“Is this a joke? My name is Erin Tieng.”
“What, what does that even—”
“We got backed to the f***ing future.”
The year is 2016; the day, November first; the place, a small Ohio suburb.
Following Halloween, four papergirls encounter a time warp on their morning delivery runs—travelers from the future carrying all manner of weird devices and weapons, rogue dinosaur-like creatures, and incomprehensible humanoid warriors to fight the monsters. Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ are separated in the chaos that follows, with KJ disappearing from the timestream altogether, while Erin, Mac, and Tiff find themselves face to face with their future—specifically, Erin’s future. Confronted by her forty-year-old future self and twelve-year-old past self, Erin Tieng is having a rough morning. The Erins try to figure out next steps quickly, before more monsters or other paradoxical chaos can disrupt the timestream—first and foremost, the girls look to find the missing Kaje, with a futuristic apple device (even for 2016) as their only clue.
Things get even trickier, however, when young Erin receives a warning, and another traveler wearing Erin’s face shows up on the scene. With carnivorous monsters wreaking havoc in 2016, a lost friend somewhere in the fourth-fold, and no one to trust, the girls must choose their next steps very carefully if they are to have any hope of getting back to 1988. (Their 1988, that is.)
The second volume in the ongoing series from Brian K. Vaughan with art by Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls continues to impress and delight. This paperback, collecting issues six through ten of the series, continues immediately where book one leaves off and introduces three of the main characters to 2016—and to their own future destinies (at least in this particular timestream). One of my favorite things about controlled time travel stories (in which characters from the past are introduced to our present day/their future), is the sense of awe and wonder inspired by certain aspects of technology and the shock/disgust/disappointment when confronted with other human elements. In Back to the Future, Doc’s fascination with the camcorder (e.g. of course your president has to be an actor, he’s got to look good on tv!) to his assumptions about plutonium (e.g. something you can get at the corner drugstore in 1985, but a little harder to come by in 1955) embody this beautifully. In Paper Girls, high definition flat screen TVs are like 3D in real life, but smart cars are glorified bumper cars.
Moreso than the technology divide, the best part about this book and series overall, I think, is the acceptance-of-self theme. You’d think you’d see more of this particular theme of growing up in these types of nostalgia stories—It, Stand By Me/The Body, Stranger Things. Where Paper Girls outshines each of these is that it doesn’t focus on the external locus of lost innocence or change; instead, it focuses on each of the girls’ internal confrontation of self and trust. Erin Tieng’s confrontation of her future self is my favorite part of this book—we see young Erin taken aback by her older counterpart’s fascination with swearing, just as we see old Erin’s insecurity with her younger self. There’s a beautiful moment where the two Erins confront their fears, ending with a hug: https://bookspoils.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/paper-girls-vol-2-13-bookspoils.png
The other two girls in 2016, particularly Mac, also face harsh truths about their future—learning to live with the knowledge of your future fate isn’t easy, and I’m very eager to see where Vaughn takes these characters next. (Very close second favorite—if also heartbreaking—moment in the book: when the girls bike past a Hillary 2016 campaign sign, and get excited that a girl could be president, only to have Mac’s jaded—and wise—response: “Some lady is running. Doesn’t mean she’s gonna win.”)
Beyond the character soul-searching and time travel trope fun, Paper Girls has a lot of other things riding for it on this go-round: hitchhiking alien monster creatures, some talk of cloning and other travelers who may or may not be trusted, more nebulous talk of “the elders” and their rules for time splicing, more nefarious Apple logos where they have no business being. There isn’t much in the way of answers in this volume—my one complaint—but the series is still young, and there’s plenty of ground to cover. Plus, one nice thing about Vaughan’s writing is that you’re never really sure where he’s going to go next—you just strap in for the ride. With Paper Girls sweeping the 2016 Eisner Awards for best artist, new series, and best writer, I think we’re in safe hands.
In Book Smugglerish, 7 carved field hockey sticks out of 10.