By Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson.
With Saga still trucking along nicely, you’d think Brian K. Vaughan would relax a little and embrace the acclaim that comes with co-creating a masterpiece. But apparently, embarrassed by the notion of only cranking out one masterwork at present, with Paper Girls he decided to take a crack at another and issue #7 marks the first time the series has hit the heights of Saga.
Vaughan’s writing tends to be incredibly tight and structured, the sort of books that would make excellent HBO dramas if adapted. Paper Girls has felt different since issue #1; its looser and has an air of improvisation about it. Maybe this is true or maybe Vaughan’s just made it feel that way and actually there’s a master plan behind the series’ endgame that’s being well hidden under a frenetic energy. Either way, a book like this would normally ring alarm bells. You want your epic stories to feel like they’re going somewhere and a book like this can feel a little too relaxed. Yet with a writer like Vaughan who has proven himself time and time again (Saga, Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man, some other masterpiece) it’s easy to trust that he knows what he is doing. All of this has made Paper Girls a fun read thus far as it has been lose and full of energy, yet you know unlike certain other properties it will make sure to bring each of its plots and subplots to a strong conclusion before the end. You don’t have to worry that it’s looser tone isn’t going somewhere. You can relax and enjoy the ride.
Issue #7 is dealing with really heavy concepts, time travel the easiest to comprehend of all of them, but Vaughan humanises it all. Erin meeting an older version of herself, if penned by a lesser writer, would have been about the craziness of it all. It would have been about big, broad concepts like paradoxes. But Vaughan keeps it down to earth and human. A tender scene between the two different Erin’s is all about the elder Erin fearing the younger Erin will be disappointed in who she’s grown up to be: A palpable and relatable fear that anchors this crazy concept in something human. The story, from page 1, fluctuates between this tone and a second tone, a feel of mystery & intrigue: with a secondary story line that slowly builds up the mythology of the tale that’s being woven. It’s a clever tactic, juggling heavy mythos with emotional character work.
Cliff Chiang’s work is wonderfully alive and unashamedly a ‘comic book’ in a time when a lot of other series are trying to escape that and look a little too serious. There are flavors of pop art, art deco and propaganda pieces on display, making the whole book strike out wonderfully as its own world. It’s bold & bonkers yet he never forgets when to draw us in tight on a character’s expression.
An interesting trope of Chiang’s that is at its best here is his unique take on building faces. Elements such as lips and noses tend to be rendered in color, with eyes/eye brows opting for a more traditional black. The resulting effect is a wonderful merging of the line work and color, blending the two stages of production into a more cohesive product instead of a colorist merely coloring in an artist’s work. It adds depth & personality and helps makes this book, visually, spring out from the shelf. More is being achieved with less and each issues Chiang and colorist Matt Wilson are pushing the series more and more toward something akin to the works of Moebius. In other “big books” you can often see where a penciler has done their job, an inker has done theirs and then a colorist has done theirs – just piling stuff on top of one another’s work. Yet Chiang makes all the stages roll together into a beautiful;y blended final image.
On the subject of Matt Wilson, his color work is stellar as per usual and a real selling point of the book on a whole. Every page sucks you in with its bright & bold scheme. The use of one colour having a predominant factor over a whole page is a clever way of establishing an emotional tone for the scene playing out. That base color bleeds into all others. This approach is reflective of how a film’s director of photography would use lighting on set and is a massive contributor to Paper Girls’ pitch as a “long-lost 1980’s adventure film.” Too often a colorist feels like they’re there to color between the lines, collect a pay check and go home. Wilson makes clear it’s an art form all of its own and in this issue, and all others before it, as fantastic as the story & art have been: the color palette and use of it is the real superstar.
With every member firing on all cylinders like this, each page comes together brilliantly and the best example of this is the last, in which:
1) Vaughan deliver’s a brilliant twist, one that comes about because of the science fiction nature of the story, but is entirely grounded in character.
2) Chiang’s pencils a beautifully haunted expression from the character affected as she’s hit with the news. A close up that “gets her”, showing her reaction as we readers know SHE would.
3) Wilson’s bold colours brilliantly contrast the bleakness of the moment.
The team play into each other and, bouncing off each other, build a cracking final page: A page that is representative of the quality throughout.
After six issues of only being really great, Paper Girls has finally inched its way toward Saga level greatness.