The Eisner and Harvey Award-winning series Paper Girls continues with Volume 3, where we see our pre-teen heroes, Erin, Mac, KJ and Emily, tackling the patriarchy in prehistoric times.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan (Saga) and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman), Paper Girls is a timey-wimey, Stranger Things-esque tale with a sci-fi mystery and female friendship at its core.
So far, our paper girls have visited a different time period in each volume. In Volume 1, the girls meet in the early hours of the morning the night after Halloween, 1988. Next minute, a hole is ripped in the space-time continuum, flying beasts are roaming the skies, and the girls stumble across futuristic technology emblazoned with a logo that looks like an apple with a bite taken out of it.
In Volume 2, the girls are launched into a distant and terrifying future – the year 2016. The modern setting allowed the series to deal with the connections between past and present, and also for the girls to investigate a near-future where older versions of themselves were walking around. Or not walking around.
So far each volume has also focused around one character in the team. The first volume centred on Erin Tieng, a lonely newcomer to the town who finds herself a girl gang just as the world is ending. The second volume more closely followed the cynical, tough-exterior-disguising-inner-vulnerability MacKenzie Coyle, or Mac.
In Volume 3, the girls are sent spiralling back to prehistoric times, and the reader gets to spend more time with KJ, who was largely absent from the second volume. KJ is more level-headed and introverted than the rest of the gang. She’s also more likely to work through any issues with a conversation, instead of clobbering her adversaries with her now-McGuffined hockey stick.
Over the course of issues #11 to #15, collected in the volume, KJ is coming to grips with her sexuality - after seeing a vision from her future, of course – and gets her first period. Fortunately her health education in school has been up to scratch ("I got my period, not the plague”), and she’s pretty calm about the whole thing despite being stranded in the distant past with nary a feminine hygiene product in sight.
Seeing periods mentioned in any media, let alone comic books – and not referred to in a joke about a female character being overemotional and having PMS – is pretty noteworthy. It’s the sub-plots, and asides like this that make it seem like Vaughan is working hard to counter the pre-teen boy centric sci-fi and coming-of-age tales of the 80s.
I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the story, but the strongest part of Paper Girls is still the art. Chiang’s illustrations are bold and energetic, with expressive, sketchy faces and dynamic action. Matt Wilson’s colours are the real winners, with bright, pop-art combinations of warm and cool hues.
In terms of plot progression, it must be said that the pace of Paper Girls is lagging. This volume is more of an interlude, and certainly doesn’t move the story forward in any meaningful way. We get to meet the inventor of time travel, sure, but the mysteries and unanswered questions from the first volume are still hanging around, being all mysterious and unanswered.
It feels a little bit like Vaughan is making it up as he goes along, which is obviously what you’re supposed to do in fiction, but I like my made-up stories to have a structure and coherent plan.
But we won’t know if Brian has a bigger plan until Volume 4, so bring it on.
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