to draw. Writing and not drawing was an experiment I expected to last six months. I write Giant Days because I desperately want to keep that plate spinning; it has become a very important plate to me.

MS: Oh gosh, so many things and so many people! It changes from time to time. One constant source of inspiration is Helene Schjerfbeck. Whenever I see her work, I fall in love. Currently, I am also inspired by the Steven Universe cartoon and the Jem and the Holograms comic because they make me smile so easily. I also have many talented friends whose sketchbooks and Tumblrs are a never-ending source of inspiration.

8. Which character of ‘Giant Days’ do you find yourself identifying with the most and why?

JA: I see a bit of myself in all of them. I think to be too specific opens me up to attacks by my many enemies in Congress.

MS: I do see a bit of myself in a mix of Daisy and McGraw. Daisy has a rational side when people are being foolish and she calls them out on it with the sternness of a mother bear. She also panics over “nothing,” which to her seems like the end of the world. I can relate to McGraw especially when someone jokes about a subject he is serious about. Take his talk about the British electric plug system in issue #26, for example. I’ve seen Emilia’s expression from that panel on people’s faces so many times, like when I talk about how things should be consistent and perfect, and for that I am extremely sorry. Unlike McGraw, this trait doesn’t make me a perfect cinnamon bun.

9. What is one fond memory of your university days that you would like to see played out on the pages? 

MS: I think those fond memories are already in Giant Days. All my best memories are of people I met during my time in uni. Talks after class, game nights, walks in the woods.

If I had to pick one memory that I could see being played out in the comic it would be when two friends and I went to Chirk. To get there, you have to walk through this long tunnel, which is almost completely dark. It has a very low watercourse with a narrow walk path. If you shine your flashlight on the water, it looks like it is a mile-deep drop to an abyss. My friends Tuisku and Aaron came to walk it with me and I freaked Tuisku out when pointing out this optical illusion to her. It didn’t help that there was water on the walk path. Aaron was unfazed by everything but tried to scare us on our way back by squatting in the dark. He failed, but we appreciated the gesture. I think this could easily happen in Giant Days with more exaggerated and hilarious results.

JA: My fondest memories of university are of the first year. It was a halcyon time, away from home, loads of new friends, every day was an adventure—some good, some bad. I really dug through most of the events that mattered that year for the first 18 issues.

I grew up in a small village, and attended a boys’ school in a neighboring town. My world was very small. But the first week of university, I walked into Broomhill in Sheffield, where our halls of residence were, and there was a huge second-hand record shop, Record Collector, which is still there. I loved music, but I’d never had access to a resource like that. This is pre-Napster; I had a head full of CDs I wanted to buy that I couldn’t find, and suddenly, everything was there.

I can’t write that into Giant Days; it’s part of a bygone era, but the pleasure of spending an hour browsing those racks whenever I wanted was immeasurable. I didn’t have much cash, so I had to pick very carefully, and trade things I didn’t like, which just added to the joy. I’ll never get that feeling back. I wish there was a way to convey it that still meant something.

Interior page from 'Giant Days' #27. Art by Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, and Whitney Cogar/BOOM! Studios

Interior page from ‘Giant Days’ #27. Art by Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, and Whitney Cogar/BOOM! Studios

10. It’s the time of year many students are graduating from high school and will be heading off to university. What is one piece of advice you would give them as they start their first year?

JA: It’s easy to lose yourself at university. If you’re living away from home for the first time, it’s a total recalibration of who you are, and it’s tempting to embrace that to the limit. But if you like yourself, don’t lose sight of yourself. It took me years to put the person who left for Sheffield in 1995 back together.

MS: Get the most out of it, from your studies to your friends. Explore the world around you with interest instead of thinking what grade you’re going to get—you learn and live more that way.

And in case you ever hit a low point or think of yourself as a failure for one reason or another, remember this: You are the main character. They always fall just before they find their way to victory.

‘Giant Days’ #27 will be in stores on June 7. You can check out an exclusive first look here!

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