Spencer: There’s still much we don’t know about the world of Paper Girls, and despite Clone-Erin’s assurances on the first page, issue 9 doesn’t even begin to answer all our questions; what it does, though, is further dig into the “kids vs. adults” conflict apparently brewing in Clone-Erin’s future. How Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson do so is fascinating; instead of going into a detailed flashback or history of the conflict, they simply recreate it amongst their own cast.
To do that, of course, first the creative team has to reunite their scattered cast. Quite a bit of this issue is devoted to bringing the characters together and setting up the pivotal choice the paper girls face on the final page. That doesn’t exactly leave room for some of the grand emotional climaxes we’ve reached throughout the previous few installments, but Vaughan, Chiang, and Wilson still manage to weave plenty of fun action and character into the issue, as long as you take the time to look for it. The same principal applies to how the creative team doles out their mythology.
The key to understanding the two sides of this conflict lies in two brief nuggets of information Clone-Erin gives out. The first is the fact that the old-timers can’t travel to the future. The second is this:
The old-timers’ limitations seem to be steeped in metaphor. They can’t travel to the future because the future doesn’t belong to them — their relevance has passed, and the future is now in the hands of the next generation. This will happen to us all some day, and I can only hope I handle it with far more grace than the old-timers, who appear to have declared open war on youth culture in a vain attempt to keep their past alive and cling to their rapidly dwindling power and influence.
On the flip side, the youth of Clone-Erin’s time have written all adults off as monsters. They clearly have sound reasons to do so in this case, but they’re also playing into every youth’s natural inclination to dismiss the experiences of the previous generations. Kids and teenagers always trust each other over adults, sometimes to their own detriment.
I have no idea if this is the case in this future conflict, but that’s exactly the feeling I get from the present-day scenes. The creative team recreates this conflict by pitting Clone-Erin (who represents the youth of the future) against Future-Erin (who represents the old-timers), with our titular paper girls (quite literally) caught in the middle.
Future-Erin instinctively doesn’t trust Clone-Erin. She has pretty good reasons not to, but her arguments come across as condescending, coddling, and dismissive to the paper girls (at one point Mac chides Future-Erin for asking about Naldo and Heck even though she had absolutely zero way to know anything about them), which, of course, pushes them away from her. The only paper girl who doesn’t immediately trust Clone-Erin is Erin-Prime, and that’s largely because of the message scrawled into KJ’s hockey stick, which (wisely) has her handling both her dopplegangers with suspicion.
Without that knowledge, though, Mac and Tiffany see no reason to trust Future-Erin over the clone. On one level, they simply trust other kids more than they trust adults, but there’s more to it than that.
As I said before, the future belongs to the next generation, and Mac readily embraces it. In this case, it’s less about the literal future (Mac’s seen her literal future, and she doesn’t like it), and more about the endless possibility presented by Clone-Erin’s future sanctuary. There she likely hopes to escape her upbringing, her fate, and become who she’s always dreamed of being; it’s a powerful representation of exactly what so many youths want, the ability to leave their home or hometown and become the person they always wanted to be.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this young vs. old conflict, though, is the fear inherent to it. Mac and Tiffany casually dismiss Future-Erin as crazy, Erin-Prime’s been conflicted about her from the start, and when Clone-Erin first sees her she practically goes into shock, shouting “God, is that how I’m gonna look when I’m old?” Clone-Erin is so startled by her future “self” that she even lets her guard down and gets knocked out, which seems uncharacteristic of her. And Mac’s fate, of course, is one she hopes to avoid by any means necessary.
So as much as these kids may embrace the future, they’re scared to death of actually getting old. They don’t want to grow up to become like their parents or teachers; that’s a kid’s worst nightmare. Fear may actually be at the very heart of both the Erin vs. Erin conflict and the conflict in the future: the old-timers are scared of becoming redundant and being replaced, while the kids are scared of becoming just like the adults they actively despise.
There’s probably a way to use empathy and understanding to overcome those mutual fears, but that seems unlikely for society at large (especially in a Vaughan book). The paper girls, though, may have more of a chance — or, they might if they didn’t have to make their decision about which Erin to follow within 87 seconds. That’s not much time for talking.
