Why ‘Paper Girls’ Still Appeals Years After It Began – and What to Expect from the Upcoming Adaptation
I first picked up Paper Girls during my GCSE years and never quite put it down again. Written by Brian K. Vaughan (Lost, Saga, Y: The Last Man) and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman, Green Arrow/Black Canary), this comic book series begins in 1988 on the ‘Hell’ morning after Halloween, with the four protagonists crawling out of bed at 5 AM to deliver the day’s newspapers in their neighbourhood, a fictional Ohio suburb called Stony Stream. What seems to Erin Tieng and her fellow papergirls to be another cold, monotonous round quickly takes a turn for the bizarre, however, when (spoilers ahead!) mummified figures begin stalking the streets and pterodactyls roam a glowing, starry, pink-lemonade sky.
What follows is a bold, nervy, surrealist time-travel adventure that, during its run, spanned 30 issues and four years — with the comic stopping its presses in the summer of 2019. I followed it for a long time, certainly — there can’t have been more than 10 issues released when I discovered it, and by the time I had to say goodbye to the story, my exams were long over. Despite the fact it has been a few years since then, something about Paper Girls has always clung to my subconscious — and with the upcoming release of an Amazon adaptation (more on that later!) I decided to return to it for a look at what made it so great, and so appealing.
The most addictive part of Paper Girls isn’t the cool creatures or ’80s nostalgia — though both engage and charm — but the sheer humanity of the characters, despite the fact that only some are human in the first place, and quite a few are flying dinosaurs. Erin is thoughtful — sometimes an overthinker, in fact, which meant I identified with her more than anyone — and knows an impressive amount about NASA. Tiffany is full of pop-culture references and has an adoration of gizmos. Mac is quick-witted and unafraid to try and punch through a problem. But she has a duality to her — a soft side that occasionally manages to come out around her friends. KJ is somewhat reserved but almost frighteningly competent — nobody in the series wants to be on the wrong end of her hockey stick. They are all 12 years old, on the brink of adolescence, and the beauty of the writing is that Vaughan allows them to be. So many pieces of media with protagonists within this age range make them talk, act and even look far older than they are in the name of forcing them to fit into an apocalyptic storyline that they assume is uninhabitable for teenagers.
Not Paper Girls.
The four girls are nerdy, funny, and unlike many fictional teens. They have the kind of random, snarky, teen-humour filled conversations that real kids would have. They are blunt and don’t complicate things, and it is that which allows them to negotiate with the people they come across so well –- they get to the point. While everyone around them in their hometown seems to have disappeared, Sparticle Mystery style, KJ’s main concern is that Erin’s mother gives out full-size Hershey bars for Halloween. Erin stumbles her way through a painful attempt at explaining the movie Mask, which none of her friends has seen, to attempt to salvage her pop-culture reference. She has a dream in which the only way to save her sister from Hell is by answering a question on a history quiz and swears a Satan-teacher hybrid out when she doesn’t know the answer. The level of accuracy with which Vaughan gets into the characters’ heads is impressive, and it would be encouraging to see more of it in the media.
The girls aren’t forced into a set of dystopian tropes, moulded to fit the world they are dropped into — the point is that they don’t fit perfectly, that they feel out of place, both as adolescents in their own world and eighties kids zapped to the future. Despite this, they are unapologetically themselves, which upon my first read-through proved to be phenomenally important at a time when I didn’t know how to be that.
Additionally pleasing is Chiang’s art style, all clean lines and gentle shading, and Matt Wilson’s colours. The covers and inside leaves of the comic volumes are reassuringly familiar; a mix between the neon-yellow Nancy Drew paperbacks in the local library and a Capital Cities album cover –-think In A Tidal Wave of Mystery. The style is consistent across all of the issues, and I think Chiang’s art may have ruined me for anybody else’s drawings of giant robots.
Revisiting all of this only made me more excited for the upcoming Amazon series, which recently announced its casting for the four main characters via Deadline. Mac is to be played by Sofia Rosinsky, Tiffany by Camryn Jones, Erin by Riley Lai Nelet, and KJ by Fina Strazza. Although none are debut actresses, with all having experience of some kind on the screen, they are little-known enough that the series may be a massive opportunity for them. I wish them luck. Set to film in Chicago this year, the Amazon and Legendary Television show — produced by Stephany Folsom, Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers — will hopefully grace our screens in the near future.
Now that the details are done with, what can we expect from the show in terms of content? There’s no word yet on how long the show will be — I would hope for a decent number of episodes or even multiple seasons. In order to adapt a comic series that is thirty issues long, either a lot of time will be taken or a lot of content will be cut. In television, the case usually lies with the latter, unfortunately.
In terms of what I think is an absolute must for the show to include (even if they have to cut out a couple of the robots and dinosaurs), the bonds between the protagonists are perhaps the most vital thing. Too many movies and shows fall apart simply due to lacking any kind of chemistry between the main characters -– we all feel the second-hand awkwardness of parts of movies such as The Avengers in which it is blatantly apparent that most of the characters fighting together hate one another, without any kind of development otherwise taking place by the end of the film. Although the Paper Girls don’t start out the closest of friends — Mac is of course suspicious of everyone, and Erin unsure of her footing among three other girls who already know one another 00 they become more and more attached to each other as their journey goes on, and it’s what binds everything together. You don’t simply care about them as individuals, but as a whole, which builds the suspense even more if it looks as though they may be ripped apart.
This is what is going to make the series one to watch out for, just as with the comics — a coming-of-age sci-fi with realistically portrayed teenage girls and a focus on developing the platonic relationships of said girls is a rare, rare thing. Any element of the story is present in other pieces of media — but never have all these things been seen together. A sci-fi focused on female friendship, aimed at a more mature audience nonetheless, seems an extremely healthy and welcome thing. To conclude, I predict that a realistic take on the coming-of-age theme and a focus on how the four girls’ friendships develop are going to be the ties that bind with this show, and eagerly await more news of its production.
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