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Review: Paper Girls Volume 1 “The Secret Seven meets H.G. Wells”

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Coming of age stories can pose quite the challenger for writers. Often they are created by those who have forgotten what it was like to be young and their characters sound like adults attempting to sound like children, lacking the authentic voice of  youth. The result is often a lackluster Without a Paddle despite aiming to be Stand by Me. The Eisner-nominated Paper Girls is the latest Image series from writer; Brian K. Vaughen (Saga, Y: The Last Man) and artist; Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman) and thankfully, it falls in to the latter category.

Paper Girls is set during the late ’80s and stars four 12-year newspaper delivery girls as they are thrust into a bizarre apocalyptic setting. As the plot progresses, what begins as a simple tale of youth soon leads to time-travel escapades and a war between two equally shady factions. The result is an Edith Blyton novel with a sci-fi twist straight out of the collected works of H.G. Wells. It’s a lot to take in and often it isn’t clear what’s going on, but it allows us to experience the same fear and uncertainty the main characters do. The mystery is as perplexing to us as it is to them and this enables it unfold naturally over the course of this first volume. Each revelation leads to more questions as a rich universe is slowly developed. We aren’t given definitive answers, but it does end on a nice cliff-hanger that sets up. In between the are poignant character moments that are a reminder of one’s rebellious teenage years and the innocence of our salad days. In one short scene, the series tackle our growing reliance on technology in a simplistic, but visually powerful way. That’s one of the series’ strengths; the economic use of its space to devastating effect. Vaughan uses language in extremely creative ways, creating new dialects and languages to give each set of characters their own unique feeling. An interesting mix of Shakespearean and “leet-speak” helps to give our central antagonists an other-worldliness that retains an air of eerily familiarity.

20151105_164903Chiang’s cartoonish interiors are an excellent way of contrasting expectation with reality. This disarming style lulls the reader into a false sense of security which Vaughan and Chiang use to shock them with violent or bizarre visuals. This book has the sensibilities of an art-house film, with psychedelic imagery that leaves the reader questioning the reality presented to us. One character compares the visuals to an acid trip and it’s hard to disagree. Chiang has composed a book that feels like a waking dream, a plain both the characters and read struggle to navigate, but is nevertheless compelling. This feeling of reading the characters’ hallucination is exemplified by the colours provided by Matt Wilson which give the images an ethereal tint. This is what I imagine a Twin Peaks comic might look like and that can only ever be a good thing.

The only problem with that book is that it’s dream-like approach to story-telling leaves one slightly unfulfilled and there is a sense that five issues in we still don’t know a lot about what’s going on. This series isn’t for everyone, those impatient among you may not appreciate its pacing, but the mystery it sets up is intriguing. From visuals to mode of story-telling, Paper Girls is intellectually stimulating and a refreshingly artistic offering that is unlike anything else on the stand, but it is that very uniqueness that may not endear it some readers. Paper Girls  pushing the limits of what is capable through sequential art and will likely do well at the Eisner Awards. If you haven’t checked out the series yet, this volume collects the first five issues and will allow you to get in on the ground with one of the most talked about comics this year. Yesterday’s paper tells yesterday’s news.

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A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher.

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Gary Moloney
Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on garymoloney.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.