Something For The Weekend – Papergirls: Book One By Brian K. Vaughn And Cliff Chiang

by Olly MacNamee

It wasn’t just the bubble gum pink front cover and metallic ink that drew me to this hardback edition of Papergirls. No, it was also the caliber of creators on this unassumingly titled book, too. Who can resist Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang? Even my non-comic book loving friends read Saga, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this one to such people, too. Especially as this hardback, out now from Image Comics, collects the first 12 issues in one big baddass book. I mean, I don’t have to persuade the rest of you, right? And just in time for the Holidays, too.
It will, no doubt, immediately be compared to Stranger Things in the vibe it initially creates. The teenage protagonists–in this case the eponymous papergirls of the book’s title–the shadowy, shady figures stumbling around amid the usual Halloween horrors, and of course, there’s the 1988 setting too. But, as the story unfolds there seems to be far more to it that just that.

Time-travel has a big part to play in proceedings, as well as assorted dangers and possible allies from the future. We are encouraged to witness all of these bizarre and confusing adventures from the point of view of the papergirls, and specifically the new papergirl, Erin, as her first morning on the job is not the one she could ever have imagined. A strange encounter with some kind of futuristic pod–one part Cronenberg (The Fly) and another part H R Giger in design–seems to be the catalyst for this mysterious, magnificent narrative that sees the girls come into contact with future technology with an all too familiar fruity logo attached to it.
I imagine the tax breaks Trump and his corporate loving goons voted on will help to one day see such corporations survive and even dominate in the future, but that’s a debate for another day. We’re all about the comics here!

As the story develops, we, like Erin and her new friends (well, colleagues, at least), are left with more questions than answers. Who do we trust? The time-travelling teenagers who appear, or the hippie looking, but more dictator-like old dude with the Apple Records t-shirt on? Apples do seem to be something of a reoccurring theme, with links both in the far future as well as in the Biblical past and the Book of Genesis. Is too much knowledge a bad thing?
By the end of this volume, I don’t know, as very little has been revealed about all of the different players and their true calling. And, how do a bunch of teenage paper delivery girls fit into all of this? Why are the papers they carry seemingly so important when it comes to time-travelling? And, what are the rules to time-travel in this book? We learn that there are no parallel universes and when you die, you die. There’s no going back in time to undo it. No magic reset button.
Yet, when we are transported to the contemporary setting of 2016, where Erin comes face to face with her older, underachieving self, the older Erin doesn’t remember the past that the 1988 Erin is currently living. And, when we witness further time travelling, through the folding of time and space, we also witness the strangest of anomalies. While the main passenger, in this case a future clone of…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself… finds that some of the microscopic creepy crawlies we all carry on us, have grown to Godzilla like proportions, terrorising the whole damn town! Yikes.

Time and again, we are told not to trust grown-ups in Papergirls. Should we? All grown ups? It’s certainly a theme that throws up enough bad examples that it’s something, as a reader, I have to contemplate at times, adding a further level of tension to proceedings. It may be a comic full of pre-teens and teenagers, but it’s not a book specifically for that age range. Certainly not with its 1988 setting which many of us older readers can associate with. And, not in a completely nostalgic, warm, fuzzy way as we can with Stranger Things.
This is a decade that saw the slow decline of casual racism and homophobia, thanks to the sea change that came about, primarily, through a new wave of alternative comedy coming up and challenging the old guard, but also through a revival of civil rights movements as spearheaded by both community leaders and the likes of Public Enemy, the ‘black CNN’ of that decade.
Vaughn, like me, lived through this decade, and so he paints it with warts and all. When we hear the homophobia coming from one of the main character’s young lips, we are taken aback. But that was as much a part of the 80’s I remember as Rubik’s Cubes and Ghostbusters. The story may be purely sci-fi, but the society from which our plucky “have a go heroes” begin their adventures is a realistic one. Indeed, even when they travel to our present day, one of the children’s future selves ain’t all that, with a life no-one would envy.
Cliff Chiang’s artwork has never seemed more lively and detailed, while still remaining seemingly simple in its execution. He can do a great deal with only a few lines, and that’s something not many artists can achieve so effortlessly. It’s a great look for this series. Add to that the relatively flat but bright 80’s infused colour scheme from Matt Wilson, and you have a sci-fi book that appeals to all ages.
It’s a great read and one that keeps you guessing as we witness events unfold just as the girls do. And so we share their wonderment, their worries and their woes. Roll on the next collected volume in another 12 months. Or, jump onboard and start adding the monthly to your pull list. I’m certainly tempted as I’ve never been one to show much patience when it comes to comics.

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