The year is 1988. A trio of 12-year-olds must go up against what appears to be a creature from another realm in the woods…
Only this isn’t Stranger Things, but rather a scene from the comic Paper Girls.
The ongoing series — created by writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga) and artist Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman) — follows the adventures of four newspaper delivery girls as they stumble onto what might be the most important story in the history of mankind: that their town is currently overrun by strange beings who fly around on pterodactyl-like creatures.
“We describe it as Stand By Me meets Terminator,” says Vaughan. “It’s a story about nostalgia and childhood, but with an action-packed, sci-fi bent.”
Since the series debuted a little over a year ago, much has happened to Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ, the series’ titular “paper girls” as they’ve discovered that what they’d thought to be aliens are in fact time travelers — a discovery that comes at the end of the comic’s first arc (which has been collected in Volume 1.). Since then, the series has delved into what traveling through time means for the four girls.
“A lot of times we look at the past as something that was really great, but we ignore things that have actually gotten better since then,” says Chiang about the second volume’s exploration of nostalgia through the lens of the present day. “Our girls are now dealing with what their futures look like, and reflecting on what they hoped the present day versions might be like.”
With Paper Girls Vol. 2 coming out Wednesday, and so much having happened since the series itself first kicked off, EW spoke to Vaughan and Chiang about nostalgia, writing the ’80s, and what’s in store for the paper girls.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you compare this series to projects you’ve both worked on before?
VAUGHAN: I’ve written about teenage heroes before, on Marvel’s Runaways, and I remember at the time when I pitched it, it was a team that had more female members than males. Even that caused of much discussion about, “Will there be a market for this, and should there at least be an equal number of male and females?” I’m just grateful to finally be telling a story with all females at the lead.
CHIANG: I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a project that is this personal. We draw so much on our memories of growing and we’re putting so much of our present day into it as well. It very much is about how we are thinking about our past and growing up. Nothing I’ve worked on has been asked this much of me to put it on the page.
What does having four 12-year-old girls as protagonists add to the story you are telling?
VAUGHAN: Hopefully it doesn’t feel familiar. We’ve all seen lots of stories about a young protagonist having adventures, and usually they’re all boys, [and] there is sometimes a token female, or two. I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland in 1988 and there was just one year where suddenly all of the delivery kids that used to be boys were suddenly girls. It happened at our church too. Altar boys were suddenly altar girls. There was just this sense that all these young women knew there were openings here to be the first of their kind. I always wanted to write about those kids, because I felt like they weren’t so different from me, and it was just a fascinating starting point.
CHIANG: What I like about Paper Girls in particular is that because we’re approaching it more from a female perspective, we’re able to consider the emotional states of these characters a little bit more, and think more of their interiority.
They’re also fiercer and rougher in a way that you normally don’t see kids that age being.
VAUGHAN: I remember seeing Stand by Me, when I was around 12, and just feeling like, “This is so refreshing to see kids swear and smoke cigarettes like my friends.” It just felt much more real than the Sesame Street version of childhood that I’d been spoon-fed. These are the young women that we grew up knowing and hopefully they feel a little rough around the edges, because it’s true to life.
There’s a lot of ’80s nostalgia in pop culture right now. What is it about that time period that is so rich to draw on?
VAUGHAN: We’re always looking roughly 30 years behind us. In the ’80s they were obsessed with the ’50s and so on. It’s just people who grew up in that time are suddenly old enough to be creators themselves, but I think they have a little perspective. I’m 40 now, and I have children of my own. Before I forget my own childhood completely, I want to take some time to take a look at the ’80s and think back. There’s a lot of fiction from that period that we’re nostalgic for. Also, there’s a lot of dark stuff from the ’80s that we don’t think about. I just want to take a realistic look now, now that we have enough distance.
CHIANG: The ’80s were a really different time for kids. Technology has changed so much of how we stay in touch and keep tabs on people. Back then, as a kid, you could really just do whatever you wanted until your parents got home.
Other than your own memories, was there any reason you chose that decade as opposed to the ’90s?
VAUGHAN: I’m still digesting the ’90s. It takes some time to get perspective. But it was interesting looking back at the ’80s and trying to find newspaper headlines from the time — the cliché of history repeating itself. As you get older you start to see these events and leaders, and movements of the pendulum swinging back. There’s just something about that late ’80s that suddenly feels like it has something to teach us. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think that our girls will find out by the end of our story.
How did you settle on the design and look for this series?
CHIANG: We wanted the book to feel to evoke the ’80s, but not necessarily feel that it was drawn then. It needed to have a certain kind of almost neon style to it, but at the same time, we wanted also to show the modern perspective that we had. We tried to just keep it clean, and very readable. Matt Wilson, the colorist, has this great palate that brings up all these emotions and this feel of the ’80s without being actually as kind of as bright and primary as it could have been.
Two volumes later and readers still don’t have all the answers. We don’t even know who the villains might be so far. Is that by design?
VAUGHAN: We’re not trying to be deliberately frustrating, but we are laying the tracks for a mystery, and it’s one that we have all figured out. We wanted this to be kind of like the way that Cliff and I felt about the Cold War in the ’80s when we were 12. We just had a vague understanding of what was going on, and these sort of massive world-changing events were happening… But you’ll get answers soon.
In this volume, we meet the grown-up version of Erin. Did both of you already have a sense of what she’d be like, and look like, as an adult?
VAUGHAN: When I first pitched this, Cliff said he hoped that some of the girls would get to meet their older selves. I just thought that would be so appealing and make it not just sort of a plot twist, but a real emotional journey. Older Erin’s appearance was entirely Cliff’s.
CHIANG: One of my favorite comics is Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers. They do such a wonderful job of showing you how the character of Maggie ages and really doesn’t present that with any kind of judgment. With Erin, I wanted to show what she might look like when she’s 40, and I wanted it to feel authentic. In terms of inspiration, I ended up using my wife for a lot of it. Just to kind of to give me almost an anchor so that I would be invested in making this character real.
What can readers expect after this arc that has just ended? What can you kind of tease about where the girls might be going?
VAUGHAN: If you pick up our second volume on the last page, you’ll have a sense of where we are heading next. Each collected edition of Paper Girls that we put out will largely be set in an entirely different era. I won’t spoil exactly where they are going next, but we hope that it will feel as different from our 2016 storyline as then that did from 1988. I love that the book gets to kind of evolve and change in each era. Our third storyline is our best so far.
Paper Girls Vol. 2 will be released Nov. 30. Read the first few pages below