by Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Brian K. Vaughn certainly knows how to introduce readers to a new idea, a new universe, and hook them on it quickly. Paper Girls may use a bit of a writing trope when aiming for that, but it’s done to good effect. The rest of the issue follows through; taking advantage of the attention it has to present a very interesting new premise with a handful of great core characters. And with art by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson, the world of Paper Girls has a lot to love.
Set in small town Ohio, the book takes place in 1988. Rather than place a text box showcasing the date, the creative team make decisions like a calendar, and a number of set dressing decisions. While the date proves to be important to the plot and events of the first issue, until that is apparent it simply acts as a great atmospheric choice. Readers are introduced to Erin as she rises from bed before 5:00 AM to head out to her paper route. The trees are littered with toilet paper and jack-o-lanterns line the properties as she moves through the town. The sequence only lasts a short number of panels, but the experience is immersive. Chiang’s scenes are identifiable and familiar, and the muted, nearly gray-scale colors Wilson uses elicit a very specific tone. Readers will easily place themselves in Erin’s shoes, and that goes a long way into investing in these new characters. As the story moves forward, these artistic choices push the script, and make for very impactful sequences.
One of the standout moments from the issue is the introduction of the Mackenzie Coyle, aka Mac. Vaughn’s presentation of the new character is fantastic. Mac has a very distinct voice and the script positions her in such a way that she feels iconic from her very first appearance. Vaughn’s writing choices are further enforced by the artistic decisions made by Chiang and Wilson. From the initial presentation of Mac through to the end of the issue, the character radiates a sense of cool. Mac is a kind of neighborhood legend, and the leader of the female paper route brigade. Somehow, Vaughn’s writing manages to find the line between too cool and just cool enough. Mac never feels forced or so aloof that she would be unlikable. Readers will be as excited as Erin when Mac offers to take the new girl on as part of their morning ride.
The creators have such a distinct handle on their characters and this town that the first issue, or even the premise of the book could be that of these girls living in Ohio in 1988 and it would be compelling. Impressively, the creative team manages to establish this before the midpoint of the first issue, ensuring that the audience will be along for the journey thereafter no matter where it goes. And they are not shy about testing that theory based upon the final act of issue one.
There is certainly a sharp turn taken in the last act of Paper Girls #1. With a strong character center, the book heads off in a direction that is somewhat opaque. Though it remains to be seen just what the final moments mean, the creators have so much quality in their approach to world building and character development that even the most skeptical of readers should likely need to see what comes next.