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A story for the graphic novel virgin

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Typically, graphic novels are not the genre of reading that I lean towards. In fact, I don’t think I had ever read a graphic novel before reading Paper Girls this past week. But something about this one stood out to me.

When I was walking through Barnes and Noble I saw it sitting on an endcap and the girls on the cover just looked so bad-ass, punk, and ultra-cool. It was something that I stopped and stared at every time I passed until one day it disappeared from its usual spot. I found myself panicking because I realized how badly I actually wanted to read this. I had already  connected with it simply from the artwork on the cover. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I was telling my partner about the incident that he said, “Wait— I think I know what you’re talking about because I always see it and think you would like it.” And then he walked right up to the bookshelf and pulled it out like it was meant for me.

Paper Girls comes from the same creator of the popular series Saga, Brian K. Vaughan. The story takes place in a 1980’s suburb and features four middle school students who have to fight off monsters in the wee hours of the morning while trying to deliver newspapers. Think Stranger Things, but with punk 12-year-old girls and more time travel. The four main girls represent very different types of female archetypes: one covering the tom-boy personality, another one the sporty girl, there’s the token diverse character, and then the main character represents the lonely, new girl persona.

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Paper Girls features strong female leads that represent various types of women.

While the story is written by men, the characters are depicted with a good representation of the female character, even if it is somewhat stereotypical at times. Writer Vaughn said that he enjoys writing females, but in other works has been confined in the characters he created with regards to gender. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Vaughn said,

“Usually, there’s a token female or two, but to have a team be predominantly of women, the fact that it was a bit of a conversation to have even that. Now being at Image, where we could do anything we want. Here’s a great opportunity to do what I always wanted to do, just a group of females and not have to defend it or explain it, and just get to write them.”

However, as someone who was once a 12-year-old girl, I think that the story forgets to look at certain aspects of the female thought at this age. To prevent the stereotypical portrayal of women centered around men, there are almost no male roles in the story. I think that this takes something away from the characters because they are at a point in their lives where puberty, sexuality, and self-image are all large focal points of a young woman’s life.

In the story, the four friends have to fight off monsters and save each other in different situations, all of which they do with unprecedented confidence. The only character who seems to ever question themselves and their self-esteem is the main character, and she only does so because she is new the new kid, which is naturally uncomfortable. However, the other characters are written as tough and confident.

There is something to be said about setting a graphic novel in this era because it makes people who never even experienced the ‘80s…long for it.

These girls are great to look up to but they lack a realistic sense that comes from men writing female characters. While they are interesting to read about and represent a girl one of us know in some way, I’m hoping that as the series continues the writers are able to dig even deeper into the psyche of the 12-year old girl. Which, I’m aware, brings some hesitation to writers because persona of a tween girl is known to be, well, annoying.

However, realistically, this is untrue and this age group can create sensitive and in-depth characters that readers will love. While there are certain situations in which they are placed create a sense of emotional depth, (SPOILER: for example when one of the characters learns they die of cancer in the future), it seems as if these girls could demonstrate more internal dilemmas and complex emotions.

However, the artwork in the graphic novel is entirely stunning. Vaughn uses various outdoor scenes that are depicted with rich blues and purples. In fact, there are entire sections of the the work that are dedicated to experiments with these colors. In terms of application to the story, the art reflects the time period because the tones are reminiscent of a lot of other works that have appeared from that time.

The story brings the reader into a sense of nostalgia as we watch the four girls race across their town on bikes. Actually even the title, Paper Girls, immediately places us in a different time where the papers were delivered by youth and people actually read them. There is something to be said about setting a graphic novel in this era because it makes people who never even experienced the ‘80s, such as myself, long for it.

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