"Kids just trying to make a living are always the good guys"
If there's one thing that Brian K. Vaughan does right (spoiler alert – he actually does a lot right), it's a splash page that slaps you in the face or kicks you in the heart. Saga has plenty of the latter, and Paper Girls has plenty of the former. I defy you to read through the first issue of this 80's coming-of-age inspired series, get to that last page splash that Vaughan does so well (along with Cliff Chiang on art and Matt Wilson on colors), and not be instantly drawn in.
Paper Girls has an urgent sense of fun, and a relentless hunt for adventure. The solicitation for the first issue declares it as "Stand By Me meets War of the Worlds", and it's simultaneously exactly that and a whole lot more. It's Goonies meets Army of Darkness; it's a foul-mouthed Lumberjanes fighting neon dinosaurs in a Breakfast Club dystopia, and it's so wonderfully aware of its influences.
The date is November 1st, 1988 (we're helpfully told on the front page of the Cleveland Preserver) and Erin Tieng has awoken from a prophetic dream – itself containing 1980's fears and imagery – only to realize that this is 'Hell Morning' AKA the first morning of her new job as the titular paper girl. On her way to deliver the daily news to her neighborhood on the morning after Halloween, she comes across three fellow preteen peers – KJ, Tiff and Mac – that will round out our group of 'kids just trying to make a living', unaware of the bizarre and mysterious nightmares that await them. Unlikely protagonists, but no more so than Mikey, Mouth, Data and 'truffle shuffle' Chunk; in fact these girls are better – 12 years old but already street wise and oozing the cool aloofness of Molly Ringwald in a library detention.
OK I'll quit with the references, but read through this first arc of Paper Girls and you'll realize that the choice of main characters isn't just a reliance on nostalgic cinematic tropes, but a tongue-in-cheek examination of the whole coming-of-age genre. To say any more would spoil the gleeful surprises that await a new reader, but Vaughan's playful skewing of the archetypes is never more evident than in the unlikely companions the girls run into about half way through the arc; it's then you start to see the dark mirror that Vaughan is holding up and the small glimpse of the villain we get to see in these early issues is tantalizingly vague, but also starkly obvious if you've ever sat through a preteen adventure narrative.
Cliff Chiang is a wonderful choice as artist; capable of portraying all the emotional range necessary for early adolescent protagonists, as well as the ever increasing stream of imaginative horrors that Vaughan's script throws at him. Chiang's pacing is excellent (Tiff's life flashing before her eyes is a particular highlight) and the inevitable splash pages are handled deftly with a keen eye for framing and detail.
The real winner here though is Matt Wilson's colors. Instantly vibrant, drenching the world of 1980's Cleveland suburbia in bold blues, purples and greens, then switching to pink, orange and yellow when the world gets crazy (again, no spoilers), you don't need to go any further than the simple yet effective covers to know what you're getting yourself into. I cannot state this enough: this book, as good as it is, would be nothing without Matt Wilson's colors.
And Paper Girls is good. Excellent in fact. Perpetually drawing you in with its mysteries within mysteries and at its core, four characters with the heart, courage and spirit needed for the adventure that awaits them. While this first arc establishes a lot, it also gets a lot done; unsurprisingly thanks to its lightning fast pace that refuses to let you go. There's also a streak of brilliant humor that skirts the darkness, but never betrays the fun, and is just self-referential enough to make the ridiculous seem charming without banging you on the head with its own awareness.
Fans of Brian K Vaughan will not be disappointed with Paper Girls, but really this is for anyone with a fondness for out-of-this-world adventure, down-to earth characters and mind-melting plot twists, all wrapped in gorgeous art and colors. The first arc of Paper Girls kicks this series off in style.