Right from the start, Paper Girls came with a pedigree. Written by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Saga) and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman, Human Target) the sci-fi adventure series about a group of time-traveling teens took the comic world by storm when it debuted in 2015. It won the prestigious Eisner Award for Best New Series, received critical acclaim, and grew a considerable fanbase over its four-year, 30-issue run.
I believe it was the beloved bard William Shakespeare who said that “all great stories must receive a television adaptation.” The bigwigs at Amazon Studios certainly took note, bringing the sci-fi mystery comic book series Paper Girls from the page to the small screen this summer.
Paper Girls debuted with an eight-episode first season last Friday on Prime Video. For those who aren’t sure if they want to marathon this Stranger Things-esque series—you should, by the way—here’s everything you need to know going into this eagerly anticipated adaptation.
Paper Girls is a teenage time-travel story with a twist
In the early hours of the morning on Nov. 1, 1988, four 12-year-old girls—Erin, Mac, KJ, and Tiffany—cycle through their small fictional suburb of Stony Stream, Ohio, delivering newspapers. With plenty of creeps still roaming the quiet streets, the girls decide to complete their routes as a group. That leads them to uncover something beyond their wildest dreams. Their sleepy town abruptly becomes a dimensional battleground, placing these four girls in the center of two factions of time travelers. This group of unwitting preteens just may hold the key to solving this endless war.
The pacing of Paper Girls is thrillingly relentless, refusing to let the reader catch their breath as it dives into a vast, complicated, and unique story. The series is equally invested in the complexities and ethics of time travel as it is in discovering friendships, coming to terms with your own future, and what it would be like to meet yourself in the future, discovering your childhood aspirations are unfulfilled ambitions.
The characters are as good as the story
It’s easy for a comic as high-concept as Paper Girls to lose its characters in the shuffle. But what makes the series incredibly special is that our four protagonists—Erin, Mac, KJ, and Tiffany—are never overshadowed. Their needs, goals, and desires are always at the center of the story, which helps things stay the course and makes things easy to follow even when the story is doing the absolute most.
Vaughan’s story never loses sight of its four unique protagonists, and it’s actually rather miraculous that a male writer wrote such an intimate and compelling story about female characters. In a 2016 interview with Slate, Vaughan talked about choosing teen girls as the heroes of his newest series.
“I’ve always enjoyed writing female characters, but sometimes it feels like even when they’re protagonists, they’re still defined by their relationships with male characters,” he said. “I wanted to write about girls who could just be characters on their own, who weren’t defined by their interactions with men.”
All four girls are defined by their own terms, which is incredibly refreshing, and watching them take agency over their lives is a key factor in Paper Girls’ success.
How does the show compare to the comics?
Let’s start with what both the Prime Video show and comic series does exceptionally: centering the focus around the girls themselves. But the show goes even further with this; there are decidedly less sci-fi elements, leaning more into the girls’ stories and the realities of them facing their own complicated futures, rather than exploring the intricate complexities of time travel. Their hopes, dreams, and fears are at the show’s forefront, although one particular relationship isn’t developed nearly as beautifully as it is in the comics.
In terms of timeline, there are more significant differences. The first episode is a pretty faithful retelling of the first volume of the comics, but things diverge considerably from there. The show does include elements from most of the comic series’ first half. But it loses the comics’ breathless pacing, moving at a slower, more contemplative speed. While we learn a lot about the time-traveling factions, and particular the primary antagonists, near the start of the comics, these aspects are very much kept to the sidelines until the first season’s final episodes. It’s clear that Amazon is gunning for a second season to dive deeper into the vast world of Paper Girls.
More disappointing is how the aesthetic has changed. Leaving some of the original style behind feels inevitable when translating a work from the page to the screen. But the Paper Girls comics is one of the most colorful, artistically thrilling series in recent memory, and that simply doesn’t make it onto the TV screen. There are some hints at the comics’ beauty—namely the eerie pink skies—but a lot of the visual splendor, including the creatively designed monsters and creatures, is nowhere to be found.
The comics are superior—but both are worth checking out
In ways like this, the live-action Paper Girls can feel like a big departure from its origins. But it still has a lot to offer, because while the show diverges from a lot of what makes the comic so wonderful, it understands that the girls themselves are the story’s crowning glory.
If you’re drawn to the TV show, I’d urge you to dive into its inspiration—which is one of the most exciting, creative, and overall best character-driven comics ever. And even if you check out the show and it doesn’t wow you, the Paper Girls comic series is all but guaranteed to blow your mind.