I love when a comic book surprises me—in a good way.
Within the halls of your local comic book store, are shelves upon shelves filled with a lot of the same kinds of stuff. So, when a book comes along that shakes things up or provides a new twist on an old theme, I, for one, tend to get a giddy sort of pleasure out of said book. Which is a long winded way of saying I like discovering new things, new stories and characters that engage my imagination and sense of wonder.
When I look at something like Paper Girls from Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, for example, I wonder what my 13-year-old self might say about the book if he’d found it on the shelves among twelve Spider-Man titles, twelve Batman titles, and all the other mainstream comics of the day clustered around those two characters (and, usually, crossing them over somehow into those other books). I like to think he’d be as thrilled as present-day me to find such a treasure.
Set in 1988, in the town of Stony Stream, Ohio, the story centers around four characters—Erin, Mac, KJ, and Tiffany—who are paper girls for The Cleveland Preserver. On Halloween, while delivering their papers across the town, they encounter many things: troublesome teenagers out late after trick-or-treating, a police officer determined to hold Mac responsible for things her brother did, and, of course, time-travelling monsters.
Mac is the de facto leader, first to break the ‘paper boy barrier’ and become a paper girl, thus making it possible for the others to begin their careers delivering papers. They stick together on nights like Halloween because there are crazies out there. But none of them were prepared for the craziness on this night.
As their town gets sucked into some sort of strange horror mystery where most everyone, except the girls, vanishes, they are left to fend for themselves while dragons fly in the skies above them, and strangely clad people steal technology from the empty houses. Worse, when Erin is accidentally shot, the girls have to rush her to a hospital in the hopes someone will still be there who can help. Only they’re stopped en route by someone riding one of those dragons and they’re stuck between him and the people stealing technology.
Who can they trust?
As you can see, this story has a lot going on, with horror elements, comedy, time travel, and plenty of action. The girls are introduced quickly and are well-developed characters from the get-go. Each has their own distinct voice, history, and arc (albeit small ones for this first volume), which I liked. By the end of the book, I found myself really impressed with them and how they face each new situation head on (mostly) while their world is falling apart.
There are a lot of pop culture references spread throughout the book, which is easier to do when the story is set in the late ‘80’s, in my humble opinion. Still, I liked the references. Not as many or as densely populated as, say, Ready Player One, but enough sprinkled throughout to make this reader smile.
I loved that the book features four kick-ass girls on a wild adventure, and I think you will too. It reminds me a bit of The Goonies in that regard. When you look at those comic book shelves I mentioned a bit ago, you’ll see a lot of overly-muscled dudes fighting other overly-muscled dudes. Here, you have four very regular looking girls who I think will appeal to young and old comics readers out there.
Since this book is set in ‘88, there’s some language you might have to explain to your young readers, stuff that today wouldn’t be tolerated. I stumbled over a little of that simply because it’s probably been 20 years since I’ve heard it. But overall, I think this is a book you could enjoy yourself, or with your family.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.