Brian K. Vaughan has given us Y:The Last Man, Ex Machina, Saga and more recently We Stand On Guard and he’s slated to release a mess of new titles in the next few months. Right now though, everyone needs to stop and take notice of his newest effort, Paper Girls. It’s a sci-fi mystery set in the suburbs of Cleveland in the late 1980’s, told through the eyes of four tween paper delivery girls, and you need to read it. Because it might just be the best damn thing on the racks.
Paper Girls opens with a dream sequence that anyone who has read Vaughan would find familiar. There’s what appears to be the Angel of Death, a dead Challenger astronaut, and a warning about eating from the Tree of Knowledge. This turns out to be a normal dream for Erin, a local papergirl, who is rolling out in the wee hours of Nov. 1,1988. It seems like it will be an average morning for her until she runs into a group of 3 other papergirls and the story kicks off.
They punk some older boys, have a run in with what might be aliens, set out to retrieve a stolen walkie-talkie, stumble across a piece of strange technology, and confront a grotesque (maybe) time traveler. It’s like reading the summary of a classic 80’s movie you somehow missed and are now asking yourself “How?!”. It’s somehow familiar, almost common, but that’s perhaps its greatest strength. Just when you feel like you know what’s going on and where the next pages is going, you get a tiny twist that makes you keep reading.
The story is slow, but methodically so, and it builds at a level that definitely pays off by the end. Vaughan nails the dialogue, characters, pacing, tone, and attitude perfectly. John Hughes couldn’t do it better. It is rare to see a 80’s period piece that doesn’t come off cliché or overdone, but you can definitely tell Vaughan grew up here during this time. Nothing is done without purpose or attention. So break out whatever rubric you use to judge writing and prepare to check all the boxes.
Art is provided by Cliff Chiang, who brings his A game to every panel. Heavy lines bring the right amount of style and tone to the page. The story flows with art and the marriage is everything you could ask for. Colorist Matt Wilson doesn’t miss a beat either. The colors and hues of the early morning are amazing to look at. The muted pastel palette is by the book, but so expertly executed that it’s hard to think of another example that rivals it. The two of them work together to create a style that is truly stunning.
Paper Girls has positioned itself as one of the strongest debuts of the year, and, in the hands of these masters, it’s got a lot of potential to rise even higher than its stellar start. It’s beautiful to look at and a great read. It will be interesting to see what else Vaughan brings this year, but Paper Girls is definitely going to be a high bar to meet.
Final Grade: A+