Happy Holidays from your favorite Sheffield co-eds! The girls are off for a London adventure that pays tribute to Love Actually and the films of Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary). It’s bound to put you in the Christmas spirit where anything is possible.
Written by John Allison
Illustrated by Jenn St-Onge
Colored by Sarah Stern
Lettered by Jim Campbell
It’s Christmas time in Sheffield, but the dreary stereotypical English weather isn’t putting Esther, Daisy, and Susan in the festive mood. Esther suggests a trip to London to jump-start the holiday spirit. With lodging in the city provided by Esther’s old housemate Shelley, the girls explore the city and take it upon themselves to help sort out Shelley’s love life. Naturally, hijinks ensue.
After all the upheavals of the ongoing “Giant Days” narratives (relationships, sorting out student housing for next year, protesting big-box grocery stores), this holiday issue could not have come at a better time. These university girls need a break from the routine, and a trip to London is the medicine Esther suggests for this case of the pre-holiday blues. Although this is marketed as an ensemble story, Esther is really the star. Most of the action takes place with Shelley at her place of work, or conversations between Shelley and Esther at the apartment. Daisy and Susan do play a role in the story, but they’re relegated to supporting characters. And that’s okay by my standards — those two have been driving the majority of the main story for quite a few issues now, and we only get to see Esther in one-shots here and there. It’s nice to have her carry a book on her own; of the three girls, I always found her to be the most multifaceted and interesting.
The solicit markets this special as a “tribute to Love Actually and the films of Richard Curtis,” but I did have a tough time finding anything overtly paying homage to any of these movies. (Then again, it’s also been a long time since I’ve seen Love Actually, so feel free to point out what I missed in the comments.) The tribute here is in the broader themes of romantic endeavors (as the girls plot to help their hostess Shelley sort through the two or three suitors in her love life), and setting (Christmas time). There are moments that seem straight out of Bridget Jones’s Diary (another of Curtis’s well-known movies), both in content (a romantic date gone wrong thanks to a cat) and in their execution (third-party description of the events leading up to that date and the cat). I was hoping for a recreation of the iconic “to me you are perfect” scene, and we do get that a bit at the end — though the results are much more bombastic than the quiet moment between Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln. (There’s a parade float and an obscure 80s pop hit involved.) Richard Curtis is also known for scripting cult British comedy favorites Blackadder and Mr. Bean, and this sardonic, dry wit shines through more in the narrative, particularly in the final two panels.
(American readers may be wondering how these three are fitting in a London vacation in what would be, in U.S. colleges and universities, the last few weeks of fall semester classes and final exams. According to my significant other who studied for a year at the University of York, the UK exams for fall semester normally take place in early January, with the month of December reserved for exam prep, called revision in the UK. So, the girls could conceivably have most of the month of December off before returning to their own families for the holidays.)
There’s a different art team on this special than on the main issues, Jenn St-Onge on pencils and inks, and Sarah Stern on colors. While they have the look of our three characters down well, you can spot some differences in line and color styles. Max Sarin and Liz Fleming, our normal illustration team, tend favor broad strokes and anime facial styles: large eyes and facial features for Daisy, Susan, and Esther, with significantly more detail throughout. St-Onge opts here for a lighter hand in her lines, less detail, and smaller facial features. This is especially noticeable on Daisy, whose wide eyes emphasize and exaggerate her naivete, and that’s just not present here. The similarities to art in another Boom Studios property, “Hi-Fi Fight Club” are present, and I had to double-check credits to see if this art team had done work on that series. (They didn’t.) Readers picking up this issue as their first exposure to the “Giant Days” world won’t find this artwork out-of-place; but for established fans like me, it is just different enough to be noticeable but not detract or turn off from the whole book.Continued below
What St-Onge does get right is her depiction of Shelley. Her hair, smile, and apartment suggest 20-something career girl from another era (this is not a millennial living in a shoebox with her avocado toast) enjoying big city life, but only to a degree. Here is where I got the Bridget Jones Diary ambiance: the casual but still trendy wardrobe, an apartment that shouts “I’m a woman who has it all” in the living room but “I’m a depressed single woman” in the bedroom.
Stern’s colors also seem a bit out-of-place for a holiday special. The palette is pastel, not only disconcerting for a Christmas special but the overall “Giant Days” universe that screams bright, bold, and beautiful issue after issue, including last year’s holiday one-shot. Praise is due for not showering every panel with the hackneyed red and green Christmas colors, and the contrast does well to remind people this is an issue outside of the main narrative. Yet, there are ways to provide a Christmas mood that don’t rely on red and green — jewel tones, gold, silver, blue, and white are the first colors that come to my mind. The polyglot of pastels at play here from Sarah Stern don’t serve the season justice, and make it feel more like Easter than winter. Again, this could also be part of the Love Actually homage; a movie that takes advantage of the Christmas season when it needs to and leaves it alone when it doesn’t. The one constant from the ongoing series is in Jim Campbell’s letters. He carries over his strong action lettering from the series with fine effect here (the sputtering of the motorcycle from one of Shelley’s suitors is testament to this fine work), but works to blend it in well with the romantic overtones of St-Onge’s and Stern’s art style.
Any good holiday special from a serialized property knows to have a self-contained storyline for those who may be watching or reading for the first time, but enough familiarity for the established fans to enjoy. (Unless that’s Doctor Who, who love to throw in a regeneration as a Christmas gift.) This holiday special does that quite well, though its claim to be a tribute to Richard Curtis may be a little tough to find for those not fully familiar with his body of work.
Final Verdict: 7.3 – Just what you need from a holiday special: light, fun, a break from the mundane. Have this with your leftover Thanksgiving turkey on Friday to kick off your Christmas cheer.