Today, Michael and Ryan M. are discussing Paper Girls 6, originally released June 1st, 2015.
Michael: I’d say that I had a pretty active imagination growing up – which is to say that I was a human child, really. Maybe it was due to a fascination with dinosaurs or an early notion of regret/paranoia at an early age, but I always loved time travel. Not just travelling to important moments in history but seeing what I would personally become in the future. After a brief hiatus, Paper Girls returns to semi-address my boyhood questions as Erin and her friends travel from 1988 to the present and meet her future self.
Paper Girls 6 is an interlude of sorts; taking a break from the more heady aspects of the series and reintroducing us to the main character (via heady time travel). In 2016 Erin is driving her Smart Car and is on the phone with her sister Missy when she stumbles upon the time traveling trio of friends from 1988. After the two Erins realize who they are and what’s going on, they return to Erin’s home in Stony Stream — much to the despair of young Erin. What follows is a blend of story refresher and time travel wackiness that puts the book back on course — and the readers with it.
Brian K. Vaughan is a very self-aware creator; his works reference pop culture either directly or with a more subtle approach. As that is the case Vaughan is acutely aware of the conventions of popular fiction and genre storytelling. He never spends too much time on his characters coming to grips with their heightened reality, knowing the intelligence level of the modern comic book reader. In Paper Girls 6, Vaughan and artist Cliff Chiang don’t spend a slavish amount of time to allowing their characters to come to grips with the fact that the trio has travelled to the future. They’re momentarily dumbfounded until Mac just calls it like it is:
I love this kind of characterization — I think that anyone who has been reading Paper Girls thus far would not find themselves incredibly surprised by the notion of time travel. What’s more is that readers tend to latch onto ideas more easily when the characters themselves accept them. It’s a minor point to make in the larger story but I think that it’s a sign of a smart writer who’s in tune with his audience.
Not that Paper Girls is relegated to one particular genre, but it is somewhat of a “coming-of-age” story; the girls are faced with fantastical obstacles that are forcing them to grow up quick. As kids we imagine all sorts of different futures for ourselves, romanticizing the impact we’ll make. As we grow up however, we typically become more “realistic” in our dreams and goals. Erin has the unfortunate task of meeting her future self and seeing that she doesn’t become something “amazing.” Instead, Erin is still living in the same neighborhood and essentially still works for the same company.
There are numerous cynical ways that this story could go: past Erin could be extremely disappointed that her life turns out that way and future Erin could be ashamed of herself but that’s not how Vaughan plays it necessarily. Instead, Erin getting a visit from her younger self seems to be like finding the missing piece of the puzzle for her. Though this is the first issue we’ve encountered her, 2016 Erin seems to be a little dissatisfied with her life. The opportunity to literally get reacquainted with her inner-child is a powerful moment for her. More importantly she finally learns how she got the scar on her stomach — something that was a complete mystery to her for a huge chunk of her life.
Ryan did you like this little reintroduction to Paper Girls? Were you particular tickled by the awestruck time travelers in the present day? (I personally loved the dig at the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.) Any insight on our other future friends or that curious, alternate young Erin?
Ryan: I really enjoyed this issue. Vaughan does such a great job of balancing plot movement with characterization and by giving us this new character in the form of an adult Erin, we get to see the girls from a new perspective. After the efficient and emotional confirmation of the time travel, 2016 Erin takes on the role of beleaguered aunt to the girls. These tweens may as well be aliens to 2016 Erin. They talk too much, have rambunctious energy and ask a lot of questions. Even so, there is a trust between them.
Chiang indicates this kind of intimacy with the body positions in the above panel. Erin and Mac flank 2016 Erin on the couch, their legs aimed toward her. Even the crew’s tough guy Mac seems to be leaning back to 2016 Erin’s lap. It’s been a while since the girls have had a safe adult in their orbit and they immediately fall into normal kid behavior. It’s a small moment, but Tiffany calls 2016 Erin “Mrs. Tieng.” 2016 Erin corrects her, but it’s clear that Tiffany views 2016 Erin like a friend’s mom, like a trusted adult.
Though her role is fairly reactive, 2016 Erin becomes the center of all of her scenes in this issue. It makes sense and is a savvy move by Vaughan since a reader probably has more in common with a modern adult than the girls. 2016 Erin grounds all of her scenes, which make the other scenes all the more bizarre and intriguing.
Cardinal and Grandfather’s brief scene confirms what the Erins so quickly figured out for themselves. The girls have traveled through time. As dinosaurs fly through the sky in 1988, Cardinal speaks her future patois. The scene contrasts so well with the one before. As Michael mentioned, 2016 Erin’s dual revelations about the young girls and her own mystery scar is an emotional moment. It takes the fantastic and boils it down to a human level. Then we get to the weirdos in 1988, standing under a purple sky and speaking in terms that we can only understand in context. Grandfather claims the girls are on their own and their very world is at stake. With the first two scenes of this issue, Vaughan has established both the personal and global significance of the girl’s trip to the future.
Vaughan also injects danger with a killer in a red spacesuit, speaking alien tongue and wearing Erin’s face. Given the way she eviscerates the first person she encounters, I’m hoping that this is not our Erin, but some kind of shifter. Of course, Vaughan and Chiang could probably justify a murderous Erin and I would enjoy every second of their storytelling.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?