By Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Like with most of Brian K. Vaughan’s books, one of Paper Girls’ best qualities is its letter column. Issue 22’s column ends on one of the more interesting letters the series has received; Vaughan’s avatar, Dash-Dash Dot, rightly calls out the writer for his regressive politics and use of cringeworthy expressions like “beta male,” but as much as I hate to admit it, I also found the writer echoing some criticisms I myself have stated on occasion, particularly his assertion that “twenty issues in, and [the Paper Girls] (and the reader) still don’t know what is happening, or why, or what to do about it.”
I haven’t been shy in calling Paper Girls out on its nearly impenetrable lore and over-arcing plot myself — thankfully, the characters, art, and the individual stories of each arc are strong enough to make Paper Girls a must-read comic despite those larger flaws. But this most recent arc has made it more clear than ever that Vaughan — and Paper Girls itself — has a complicated relationship with information, and that no matter how frustratingly paced its doling out of information may sometimes be, it’s a deliberate, meaningful choice.
When discussing last month’s issue I noted how Vaughan and artist Cliff Chiang seemed to be demonizing, not the pursuit of knowledge itself, but those who hold (and willfully withhold) information, and that continues in issue 22 with the introduction of future-Cleveland’s librarian.
Not only is it a literal monster, it’s also a gatekeeper who only offers information to those with “cards.” Admittedly, modern libraries do the same thing, but they’ll also grant a card to just about anyone who applies — this librarian’s violent methods lead me to believe that its standards are likely more stringent, and more unfair.
Wari is also withholding important information, letting Jahpo believe that she’s his older sister instead of his mother. We don’t know why she created this fiction, but she’s using it to keep Jahpo in the dark, perhaps even to maintain an advantage over him; using information as a weapon, and withholding it to keep others oblivious and uninformed, seems to be the modus operandi of just about every authority figure in Paper Girls.
So what does this say about Vaughan himself, the ultimate authority figure of Paper Girls, one of the only figures holding onto every bit of information about its world? Is the whole of Paper Girls a warning to readers eagerly awaiting more information to be careful what they wish for? Maybe, but if nothing else, it’s certainly a welcome reminder to be grateful for the information we do have. In fact, learning what’s going on at roughly the same glacial pace that the Paper Girls themselves do really drives home how hard they’re fighting for every scrap of information they can get their hands on. We feel their victories, losses, and frustration that much harder because of it, and that’s an effective mode for a series to operate in.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?