Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. He missed reviewing them while he tries to write up his PhD thesis, so every other week he’ll be reviewing of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.
This week the first arc of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls came to a close with issue #5. The series started back in October last year, written by Vaughan and drawn by Chiang, with colours from Matt Wilson (who apparently colours all the books I read) and letters and design by Jared K. Fletcher.
Paper Girls started fairly innocuously. In the early morning after Halloween 1988, 12-year-old Erin meets three fellow paper girls. What began as a reasonably normal night quickly spins out of control into an other-worldly sci-fi adventure involving gleaming futuristic knights mounted on pteranodons, time travel and accidental gun violence. Erin, Mac, KJ and Tiffany find themselves in an emptied suburban landscape where they dash between different supernatural occurrences, trying to figure out where everyone is and what is going on.
When Paper Girls was first announced, I immediately added it to my pull list entirely due to the creative team. Everything I’ve read by Brian K. Vaughan has been at least excellent. At least. And following his superb run on Wonder Woman with Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang has become one of my favourite artists too. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the series, but the off-the-wall sci-fi leanings that arose at the end of the first issue came as a welcome surprise. From that point on there has been no hand-holding for the reader, leaving us as bewildered and rushed off our feet as the four friends who find themselves dealing with the tech-augmented travelers spouting strange alien speech (I tried using a translation app on the language. Shockingly it did not work).
While this approach is initially confusing (and I certainly won’t pretend to know fully what is going even now), it ultimately comes across as strong, non-patronising storytelling from Vaughan. Erin and her friends are all compelling and brave, and their mysterious sci-fi antagonists are intriguing. The conclusion to this first arc adds a fun new wrinkle to the already disorientating situation the girls find themselves in, with the series actually improving with each issue (the time travel considerations with regards to position in space in the opening pages were great) and I can’t want to see what’s coming for the next part in a few months.
The art in Paper Girls is superb, and this new issue is absolutely no exception. Chiang deploys his thick, and minimalist line work to great effect, with grotesque body horror, huge sci-fi panels and rare quiet moments that show off very real emotion between the characters, despite their situation. Throughout the arc one of the most impactful visuals has been the eerie night sky above the suburb, forked with lightning and slowly filling up with more pteranodons, but the two pages of explosion and displacement that lead our heroines to the end of the arc are just gorgeous. Wilson’s colours provide a really strong solidity to the book, with the washed out palette he’s using working to create an aged aesthetic that lends credence to the late-80s setting of the comic.
Paper Girls wraps up it’s first arc well, despite the mysteries of the book largely being no clearer than they were from the start. I have no idea where the story is going with the second arc, and that genuinely excites me. The first five issues are being collected as a trade paperback from Image, due to come out on April 13th. If you can’t track down the single issues, either check out the trade or grab the issues through your digital comics app!
Score: 9 iNsecs out of 10