Buzzed Books #49 by Whitney Hamrick
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls is an Eisner and Harvey Award-winning “Best New Series,” written by Brian K. Vaughn, famed author of fan favorites Y: The Last Man and Saga, and artist Cliff Chiang, of New 52’s Wonder Woman glory, who present a story often described as War of the Worlds meets Stand By Me or the natural inheritor of Stranger Things enthusiasts. Think Goonies or Monster Squad replacing all the wacky tropes with four solid gender-neutral characters.
Picture the suburbs, 1988, in the early morning hours after Halloween. Four 12-year-old girls deliver newspapers on their bicycles. On newbie Erin’s first day a group of teenage boys attempt to bully her until a small band of delivery veterans come to the rescue: smoking tough girl, Mac; loyal friend, KJ; and voice of reason, Tiffany.
The girls soon find themselves thrown into the impossible: parents and siblings, gone; neighbors, gone; symbol-speaking humanoids appear in metal armor zapping costumed kids to smithereens; teenage mutant space boys; war-horse dinosaurs: Quetzalcoatlus northropi take flight in an alien sky; and Kaiju-sized Tardigrades follow them through wormholes, which lead to the future and to an alternate reality. It’s the last day of life as they know it and they’re not going to take crap from anyone as they stumble through space and time as best they can.
Action, suspense, cliffhangers, and surprise encounters: every issue is unexpected, especial when uncomfortable reminders of the 80s occur. The girls are not sugarcoated and they are not seeking romance. They are people, in some areas flawed, and I love them for it.
I wish I could have been one of these girls, when I was child. I wish I could do boy things and not feel like a disappointment or a cheap imitation.
I wish I could be tough and smart and confident, but when I was their age, I was not.
I was scared. I was made scared by the caution taught to me about my gender. I could be either passive and obedient or unattractive and unladylike.
I was compared and measured against other girls and there was always someone cuter, smarter, funnier, and better than me.
I grew up angry, defeated, and bitter.
It’s so hard to be a young girl. Hopefully, if you’re lucky, something clicks and you know who you are.
If you’re lucky, your parents walk with you at your pace.
If you’re lucky, you were born tough enough to brave the world as you are or want to be.
If you’re lucky, your outside matches who you are on the inside.
If you’re lucky, you’re outside isn’t less valued than someone else’s outside.
The opposition to simply existing, which so many girls, young women, and grown women feel, is our reality and only those who squeeze correctly through the societal sieve can ignore the pain of others.
For this reason, Paper Girls makes me hopeful I can reimagine my emotional past.
I want to be friends with these girls, but I think I’d have been intimidated by them at the age of twelve.
I wish I were one of them. Reading the series, issue by issue, allows me the chance to experience positive female relationships as though I can rub a Microsoft Paint eraser over the parts of my life that hurt.
These girls are battle-tested bad asses. They run like girls, fight like girls, protect each other like girls, and do so without giving in to fear. The first criticism I expect for my interpretation: why do I insist on self-actualized girl representation being a marvel; and my reply will be: I’m so happy that these girls exist on the page. I am so happy I get to hang out with them and that girls of any age can join in the fun, too.
My favorite arch thus far begins in Issue #6 when Erin encounter her future self. Future Erin takes Xanax, she works as a reporter for the newspaper that she once delivered, she’s 40 years old, and she’s worried she doesn’t meet her younger self’s expectations of adulthood. While on an adventure together, the future grateful hugs her past and they both have the perfect facial expression for where they are in life at that moment. I felt like I was hugging 12-year-old me when I read it.
More than the beautiful art and the compelling writing, I fell in love with the work of Colorist Matt Wilson. The pinks are passionate, the grays are bold and moody, and the blues fade steadily lighter in the same breath. It feels like it’s living and more than just representation of sky, houses, trees, clothing, and bicycles. The background has its’ own personality, but the main players look like old painted animation stills as they almost pop off the page. Wilson’s sense of lighting gives so much depth to every scene and a part of me imagines I could taste the story; I have yet to give into the impulse.
I will also posit that it is refreshing to see a man I trust with female characters continue to make me proud as his fan.
Let’s ride bikes. Let’s make 80s sci-fi references. And most importantly, let’s be girls. Let’s fight like girls for girls.
Issue #11 comes out on February 1, 2017.
Whitney Hamrick (Episode 235) earned a college degree in something she doesn’t do professionally. She has participated in the LitLando community since her first reading at There Will Be Words in 2011. Since then she has received two Best of There Will Be Words nominations, her work can be seen in Ghost Parachute, and she can be found on twitter: @karmafishwrap.