Paper Girls Vol. 1
Comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Cliff Chiang (illustrator), Matt Wilson (colors), Jared K. Fletcher
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: March 30th, 2016
(I realize as I've been writing that I haven't been indicating spoilers, so I'll begin doing that. Minor spoilers.)
This was a bizarre read. I mean, Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Saga, Runaways) is not known for doing "normal," and that's why we love him. He's a great storyteller, who imbues his characters with life through clever dialogue and drastic, dramatic action. And artist Cliff Chiang (Human Target, Wonder Woman) also does amazing work as an illustrator. I was a big fan of his run on Wonder Woman. These are two creators who have an impressive body of highly acclaimed work, and for good reason. But Paper Girls is a whole new level of weird.
Erin is a 12-year old girl living in a suburb near Cleveland in 1988. She wakes up to start her delivery route as a paper delivery girl the morning after Halloween, and just as she starts to get harassed by some boys still out egging homes at 5 in the morning, she's saved by three other paper girls: Mackenzie, KJ, and Tiffany. The four of them decide to deliver the papers together to protect themselves from the crazies out that morning, but after an encounter with something that looks like an organic spacecraft, everyone in town starts disappearing. The next thing they know, the girls are caught in a conflict between two possibly alien groups. On one side are the horribly disfigured teenagers who seem to be collecting communication devices, and on the other side are armor-clad people riding Quetzalcoatlus northropi, enormous pterosaurs and answering to a mysterious older bearded man in an undisclosed location. The two sides fight over the girls, and our heroes aren't sure which side to trust. More strangeness ensues.
Oh, did I forget to mention that the story actually opens with a three page nightmare Erin suffers through, and that she has similarly recurring nightmares throughout the series? Have I mentioned just how weird this book is?
The writing here is very "Brian K. Vaughan" in that it's quick and clever and sounds very natural. However, Vaughan has also has a habit of giving his characters very similar voices. There are times when you could switch the lines of dialogues between characters and not notice the difference. Dialogue aside, there are some really great moments hidden in the comic. There is a scene where Mac admits her feelings to her stepmother to keep her from doing something regrettable, and another another scene where Tiffany has a horrifying realization that she's wasted a lot of her life on a video game, which gives her a severe existential crisis.
And the art, my god, the art! It's a fun book to look at. Everything from the colors to the speech bubbles to the details of the character's clothing and backgrounds are just superb. It's different from the serious beauty of Monstress or the kinetic animated joy of Giant Days. Paper Girls almost closely matches the palette and designs of Vaughan's other current work Saga, but Chiang's artwork has its own beautiful identity.
My major issue is with the story, or lack thereof. Who are these mysterious people the girls encounter? Where did they come from? Why are they here? Every time we're about to get an inkling of information, a new twist occurs and we miss out on any type of explanation. We see glimpses of our heroine's lives before this happened, but there's not much to go on and no relevance that connects them to the overall plot (yet). If there was some form of cohesion or progress towards a point, I'd be more than willing to forgive this first volume, but after five issues I'm just as confused as when I started. I'm not asking for all the information up front, but a tiny bit of clarity or exposition would let me spend more time caring about the characters than wondering "Ok, who is that. Ok, what are they doing? What is the point of that? What does this mean?" I'm also not sure issue 5 was a great stopping point for the volume, as it leaves us with an entirely new mystery without giving any sort of conclusion to the other one. And that's a shame, because as I've said, Chiang's art is top-notch and Vaughan's dialogue and characters kept me interested while I was there.
What's odd about the book is that, despite the issues I had with it, I felt like I was enjoying it. But afterwards, when the story sat with me and I skimmed the pages again to refresh my memory, I found that enjoyment slowly dissipating. Honestly, I'm not sure I can recommend this except to hardcore Brian K. Vaughan fans and readers who want something different. And I mean really different. Despite the great artwork and strong dialogue, the story makes little to no sense and it's far too confusing and open-ended for my tastes. And don't misunderstand me: I like weird. But I don't like my stories to be this ambiguous.