Drew! What’s your take on this conflict? Do you have any thoughts on Chiang and Wilson’s contributions this month? And did you notice that Mac’s still wearing a satchel full of newspapers? Of all the paper girls, I never expected her to be the most dedicated one.
Drew: Oh man, so much to talk about. Let’s start with Mac’s newspapers — I hadn’t considered them before, but I now suspect they’re only around because they’re going to be important down the line. Perhaps it will be about proving that she’s from her specific era. (Now I need to look back and see if KJ still had her satchel on her when she disappeared). Perhaps it can serve as some kind of McFly Family Portrait if the girls ever get taken to the past — a way to see what might have been altered from their timeline. It’s not yet entirely clear whether the timeline can be altered, but the Old-Timers at least seem to be able to make people forget they encountered time-travelers in the first place. Point is, I think having a newspaper from 1988 is going to come in handy somewhere down the line.
As for the art, I will say that the longer Chiang and Wilson work together, the better they get. They were already hitting their stride long before their Wonder Woman run was up, but there really is something charming about how freely Wilson uses color holds when working with Chaing. That is, Wilson colors Chiang’s inked lines. It’s a technique that’s common enough in lighting and atmospheric effects (like the dust the tardigrade kicks up while Tiff is riding it), but with Chiang, Wilson commonly holds lines in characters’ faces, approaching the way Chiang colors his own work.
It’s a technique that generally softens the features, allowing Chiang to add lines to faces that might come off as harsh were they left black. Those lines under Erin’s eyes, for example, might read as deep wrinkles if they were left black. Moreover, it affords Wilson some flexibility in differentiating these characters. Obviously, Chiang’s inks imply that Future-Erin is wearing lipstick, but in leaving those lines black, Wilson works to emphasize that choice without drawing undue attention to with in the colors — he doesn’t need to use bright read to broadcast “lipstick” loud and clear.
But it was Wilson’s color choices that really grabbed me in this issue. So much of this issue is awash in muted cool colors — blues, greens, and purples — that the things that aren’t really stick out. The most obvious of those non-cool things is Clone-Erin, whose bright red backpack sticks out like a sore thumb.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen red used this way in this series — indeed, it might easily be understood as the color of temporal anomalies — but it certainly lends Clone-Erin a sinister air. We already know we’re not supposed to trust one “other Erin,” and having one look so alien certainly helps cast her in a suspicious light. That she seems to be on the paper girls’ wavelength otherwise could be a sign that she’s on-the-level, but it could also be a sign that she’s the last person to listen to.
Which brings me to what I think is the most interesting aspect of this issue: the way it upends the familiar kids vs. grownup narrative. That Erin is both the kid and the grownup certainly complicates things, but the aspect of that rivalry that always really bugged me is the way we’re always led to sympathize with the kids. The kids save the day in spite of — or often in defiance of — the grownups, ignoring that adults are generally more informed, have more practical experience, and are better at assessing risk than children. That is: kids really shouldn’t be charging into battle or confronting bad guys or creating a new world order — they don’t even know how to drive, let alone treat wounds or run economies.
But…maybe Clone-Erin does? We already know she can’t drive, and this issue reveals that she’s not exactly a science expert, either, but she sure seems to know more about what’s going on than even Future-Erin can claim to. She might actually be the horse to bet on in this case, even if she is just a kid. Then again, she may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She might well know more than anyone else, but that also makes her profoundly dangerous. She’s already leading the Erins away from whatever plan they were formulating to get to the fourth folding, suggesting that the clues on KJ’s field hockey stick might actually lead to a trap, in which case the advice to not trust “other Erin” might also be misleading. Unless, of course, it’s Clone-Erin that’s leading them to a trap, in which case both the advice not to trust her and to go instead to the fourth folding are what should be followed. Obviously, Erin-Prime can’t know which of these outcomes it might be, so has to use her best judgement based on her perceived trustworthiness of the other Erins, and a combination of youth and apparent competency is hard to pass up.
In either case, it’s unlikely that this is the last we’ve seen of 2016 — we get a little glimpse of Missy Tieng, helicopter pilot, and you can bet she’ll be back. Maybe to help get Future-Erin to the fourth folding. Or maybe to just race some dinosaurs in a helicopter. I’d be pretty happy with either of those options, even if that means holding off on answering our questions a little longer.
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