Paper Girls #1 is a finely crafted, unpredictable marvel. I haven’t been this hooked this instantaneously on a comic since maybe all the way back to Dark Knight Returns, or the first Eastman and Laird TMNT books, stuff I loved as a kid. Paper Girls gives me that kind of nostalgic sensation, like I’m in middle school again. But I was never as cool as these night-riding, shit-talking 12-year-olds.
Maybe it’s the particular period in which the book is set. I’m pretty familiar with it, as are writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Cliff Chiang, but they don’t overwhelm you with place. It’s presented subtly; it almost feels like it was published in 1988. There are plenty of bits that tell us when we are, but without broad strokes begging you to recognize it. It’s the Far Side calendar, the newspaper headline, the girls’ awesome acid wash jeans.
The art and design of the book blends together perfectly. It feels cinematic, like E.T. or the Goonies, except the girls are calling the shots. It feels like a classic Spielberg-ian setup. I won’t get into the plot of the first issue; and neither would Chiang when I asked him about it at New York Comic-Con this past weekend. Better to read it for yourself, he said, and he wasn’t lying.
If there’s one thing that gave me a little bit of pause, it’s the girls. Don’t get me wrong. They are written very well, from a place of empowerment, self-determination, and pluckiness. They’ve built solid character depth; you can start to tell them apart by their idiosyncrasies after one issue. But the fact is all the creators are men, and maybe at first read I felt a little guilty about it. But I got over it, and I’ll tell you why.
Vaughan’s paper girls are bad as fuck. They would gladly spit on the often eye-rolling female archetypes we’ve come to expect in some comics. And even in issue one, this is a book that has good diversity — at least two of the girls are POC — while maintaining authenticity.
I can’t imagine a writer of Vaughan’s pedigree isn’t fully aware of these choices. We’ll see where it goes in subsequent issues, but here the representation of POCs was conscious, well done, and yet not really necessary given the time and place of the story. They didn’t have to be girls either, but given the growing feminist vs. anti-feminist landscape of pop media today, particularly in comics, I’m glad they are.
PAPER GIRLS #1
Drunken disclaimers: Alright, so a few more disclaimers for this one. I know Cliff Chiang personally, well enough that I know when he’s drunk. He hunches forward just a little more than usual, and blinks just a little more than usual. He’ll take some Pepcid to make sure he doesn’t get that Asian glow, but the tells are there if you pay attention.
Throwing up gang signs in a publicity photo is probably one of them.
I also know Jared K. Fletcher, though our last conversation was a bit awkward because I didn’t know he had moved to Durham, NC. We were Brooklynites, and I enjoyed our Twitter convos about Brooklyn shit. If he wasn’t drunk when I saw him last weekend at New York Comic-Con, I surely was. Writer Brian K. Vaughn I have met only once in passing, and Matt Wilson I have not had the pleasure.