Review: Paper Girls Vol. 1

The 'Eighties' were a strange and mysterious time. It was an era where Decepticons and Autobots lived peacefully, before the dark days of Michael Bay; a place "where everybody knew your name." A time for which the word nostalgia was defined for, so on that note of nostalgia - let’s delve into the pages of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiangs new weirdly-brilliant, on-going series, Paper Girls. In the dwindling twilight hours of Halloween 85’, new-girl-to-the-neighborhood Erin is preparing to begin her paper route: she slides out of bed, rolls up her papers and gets ready for ‘Hell Day.’ Not long after, she’s cornered by three lack-wit trick-or-treaters with ill-savory intentions and is saved by the arrival of KJ, Tiffany and Mac; the Paper Girls. After brief introductions are made the four girls split up to cover the neighborhood route but encounter more trouble when Tiffany and KJ are attacked by masked-teens. They're draped in black bandages and uttering a language none of the girls can recognize except for one thing they all agree – it’s not human. Shortly after the encounter strange flying creatures begin circling the skies above. People start disappearing into thin air and it seems as if the Rapture has come to Cleveland, Ohio – on the backs of flying purple dinosaurs no less! With their town in peril and no answers to be found, the Girls will have to move quickly but with each new turn comes a burning new question: who are the masked teens? What was that strange machine they found in the basement, really? And just who in the hell are those evil armored fucks on the backs of the purple dinosaurs?

Paper Girls v1I will say that from start to finish this book was both visually epic and stunning. The interplay between Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson is mesmerising; their Wonder Woman chemistry carries forward, that's a for-sure. It’s interesting to note that the only colours Wilson uses throughout the entire book are various tones of blues and purples interlaced throughout the pages. It gives Paper Girls a sort-of Picasso-esque feel and lets Wilson colour both the scenery and the mood simultaneously. By showcasing how levels of emotion exist and can be expressed within a strict range of hues, Wilson not only has created something beautiful but he's shown us just how powerful a force colour can be in storytelling.

Now that baseball season is in full-swing I'm going to be throwing out a lot of lame cliches over these next few months. On that note Cliff Chiang just absolutely knocked this one out-of-the-park for me. His attention to detail and uncanny ability to capture the essence of the ‘Eighties’ is what really helps catapult you back to that state of mind: clothes, cars, hairstyles – it`s all there. He has a unique talent of being able to bring out the beauty in the seemingly mundane, while also being able to push the limits of our perception and imagination past capacity: case in point those glorious purple Pteranadons – seriously love those things. More so, perhaps his greatest strength as an artist lies in is his ability to express emotional feeling through his characters: in my experience artists that possess a more angular, square style often struggle with the emotive aspect; not Chiang. There is something about the way he draws faces that so perfectly summarizes not only what is taking place on the page but how the characters themselves are reacting to it. He knows how to effortlessly capture the flash of fear in your eye, the anger in your brow and he does so with palpable effect in Paper Girls.

Finally we arrive at the ‘big man’ himself: Mister Brian K. Vaughan. Now as with anything old BKV puts his name on, there is an underlying expectation of quality in content– even before it hits the shelves. He has a lot of due ‘hype’ but that can sometimes cloud a reader’s perception and make you think something is great when in fact it’s total garbage; I call it the ‘Kanye West Effect.’ However, as is in the matter of Paper Girls I am happy to say that the hype is warranted – it delivers on its promise. Unlike most of BKV’s sci-fi stories which have significant time gaps from issue to issue/arc to arc, Paper Girls spans the course of just a few hours – allowing plenty of time for character development. It helps you to better know and understand the girls; how they function not only as individuals but in a group atmosphere as well. BKV has a wonderful way of getting inside the heads of his female characters and giving them unique voices suited to their individual personalities. He doesn’t try to make twelve year old girls sound and speak the way adults would, rather he uses language and diction that’s representative of not only their age but also the time in which they are living and speaking.

While on the subject of language I have to take moment to discuss the strange hieroglyph language spoken by the…future teens? Ninja aliens? I’m still not one hundred percent sure who those guys were… But the language they use is very important to take note of! When I first noticed it being used I did what I am sure many of you did as well: fill in what you thought was happening best you could, using scene, setting and character expression as a guide. As issues progressed however, I began noticing repetition and structure in some of the signage. After a couple of quick Google searches I had found what I was after: a decoder key for the mysterious alien tongue! Now I’m not saying that this Gospel all that I am saying is that it works and when you start translating some of the alien language on the pages, not only does the story expand but even more questions begin to reveal themselves. For instance the prologue texts from each individual issue, they read as such: “Nostalgia is Death, Death is Forever, Forever is Now, Now is Gone.” How does that change your view of the story? It's harder to argue that with translation comes a more rounded out understanding of the issues and the underlying themes. It gives us a window into what the writer might be trying to communicate and make us see. Though certainly not a requisite for understanding it is a much welcomed tool for any hardcore lover of the series.

This was superb read in single issue and functions even better as a collected volume. It was also a nice touch to see that the cover was the same poster-image that forms when you piece each individual issue together (I always wondered what it looked like!). The one thing lacking however in this collection is substance: no writer/artist introductions, no epilogue, no process pages or early illustrations – nadda. It sounds picky but there needs to be something to give incentive to a purchase, beyond the story/art; especially for those who already own each single issue. Translating the alien text would have been an easy easy thing to do or better yet include a decoder in issues to come?! Aside from that one tiny preferential gripe this volume was a huge success for absolutely everyone involved and I can’t wait for the next arc. Although there was little resolution and more questions raised than answered it was a great first glimpse at what is to come. One thing seems certain though: things are going to get a lot stranger before they begin making even a modicum of sense but that’s cool; I can dig it.

[button btn_url="" btn_color="teal" btn_size="large" btn_style="default" btn_outlined="no" link_target="blank" link_rel="" icon_left="" icon_right=""]Score: 4/5[/button]

Paper Girls Vol. 1 Writer: Brian K. Vaughn Artist: Cliff Chiang Colours: Matt Wilson Publisher: Image Comics Price: $7.99/$9.99 Release Date: 3/30/16 Format: TPB; Print/Digital