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Column: Paper Girls Belongs on Your Route

The Longbox Theory

Paper Girls, published by Image Comics is the answer to those withdrawal pains you’re feeling after bingeing season two of Stranger Things. Fans of the Netflix series should check out this gem from writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man, Runaways) and artist Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman). Paper Girls features atmospheric colors provided by Matt Wilson (Wonder Woman, The Mighty Thor) and inventive lettering by Jared K. Fletcher (Batgirl, Detective Comics), who created new fonts and an alien alphabet for the title. As much as the Duffer Brothers owe to the many 80’s touchstones they pay homage to, given the similarities to this unique comic book, you can’t help wondering if they didn’t peek at an issue or two when creating their hit show.

Paper Girls follows the story of four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls, (Erin, MacKenzie, KJ and Tiffany) living in the fictional Cleveland development of Stony Stream. Erin meets the other three while bicycling her route in the early morning hours of November 1, 1988. Initially bonding over a run-in with some high-school age delinquents out playing Halloween pranks, the girls soon discover their evening is about to get a lot stranger and more dangerous: Clashing invading forces have overrun their little ‘burb.

Vaughan amps up the tension, teasing out plot details at a measured pace. The multi-layered story draws the reader in immediately. One of Vaughan’s tics as a writer is to portray dreams or visions, and he starts Paper Girls with one of these signature sequences. This immediately unsettles the reader, blurring the line between what is real and what isn’t in an increasingly odd setting that uncomfortably mirrors one we might find in the genuine Ohio.

Cliff Chiang’s artwork is ideally suited to this story. His drawings feature clean, tidy line work. The understated quality of his pencils is perfectly suited to portraying action, facial expressions and reactions. Though he never clutters up his layouts, he works subtle details into each panel that mesh with the vibe of the story, perfectly setting the scene. Everything feels authentic, despite the weirdness of the story.

Matt Wilson’s colors blend seamlessly with Chiang’s drawing. Wilson takes an abstract approach, more concerned with supplementing (if not outright setting and maintaining) the emotional tone of each scene. He isn’t trying to paint things as we expect them to appear; he’s setting up our reactions on subliminal levels. He’ll often go on for pages creating textbook examples of how to properly apply color theory, only to suddenly throw in a series of panels that jar us with incompatible, non-complementary colors, unsettling us on subconscious levels.

The greatest collaborations seem simple on their surface, which belies the mastery of artists coordinating their talents toward a unified vision. Paper Girls is a stylish blend of four creators bringing their “A” games to the mix. Image just released an excellent hardcover collecting the first ten issues with exclusive extras that provides an excellent jumping on point. If you have those Stranger Things blues, it’ll tide you over until the show’s next season drops.

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