My Misspent Youth — Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

Paper Girls begins in 1988. It doesn’t stay there.

Written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Cliff Chiang, the Image Comics series follows a quartet of tween girls who make their spending money by lopping the morning edition of the Cleveland Preserver onto front stoops all over their suburban community. Vaughan knows the value of having a character who’s an outsider when it comes to laying out exposition. To that end, he introduces Erin Tieng, a new girl in town who encounters three other atypical cohorts on the delivery beat. Because the rest of the cast needs to introduce themselves to Erin, they introduce themselves to the reader, too.

They initially think they’re in for a tougher pre-dawn shift on this particular day because it’s November 1st, and there are mischievous delinquents who are still up to no good carrying over the previous night’s Halloween festivities. Figuring there’s safety in numbers, they decide to largely stick together. It turn out that bullies with cartons of rotten eggs are the least of their worries. Vaughan, the writer of Y: The Last Man and Saga, does what he does expertly in those other comics: He lets his science fiction–based imaginings roam wild and free.

Vaughan has an ideal partner in Chiang. He works in clean lines and with a cartoonist’s efficiency. The relatively simplicity of his art doesn’t diminish any impact of the visual storytelling. If anything, it’s heightened. Chiang’s art pops with personality, particularly in the expressiveness of the panels. And the most fantastical elements fit in smoothly and smartly, feeling like they can easily be part of the same world, no matter how spectacularly inventive they are. In the manner of all the best comics, entire sequences can play out in only pictures and yet be fully realized.

Paper Girls plays with time travel, tears in reality, warring tribes, giant battling robots, and so much more. It also stays firmly grounded in the basic reality of teen girl life, such as the joy and challenges of friendship and even the experience of a first period. The comic is filled with clever humor, luminous poignancy, and striking narrative twists, all of entwined with the type of cunning insights that are the shining attribute of all the best speculative fiction. In every respect, Paper Girls is a delight.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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