Paper Girls Volume 1 (Image Comics)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan | Artist: Cliff Chiang
Purchase this book here!
I had no idea what Paper Girls was, not even who wrote or drew it. I just saw the cover and thought that looks interesting. To my joyous surprise, I learned it was written by Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y the Last Man, Lost) and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman, Tales of the Unexpected). I also had wondered what the title meant by “Paper Girls” and found it was so clear I should have figured it out: They are girls who deliver papers.
Paper Girls is a story set in 1988 and begins with its focus on Erin, a 12-year old paper girl going about her route in the pre-dawn darkness of November 1st. She runs into a trio of fellow paper girls who help her deal with some neighborhood bullies and things get…weird. Mysterious shrouded ninjas. A fleshy Cronenberg-esque device hidden in the basement of a home under construction. Pterodactyls. These are just some of the things our protagonists come across in the first arc of the series.
I hadn’t planned to read this right in the wake of finishing Netflix’s Stranger Things, but I’m very glad I did. It ended up being the perfect compliment and spotlighted a bit rougher edge to the 1980s. The girls in this series are a great balance between childhood badass posturing and vulnerability in the face of the unknown. It’s always grating if a series tries to present a tough girl or guy without layers and dimensions, but here we get to learn a lot about how each of these characters thinks as they put through some extreme and bizarre situations.
Vaughan is able to balance some pretty wild elements with grounded real life problems. While there are strange masked creatures wandering the neighborhood he takes the time to have a paper girl deal with her alcoholic step-mother. The visuals by Chiang are remarkable. He creates the sense of those early morning dawn hours so perfectly. And setting the story the morning after Halloween allows many characters to appear in costume and adds to the visual strangeness of the story.
The actual meat and potatoes plot of the first five issues is pretty crazy. I won’t go into a ton of detail but the series definitely goes places I wasn’t expecting. It was also refreshing to pick up a comic I had zero hype or real knowledge about and be delighted to find such a well-told story. Image Comics has become one of those companies that I am willing to do that more and more with. Their move to a home for stand alone creator-owned projects makes them a fertile soil for some of the best non-superhero comics work out there right now.
Much like Vaughan’s Saga, there is an immediate sense that this is the first chapter in a much larger and sprawling story. Tonally we’ll end up with something very different, more grounded but still with those more outlandish elements. If you are suffering from a lack of Stranger Things and wanting a wonderful companion piece, find this volume.