Thee Comic Column #142: Paper Girls

paper girlsSo I missed a couple weeks picking up my books at the shop again, missed last week’s column because I was at Beyond Fest* and now I have a wonderful stack of books I’m working my way through and at least two new titles that I really want to write about: Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls and Rick Remender and Sean Patrick Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost. I’m going with Paper Girls for today’s column because, well, I haven’t read Tokyo Ghost yet but also, because Paper Girls is awesome and absolutely where my head is at the moment, one week in to my favorite month of the year.

Paper Girls begins with an almost Saga-esque dream sequence but immediately reasserts reality. The reality of the book is 1988 Cleveland, Ohio where we meet Erin. It’s 4:30 AM November 1st – still Halloween night to some – and Erin rises before the sun to do her paper route. Along the way she encounters some bullying by some older local boys and is rescued by Mac (Mackenzie) and her group of paper girls. Mac is the pioneering paper girl in a town that used to only have paper boys and as such, she’s weathered the storm and put together this little group to help insure everyone stays safe and unaccosted while performing their news-deliverin’ duties.

Bullies repelled, the four girls head out to finish their route but encounter more trouble. This trouble however, is considerably weirder, and much more dangerous than just teenage bullies. And thus, the adventure has begun.

There’s a lot I’m telling you here but there is considerably more I am not. There’s a huge WTF moment at the end of the issue that sealed the deal on a book I already loved by the time I got to it. Cliff Chiang‘s art is perfect – almost David Lapham-like at times and is complimented perfectly by Matt Wilson‘s colors; the tones Mr. Wilson uses are a large part of what puts the spooky, early morning calm on the book. Finally, Jared K. Fletcher‘s letters and design finish everything off as a very cohesive experience. The entire package is a nice, thick book that comes in at the now-a-days ridiculously inexpensive price of $2.99 and it all adds up to one of the best, most satisfying new reads I’ve had in a while. Plus, the 80s man. The 80s.

I don’t know when I began to view the 80s in such a favorable light. If you’d asked me in the late 90s/early 00s what I thought about most 80s culture I would have probably vomited on the spot. Other than the then-underground music of groups like The Cure, Public Image Limited and their peers I pretty much found most 80s stuff abhorrent. Then something happened. I suppose it’s partially those rose-colored nostalgia glasses that slowly graft themselves to your eyes as you age, but I also think that for me there were gatekeepers that re-defined the sound of 80s music and the feel of their movies. The first of those gatekeepers arrived visually in 2002 with Richard Kelly’s film Donnie Darko. The second was about five years later and was aural. M83’s Saturdays = Youth took formally cheesy sounding 80s musical elements and recombined them in a new gestalt. And the third and final piece to unlocking the new understanding/juxtaposition I have of the decade of moon bangs, neon clothes and John Hughes films is my friend Ray. Ray’s love and understanding of cinema is impressive to say the least, and over the course of a couple of years now he has seen fit to re-educate many of our friends – myself included – on 80s cinema. And it’s working; I’ve learned how to appreciate some things that had obviously come up for reassessment in my head anyway by having someone on hand who’d already given great thought to how Cinema’s defining decade of the 70s turned into the free-for-all of the 80s, a decade where, although violence became a key ingredient in marketing movies, franchise became a Hollywood template and boobs ruled with an iron fist, something else happened as well. Something more specific to the subject of this piece. It was in the 80s that Ray posits that for the first time movies made for kids treated those kids as adults. As such not only did this empower the children characters and viewers, but it also established an approach to kids’s movies that made it so adults could appreciate them as well.

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One of the things that struck me about Paper Girls is that it’s not only set in the 80s, but feels like one of those 80s kids films that treat kids as adults, and thus could appeal to an adult. As Ray has pointed out on many occasions, in the 80s kids’ movies put the kids as the heroes and put them in serious, often dangerous situations. Life and death were often on the table for the kid protagonists in those movies and the filmmakers treated kids with the respect one put in that situation deserves. The kids didn’t run to their parents for help because, often, the parents weren’t even acknowledged. Thus far there have been no parents in Paper Girls and it doesn’t really feel like there are going to be any to help the girls with what they’ve stumbled onto by the end of issue #1. This makes the story immediately feel existentially heavier than it could otherwise, a good thing.

Another technique 80s cinema often used to posit their child characters as adults was to give them adult affectations orMac-4545c habits. The big one? Smoking cigarettes. This was because in the 80s kids smoked. It was more mysterious than it is today, more adult than today and not yet culturally condemned. I smoked. Started when I was 15 or 16 because it was an immediate way to channel the encroaching thrill of this enigmatic thing called “adulthood” that lay at the other end of a few years from where I was then. I’m glad I stopped and I’m glad that kids don’t fall for the same stupid shit today, cigarettes being proven for what they are, but back then it was different. It was almost magical the way you’d sneak into the boys room at school, hot box a cigarette and feel as though you were on an adventure. In Paper Girls Mac smokes because she is the trendsetter here. She broke the paper boy/girl barrier, so she’s immediately more experienced and thus more “adult” than the other girls. She is the group’s sage. Her smoking makes sense for the time and situation and what’s more, it further strengthens the books ties to the era it’s set in and that era’s movies.

I am fairly certain that when all is said and done with Paper Girls what we will see is that Mr. Vaughan, Mr. Chiang and crew created a lost 80s kids movies a la The Goonies, Back to the Future or retroactively Donnie Darko and told it in a monthly comic book form. And for my money, that’s something I am very much looking forward to experiencing.

Way to go guys!

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*Where I was able to see a 35mm print of the original The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Edgar Wright interview Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi for an hour. Amazing!!!

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to Thee Comic Column #142: Paper Girls
  1. Tommy Reply

    I really, really liked this comic. Vaughan has really been at the top of his game lately.

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