Having enjoyed the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga, I was interested in seeing whether or not he would once again implement elements of sci-fi into Paper Girls. As expected, sarcastic characters and time traveling are abundant. The premise of the book is left deliberately vague – and to my dismay, it stays that way until the end. The pacing of protagonist Erin’s story is more than aggravating at times. She and the other girls manage to both expedite and slow the plot with their constant rapid-fire dialogue. Outside of these exchanges, the worldbuilding is promising, yet scattered.
However, I assure you that I’m not a bringer of bad news alone.
I believe Paper Girls has the potential to further develop its young heroes and equalize, if not succeed, preexisting narratives on the power of technology.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Vaughan’s newest release opens with a nightmare, an offspring of biblical proportions. And while this opening may appear to set the stage, very little comes close to its grandiosity throughout the book. Nonetheless, the colorful and dynamic artwork of Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson does well to capture the restlessness of the preteen spirit. On the other hand, the plot doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go. Though seeing different worlds clash is nothing short of amusing, a story as complex as Paper Girls desperately needs a solid cast to carry it out.
But with the exception of the rebellious MacKenzie “Mac,” the other characters – Erin, Tiffany, and KJ – really don’t stand out. On a positive note, all four can hold their own. It would have been nice to see a project centered on preteen girls to actually have female artists or writers behind it, but for the sake of this review, I won’t hold this against Vaughan. By dialogue alone, I stand by my word that Mac is the only one distinguishable among the crowd. Though to my delight, two out of the four are women of color. Aside from this, their shared status as paper girls is not at all fleshed out. However, the heart of the story does seem to point to a conversation between old media and the age of Apple.
Needless to say, if a “Mac” joke isn’t made by the end of the series I’ll be disappointed.
In returning to the plotline, I’ll share what I’ve managed to garner without spoiling anything major. Girl meets girls. Girls discover something supernatural. Girls time-travel. Everything in between these events is confusion and forced interactions. There’s one conversation in particular that was likely implemented so as to give Mac more character development – but for me, it largely came out of left field. While I wish I could say otherwise, the several clichés used in this first volume of Paper Girls did little to impress me.
I did appreciate the references made to the ups and downs of LGBTQ history – a grim reminder of what still needs to be done. The manner in which preteens and adults speak is also quite interesting and highlights the social differences the book wishes to explore. Vaughan even creates a language of his own in order to distinguish characters from the established future. As a fan of urban fantasy and sci-fi, I found the story’s closer-to-home conflict to be refreshing from the influx of dystopian works we find on shelves nowadays. Furthermore, my final verdict places the pros and cons at a standstill. I’m willing to forgive the graphic novel’s more confusing points as they were often a byproduct of extensive worldbuilding. Paper Girls’ capable heroines and wonderful atmosphere make up for some of these shortcomings and will hopefully culminate into an even stronger story in the future.