Quarantine. It’s not a word nor an act I ever imagined being forced upon the bulk of our nation. Yet as many have said this is unchartered territory with a virus whose effects could be catastrophic if we don’t take extreme measures. So, into quarantine and home isolation most of us have gone and a surreal new world has washed over our society. We comic readers have also (mildly in the grand scheme of things) have also seen a change to our weekly routine as the majority of new comics are suspended for the foreseeable future, leaving a gap in our lives. Yet the beauty of comics is that weekly new books is but a minor part of the behemoth back catalog of comics created. So, as the quarantine continues and is extended, I’ve decided this is an excellent opportunity to delve into my back log of comics, into the stacks of trades and long boxes of comics that I’ve been meaning to read or to revisit classic runs that were impactful on my evolution as a comic book fan.
I can hear people already, “How in the hell did you not read Paper Girls?” Technically I did. I read volume 1 and then chastised myself every time I picked up the next volume and didn’t read it. Eventually the series came to an end and those six volumes of trade paperbacks sat in my ever- growing pile of Image trades I have been meaning to read. Finally, time and guilt caught up with me and I sat down and reread the first volume and quickly realized I had made a grand mistake in waiting to read the entirety of this series as it really does have just about everything I want in a story. It’s full of interesting sci-fi elements. It has time travel, which I have always had a soft spot for since I grew up watching the adventures of the fourth and fifth Doctors every Saturday night on PBS as a preteen. It had a connection to a time near and dear to my heart, the late ‘80s and called back to some of my favorite movies where collections of teens come together to save the day, movies such as the Goonies and the Monster Squad (an underrated gem in my opinion). Yet most importantly, Paper Girls has four of the most developed and thought out characters in all of comics today. Tiffany, Mac, KJ, and Erin (AKA the New Girl) were so utterly delightful to read that I never wanted the final issue to come to an end, yet sadly as the saying goes, “to all good thing must come an end.”
To compare Paper Girls to movies like the Goonies or to lump it in with the current zeitgeist of ‘80s teenage sci fi series like Stranger Things just doesn’t do justice to what Paper Girls is. Yes, it begins in the vein of these other franchises. The book begins on the morning after Halloween in the quiet Cleveland suburb of Stony Stream. A collection of four twelve-year old girls, the only paper girls in what is seen as a boy dominated field come to, combine together for protection from the teenagers still roaming the streets after a night of mayhem and shenanigans. This beginning felt, I believe intentionally, like a stereotypical set up for a horror film. Yet Paper Girls quickly evolves into a fantastic science fiction tale. At its heart Paper Girls is a time traveling story where two warring factions have a different outlook on what time traveling should be and how the future should interact with the past and our four protagonists get caught in the middle of these two groups. Yet Paper Girls is so much more than this simple conflict, so much more.
Upon reading the entirety of Paper Girls it became apparent there was a lot more going on than a simple teen time travel tale. Most notably writer Brian K. Vaughn is playing with the constant generational conflict of who knows best, societies elders or the rebel youth wanting to disturb the status quo. That is what the war in Paper Girls really comes down to, you have the Old-Timers who feel that time should not be disturbed, and that any time there is an incursion into the past it is their responsibility to right what has been wronged, even if that means large scale mind wipes and in some cases erasing the timeline of certain people and events. On the opposite side of this conflict are the Teenagers, a group of youngsters from the far future who travel back in time to steal artifacts and interact with people in the past without a care for the consequences. So, the question becomes should your future be set in stone or is the future what you make it? It is this question that plays out over thirty-issues (6 trades or 2 deluxe collections) and each of our four protagonists must decide what their fate will be, what authority they are willing to question and maybe most importantly, can we change our future or should we change our future?
Brian Vaughn and Cliff Chiang truly created a masterpiece with Paper Girls. I was amazed with the thought and detail that was put into each issue of this comic and how much I came to care about these characters. From the very first issue I was invested in the adventures of these four preteens and I felt their pain, fear, amazement, and emotional growth. Brian K. Vaughn has a talent for allowing his readers to become invested in the lives of his characters and somehow he has the ability to create and write four of the most evolved female preteens in all of comics if not literature and possibly by design or just fact he created four feminists who prove that with intelligence and guts there is nothing a woman can’t do. I loved it and I can’t wait to share it with my daughters when they are old enough to read and understand it. Another incredible aspect of Paper Girls was the time travel science and other scientific innovations. , they are fantastical but also scientifically plausible (well maybe not the time travel) but the future technology and the cloning are grounded in actual science that is being worked on today.
Paper Girls is the complete package when it comes to comics. It’s a wonderful read, beautifully drawn, and the colors are amazing. It was an incredibly satisfying read and one that I would highly recommend anyone looking for an amazing book to read. No doubt interest will pick up as Amazon has purchased the rights and are producing a show in the near future. I have high hopes for the series, and I know that it will instantly draw comparisons to Stranger Things, but they are vastly different stories and both delightfully entertaining in their own rights. Yet before the show comes about do yourself a favor and go directly to the source and binge the comic before you binge the show.