Celebrate John Allison’s 20th Year Of Brilliance With Giant Days And Bad Machinery

by Richard Bruton

John Allison is a pioneer, a trailblazer, and one of the UK’s finest writers of wonderful comedy in comic form. For many years, his work was online only or through self-published collections and comics.

But now, with Oni Press publishing the Bad Machinery reprint collections, and Boom! Box publishing the continuing uproarious university adventures of three fabulous women in the Eisner nominated Giant Days, Allison’s work has never been more visible.

For many years now Allison’s been the UK’s premiere webcomic creator, creating something of a template that many would follow, but few managed to produce such brilliance, week in, week out. His work first appeared online in 1998 with Bobbins (1998-2002, with a brief reappearance in 2014), followed by Scary Go Round (2002-2009), and Bad Machinery (2009-now). 2018 is his 20th year of making comics online. And he simply gets better and better.

His comics all share not just a common shared universe, but a common DNA, all featuring wonderfully believable yet over the top characters, all expressing themselves with a perfectly naturalistic voice. On top of this, Allison’s comics are fabulously funny things, infused with a turn of phrase that belongs in stand-up and a heart that belongs in the best of dramas.

“She’s still driving then?”

“It’s not really driving, is it? More a mobile murder spree looking for victims.”

At the moment, Allison is splitting his time between two, equally recommended, projects: Bad Machinery and Giant Days. As with pretty much all of his work, there’s no great need to read from the start, you can either jump right in, trusting that Allison’s writing and storytelling makes each new adventure easy to follow, or take advantage of his handy new readers’ section on his website.

(Charlotte Grote and Shauna Wickle – Bad Machinery Volume 7: The Case Of The Forked Road b John Allison.)

Bad Machinery continues to this day as a webcomic, detailing the exploits of various teens, often sleuthing their way around the town of Tackleford. The webcomic has been collected by Oni Press, both in shelf-confusing landscape format and now pocket editions, often with Allison remastering a lot of the old strips for print. And it’s the somewhat troubled transition from Scary Go Round to Bad Machinery that gave birth to Giant Days.

Bad Machinery was divisive at first – it took people a while to warm up to it, and I lost confidence, creating a potential replacement series, where Scary Go Round’s Esther de Groot goes to University. I drew one story in 2010, then went back to Bad Machinery refreshed. But the characters I created for it nagged at me, and at the start of 2013, I did two more issues, before pitching it as a series to Boom! Studios.—John Allison

Giant Days is now up to issue 36, and the collections have reached Volume 7, out in March 2018. Pretty good for something Boom! Box initially commissioned as a 6-issue series. And it shows absolutely no sign of stopping anytime soon. Consistently hilarious, always fabulous, a wonderful comic about being young, dumb, and full of fun.

For those of us used to Allison doing it all, Giant Days was a strange thing. Thankfully, all fears were soon quashed, at roughly the first page. In Lissa Treiman, and from issue 7, Max Sarin, Allison’s found artistic collaborators to match his invention, bringing an animation style to things, whilst still retaining an element of Allison-ness in the artwork. Treiman and Sarin’s artwork is a perfect fit for the style of the book, backgrounds variously sparse to highlight character work, or with spectacular details when needed. And those characters… so much cartooning here, expressive, over the top action that can switch to carefully studied facial expressions. Treiman and Sarin do it all so well.

Giant Days is Allison exploring University life. And oh boy, he delivers the goods, time and again. Again, as he’s always done, Allison writes superb female characters, exaggerated yet believable, a mess of contradictions, fun, funny, messed up, but brilliantly realised. Allison’s writes observational dialogue like the best stand-up comic crossed with the finest playwright, it’s all so fast, so funny, a perfect turn of phrase on every page, practically every panel.

(Meet Susan, Esther, and Daisy, from Giant Days Issue 1. Art by Lissa Treiman.)

