Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters and Design: Jared K. Fletcher
Review by Jeremy Bauer
Within the first few pages of “Paper Girls,” the tone for the series is set: this is a story about the strange median years of childhood that provides an honest account of those years, where smoking and cursing doesn’t always wait until a person turns 18 to enter their lives, and neither does having to deal with the real world and its things that seem beyond you. Written by Brian K. Vaughan (“Saga,” “Y: The Last Man,” “Runaways,” and lots of other stuff you should read) with art by Cliff Chiang (New 52’s “Wonder Woman”), the story follows Erin, a paper girl in Stony Stream, Ohio, on her dusky morning paper route the day after Halloween, 1988. Early in the story, Erin learns what we all learn at some point—that teen-aged boys are terrible—as she’s hassled by hormonal, posturing middle-schoolers clinging to the sunset of their bad-boy holiday.
(I make this same wince every day. If only I could tell you it gets better, Erin. Ugh.)
The paper girls appear and out-tough the boys, leaving them to sugar-grumble off into the waking morning. It’s at this moment that Erin establishes herself as the moral center of the book, taking time to correct the hate speech of Mac, lead BA of the paper girls and the first girl in town to have her own paper route, before her wide-eyed admiration of the trailblazer sets in.
We soon learn that something peculiar is happening in Stony Stream, as three dark figures in black bandages are seen skulking around town and later ambush two of the girls, which leads the whole gang to track them down to an abandoned house with mysterious contents. I wish I could elaborate, but that’s as far as I’ll go, as the twists in this book are truly surprising and fun.
Each of the paper girls—Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ—are tough in their own subtly unique ways, a testament to Vaughan’s ability to create characters that are varied, but similar enough to allow for meaningful relationships to form between one another. Chiang’s art, of course, lends a great deal to the diverse characterization, as each paper girl is dressed and styled in a manner that is both unique and in kind.
It’s an amazing feat for a creative team to achieve such rich characterization in the first issue of a comic. Somehow I feel as if I know these girls, like that maybe we went to school together and they were cooler than me for completely understandable reasons, and I was content being in quiet awe of their confidence and solid senses of self, and they probably beat me at tetherball every time and I was just happy to play the game anyway, because of course they were going to win every time.
For readers capable of nostalgia for the late 1980s, Vaughan and Chiang include plenty to get wistful about, such as 1980s film posters, allusions to the Cold War, and details of NASA’s sometimes tragic Space Shuttle program of the period. However, the book avoids sounding dated or dwelling too much on these elements, again due to “Paper Girls” exhibiting childhood in all of its complexities rather than an idealization.
“Paper Girls” #1 comes out of the gate as a strong addition to the Image Comics catalog, and ends with plenty of questions readers will look forward to issue #2 answering. I’m intrigued to see where these paper girls go, and to see how they react to their lives and their world changing.
RATING: 10 out of 10
Release date: October 7, 2015