Brian K. Vaughan (script), Cliff Chiang (art), Matt Wilson (colours)
October 7, 2015
Review copy provided by Image Comics
Paper Girls is the latest comic from Brian K Vaughn (Saga, Y the Last Man) and Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman). Taking us back to 1988 it tells the story of four paper delivery girls. To the untrained eye this seems innocent enough. But then the girls discover something…unexpected on the morning after Halloween and in the blink of an eyes their lives (and possibly the world?) will be changed forever.
Now, five members of the Women Write About Comics team have gathered to share their first impressions of the #1 issue.
Let’s start with expectations – did you know anything about this comic going in? Was it what you thought it would be?
Al Rosenberg: I knew nothing!
Megan Purdy: I knew that it was a nostalgia comic, a “girl comic” with substantial buzz, and I knew that there was some science fiction element to it. I suppose it’s what I thought it would be but less interesting.
Anna Tschetter: I basically heard, “Brian K. Vaughan + girls with paper routes” and figured that was enough for me to want to check it out. I’m a sucker for girl group adventures – usually of the non-magical girl kind – so I picked it up.
Ardo Omer: I only knew what they told us at the last Image Expo. I was sold on a Brian K. Vaughan (BKV) and a Cliff Chiang team up.
Christa Seeley: I didn’t even know this comic was starting until Ardo asked me if I had read it yet. But then she said “Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang” and I was sold.
This issue introduces four female protagonists – Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ. What are your first impressions of these characters?
Megan: So far they feel like stock characters from a generic 80s Adventure Pals film. The plucky one, the nerdy one, the shy one, and the vaguely homophobic shithead with serious problems at home. I don’t feel that this issue gave us much insight into them beyond those stock roles, and while I trust BKV to deepen these characters and eventually get me interested in them, right now I can only shrug.
Anna: I didn’t mind that they appeared to be the stock characters because I’m hoping the stereotypes will be flipped or subverted in someway. I appreciated KJ’s use of a field hockey stick as a weapon – field hockey player are really intimidating. I am boring and like to follow everygirl-type characters like Erin to see how they react in crazy situations.
Ardo: I like that they weren’t cutesy kids. They were kids with a ‘tude. The intros felt a bit rushed so I got the one-dimensional vibe.
Christa: Erin and Mac are definitely the standout characters of the bunch. Tiffany and KJ felt interchangeable, and I actually had to go back and look up their names between reading the comic and writing this response. Mac feels like you’re stereotypical “tough girl” but I’m curious to see where Vaughn might go with that. Overall, however, Erin was the most intriguing – she seems normal for the most part but that opening dream sequence suggests there has to be more to her story.
Al Rosenberg: I know very few people who make good first impressions. We’ve just met these teenagers for the first time. I think they could all be interesting eventually.
Many of us are familiar with Cliff Chiang’s artwork on Wonder Woman. What did you think of it here?
Megan: For me the art was the comic’s saving grace. Several days after reading, it’s the one element that’s stayed with me. I can picture the characters more than I remember the characters.
Anna: I also really liked the art though I admit to some confusion at the beginning with the Christa McAuliffe Angel. Maybe screen-headed people is a BKV thing? But other than like, I liked the subtle facial expressions on the girls and even the little details like the pins on their jean jackets.
Ardo: I LOVE it. It is THE THING about the comic that keeps you around which says a lot if Brian K Vaughan is the one writing it. I feel like this is the second time he has killed it with the first issue.
Christa: Anna I was so confused by the angel as well. It felt so out of place. Other than that Chiang’s art was, of course, amazing and Matt Wilson’s colours were great. What I really appreciated was the detail given to their clothes. The outfits the girls were wearing were perfect and helped set the scene without stealing attention.
Al Rosenberg: it is awesome here. Very Super 8 to me.
Paper Girls takes us back to 1988 – what do you see as some of the potential benefits and/or drawbacks of this setting?
Anna: The setting makes the whole plot plausible unless there is an idyllic town somewhere where papers are still delivered on bicycles. The 1980s still seem like a “nostalgia” setting rather than a more “historical fiction” setting which is not my favorite. I’m interested to see if the comic touches on any current events of the 1980s.
Ardo: Haha. I was born in the 90s so the 80s feel like historical fiction to me. I think it’ll be interesting in terms of clothing and musical references. We’ll see. I’ve seen quite a few things set in the 80s.
Christa: The 1980s feel like such an interesting time period to set this in since it really wasn’t that long ago but we’ve been through some major technological advances since then. It can feel familiar and like a whole other world at the same time. And since there has already been references to the Challenger explosion and AIDS, I’m hoping this comic will go beyond nostalgia and explore some of the unique aspects of that decade.
There’s been some controversy over one character’s use of a gay slur. Do you have any thoughts on the use of that word in this comic? Was it a deal breaker for you?
Megan: Really, it’s two gay slurs. She not only uses the “f word,” she also calls the same boy “AIDS patient.” Homophobic slurs and even homophobic characters aren’t a dealbreaker for me but I’m sure as hell not endeared to the character. Yes, it’s set in 1988. It was a less tolerant time. I don’t care.
Anna: I thought it necessarily took you out of the narrative. Maybe that was the point, as if to highlight the era and setting, but I didn’t like it. I hope that it wasn’t just put in there for shock value though I’m not sure what the point could be otherwise.
Ardo: When it comes to slurs, I think two things need to happen for it to work: context and commentary. It’s set in the 1980s so to pretend that people DIDN’T say these things is cleaning up history (but I also don’t think you need to write it to the point where we can TELL you want to be edgy). I do also think you can’t just leave it there. I think BKV is the type of writer who has enough goodwill from his previous work to ensure that down the line, he’ll comment on this way of being later on. I think it’s important to reflect reality while also challenging it. He doesn’t have to do it now in issue #1 (or in a hit-us-over-the-head way) but I think he will do it.
Christa: I agree that it did take me out of the narrative when I first saw it on the page – even though I had been warned about it in advance – the “AIDS patient” comment even more so because I had no idea it was coming. But like Ardo mentioned to pretend people didn’t say these kinds of things would be misleading. This comic opens on November 1 1988 – The first World AIDS Day is right around the corner, summits and meetings about AIDS are being held all over the world, – this would have been something people were talking about and something that many people would have strong feelings about, both positive and negative. What’s important to me is that a) Erin immediately calls Mac out on her word choice and b) how BKV handles this attitude going forward.
Al Rosenberg: I was very unhappy. But also hoping she experiences a lot of growth. Maybe she’s a self-hating gay teen.
What were your overall impressions of issue #1? What did you like the most about it and what could be improved?
Anna: I’m definitely intrigued. Like Megan mentioned, I’m hoping that the characters develop more into distinct and interesting possibilities. I hope that the homophobic language is not a habit because I can’t be on board with that.
Ardo: I’m also intrigued.
Christa: I am a space and science-fiction fangirl so as soon as that angle popped up I was pretty forgiving of the mediocre character development.
Al Rosenberg: Everyone needs to be fleshed out more. I am very curious about the pending time travel aspect.
Will you keep reading?
Megan: Probably not.
Anna: I think I will. The art, my love of girl gangs, and potential NASA conspiracies will keep me reading at least for a few more issues.
Ardo: Yes and that’s mostly for the art which is surprising since it’s BKV who is writing it. I need more depth from the characters for sure.
Christa: I’m on board – like I said I love science fiction and that seems to be where this comic is heading. And Brian K Vaughn and Cliff Chiang are both so amazing that it would be a shame not to give them a few more issues to really get things going.
Al Rosenberg: Yep. I’m going to give it two more issues before I decide.