Nostalgia, regret and the inexorable passage of time are some of the themes that Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang tackle in this second volume of the comic series Paper Girls. In this volume, the titular teenage newspaper deliverers are flung forward in time to 2016, where Erin comes face-to-face with the adult version of herself and Mackenzie learns something unpleasant about her future. In keeping with the chaotic, fling-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks feel of the first volume, there are also airships, giant tardigrades, time-travelling clones and battle pterodactyls.
I still don’t have a great sense of what’s going on plotwise here, but once again it works because the story’s central quartet are so vividly emotionally realised. Our confusion is the girls’ confusion, and we piece together what’s going on at the same rate as they do. As a result, they feel convincingly ordinary, swept up in events that are much larger than they are.
This emotional grounding also allows for some extremely poignant moments – as when adult Erin’s grown-up cynicism meets young Erin’s determination and pluck, and both are forced to consider the trajectory of their life. It’s these moments that stand out amidst the science-fictional zaniness, keeping our attention on the human stories at the heart of the narrative.
Consuming serial works like comics, TV seasons or even fantasy trilogies is in large part about trust: do I trust that this creative team knows what they’re doing, that they can weave the disparate threads of story into something coherent and meaningful, in short that they are doing what they do intentionally? With the first two volumes of Paper Girls, Vaughan, Chiang and the rest of the team absolutely establish that trust: we’re in the hands of capable creators who know exactly what they’re doing. As readers, we just need to settle in for the ride.