PaperGirls_Vol01-1I first heard about Paper Girls when social media exploded with praise for it within hours of the first issue’s release. Difficult to describe, my best summary would be that it’s like a cross between E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial and the comic series Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma. E.T. was emblematic of a type of story told in the 1980s where teens in the suburbs were faced with incredible situations, but had to solve them on their own because adults don’t take teens seriously. Morning Glories’ setting is one in which unspoken agendas, mysterious characters, and a healthy dollop of time travel yank the rug out from under the reader about every 20 pages. Despite Paper Girls’ challenges, the audience can put their trust in the book’s creators, Brian K. “Can Do No Wrong” Vaughan—already wildly popular due to Y: The Last Man and Saga—and artist Cliff Chiang—who has worked on numerous popular superhero books for DC Comics.

The tone of Paper Girls changes multiple times in just the first collection, beginning with a 1980s coming of age tale, then switching to sci-fi horror, then sci-fi mystery, and finally sci-fi mystery doubling as sociopolitical commentary. Since it would be difficult to explain this book without spoiling its many plot twists, let’s spoil away. It’s Halloween, 1988, and a group of four 12-year-old girls cross each other’s paths at the crack of dawn while delivering the morning newspaper. They join forces to protect themselves from bullying local boys, still in costume from the previous night’s scares and mischief.

And then the sci-fi twists and turns begin. The girls are attacked and robbed by what appear to be aliens. They find a machine that might have sent them through time. A weird lightning vortex appears overhead in town. Soldiers from a high-tech future swoop down on the backs of pterodactyls. The original “aliens” reveal themselves to be time-traveling teen-age scavengers from the future. And finally, it appears that the time-travelling interlopers are from two opposed factions that are acting out some kind of long-standing intergenerational skirmish between adults and teens.

Keeping with the book’s setting, much of 1980s political and social views are on display from the characters. This means that our teens share some attitudes unthinkingly shared and repeated from their parents, including knee-jerk anti-communism, nuclear war fears, and homophobic slurs, which ring true to my memories of youth in the ’80s. Many of these notions could turn a reader off from the characters we are supposed to support, but as one of the time-traveling teens sagely replies, “Don’t worry about it. You guys are from an effed up time.” There is some violence and the occasional disturbing image, but nothing major.

Of our four main protagonists, I felt that only two of them were well-defined: Erin, the “new girl in town”, and MacKenzie, the “tough girl”. Both have more backstory and nuance, and as a result the other two girls felt flat, though hopefully that changes as the series continues. Many of the characters barely know each other, so there aren’t strong relationships between them to explore just yet.

Cliff Chiang brings his best realistic, stylized, and cinematic art techniques to the book. Chiang captures the 1980s aesthetic well and is able to showcase the fantastical side during the series’ sporadic moments of futuristic weirdness or hallucinatory dream sequences. The almost universally lavender-toned colors by Matt Wilson manage to reproduce the feel of a suburban night poisoned by light pollution. The purple/periwinkle/yellow coloring is doubly appropriate, as these shades were also staples of the fashion palette of the 1980s.

Paper Girls is a well-paced and intriguing tale, smartly building a sci-fi mythology, and hinting at some smart themes that will continue to develop. It should go without saying that the volume ends with a cliffhanger.

Paper Girls, vol. 1
by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson
ISBN: 9781632156747
Image Comics, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: T+

  • Jake Sexton

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support!

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