It’s getting close to Halloween – well, it’s in the ballpark – and earlier this month I received the final collection of Brian K. Vaughn’s vaguely-Halloween related series, Paper Girls. Paper Girls has been published for the last four years, ending with the July 31 issue. The past four years have seen a bizarre, convoluted ride which only really sorted itself out in Volume 6 (issues 24-30), but provided beautifully colored and stunningly drawn adventure along the way.
The series has followed four casual acquaintances as a strange time travel experience has forged a friendship between them. In 1988, the new girl in Stony Stream, Ohio, Erin Tieng, has to deliver papers on the morning after Halloween and, to ward off town troublemakers still out partying, bands together with three other paper girls: Erin’s nerdy schoolmate Tiffany; athletic, field hockey stick-wielding KJ; and KJ’s buddy, tough chainsmoker Mac. The girls start noticing local goons acting stranger than usual and pretty soon they find themselves time-travelling in the middle of a war between the “Teenagers” and the “Old-Timers,” all of whom ride either spaceships or dinosaurs and shoot each other with laser guns.
Throughout the series, the girls have been bounced around from the Prehistoric Era to the distant future to the watershed year of 1999 to 2016 when this story first saw publication. Like any good adolescent buddy science fiction story, this one tells the story of a generation. Specifically, this book is about kids who saw technology and society radically alter at a faster rate than ever before. With infrequent shoutouts to Nintendo and Apple, the story calls in tech fandoms as well sci-fi nerds. A journey across time and space provides the perfect venue to contrast technological usages past and present.
The girls witness gender roles transform alongside technology. Many critics besides me have pointed out that the main cast is entirely female, often contrasting with the male majority casts of nerd-adventure films like Stranger Things, Stand By Me, and (all versions of) It. Paper Girls showing heroines who dismantle robots and score high on Atari games alongside teenage Neanderthal mothers who spill blood to protect their children. Paper Girls reminds readers of the differences in everyday life from generation to generation with every hue-popping turn of the page.
Writers deserve a lot of credit, but Cliff Chiang’s artwork, Matt Wilson’s coloring, and Jared K. Fletcher’s lettering have carried this series just as much as Vaughn’s story. Bright illustrations and madcap designs have kept this series vibrant. The series’s signature, other than sci-fi fun, has been its beautiful neon palette. Purples, blues, pinks, and oranges blaze across every page. The layout often indulges itself, provide huge splash and double-feature spreads for robot fights and aerial combat. Gritty lines strongly define characters, but without ever becoming too severe or dirty. These lines serve as the perfect frame for the fantastic images, just as the girls’ profanity laced dialogue frames the fantasy with kids facing real-life kid problems at home. An excellent balance between old-school comic style and the vintage coloring sets the perfect time-travel filled atmosphere, especially in the final volume.
Writing about this series has largely distracted me from writing about it’s final entries. Volume 6 provides both the climax and a long-awaited explanation of the Time War, bringing back Tiffany 2000 as well as the Erin Clones, who reveal that they’ve been working for the teenagers. Meanwhile, Mac finally confronts her feelings for KJ, as Tiffany struggles to let go of the fact that their lives will move on after the Time War. Grandfather hold Erin hostage as the Teenagers take everyone back to 19th century Stony Stream to negotiate a truce in the Time War. While a truce is reached, it requires that no one every time travel again which also involves mind-wiping the paper girls. All four wake up in Stony Stream and reunite to deliver their paper routes on the day after Halloween. While a mind-wipe may seem like an abrupt end to as long of a series as it has been, the girls interact anyway on shreds of memories and shared common ground, suggesting that friendships may be more than the particular circumstances that initially build them.
Vol. 6 rating: Three out of five stars.
Series rating: Five stars.