Saturday, November 26, 2016

Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

I tend to treat Brian K. Vaughan as just another comics writer --  whether that's a positive or a negative thing, I'll leave to each of you to decide -- but he really has the instincts of a TV writer, befitting the other half of his career. Vaughan loves high concepts, even if they seem inherently destined to deflate, as similar concepts have dozens of times before.

And Paper Girls is definitely a high concept: four spunky (and mildly ethnically diverse) 12-year-old paper-delivery girls in 1988 -- perhaps because that's close to the end of the time in which delivering news by hand in pulp-paper format overnight was a bedrock part of the American landscape [1] -- are out on their bikes, hurling big piles of newsprint at front doors late the night after Halloween.

And then...weird shit happens!

Well, it's not so weird that the careful reader can't figure it out pretty quickly: there's a time-war on, and the Snakes and Spiders this time around are different generations of future-dwellers. (Yes, a generation-gap time war! There's probably a Harlan Ellison story on the same general idea from about 1967.) And our girls are stuck right in the middle of it: apparently the only civilians left in their neighborhood after the warring time factions cleaned it up for whatever nefarious purposes they each are contemplating. (We're still really early; we have no idea what the aims of each side is, and they both claim to be on the side of the angels, as of course they would.)

Now, Cliff Chiang has a grounded, realistically-detailed art style that helps to sell all of this very well. And Vaughan is, I should admit, really good at throwing bizarre concepts up into the air and creating a sense of mystery. (Catching all of those concepts and resolving the mystery...well, it's too early for Paper Girls to dwell on that.)

So Paper Girls, Vol. 1 is a hoot: it's all mysterious questions and bizarre ideas and strange moments. It even ends on another great moment, showing Vaughan will keep throwing complications in for as long as he can think of them. Since comics is mostly about beginnings and only rarely about endings, it's been quite popular, and for good reason: this is a great beginning. I just hope there's something left here once it stops being a beginning -- but, then, I'm well-known as a grump and a curmudgeon, so of course I would take the darkest view possible. This book is a lot of fun; my only quibble is that when I look forward, I seem to dimly see another sequence of Vaughan stories, each slightly less fun than the one before, until the whole thing ends in a muffled thump.

[1] Or, more pointedly, because Vaughan himself was 12 years old that year, and solipsism is a terrible thing to waste.

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