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‘Paper Girls’ 7: The Present is Not a Gift

PaperGirls_07-1Paper Girls #7
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics on July 6, 2016

So I’m going to drop the gambit of these posts being reviews. Let’s just assume I’m giving this second issue of the new arc 11 stars and move along. I know some reviewers fell out of love with Paper Girls as the first five issues progressed. I have not. The power trio of Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson continue to enthrall me. Paper Girls’ new arc keeps the intensity going, introduces a new era, and offers great surprises. If you liked the first volume, you should definitely pick up the new issues.

Instead of reviewing, this will be more of an unpacking of the issue. I’ll take a look at the references, reveals, connotations, and symbols and attempt to make some meaning. From here on, consider yourself in SPOILER TERRITORY.

PaperGirls07_Gallery

Paper Girls #7 continues to muck about with the perception of 2016 to our three paper girls from 1988: is it a fantastic new world with amazing technology or a near dystopia of broken people and abandoned touch stones? Tiffany is celebratory that the world is even still here considering the wars and other apocalyptic news she’s used to seeing top of the fold. (By the way, the word “fold” ties together that time travel with the newspaper. Just saying.) Mac is down on the future, keeping to her cynical view. The reveal at issue’s end regarding what’s become of her in 2016 pretty much validates her attitude anachronistically. Erin, who is now looking into the life of her future self, sees a mixed bag. On the one hand, her future self never got married (pro!), but on the other, she takes drugs for anxiety (con!). If Vaughan and Chang’s 1988 was depicted with the nostalgic glow of dawn, the team gives 2016 the Sutro Instagram filter, creating a through-a-glass-darkly effect.

PaperGirls_06-1Chiang’s covers for the last two issues have brilliantly highlighted major themes of the new arc. For #6, he depicts the entrapment of routine with 40-year old Erin in a Matrix-y gray-green cubicle office, surrounded by repeated squares of screen, clipboards, sticky notes, binders and drawers, visually echoing Tiffany’s Editrix vision of playing Arkanoid and figuratively boxing Erin in.

The cover for #7 trades the green for an ominous dusky purple and the boxes for jagged cracks, repeated in the time travel lightning, the creeping weeds on the sides of the dead mall, and the cracks in the pavement of its parking lot. Dwarfed by these jagged lines are 1988 Erin and 2016 Erin. (Chrononaut Erin has not yet arrived to meet her fellow selves.) We usually see time as a straight line forward, propelled by the passing of minutes and the endless chain of cause and effect. But with time travel in the mix, timelines multiply off of each other like lightning, breaking into the potential futures.

1988 Erin mentions to 2016 Erin that she thinks this timeline is wrong and that she needs to go back to correct it, like in The Terminator. The reference is particularly  interesting considering the multiple sequels and reboots the franchise has had since 1984. While 2016 Erin states that it’s just a weird time for her, not post-apocalypse, the presence of Chrononaut Erin suggests that there is in fact work to be done to save the future. Her comfort with the technology and her ability to manipulate the Uber driver in the face of Godzilla-sized water bears suggests that this time traveling is now a thing she does. And she does it well. Who knows how many fractures of the time line have been created. Clearly at least three.

AwkwardErins.pngIn the meantime, 1988 Erin is sizing up her elder self, judging her drug use (prescription!) as indication of mental illness. 2016 Erin anticipates her younger self’s judgement and is emotionally relieved when the younger verbally validates aspects of the elder’s life. It is an existential question made concrete: Have you lived the life you wanted to as a child? Erin’s answer is a qualified “kinda.” 1988 Erin’s approval of the elder’s hair, shirt, and choice to remain untethered by marriage elicits a surprise hug, and the panel that follows, where the two strike the same embarrassed pose, is a highlight of the issue. Later, Tiffany and Mac set off to find their 2016 selves, and each of them are scared to see what they’ll be like. Mac’s house is closer, so they go there first, only to find that Mac died in 1992 of leukemia. Mac’s response is one of shocked detachment. She says they’ll be sure to update the subscription information, which offers an ironic understatement to strongly evoke emotional response from the reader.

waterbearVaughan gives a bit of symbolism in the form of the gigantic water bears. Chrononaut Erin mentions that size is relative, like time, and so as objects approach the time fold’s event horizon, they grow incredibly large. Erin brought an otherwise microscopic entity with her through the fold, but its size didn’t adjust back after the jump. Perhaps she wears tech that helps her size down again. Sidenote: water bears are officially known as tardigrades, which evokes Tardis. These tardigrades are now bigger on the outside. I also suspect that this particular microscopic organism was chosen for it’s visual similarity to the Cronenbergian Tardis that Heck and Naldo traveled in.