His main cast is a triumvirate of Susan, Esther, and Daisy. They started out in halls in next door rooms and latched onto each other at once, primarily to get the wonderfully gothic-esque Esther out of various scrapes. But it’s now year two, they’re out of halls and in student digs. But the girls are still the same…Susan the med student is the common sense one, or at least sometimes, but there’s a strange attraction to elegantly moustachioed Ed McGraw to deal with. Daisy is the introvert, lacking most rudimentary social skills, although she does have her first proper relationship now, with the artistic Ingrid.

“This is Daisy’s first relationship. Plus, she’s a lesbian padawan learner. Still trying to work out which Tegan and Sara album is best.”

And Esther is wonderfully, amazingly temperamental, or mental with a temper, one of the two. Possibly both. She’s also strangely non-committal about certain alleged Satanist leanings, which combined with her ability to attract drama and disaster, can lead to some unexpected weirdness…

“So, how was your Christmas Day, Esther? Traditional Black Metal carols and roast bat?”
“Unusually eventful. Dad’s out in the garden burning the living room carpet as we speak.”
“What happened?”
“What’s the worst thing you can imagine?”
” A fox got into the house in the night, spewed up, died, then burst.”
“Not even close.”

Sure, the three are stereotypes, but in Allison’s hands these cliches become strengths and seeing them explore university life, become each other’s protectors, defenders, shoulder to cry on, and so much more is an absolute delight. And it’s so natural, the flow is sheer perfection, a gag on almost every page; Allison’s comedic timing the best in the business.

Across the volumes, the cast has grown, whether it’s Susan’s nemesis/boyfriend of old, and new, moustachioed gentleman Ed McGraw, the timid and nervous other Ed, desperately in love with a clueless Esther, Daisy’s confusing first crush Nadia, or her girlfriend Ingrid. We meet variously mad, endearing, annoying, strange, members of each of the girls’ families as we head home with them over Christmases and hols. And even though the focus occasionally wanders from the trio, they’re always there, always funny, always in some escapade or other.

There’s plenty of delights to explore with the cast now in their second year at Sheffield University. Amongst the fun to find here in volume 7:

You’ll discover just what Susan and Esther are talking about here:

(Susan and Esther take in the wonder that is their new living room mural. Art by Max Sarin.)

Esther gets her radical anti-capitalist protest on, gets educated in the corporatization of the world and realises she’s not the well rounded, knowledgeable soul she always thought she was…

“Why didn’t you tell me I’m pathetically ill-informed? I thought I was cool and woke but I’m just one of the sheeple.”
“We thought you were being ironic.”
“Yes. We thought pretending not to know anything about politics was part of your brand.”

Susan maybe gets back with Ed McGraw, Daisy’s relationship with Ingrid has its first hiccup, the gang end up sabotaging a flatmate’s MMORPG wedding, and solve the mystery of the landlord’s locked and off-limits garage. As the Christmas holidays send the girls homeward, you get to cringe with Susan at the ‘fun’ of a family Christmas with 5 older sisters and mom and dad having issues.

And finally… Susan’s increasingly suspicious nighttime disappearances….and Ed McGraw being suspiciously close at hand all the time…

(The “minuteman” quip from Esther… another perfect line delivered by Allison. Art by Max Sarin.)

Oh, Giant Days really is that perfect of comic things; a comedy-drama, something to be adored, devoured and cherished whilst it lasts. Because Allison’s doing this almost in real time, And we’ve already seen the trio deal with an awful lot, whilst terms, and years, roll over. With only three years at Uni (although Susan presumably has five as a medic) there’s a worrying finite nature to the fun. Unless of course, Allison has plans post-uni?

Giant Days is a perfect bit of comics. The highest of hi-jinks, the most splendid of shenanigans. Your university life was never this much fun.

Giant Days Volume 7 is written by John Allison, with art by Max Sarin and Liz Fleming, colors by Whitney Cogar, letters by Jim Campbell, and covers by Lissa Treiman. Published by Boom! Box, it’s released in March 2018.

Bad Machinery is written, drawn, colored, and lettered by John Allison. Print editions published by Oni Press, with Volume 4 of the Pocket Editions, Bad Machinery: The Case Of The Lonely One released in mid April 2018. 

You can find all of John Allison’s webcomics, including Bad Machinery at his website, along with print editions and some rather natty merchandise.