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Paper Girls Vol. 1: The Best New Series in Comics

You knew that this book was going to be good…

You knew that it was going to be big…

You were right.

The Story So Far:

  • January 12th, 2015:  Image announces new ongoing series Paper Girls from writer Brian K. Vaughn (Saga), artist Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman), and colorist Matt Wilson (The Wicked + The Divine) at their annual expo.
  • Summer 2015: Solicits bill Paper Girls as “Stand By Me meets War of the Worlds.” The creative team continually refuses to elaborate on the premise in order to “maintain the mystery of the series.”
  • October 7th, 2015: Paper Girls #1 debuts to critical acclaim, selling over 75,500 copies in its first month. By the end of 2015, this number has risen to over 80,600, making it the second most popular Image single issue in 2015 after The Walking Dead #145.  The strong launch is widely attributed to the power of Vaughn’s name.
  • November & December, 2015: Paper Girls sales numbers remain steady around 45,000, keeping them within the top 500 most popular comic book issues of 2015.
  • March 30th, 2016: Paper Girls Volume 1 trade paperback has a strong launch in stores, ranking second among all graphic novels sold that month (The Walking Dead Vol. 25 is #1).
  • April 5th, 2016: The trade paperback is released on Amazon.com, ranking #2 in their science fiction graphic novels section behind the Saga Vol. 6 pre-order.

Now:

Image’s biggest success of recent months, Paper Girls, is set in the early morning hours of November 1st, 1988.  It follows four 12-year-old paper delivery girls in a rapidly paced action-adventure as their world crumbles around them.

A riff on the 80’s monster movie genre, it reads like a film from that era, but one written from the perspective of someone removed from the time.  In its first arc, Brian K. Vaughn (a self-proclaimed lover of 80’s cinema) looks back on the genre, riffing on and playing with its concepts and tropes.

Unlike Stand By Me and similar 80’s films about young white males, Paper Girls follows an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse group of girls.  Vaughn does stick to the adults versus kids narrative, but unlike many stories that do so, his characters do not automatically adjust and turn into self-reliant mini-adults.  Instead, they respond the way you imagine you and your friends would: they seek out once trusted adults and fall back on safety drills taught to them by their employer.  Ultimately, like most preteens in over their heads, their main solution is to find their parents.

In these ways, Vaughn reinforces and then breaks genre expectations.  Not everything is as it appears, and even the “monsters” are multi-dimensional.  Ultimately, Paper Girls transcends the traditional monster narrative, injecting modern day issues of big religion, technology, and personal autonomy.  This gives the book more than just a nostalgic edge.

Paper Girls #1 art by Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls #1 art by Cliff Chiang

To do this, Vaughn works closely with artist Cliff Chiang, employing symbolism liberally throughout the story arc.  For example, the series opens with a dream sequence in which Erin, a 12-year-old Catholic school student, finds herself in heaven holding an apple.  Greeted by Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe, she is told that “…it was the Russians.  They got almost everybody.”  Through these references, Vaughn masterfully sets the stage for an 80’s story, drawing readers back into the ideas and anxieties of the era.

The symbolic significance of the apple becomes more clear as Erin is drawn further into the dream.  The devil is holding her younger sister hostage in a classroom and demands that she answer a benign history question in order to save her.  In this decade, Vaughn reminds us, knowledge for women is both a source of anxiety and the key to their freedom.  Instead of answering, Erin becomes defiant and is told by a demon “We warned you… Never eat from the tree of knowledge.”  Waking up, she double checks that her little sister is okay, and then gets to work on her early morning paper route.

The dream sequence quickly demonstrates Erin’s spunk, bravery, loyalty, and love.  These remain her defining character traits throughout the story.  She is the type of girl that you want to be friends with, that you want to be, and that you want your daughter to be.

Paper Girls #4 art by Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls #4 art by Cliff Chiang

The apple is a repeating motif in the story, returning time and again to symbolize the forbidden fruit of knowledge.  It also comes to represent the power of communication technologies.  In the cleverest twist on this, Chiang gives us an apple-shaped rotary phone with a living eye in the center – an “apple eye phone” if you will.

Chiang’s clean and expressive art is augmented by Matt Wilson’s extraordinary color work.  Vibrant, sharp colors bring the pages to life and add to the surreal feeling of the book.  It is especially effective in the trade paperback (TPB) format with the glossy pages and lack of interruptions.  Unfortunately, the TPB does not include any covers or back material, so interested readers will have to hunt down the single issues.

Overall, the team has put together a highly enjoyable story of adventure, strength and adolescence.  While it’s disappointing that a “girl power” story fails to include any female creators, it is a fantastic book that should not be missed.

Update:

On July 22nd, Paper Girls won the 2016 Eisner Award for Best New Series.  For his work on the series, Cliff Chiang was also awarded Best Penciller/Inker.

Paper Girls is available at your Local Comic Shop, through Image Comics, or on Amazon.

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