Paper Girls – Trade Waiter
In some ways, Paper Girls is a classic Brian K. Vaughn comic. It tells a strange, unpredictable, fantasy adventure story. Paper Girls intrigues and maybe even confuses its reader by moving fast and saying little. The first issues of a long series usually have a lot of explaining to do, especially when they can’t lean on established worlds and characters. Paper Girls, however, doesn’t stop and chat. There are a number of wordless pages. There’s more showing than telling, and it’s not just a series of fights, there’s a lot to look at in the way characters dress and interact and there are images in the background that help guide the audience through the unusual world.
Comic books are a distinctive medium in that there is such a small group of fans that read them that the authors really end up speaking to a certain kind of fan. In the worst circumstances, small audiences lead derivative comics, but in the best circumstances, it means authors don’t have to hold their readers’ hands. The self-selecting group that reads comics knows to pick up the traces in the background, they can infer what happened between panels. Paper Girls rewards attention.
The care and craftsmanship in Paper Girls is on display in the character designs. In the 22-page opening issue we meet our four heroines and rather than being four indistinguishable preteens each girl has a distinct look: from her hair to her clothes to her posture on her bike. As in a movie with a dedicated costumers and actors, each girl’s character is communicated visually instead of just by what they say. This attention to the visual language allows for a real economy of words on the page, and increases the pace of the story.
The first trade paperback takes place in the early morning hours of November the 1st 1988, starting sometime before 4:40 A.M. when our protagonist is woken from a nightmare by her alarm. Cliff Chang draws most of the story in the pale blues and yellows of the early morning. Watching the paper girls ride through their mostly sleeping neighborhood under increasingly strange and creepy circumstances is made all the more real by the consistent feel of the light and the suburbs of Cleveland in the background.
I love comics, but they aren’t all created equal. Comic book stores overflow with garbled messes that can’t be figured out by anyone outside the author’s head. In contrast, the world of Paper Girls is unfamiliar but you can put together a lot of what’s going on by paying close attention. What you can’t figure out are breadcrumbs and mysteries left behind intentionally to pull you into the story.
Chang and Vaughn are two excellent creators at the top of their games. This book deserves the hype it’s getting. Go pick it up.