Welcome to “Trade Waiting,” a series where we wait ’till comic book arcs are collected in trade format so that we can study and analyze the story on a whole. We will focus on character arcs, plot points, thematic content and things along those lines. We will only look at the material collected in a trade and not take overall continuity into consideration.
Title: Ant: Days Like These
Writer: Mario Gully
Artist: Mario Gully
Publisher: Arcana Studio
Eight year old Hanna Washington is on the way to school with her father, “Big Daddy,” when a police officer pulls them over. Big Daddy is arrested and Hanna is traumatized while watching this occur.
After Big Daddy is processed through bookings, another officer takes Hanna to school where the other kids make fun of her. To help her cope she visits her principal and reveals her relationship to the super-hero Ant.
It seems Hanna knows that she is destined to grow up to become Ant. She chronicles her future adventures in her journal and also uses it as a way to escape the drama of her life.
After being attacked by a bully, Hanna loses her journal and a fellow student finds it. She returns home to learn that Big Daddy is back but was questioned about the murder of his boss who also happens to be Hanna’s boyfriend’s father.
Hanna’s fellow student reads the journal and returns it to Hanna. He is amazed at her writing. In it, he read that Ant manages to apprehend one of the criminals and is about to question him when an omniscient presence appears. Back in the real world the police bust into Hanna’s home and arrest Big Daddy for murder.
Hanna is taken by social services and is visited by her dead-beat mother, Betty. She chews her mother out, and out of guilt, her mother seeks Hanna’s journal so that she can bring it to her daughter. She reads through it, and we learn that the evil presence is a giant cockroach that attacks Ant. Ant and the Cockroach battle, but toward the end, Ant loses and is drained of her power and energies.
Back in the real world, Betty feels guilty for how she has neglected Hanna. When Betty returns home her boyfriend receives a special package. She hides it from him.
After returning from seeing a psychiatrist (while still with social services), Hanna returns to her room and finds her journal. She immediately starts writing in it…nearly defeated and about to be killed by the Cockroach, Ant (Hanna as an adult), is saved as her wanna-be side kick (a grown up version of the boy who found her journal) throws her a sugar spray which allows her to re-grow her exoskeleton and powers her up defeat the cockroach. Ant then questions the criminal she had been chasing and he reveals the killer that framed her father.
In the real world, Betty opens the secret package and finds out it is a VHS tape. She watches it and learns that her boyfriend killed his own father. The man is then shot dead as the cop rushes in and stops him from killing Betty.
Back at the police station, Big Daddy is freed and everyone is united. It is here that the police officer implies she knew Big Daddy was set up because Hanna told her. Hanna knew because the criminal in the “journal world” told Ant. —but it all doesn’t make sense.
It is then revealed that Hanna is a teenager locked in a psychiatric ward and that everything we read was her rewriting her memories of what happened when she was a child.
Ant: Days like These appears to be a super-hero comic, but really it’s a family drama with deep psychological roots. What makes the piece hard to talk about is that the end of the trade reveals that everything that has happened so far is not the real truth.
“Hanna has problems with her realities,” Creator Mario Gully said. “What happened to her as a child is distorted. Some of it is true, but she’s in a mental hospital for a reason and things are not right. It doesn’t help that schizophrenic patients always feel someone is conspiring against them.”
Learning that the events of the story are the rewritten memories of a physiatrist patient simply make the story hard to analyze because everything is skewed by the main character’s perception.
Through the whole story there are three different versions of Hanna. There is her in the mental hospital, her as Ant and her as a child.
“They all three are the same character,” says Gully. “Ant: Days Like These is the beginning of the saga. What I wanted to do was give an idea of who Hanna was before she became a super-hero. So it’s the same character, I just wanted to give different facets of this character. Also, everything that happens in this flashback is a big part of the motivation she has when she gets older.”
This first trade is Hanna looking back at her life and making some changes to things she is unhappy about as well as rewriting her memory so that the path of her becoming a super-hero was one that was always fated.
“Looking back, she knows she is a super-hero now,” Gully says. “She’s always wanted to be a super-hero, and when she got to be a super-hero she wanted to assure herself that it was always meant to be.”
The journal Hanna uses throughout the story is something that the character uses as a form of escapism. Whenever something goes wrong or she does not know how to emotionally handle a situation she goes to her journal and writes about Ant.
