Picture this: Four kids riding around the U.S ‘burbs on their bicycles with '80s puffer vests and frizzy hair flapping in the wind. A complete lack of adult supervision. And a supernatural mystery thrown in for good measure.
No, this isn’t Stranger Things.
Created and written by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man and Saga) and artist Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman), Paper Girls has a distinctly J. J. Abrams nostalgia-rich, Super 8 vibe. But instead of the gang-of-teen-boys usually seen at the centre of such coming-of-age tales, Paper Girls follows four teenage, well, paper girls. These kick-arse chicks run the paper route in their small, sleepy town, until one night when all the parents disappear and glowing spaceships, time-travellers and dinosaurs suddenly appear in their suburb.
But let’s rewind a bit. In the early hours of the morning the night after Halloween, 1988, Erin Tieng sets out on her first ever paper delivery route through the streets of small Ohio town. As she rides, she comes across a group of monsters – teen boys in Halloween costumes – who quickly become verbally and physically aggressive. Just as Erin begins to panic, up ride the rest of the papergirl group – Mac, KJ and Emily – carrying field hockey sticks for protection.
They scare the boys off, and Erin is inaugurated into their gang. Then, of course, a hole is ripped in the space-time continuum.
Paper Girls puts character development – and the importance of friendship between four female protagonists – at the story's centre. Each of the girls has a fully developed personality and unique voice. There’s also a touch more diversity in this tale compared to others in the ‘80s coming-of-age supernatural story’ subgenre. Two of the girls are POC characters; and the lead character, Erin is Asian-American.
Vaughan has already proven that he knows how to string a few words together, so it comes as no surprise that Paper Girls is impeccably plotted, with fast-paced, natural dialogue. In this new creation, he manages to pull off the difficult task of not revealing answers to ANY of the mysteries thrown at the girls while still keeping the reader engaged. The girls really don’t have any idea about who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, or why anyone at all is interested in getting their hands on the paper girls – but you know that Vaughan has the answers.
The art in Paper Girls is done in punchy, pop colours with pages adhering to a palette of either cool or warm tones. Blues and purples for the fading light; soft pinks and oranges imbuing pages as the sun begins to rise; and a kaleidoscope of colours for the universe illuminated by disaster. Colourist Matt Wilson brings Cliff Chiang’s lines to life.
Given the thematic palette of colours, making the characters look unique and instantly recogniseable relies even more heavily on Chiang’s pencils. The detail for each character is not just in their hairstyle or facial features; it’s in the way they pose when they stand, or swagger when they walk. These pages might feature still pictures, but they are filled with movement.
Paper Girls isn’t Stranger Things. It might be even better.
Paper Girls, Volume 1 was released in April 2016, and Volume 2 was released in December – get on it.