The world is falling apart. We have a political system in meltdown and Euro 2016 will finish soon. What’s going to get us through the long wet days of summer? Binge-reading Giant Days, that’s what. John Allison’s university comic book sitcom is our favourite ongoing series these days. Who needs superheroes when you can have three girls - Susan, Goth girl Esther, and Daisy - in their twenties falling in and out of love and finding their feet in the world all the while attending the odd lecture now and then?

Allison, originally from Ilkley in West Yorkshire, was one of the pioneers of the web comic back in the last years of the last century. He’s responsible for such sterling strips as Bad Machinery and Scary Go Round. Now working with artist Max Sarin on Giant Days he’s clearly having huge fun. The result is the comic book equivalent of Prosecco, a bubbly joy that makes the world look better after you’ve indulged.

Here he talks to Graphic Content about his work, the Gothness of Bob Smith and the weirdness of Garfield.

What is the comic book history of John Allison then?

Obviously I was a comic book reader as a child and then after university I was unemployed and to look busy so that my mum didn’t kick me out or make me go and work on the bins I started putting together a submission package of comic strips to send to the American syndicates. This was 1998 and that was a good wicket back then.

I was not built for that at all but I kept going. The hubris was incredible. I thought: “Yes, the first 25 comic strips I’ve ever drawn. I’m going to be made for life.” But I actually got a very nice note back from the editor at King Features, home of Garfield and things like that. And that just gave me the courage to go on.

I started posting them online. This was at the start of web comics. It was a very narrow field. It was easy to get your work seen and the audience was growing all the time. I did that for years, developing my work and then I did a comic called Scary Go Round and that was popular. I think at its peak it had 60 or 70,000 readers a day. So I had a decent audience and after five years I was able to quit my office job and become a full-time cartoonist.

Then in 2009 I developed a comic called Bad Machinery that I wanted to be printed by somebody else rather than publishing it myself so having self-published for years Oni Press took it on.

But while I was developing that I was working on another title. I felt I don’t want to be a 60-year-old man who’s only done one thing to diminishing returns. I know it sounds ridiculous that a guy at 28 would think like that. But in cartooning you can see people who spread themselves wide and people who, well, ossified in their seats over the years. And I didn’t want to be one of those people.

I wanted to develop other things and Giant Days was one of them. I was lucky that another comic company [Boom! Box] was interested in it. And it just arrived at the right time.


Is there a larger audience for books that are neither indie nor superhero now?

It’s true. When manga books started coming out that got a lot of young girls into comics and that was an audience that really hadn’t had any comics for them. A lot of the comics that were around in the late nineties were alienating to girls and young women. But a lot of manga is aimed at women. They came into comics and were looking for home-grown material as well. The audience widened.

Is Giant Days your attempt at a sitcom?

I love sitcoms. I love American sitcoms. I loved Seinfeld and Cheers. I wanted to do something that was tightly formatted but drawing on my experience rather than on a bar in Boston or a Manhattan stand-up comic in because I don’t think that’s relatable to me personally.

But I wanted the mechanics of the American sitcom and I wanted to do what I’d enjoyed in those shows in a comic strip.

Did you draw on your own student days for the strip?

I did. I sat down and drifted into a bit of a reverie about what had gone on what could have gone on. It was a bit of a cosmic experience. I really thought hard about everything for ages and saw the line between everything I’d done which, when you’re doing it, you don’t see at all. I didn’t keep diaries. You went out, had fun, had fallings out with people and then after three years it’s over.

The first time you do anything it feels wildly important. The first time you properly fall in love with someone or move away from home is hugely important.  As you get older time goes very quickly. But at university you had lots of time, every moment seemed stretched out. Or it certainly did when I was at university. I realise kids have to work now. We were the last generation to be able to loaf around.

But you’ve opted to create a mainly female cast for Giant Days.

I don’t differentiate that much. Drawing women is more fun. The clothes, the hair and everything. Men, you’re just drawing a series of tubes really. It’s just more fun to draw women. I could have done it the other way around but it was just what suited me. There was no great political point to make. It was just fun.


Why comics?

I just like doing them. You are in charge of everything. I make all the decisions. I can connect with lots of people. I can create stuff that I want to or collaborate with people that I want to and produce the work I want to see and in the end there’s nothing nicer than that. I’m in an enormously privileged position to be able to make my own stuff and have people interested in it. It’s a wonderful feeling.

What’s unique about the form?

I think it’s a medium that has the benefit of reflection. If someone wants to sit and stare at a panel for ages if they get a lot out of a particular moment they can stay in that moment as long as they want or if they’re not enjoying themselves they can whip past it and it’s gone. So the reader controls time in a comic. In a book your imagination does the work. The reason comics are a lot of people’s entrance into reading because it’s easier. A little bit of the work is done for you and when it’s done well there’s a little bit of magic there on the page. The author and the reader are working in the same way as the book but there’s a little bit extra. Which is why in an age of so many other entertainments comics persist.

Who are your comic book heroes?

Growing up I just read Marvel Comics. The superhero titles. But then as I got older I got into people like Daniel Clowes, the late-nineties indie comics scene, Chris Ware and things like that.

But now I’ve got into people like Alex Toth who’s a real classic cartoonist, probably the greatest. He wasn’t the nicest man but he was the greatest artist.

Walt Kerry’s Pogo, I like. American comic strips. Calvin & Hobbes and even Garfield.

People laugh at Garfield. They think it’s recherché. But it’s the most focused work of cartooning I think there’s ever been. It’s the most pointillist. There’s so little going on yet if you look at it over a period of 20 years it’s incredibly weird, it’s incredibly strange.

Jim Davis is a properly eccentric guy but he only lets it out on the page once in a while. There’s a story where Garfield goes to the future and everybody’s dead. There’s another story where John goes out with a woman who thinks she’s a werewolf. This lasts for a week and then it’s forgotten. Back to normal. Lasagne on Monday.


Finally, given that Esther is now our favourite Goth girl, time to confess. Which is the greatest Goth band, John?

I’m the least Goth person imaginable, but it’s The Cure isn’t it? It’s Bob Smith. He invented being a Goth. He lives that life. He’s not putting it on. He’s like that at home with Mary. He’s got his hair all fully teased out. He puts his make up on the second he gets out of bed if it’s come off on the pillowcase. I have a huge respect for that man.

I think that I have a dark heart.

Giant Days 16 is out on Wednesday.