Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters and Design: Jared K. Fletcher
If you grew up in the ’80s, you’ll love Paper Girls. With its use of electric neon colors inside and out, the comic has the look and feel of the decade. Eighties references sprinkled throughout—such as the characters’ looks (including chunky socks and sweaters, high-top shoes, high-waisted jeans, frizzy hair, and a Public Enemy T-shirt), cassette players, a Monster Squad poster, and the video game Arkanoid—make it a true product of the times. One of the main characters—Naldo—even resembles Sloth from the Goonies. Set in 1988, this coming-of-age tale features four brave twelve-year-old paper girls (KJ, Mac, Erin, and Tiffany) who are thrown into a sci-fi adventure the morning after Halloween.
As expected, the writing from Brian K. Vaughan is complex yet fun. Only four issues in, the comic already has a plethora of elements to keep track of—Pterandon-flying warriors who speak mostly in gibberish and cyborgs who speak a futuristic alien language. A leader referred to as grandfather looks like a peace-loving hippie, yet wears a Public Enemy T-shirt, and communicates through a rotary telephone that has a real blinking eye on the face. Issue 4 is mostly devoted to laying out new characters (the grandfather) and Cardinal (a warrior working for the grandfather) and further developing characters who we’ve already been introduced to: KJ, Mac, Erin, and Tiffany (our paper girls) and Heck, Naldo, and Alister (cyborgs who are trying to help the girls). We also get a hint that an apocalyptic event called the Calamity sent the time travelers back to 1988. Vaughan also smartly weaves in the social norms and mores from the decade, such as when Mac reacts negatively to Heck being gay. As he notes, “Don’t worry about it. You guys are from an effed-up time.”
In issue 4, we are also introduced to an Editrix, a flying round, bright green monster with tentacles for eyes. When an Editrix latches on to people, their life flashes before their eyes. For Tiffany, she imagines playing the Nintendo game Arkanoid continuously as time passes painfully slow—almost as if she’s stuck in a continuous loop. She continues to progress toward level thirty-six as her hair and the seasons change, but her life is devoid of all happiness and human interaction. The juxtaposition of Arkanoid in the story is an interesting choice, as the video game is about the distortion of time. Somehow Vaughan executes all these elements flawlessly and makes the story tight, intriguing, and mysterious. The action is intense (or as intense as you can get from a cheesy eighties flick), and the emotions are heartfelt and raw.
Although the writing is great, the artwork is definitely the strongest part of the comic thus far. The covers are some of the best-looking ones on the market right now. Each has a consistent design and treatment of the paper girls. Issue 4 features and bright mustard-yellow background with KJ wielding a bright red field hockey stick. Overlaid onto the back cover is the bloody glove of one of the warriors, who dies in issue 3. From her expression, it’s clear she’s not a force to be reckoned with. Cliff Chiang’s thick, broad strokes make the line work especially distinct and evocative throughout. Matt Wilson’s use of bright neon colors inside and out is a masterful way to not only position the comic immediately in the decade but also make it exceptionally appealing.
Paper Girls is off to a great start. Although issue 4 throws a lot at the reader and the pacing speeds up, Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson, and Fletcher have crafted something truly special that evokes a feeling of nostalgia while tying in timeless and futuristic themes. The four main characters are strong protagonists, who are each unique and compelling. I’m eager to learn more about them and the world-ending event that sent the cyborgs and warriors back in time.