With Paper Girls, we have a title that operates on many levels – some obvious and others very metaphorical. Storytelling of this type can go one of two ways: either devolve into a morass of sophistry and/or confusion – or elevate into a nuanced, intriguing, and though provoking tale that works on many levels. Paper Girls, fortunately, doesn’t trip over its own ideals and creates a very interesting story that will leave heads scratching. Ending on a cliff hanger, this first volume doesn’t complete a story arc but definitely posits thoughts on religion and the end of innocence.
Story: Four 12 year old paper girls are doing their early morning run on Halloween night, 1988. All seems fine, until they encounter some jerks who steal one of the girl’s bikes. They chase after the hooligans – only to discover they have chanced upon something much, much stranger.
In defining each of the Paper Girl characters, we never get info dumps or static text. Always, author and illustrator/letterer/colorist use their art to the fullest to give us personalities – through dialogue, actions, images (e.g., flashbacks), etc. As an example, our first introduction both to the story and the main character of Erin is in her dream about heaven, hell, and most especially the tree of knowledge. This tells us that we are going into a story about losing innocence. for better or worse, and to expect a lot of metaphors on that topic. It’s all very clever – from a God-like hippy wearing an “Apple Records” t-shirt to the 1980s kids finding a device with an Apple computer logo on it. This is what to expect thematically.
Stylistically, we’re given a Duran-Duran album cover pastel palette of pinks, yellows, oranges, and blues – all perfectly suited to a 1980s milieu. The girls look to be the ‘real’ version of the 1980s; there’s no Olivia Newton John Let’s Get Physical homages here – the girls are dressed in denim and loose jackets, sweaters and button down shirts. All perfectly suited for students of religious schools.
The art is detailed and suits the story well. We get a strong feel of suburban middle class America in the 1980s – from split level ranch homes to (my favorite) a Gary Larson Far Side tear off calendar (I had one of those in the 1980s!). I don’t think there is a sour note anywhere to be had, with the art beautifully yet accurately catching an era we don’t typically see in comics.
Those reading on a shallow level will probably be frustrated by the lack of obvious clarity throughout. This isn’t a straightforward story and is all the better for it; Paper Girls reveals more and more with each reread, and the underlying tree of knowledge theme becomes clearer. Of course, it all seems so daft without delving too deeply anyway that it can just be taken as a bit of zany fun, too. There are meany of mysteries to yet explain and I look forward to the second volume. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.