Keen to keep the extraordinary “something” a mystery until the book debuts from Image Comics this October, co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang shared what they could about “Paper Girls” with CBR News without spoiling too much, though did share exclusive first looks at concept character sketches for the aforementioned newspaper delivery girls, as well as their names: Erin, KJ, Mac and Tiffany.
While “Paper Girls” has a definite ending, it will run much longer than Vaughan and co-creator Steve Skroce’s current Image miniseries, the six-issue “We Stand on Guard,” while also being much shorter than the Eisner Award-winning “still-infinite” “Saga,” which he co-created with Fiona Staples.
Chiang, meanwhile, explains the series 1980s setting is vital to the story, and that unlike drawing iconic superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Batman for DC Comics, illustrating the creator-owned “Paper Girls” allows him to inject more personality into the characters while stepping outside of his comfort zone.
CBR News: The announcement teased that “Paper Girls” is “the story of four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls who experience something extraordinary one day…” Tell me the next line that comes after the ellipsis?
Cliff Chiang: “Stand By Me” meets “War of the Worlds” in this exciting new ongoing series from the writer of “Saga” and the artist of “Wonder Woman.”
Brian K. Vaughan: Yeah. We’re not trying to protect some big Shyamalan-style twist, which isn’t what the series is about at all. I guess Cliff and I just like that comics are one of the few visual mediums left where an audience can still go into a new story with the thrill of not knowing what to expect at all.
Okay. I know you want to keep the mystery a mystery until the first issue is released but does “Paper Girls” #1 reveal the “extraordinary something,” or will we have to wait even longer?
Chiang: One of Brian’s great gifts as a storyteller is his ability to keep us in suspense while also paying off our curiosity. We have some big reveals in the first issue, but the mystery only deepens from there.
Vaughan: I’ll just add that Cliff’s research material gets much stranger each issue.
The series take splace in the 1980s. Could you have set “Paper Girls” in present day, or is the decade of Ronald Reagan and MTV important to the story?
Chiang: I’ve just finished drawing “Paper Girls” #3, and I can say that Ronald Reagan is definitely important to the story! [Laughs] Seriously though, the time frame is vital. We lived with a lot of uncertainty in the 1980s. Remember that sense of adventure and exploration we had when we weren’t all tied down and connected to devices?
Vaughan: [Laughs] Cliff sounds like an old man! Oh, wait. We suddenly are old men? Shit. I’m not at all nostalgic for the 1980s, but it’s when I grew up and I think it’s an interesting period that’s weirdly relevant to our present. That said, we hope this story will be equally fascinating to ‘mature readers’ of all ages whether the 1980s are your recent past or ancient history.
Obviously, newspapers sold at a much higher rate before online media, social media and 24-hour TV news channels ruled the roost and newspapers lost their stranglehold on the news information market. What is the relevance of the position of newspaper delivery girl in terms of the story? Why not a different part-time job for our main characters, and why not paper boys?
Vaughan: When I was a kid, there was one summer when girls suddenly started delivering most of the newspapers in our neighborhood. It always fascinated me because these girls were both the first of their kind, doing a job that had been done almost exclusively by boys for more than a century. And they were also the last of a dying breed, since newspaper delivery would become a nearly obsolete profession within a few years, especially for kids that young.
I also wanted to write about female protagonists who didn’t have to be defined by some kind of love interest. Our 12-year-old heroes really aren’t concerned with the other sex or romantic relationships of any variety. They’re just hardcore young entrepreneurs trying to earn a little independence.
Chiang: There’s a rosy nostalgia for paper delivery, but man, what a weird job for a kid to have. You have to wake up at an ungodly hour, wrangle a bag full of paper that’s half your weight, ride all over town before school, and once a month shake down your customers for payment.
The solicitation copy teases that the girls experience something “extraordinary.” Is there anything extraordinary about your protagonists?
Chiang: They’re smart, brave, compassionate and stubborn. I don’t know if that qualifies as extraordinary, but I hope it makes them interesting.
Vaughan: They’re definitely extraordinary, in the same way that all 12-year-old girls are extraordinary. But they don’t have any kind of superpowers or anything like that, unless you count being able to throw rolled objects at porches.
What else can you share about the girls? Are they friends? Or are they frenemies? Do you have a criminal, a princess, an athlete and a brain? Or maybe a basket case?
Chiang: [Laughs] Nice reference! When we started, Brian told me that you can look at all quartets and see the Beatles or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But just like “The Breakfast Club” tells us, those are “the simplest terms… the most convenient definitions.” Brian made sure we started with an intriguing, diverse cast, and we’re going to make sure each of the girls is much more than they initially appear.
At Image Expo, Brian, you said that you thought “Paper Girls” would appeal to fans of “Runaways.”
Vaughan: When Adrian Alphona and I worked on “Runaways” at Marvel, even though we’d created young protagonists, I like to think we never talked down to some imaginary audience of young readers because we were too busy just making a weird comic for ourselves. With “Paper Girls,” Cliff and I are telling a story that’s equally personal and equally bizarre. I honestly don’t know if it will appeal to anyone else, which is exactly how I felt when we launched “Runaways.”
Are there any other comic books, novels, TV shows or movies that inspired “Paper Girls”? And is “Paper Girls” a thriller, a horror, science fiction or fantasy? Is it a superhero story?
Chiang: All of the above, in a funny way. I think the best stories have a lot going on — “E.T” is sci-fi seen through the lens of California suburbs, “Alien” is a horror film set on a spaceship. Personally, I’m taking a lot of inspiration from early Spielberg and the way he focuses on little human moments against the backdrop of grand adventure. That’s the stuff that makes a genre feel real and makes you cheer for the characters.
Vaughan: It’s a young adult drama, with other stuff, too. Mr. King’s “The Body” is definitely my North Star, but this story was most influenced by the close friends I had at 12, especially Wyatt Cenac, Mary Claffey and JC Steinbrunner.
Cliff, can you talk about the look and feel of “Paper Girls”?
Chiang: In the past, I always felt a little intimidated drawing superheroes because of their long publishing history. How do you draw Wonder Woman and not think of Jose Luis Garcia Lopez? Or Batman and not [David] Mazzucchelli? With “Paper Girls,” I can let all that go. Brian, [colorist] Matt [Wilson], [letterer] Jared [Fletcher] and I are making something new, and putting a lot of ourselves into it. I want it to feel authentic and evoke what it felt like to be 12 years old. I’m free to inject more personality into the art and move out of my comfort zone. It’s very exciting for me.
I hate to talk about the end before we’ve seen a first issue, but do you how “Paper Girls” ends? And how many issues do you expect the series to run?
Chiang: It’s an experiment! Hopefully people will join us on this weirdly personal, sci-fi mystery and we’ll go as long as we can. We have a lot of story to tell, and have a lot of ideas on where it could go.
Vaughan: We have big plans for these characters, and there’s a definite ending I hope we’ll be able to reach one day. For now, I can say that “Paper Girls” will be much longer than the six-issue miniseries “We Stand On Guard,” but much shorter than the still-infinite “Saga.” We’ll see if readers want to tag along for the whole route!
“Paper Girls” #1 by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang is slated for release October 7 from Image Comics.
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