Brian K. Vaughn & Cliff Chiang
Image Comics ($9.99)
by Amelia Basol
There are a lot of reasons to like Paper Girls, one of the latest outings from the fecund mind of writer Brian K. Vaughn. Foremost among them is the quartet of title characters, middle school girls with paper routes in 1988, when “paper boy” was still the norm in America. Our main protagonist is Erin Tieng, who meets up with fellow paper girls Mac, Tiffany, and KJ for safety in numbers during their wee-hours-after-Halloween-night delivery of “The Cleveland Preserver” (and let that slightly tweaked newspaper name offer a hint of Vaughn’s authorial pizazz). As they simultaneously test and help each other, their interaction becomes the drama behind the drama, with hints of their formative years welling up as the action unfolds.
Along with smart, realistic characterization, Vaughn gives us the pleasure of nostalgia (the action is set in the late ’80s) and a bevy of Science Fiction trappings: time travel, alien races, cosmic storms, and cryptic warnings delivered via surreal visions. Vaughn is no stranger to the yoking of trippy SF and affecting realism—he is the award-winning creator of comics such as Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, and the current space epic Saga—so his juxtaposition of strange doings in a sleepy Cleveland suburb fits the mold, creating yet another petri dish for his fictive experiments. (And, dear reader, if the combination of youthful protagonists, 1980s suburbia, and science fiction reminds you of the TV series Stranger Things, chalk it up to the zeitgeist—who wouldn’t want the world to be rescued by pre-teens on bikes?)
Of course, none of this would matter if the story weren’t expertly written and drawn, but thankfully it is. Vaughn and artist Cliff Chiang pace the work brilliantly, packing a lot of action into the five serial issues gathered in this collection. Vaughn’s knack for dialogue shifts the fast-moving plot through its gears while never succumbing to mere exposition, and Chiang vividly renders everything from a desperate alcoholic mother to a dinosaur steed with a full-fledged believability. (Additional props to colorist Matt Wilson, who puts it all under spooky, pre-dawn, hypnogogic lights.) Suffice to say that a great writer and a great artist are working perfectly in sync here, the required alchemy for a great comic.
Not surprisingly, there remain questions aplenty to propel readers to keep reading. Vaughn’s elevation of an anachronistic iPod into a veritable trope (the iconic apple gets reiterated in images of biblical fruit, Beatles records, etc.) is one of them, tinted perhaps with a hint of risk (will the time travel trope be handled better here than on the ill-fated TV series Lost?), and we’ll likely learn more about our four girl heroes and their strange Midwest town. And then there’s the cliffhanger . . . but I won’t spoil it. Better to acquire and devour Volume 1 of Paper Girls before Volume 2 hits the stands later this year.