Brian K. Vaughan and artist Cliff Chiang have described
their collaboration on the comic book series "Paper
Girls" as "Stand by Me" meets "War
of the Worlds." Yet the oddest part of this period
piece mixed with alien sci-fi endeavor is that it
Girls" (No. 4 is out Jan. 6 through Image Comics)
is set in 1988 and follows a gang of 12-year-old girls
on their predawn paper route. But these arenít the
kinds of girls with sparkly streamers dangling from
their handlebars. Instead, they prefer a hockey stick
for protection, walkie-talkies and the occasional smoke.
Theyíre a formidable group, and thatís before the
time travelers drop out of the sky to disrupt their
for his earlier work in comics such as "Y: The Last
Man" and the epic fantasy space odyssey
"Saga," Vaughan spoke with The Times about his
unflinching yet nostalgic look at the í80s, and what
it took to create his ferocious group of "Paper
How did this start? Were you riding a bike and all of a
sudden you have an idea?
No, itís almost never me doing something physical at
any stage. Iím extraordinarily dormant. I mean, Iím
old. Iím older now. Iím on the cusp of being 40, and
Iím a father. (The year) 1988, which is when I was 12
years old, suddenly feels like a whole lifetime ago. I
wanted to write about my memories of being 12 while I
could still remember them.
How do you translate that sort of feel, that sort of
nostalgia, in writing?
I went to school with Adam Goldberg, who is the creator
of "The Goldbergs," a (1980s-set) sitcom,
which I love. But Adam will be the first to admit itís
a somewhat sanitized view of the 1980s. When we look
back at that period, we either look back with
rose-colored glasses or we think about the kitschy, fun
elements of it. Thereís a lot of dark sadness of the
late í80s. I just wanted to be honest about that
period. Really, I think itís like any story. You focus
on the characters first and you just try and let that
other stuff be the background that fills in their world.
You definitely offer a non-sanitized view of that decade
One of the girls in the first issue uses a particularly
hateful, homophobic slur. A lot of readers found that
horrifying, rightfully so. It is something that I look
back on, with my own childhood, with horror. The
ubiquity of how casually kids used that word and
unthinkingly. And how sort of rapidly it feels like itís
changed for the better. Even though these kids are
protagonists, theyíre who weíre following. I didnít
want to sugarcoat them and make them all contemporary,
21st century kids, because theyíre definitely not.
These are all female characters. Was it important for
you to make it "Paper Girls" not "Paper
Boys"? When you hear paper girls, you donít know
what it means, but if you heard the term paper boys, you
would know exactly what it meant.
I like writing female characters. I remember when I was
doing "Runaways" at Marvel, that was a teen
book that had more females than males in it. At the
time, it was the subject of great controversy as we were
doing it. Usually, thereís 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. Hereís
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.
And theyíre all quite rough, and they all have
weapons. Why do they all have weapons from the get-go?
Well, itís funny. I was reading a lot of "Berenstain
Bear" books with my kids, "The Spooky Old
Tree." I always loved the one bear had a rope, one
had a stick, and one had a light. I remember telling
Cliff (Chiang) that they should each have their own
totemic thing that they get to carry with them out into
the night. Erin has a pocketknife, which is mainly what
she uses to bundle papers. The things that they carry
arenít primarily weapons, theyíre things that serve
multiple purposes. But they have to, itís such a
strange time to think that we would send out 12-year-old
children at 4 in the morning to deliver bad news to
creepy grown ups. Itís very strange. I couldnít
picture letting my children do it, but if I did, they
would go out armed as well.
What sort of cliches did you find yourself having to
push back on?
The female protagonist (always seems) defined by the boy
theyíre chasing or the relationship theyíve just
gotten out of. I wanted to write a story about four kids
who did not give a Ö about the opposite sex. Theyíre
aware of them, but it doesnít define their lives. Theyíre
these sort of hard-core gangsters that are much more
interested in going around, shaking down the adults who
owe them money so they can get their cassettes or buy
their own Nintendo systems. It was avoiding the
relationship traps that come up in those 1980 films and
giving them boys to be crushed out Ö and just letting
them and their friendship be the story. That was more
important to me than "Oh, we canít show leg
warmers because itís too cliched."
Was "Paper Girls" always supposed to be a
comic? Is that how you pitched it?
Yeah. Iím lucky enough having worked in film,
television and comics that when I come up with an idea,
I just decide from the beginning, "This feels more
like a TV show," or "This feels like a
comic." Itís never like, "Oh, this would be
a great movie, so letís do it as a comic first and
then try and auction it." That seems like a
terrible way to go about things. This is meant to be a
There are some things that comics do really well that
other mediums canít. Weíre serialized like
television, which is cool. You get to fall in love with
characters over a long period of time and watch them
grow and change. Yet we have this unlimited budget that
television doesnít have. If I want to have a
double-paged spread, as itís called when you have two
pages together, of giant dinosaurs over the city, I
could do it. I donít have to worry about "Thereís
no way we could do that on a TV budget." Itís a
lot like "Saga," thematically it was more a TV
show. Spectacle-wise, it was more of a movie. Whenever
it started to feel like that, thatís when I realized
it was time for the greatest medium of them all, comics.
Itís really superior to television in a lot of ways.
Do you know how long this run is? Do you have a finale
that youíve planned?
Yeah. I never like to go into a story unless I know how
itís going to end. Thereís always the fear that
maybe people wonít respond to this book, but it seems
like our sales are already strong enough. Iím pretty
confident that weíll get there. I donít want to give
out an issue number, but Iíll say that it will be
shorter than something like "Saga," which is
meant to be a huge, vast epic. But much longer than a
miniseries. Ö It will be a few years that we get to
follow these girls.
What is so oddly cinematic about riding a bike in the
middle of the street? It pulls on the heartstrings. What
is it about putting a character on a bike?
America is such a car culture, and I think that we have
always associated automobiles with freedom. Bicycles are
the training wheels, no pun intended, version of that.
Itís your first taste of a vehicle that will take you
out far and wide, beyond your parents. Particularly
comics, bikes are so horizontal. They look great on the
thing I will reveal, though. When I started pitching
this idea to Cliff ó he will hate that I am revealing
this ó he did admit, "Hey, Brian, I actually donít
know how to ride a bicycle. I never learned how to ride
a bike." I said, "Cliff, this is all youíre
going to be drawing forever." Heís an incredible
specimen, Cliff Chiang, that he has never gotten up on a
bicycle before, but his panels of girls just riding
along on, as you say, just so cinematic and exciting.
Why donít you take him out and record it? Hold the
back of his banana seat and push him down the hill.
That is hilarious. The DVD extras of our collections
will have us going around, me riding his handlebars Ö