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Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson, Image Comics – Rated T+ for Teens and up
In a year of lows, one of the few highs of 2016 was the Netflix original series Stranger Things. People loved the nostalgic tone, 80s movie references and lovable young stars. Even thinking about the Upside-Down is enough to make you shudder.
If you loved Stranger Things, you’ll love Brian K. Vaughn’s current ongoing series Paper Girls. The series started in 2015, and though it has only been going for 14 issues it is already receiving huge critical acclaim, including 3 Eisner Awards in 2016 for best new series, best artist and best penciller/inker.
The year is 1988 in the small town of Stony Stream, and in the early hours of the morning after Halloween four 12 year-old girls – Erin, Tiffany, Mac and KJ – are doing their paper rounds when a series of odd events and mysterious visitors start cropping up all over town. Like Stranger Things, it starts as a throwback to 80s sci-fi and coming-of-age films like E.T. and Stand By Me. But as the story goes on, the girls discover creatures and places more terrifying than they can imagine.
It would be easy for this series to become clichéd and derivative, particularly with the direction it takes as the story goes on. But it is intelligently aware of the genre and time period conventions, and uses our modern perspective when reading it. Like a lot of Vaughan’s work, Paper Girls also explores gender and gender stereotypes, with each of its four main characters being young girls looking out for each other in a job that’s usually associated with boys. The characterisation in the books is excellent; you never feel like the characters are anything less than completely human, fully realised people, something which can be surprisingly hard to find in female characters, particularly when there’s more than one of them.
It’s also surprisingly action packed, with so many genuinely ‘WTF!’ moments, that it is extremely difficult to talk about it comprehensively without spoiling it. I read the first ten issues all in one go, not as they came out month by month, and I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been having to wait a month after the first issue. I am now reading it as it is released, and issue 15 could not come soon enough.
As I mentioned earlier, this series also won an Eisner award for its art and pencilling/inking. Image comics in particular is well known for its artists, and while the art on this book is not necessarily the most stand-out example from the roster of independent comics out at the minute, it is perfectly suited to the style and genre of Paper Girls. The designs of the characters and some of the creatures in the book is incredible, and full of character and emotion. Colouring/pencilling/inking are extremely underrated (and underpaid) elements in the comic book industry, and Matt Wilson (who colours a lot of my favourite series) does a sterling job on this book too.
This is an excellent series that is receiving a lot of well-deserved praise from comic book fans, and is a must-read for anyone looking to get into comics.