Paper Girls is a mix between Scifi and fantasy with a coming of age backdrop. Set in the mysterious town of Stony Stream, newspaper delivery girls Tiffany, KJ, Erin, and MacKenzie are out on their bikes in the suburban the morning after Halloween. When Tiffany and KJ are jumped by three mysterious figures in “ghost costumes,” their whole world changes. The four girls unravel a strange spacecraft, come face to face with monster Aliens and future clones of themselves.
Paper girls predominantly being set in the 80’s, has some fun elements and references from the era, including a dream sequence with Christa McAuliffe from the challenger as well as a strong political backdrop of the iran, iraq war. A trail down 80’s nostalgia for those who are die hard fans of films like ‘Goonies’ or ‘Back to the future’. To complement the retro setting, the visual aspects of the comic play a major role often breaking into splashes of pinks, greens and blues really taking on the 80’s sci fi theme.
Back to the 80’s
In Paper Girls, the story often erupts in vivid colors and all sorts of strange things begin to happen, including the arrival of flying dinosaurs. A comic book quite starkly similar to 2016’s ‘Stranger things’. The 80’s elements and the subtle quirks and Easter Eggs was what I probably found the most intriguing, rather than the interdimensional monsters and aliens which at some point got redundant. One of the most brilliant notable reference was the ‘Eye Phone’ reference and so on.
Although aimed at an older audience, this book is a lens through which we can observe the abstract notion that is ‘growing up’ and the struggles of the adolescents. The kids dive into their past and future struggling to comprehend the purpose and monotony of their existence, hence illustrating the deeper and more existential issues of humanity. The heavier questions within the story will tend to confuse you at times, why?, who? And where is the plot going?.
A series of complex events along with several overlapping timelines may not be enjoyable to many readers. Which is why Brian Vaughan does an impeccable job with dialogue, keeping it simple and realistic making it a quick read. Not to undermine the use of words which is something worth mentioning- the interesting linguistics of a foreign futuristic language is well crafted into this Sci Fi adventure.
The bigger problems
In the first issue, as the girls cruise past through the seemingly mundane 80s neighborhood holding chunky Walkmen and passing “Bush ’88” campaign signs, it almost feels predictable. A simple slice-of-life piece about teenage girls quite like the ‘Babysitter’s club’ however things turn dark very quick as bandaged wrapped deformed people roam the town and parents have disappeared. The ‘Role of women’ in comic books as strong protagonists have recently risen to popularity, but this innocent childlike perspective is quite a refreshing take as opposed to the typical vixen lead, a subtle ‘Hilary for president’ banner shines light on some important issues. Also bringing forth a more ethnically diverse group of girls with ‘Erin Lieng’ leading the way. If you enjoy a piece of good artwork, Paper girls draw you in with its huge double page spreads of vortex’s, giant bloodsucking monsters and expressive faces. Never mundane, this ongoing adventure throws in some moments of light humor and quick references to the ‘Apple’ and several other revolving conspiracy theories about the fate of our future. All of it is quite grappling, only if you can get past the first issue.
The first book is rather slow, unpromising and the characters seem to be categorized into a trope- ‘The tomboy’ Mac and the Catholic girl, ‘Erin’, some corny moments between the gang leading up to the discovery of the spaceship. Once Erin is kidnapped by the ‘Terminators’ of the future, the story begins to move forward quite quickly. Patience is key when it comes to an almost ‘Episodic’ tale such as Paper Girls, still something about it’s 80’s movie Nostalgia holds your interest. The characters however are nothing too unique, All the girls are not so defined in character with Mackenzie as an exception. Look for the bigger picture, and you will begin to notice some key character traits. Yet it still leaves us questioning “what are they thinking when they are alone?, what is their purpose?’ and why are they and the adult characters going along with the whole thing so casually- at what point do they break?…well hardly ever.
‘Those meddling Kids?’
A lack of character definition in the way each of the girls are drawn is what makes it hard to follow as well as each of their tonality which is also quite similar. However A dark and inappropriate sense of humor permeates the atmosphere of the story- Jokes regarding ‘Homosexuality’ and ‘Aids’. Unafraid, Vaughan Makes a fantastic use of panel shapes and perspective to really transport you into this alternate dimension and into the minds of these young girls. The worlds created in the comic are the most promising part of the experience- very creative and detailed in it’s locations and other worldly aliens such as the ‘Old Timers’ and ‘Carnivorous creatures’. Similar to the world of ‘The upside Down’ seen in Stranger things, this is however more complex, scarier and will have you on the edge. What Brian fails to achieve is a sincere character development throughout the story, I would have liked to see the lead characters mature more over the course of the story and the several timelapses however even their adult versions retain a childlikeness that almost seems to be expected.
All in all it is an enjoyable read however it was a story we have seen multiple times in films about 80’s teens discovering the extraterrestrial time and time in again- In ‘Et’, ‘Stranger Things’, ‘The explorers’ etc.
This story dives into that 80’s Sci Fi trope with a few additional elements in characters and situations. However it still retains the same essence of those films which is why it is still excitable to me, and far more excitable to adults who have lived through that era. The artwork is beautiful, with use of bold colors depicting each frame of the story but that’s something which also confuses me about the time of day and location at times- are they indoors or outdoors?. Alongside some striking scenes, are some corny ones which totally pull me out of the story such as Mackenzie’s overtly macho demeanor- certain dialogues could have been more subtle, not giving away everything about a character. It was just too simple, too childlike at times for me as well as many others to relate too, I hoped for the darker moments to get darker but I suppose that’s completely based on preference. It definitely wasn’t one of my top reads but it was good for a quick time read, I won’t deny I laughed at some points but I also lost interest at certain moments. I understand Brian K. Vaughan published ‘Paper Girls’ in 2015, and since this type of genre has risen to immense popularity inspiring tv shows and films, as a big fan of the 80’s movies I can see myself diving into more stories like this but hopefully with a darker edge.