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Paper Girls is the next great American comic book

The cover of Paper Girls no. 1
The cover of Paper Girls no. 1
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

In 2012, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples changed the comic book industry when they teamed up to create the dreamy intergalactic space opera Saga. The series has been hailed as one of the defining tomes of the last decade thanks to its art, its story — a family caught in a turbulent space war — and its fidelity to quality storytelling. It's the standard by which all other comic books are judged, and there's no doubt that Saga's success has changed Vaughan and Staples's lives.



Hype has surrounded Vaughan and Staples since Saga's debut, with each new project garnering mounds of attention. Gobs of buzz manifest after each comic convention, hoping that there will be news of more comics from the two. Consequently, there's an unbelievable mountain of expectations leveled at them, the kind that arises from creating a medium-shattering book.

So where does one go after a book like Saga? Staples is doing fantastic work for Archie. But Vaughan is going somewhere different: Cleveland.

Yes, Cleveland (where Vaughan is from).

He's teamed up with artist Cliff Chiang to give us Paper Girls, a story of four girls and the early morning paper route that will change their lives. It's hard to say more than that, since I'm still trying to pick up the pieces of my brain shattered by the twist in the first issue. But though there are moments straight out of a vintage Amblin movie, there's an eeriness swimming beneath Paper Girls' gorgeous surface. (For example: Christa McAuliffe, one of crew who died in the Challenger explosion, is an angel of death who appears in one character's recurring nightmare.)

Chiang's art bends to the story. There are parts of Paper Girls that veer from beguiling weirdness (a leathery blanket that "feels kinda like ... skin") to breezy, energetic bike rides in the suburbs. There's a balance between spectacle and the ordinary that Chiang plays with and shifts comfortably between.

Paper Girls No. 1. (Chiang/Image)

Writing a space opera is, of course, different from writing a comic book set in the Cleveland suburbs in the '80s, and Vaughan has adjusted the language accordingly. The sentences are terse, shorter, sometimes raw — the way a kids say things without fully filtering out the gory bits. But there's also a quiet, subtle critique of communication and other things we've lost over the past 30 years.

Vaughan's writing and Chiang's art — along with colors from Matt Wilson and letters from Jared K. Fletcher — all make for one gorgeous mystery. There's magic here, both in the reminiscences of the '80s and in the possibility of what's to come.

Paper Girls is available online and in stores Wednesday.

Paper Girls No. 1

Story: Brian K. Vaughan

Art: Cliff Chiang

Colors: Matt Wilson

Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

Publisher: Image

Release date: October 7, 2015

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