Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang are returning to Paper Girls, their Eisner Award-winning ongoing series from Image Comics, bringing its planned four-month hiatus to a close. Arriving from the past (Or is it the future?) on October 4, Paper Girls #16 continues to feature socially significant, science fiction storytelling from Vaughan and Chiang, as well as colors by Matt Wilson and letters and designs by Jared Fletcher.
Ahead of the girls' return, CBR connected with Vaughan and Chiang to discuss the critically acclaimed, New York Times best-selling series. The superstar creative team shared an Apple-infused bushel of details about the ongoing adventures of Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ, not to mention the forthcoming hardcover collection of the series' first ten issues, which arrives on November 1.
Vaughan, who teased that they knew how long the series would run, but wouldn't spill the beans on how many issues that is, talked about why pop culture has recently embraced the 1980s. Meanwhile, Chiang revealed how Yohji Yamamoto's sports Y-3 fashion designs for Adidas and mecha giants like Transformers, Gundam and Evangelion have influenced the art of their fan-favorite comic.
CBR: Please don't take this the wrong way, because it's part of what I love most about Paper Girls, but it's always felt like you're no hurry to explain what the hell is happening to Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ. But if we can believe the solicitations for Paper Girls #17, it appears that's all about to change.
Brian K. Vaughan: Since our very first issue, we've been planting clues for the amateur detectives and cryptology fans out there who wanted to solve the mystery that's been at the heart of our story, but we also recognized that the vast majority of readers would probably be as… let's say 'mystified' as our young heroes have been. But with this next storyline, the Paper Girls meet a new character who will explicitly reveal what the hell has been happening in the strange suburb of Stony Stream.
Hollywood's more interested in the '80s than ever, with properties like Stranger Things, GLOW and It ambitiously set in the era, a decade not traditionally celebrated for its cultural significance. Is the common thread here that many top creators working today – you both included – grew up in the 1980s, or is something else here to consider?
Vaughan: I think whatever kind of adult you end up being is largely formed in the year that you were 12; for Cliff and me, that happened to be in the 1980s. But I also think that's when the seeds were planted for the cultural and political forest many of us seem to be lost in today, so I think it's an era that feels relevant to people, regardless of when they were born.
Cliff Chiang: Jumping around in time, whether it's the 1980s, 11,000 BCE, or even 2016, gives us perspective on where we are now, and that's one of the best things about science fiction.
Paper Girls is driven by powerful, predominantly young, women. Are there women in your lives that have inspired these characters because they all feel very real?
Vaughan: Definitely, but like all fictional characters I've helped to create, they're a combination of real people I love, personal experience and shit I just made up. I respect that not everyone agrees with this, but I think writers have a responsibility to imagine and portray people who might not seem like us on the surface, and do our best to understand and identify with them.
Chiang: Part of making any character believable is drawing from reality. Memories of friends from junior high, the clothing and hairstyles – all of that goes into the mixing bowl to make something new. I thought of them as girls I might have gone to school with, which helps me approach drawing them as real people.
In Paper Girls #11, readers were introduced to Wari, a young mother running from the three terrible men who impregnated her. That in and of itself is a crazy reveal but to me, the more significant storytelling is that Wari believes that her child, Jahpo, is basically her 'replacement' in the life cycle. While this concept is difficult for some to digest, it is clearly downright despicable for young girls raised in the days of Ronald Reagan and Alex P. Keaton.
Vaughan: Most latchkey kids in the 1980s were way more independent and less sheltered than the average North American kid today, but I wanted to challenge our protagonists by having them confront a girl their age from prehistory, when life was almost incomprehensibly nasty, brutish and short. I love what a richly badass, three-dimensional human Cliff created with the character of Wari, and she has a very important role in our larger narrative.
Cliff, can you please talk about the look and feel of Wari, Jahpo and the three not-so-wisemen because I concur with Brian, they're fantastic.
Chiang: We're lucky that we don't know that much about what people may have looked like in the Upper Paleolithic era, so we felt free to make stuff up. Brian had asked for some distinctive face paint on Wari, but we didn't want to evoke or insult real indigenous cultures so I took inspiration from electronic diagrams and circuit boards. Wari and the three men are all scavenging futuristic devices that fall through the portals, so the face and body paint is a visual reminder of how important these items are to them.
The space-helmeted leader was Brian's clever idea, and I added the ubiquitous power symbol for more visual flair and to denote hierarchy over the other guys, who we later named 'Stop' and 'Play.' Given their more active lifestyles, they're all super fit, but it was especially fun to draw Wari with a more muscular physique, like an Olympic gymnast. It reminds you how difficult and physically demanding her daily life is.
Jahpo has been discussed heavily in the social media, the forums and Reddit and you've teased yourselves that he has been seen before. Obviously, you are not going to reveal who he is or who he will become – unless you want to! – but can you talk about fans of the series and how the nearly universal positive response to Paper Girls has fueled the adventures of Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ?
Vaughan: Thanks! I try not to pay too much attention to how people respond to our work, but I'm very grateful that we seem to have found a healthy enough audience to tell our complete story. Cliff and I are working towards a pretty spectacular ending we've had in mind since our series began, and thanks to the ongoing support of readers, it looks like we'll be able to reach it, which is definitely never a guarantee in the world of creator-owned comics.
We also recently met Qanta Braunstein – who majestically blesses the cover of Paper Girls, Volume 3 alongside Wari and Jahpo – in Paper Girls #11, yet another strong female character. I love the Project Leader of AppleX and if you were ever going to do a spinoff title, I would be first in line for an origin series starring Qanta. Are we going to learn more about the past, present and future of the woman who invented time travel or was screaming "Run" to the girls in the final pages of Paper Girls #15 the last that we've seen of her?
Vaughan: One of the best parts of doing a time-travel story is that there will always be opportunities to revisit characters from the past, so I think it's safe to say we haven't seen the last of Doctor Braunstein.