As for the symbolism, the theme that gets highlighted by the supersized tardigrade is the powerful effect of small things on an infinite timeline. The butterfly effect, you know? A little stowaway on Erin’s time travel boat becomes an epic monster and danger to humanity. In this way, Vaughan takes a semi-humorous oddity–water bear Godzillas–and ties it to the comic’s meaning. He’s been doing this from the beginning, making the details work to connote explanations for the story’s mysteries.

If you came for the translation of the chrononaut language, I shall not disappoint. The translations are after the decoder key below.

Paper Girls Time Traveler's Language Key Updated for 5

  1. HEY!
  2. DONT DO THAT!
  3. HOLD ON WOULD YOU KEEP SAYING STUFF PLEASE?

I continue to be pleased that the translation isn’t necessary but always adds flavor to the scenes it’s featured in.

Four new songs added to the Paper Girls Spotify Playlist:

  1. “There Will Still Be Time” by Mumford and Sons
  2. “Comfortably Numb” by Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco
  3. “I Thought the Future Would be Cooler” by YACHT
  4. “The Terminator Theme” by Brad Fiedel


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Paper Girls: Logographic Language Decoder – Updated for Issue #5

Paper Girls #5 takes the reader all ever the place. The juvenile cyborg chrononauts communicate largely with one another, but the story finds an opportunity for some untranslated text. The first letter to appear initially in an entirely fictional word is Q, and we’ve dutifully added it to our decoder.

Paper Girls Time Traveler's Language Key Updated for 5

SPOILER WARNING!

Every month it feels like reading the logographic language gets a little easier. However this issue not only reveals some unusual terminology with the characters, we also get an entirely fictional word. For folks who’d prefer not to look up and substitute every letter, we’ve translated what Naldo and the Cronebergian Tardis are saying in “Now is Gone” below.

ISSUE 5 DECODED


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‘Paper Girls’ #4: Forever is Now

PaperGirls_04-1Paper Girls #4

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics on January 6, 2016

Paper Girls #4 continues to be mysterious, genre-mixed, and sometimes surprisingly dramatic in its weirdness; beautifully and evocatively illustrated and colored; and marvelously fun to try to decode the references to figure out. I remain completely enamored with it.

The routine of suburban middle-class life is an existential hell according to Paper Girls #4. It’s a repetitive game falsely pushing us to the next level, challenging us day to day, year to year, to tackle greater responsibilities, but not offering much true novelty. The looping soundtrack lulls us into a dream-like state of passivity. Life does to us rather than us doing life. We strive for the final boss in one prolonged sitting, no extra lives, our arrival meaning the realization that winning or losing both lead to the same black screen. “Why didn’t I stop when I got stuck on level 28?” Aye, there’s the rub.

PaperGirls04_Gallery

Contrasting the video game-like Sisyphean struggle of daily life’s routine, the paladins of the future, morally cleansing Stony Stream on the backs of dinosaurs, have a mission. They are willing to make drastic, life or death decisions in the name of whatever god or ideology they follow. Thus, there seems to be a conflict between existential freedom and moral tyranny. Besides the deadly “wash” being perpetrated on Stony Stream in the style of some apocalypse ala Revelations, Erin’s Catholic dream iconography has been threatening and horrific.

PG4Tiff28Morality comes up again with the reveal that the mutant teenager killed by Alister was Heck’s boyfriend. Mac, who had previously used the word faggot casually to disparage another character, produces an immature and condemnatory, “Eww.” She later calls Heck and Naldo perverts. KJ calls her out on her homophobia, saying Mac sounds like her racist uncle. Heck dismisses it, saying to KJ, “Don’t worry about it. You guys are from an effed-up time.” I appreciate the direct address of the era’s (or at least Mac’s) prejudice.

PG4GrandFatherAs far as plot goes, this issue introduces one of the paladins’ leaders, an old-timer, literally, in a Public Enemy t-shirt and a guru-like third-eye forehead marking. He has an apple eye phone (a play on Apple iPhone and connection to the anachronistic Apple Nano Erin finds in the first issue). The eye opens when the call comes in, an incredibly surreal set of panels which call back to Erin’s first dream, reconnecting her rotting apple of innocence once again with telecommunications. He uses the Brit slang bloody hell and talks as we do, not like the paladins whose speech seems cobbled together from various eras of time, from Chaucer to the future version of texting slang. In addition, his tee suggests he identifies with Erin’s era (and anti-authoritarianism), either because he originates from it or he’s a big fan. This could be a clue as to why the paladins are cleansing this time in particular.

A female paladin named Cardinal calls in to report that Alister has been “unmoored.” Those responsible have “ghosted” along with some stragglers. The boss man, addressed as Grand Father, orders an Editrix be sent. With the prefix “edit,” I wonder about the experience Tiffany has wrapped in its Beholder-like tentacle. She experiences her life as a series of barely changing scenes with time passing only as a slow lengthening to her hair, the change of season, and the sapping of joy in her quest to beat the NES game Arkanoid. Is this an accurate representation of her life, devoid of family notably, or a deliberately edited one to exsanguinate her sense of meaning? She escapes with her life but left with the sense that her life has thus far been a waste. Thus, the Editrix acts as something akin to Harry Potter’s dementors.