Escapism is the largest theme that shows up in the trade. It’s Hanna’s motivation and a major plot device since the character of Ant is Hanna’s way of escaping.“Everyone has something they do when they have trouble,” Gully says. “People do different things; some drink, some use sex, some play video games or some read comics. They are all just a form of escaping reality. What Hanna did was write in her journal. She trained her self for this special reality so that when things go wrong she becomes this super-hero. What happened is that sometime in her life something went wrong when she was a super-hero and she did not know how to handle it. She was already escaping so what could she do? This caused her to have a nervous breakdown and brought about all this mental confusion.”
One of the things that almost comes off disturbing about Hanna is that her innocence is constantly being questioned through the events in the trade. She does not have the chance to be a normal child. Every day is an emotional battle and it’s almost no wonder that she has cracked by the end of the story.
Although everything in the story is a rewritten memory of Hanna’s, the characters are still ones that have ultimately been created by Gully for a purpose. The two that stand out the most are Hanna’s parents.
Big Daddy, Daniel Washington, is drawn to look like he could be any old street thug. He looks like cliché in the bad kind of way. However, the character is articulate and his whole personality separates him from the stereotype he first appears to be.
“At first glance, at least from the world I’ve dealt with, it would be like he tried to kill someone or he’s rough and robbed a bank,” Gully says. “But I wanted a black character that’s intelligent. I mean he was a big accountant. I didn’t want him to be a stereotypical black guy doing stereotypical black things.”
One of the more interesting things about him is that it is referenced about how he went to jail, but then it is revealed that the reason he went was not for anything dramatic, but for a white collar crime: embezzlement.
“I knew I was a no-name writer and no-name artist,” Gully says. “This was my only shot and I knew I had to think outside of the box. So I wanted a story that wasn’t predictable. That’s my goal as a writer. I don’t want the reader to see what is coming.”
Although Hanna and Big Daddy are prominent characters, they do not really progress through any type of character arc through the trade, however Betty does. Living with a rich guy, Betty is a stripper who has neglected her responsibilities of being a mother.
“Betty exists in her own world,” Gully says. “She thinks she sets the right example by living in a nice house, having a nice car, and being with a rich man. She thinks Hanna looks up to her.”
But Betty changes after Hanna yells at her. The cold harsh things Hanna says really sting Betty and make her stop and question her life. Then, by the end of the story, she comes off as a true mother, putting her daughter’s wants and needs before her own.
“Betty is the total opposite of what Danny is,” Gully says. “One side of the street is a well-to-do rich woman that thinks as long as she is around Hanna is fine. Danny works day by day and is a normal guy with not a lot of money, but he is always there for Hanna. I mean really there for her, not just physically. He would sacrifice anything for her.”
Another dynamic of the family is that it is a mixed race family. Betty is Hispanic and Big Daddy is black. One of the nice things Gully did in handling this was that he never made a point of it.
Sometimes publishers will say that the heroes were given an ethnicity to make the universe seem more diverse or to let the character appeal to more readers. Gully doesn’t mess with any of that marketing crap. He lets the story be what it is and lets it be natural.
“Hanna the child is modeled after my daughter,” Gully says. “I’m in a mixed relationship and, in essence, I just wanted to be as true to myself as I possibly could. I wanted to do something different, and I didn’t want to draw just one model-type woman. I mean, those aren’t the kind of women I’m attracted to. So I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”
Moving out of the family drama side of the trade, the super-hero plot makes up the rest of the story. As Ant, Hanna uses her powers for good, and the way the world of her journal is written, there is a clear definition of right and wrong.
Although it may appear to be simplistic, it’s complicated in the sense that the reason it is simplistic is not because Gully was being a lazy writer but because the character of Hanna is the actual author of the journal and of course her writing would be morally clear.
It was more than clear that the cockroach in the story was the bad guy and that Ant was the hero. In the end, the cockroach was never given motivation because Hanna never gave it motivation, but even without that or any background, its obvious to the reader that the cockroach is bad.
“I used to live in a pretty bad neighborhood, and roaches were all over the place,” Gully says. “They were the enemy, and everyone hates roaches. I’m in Florida so we have these big palmetto bugs. Then, of course, part of the thing about roaches is that they are seen as part of the ghetto life.”
Even though “Days Like These” left with a twist ending and finished with many questions unanswered, it still holds up as a piece of work that can completely exist on its own and provides enough depth that the reader can be merely entertained, or it can really make them think
“I wish I could draw better back then and that I could do that story over,” Gully says. “I’ve learned so much since then with writing and drawing. I think that’s clear in the newer ‘Realty Bites’ story. But ‘Days Like These’ is still important because it tells how Hanna got to where she is. It also shows how her reality is unfolding.”