PG4TiffEditrix

Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson ink and color Tiffany’s near-death experience with evocative detail. The passing of months shows in clothing and hair, house decorations, and holiday-connected color changes. Tiffany’s emotional response to the game is likewise effective in relating the narrative of her game-focused life without any text except the game level. She begins fully engaged in the game, and remains so through the many months it takes her to beat the game. Her joy at the victory is short-lived, replaced in the next page’s panel with a set, affectless focus. She continues to play out of routine, maybe a desire to repeat the happiness of winning. Ultimately, she’s not engaged enough in her own life to adopt a new goal. It is easier to avoid choice and change.

Vaughan’s choice of the game Arkanoid has some interesting possible parallels with the sci-fi elements of the story. The opening text of the NES version establishes a narrative around the brick-breaking game: “THE TIME AND ERA OF THIS STORY IS UNKNOWN. AFTER THE MOTHERSHIP “ARKANOID” WAS DESTROYED, A SPACECRAFT “VAUS” SCRAMBLED AWAY FROM IT. BUT ONLY TO BE TRAPPED IN SPACE WARPED BY SOMEONE……..” The end of the game resolves this with: “DIMENSION-CONTROLLING FORT “DOH” HAS NOW BEEN DEMOLISHED, AND TIME STARTED FLOWING REVERSELY. “VAUS” MANAGED TO ESCAPE FROM THE DISTORTED SPACE. BUT THE REAL VOYAGE OF “ARKANOID” IN THE GALAXY HAS ONLY STARTED……”

PG4ErinRight

It’s like they’re talking about me!

So in both Arkanoid and Paper Girls, the question of time and era is muddled. Clearly the mutant teens the paladins, their dinos, and the new guru are from different eras. Heck references Calamity, which reset the marking of years, which may or may not be connected to the dreaded C-day Grand Father doesn’t want to repeat. The Cronenbergian Tardis (which now calls to mind Robert Mapplethorpe’s  contemporaneous photography thanks to Heck sticking his arm in its entry sphincter up to his elbow) seems sized to be an escape pod, an analog perhaps to Vaus in Arkanoid. They certainly seem like they are scrambling away from something bigger and more powerful, and the paladins could have a mothership. They also seem trapped in 1988, scavenging tech parts from various communication devices to fix whatever problem keeps them from escape. Perhaps we’ve even already met Paper Girls’ DOH, if the Public Enemy t-shirt is indication that Grand Father might have warped space-time to show up in 1988 Ohio.

On the motif of clowns, who have shown up at least thrice now: 1) one of the teen hoodlums in issue #1 was a dressed as a clown for Halloween, 2) one of the yards had that clown-head sprinkler by Wham-O, 3) in this issue, Erin references the sixth bucket of The Bozo Show’s final game. Bozo the Clown was the star of the show aired on WGN out of Chicago during the late 80’s. Each of these clown references is a deliberate choice in the writing and art, so what is it pointing to? My theory is that it is meant to evoke a fourth clown in the form of Stephen King’s It which was published in ’86 and incredibly popular by ’88. The title being It hunts seven children as prey by disguising itself as their worst fears, usually a clown. Paper Girls‘ seven children: Erin, Mac, Tiff, KJ, Heck, Naldo, and the deceased Jude. It’s structure alternates between two time periods; I wonder if we’ll see the destination of the pod trying to save Erin and if it will be a different time. The themes of King’s novel end up being about the power of childhood memory, childhood trauma, and the ugliness lying beneath the facade of small-town values and life. Already the comic has dealt with the power of memory through Mac’s stepmom and with trauma through the shooting of Erin. The corruption of small-town values has been hinted at. For instance, Erin’s family has been actively trying to win over her xenophobic neighbors.

These patterned details act as a kind of cypher to decode the mysterious workings of the plot machinations. Or maybe they’re fun red herrings. Only time will tell. I, for one, anxiously await the future.

If you’d like to check out the expanded decoder for the chrononaut’s language (brought to you by the letter X) and panel translations of Heck and Naldo’s dialogue, check out Michael’s post from yesterday.

Three new tracks added to my Paper Girls inspired Spotify playlist. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper (1983), “Don’t Believe the Hype” by Public Enemy (1988), and “Arkanoid” by Martin Galway.


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Paper Girls: Logographic Language Decoder – Updated for Issue #4

Paper Girls #4 is brought to you by the letter X. Accordingly, we’ve once again updated our Logographic Language Decoder. This issue employs all the punctuation we’ve seen before; except the tell-tale apostrophe. The cyborg chrononaut teenagers play a big role in this issue and get a commensurate amount of dialog.

Paper Girls Time Traveler's Language Key Updated for 4

SPOILER WARNING!

Going through issue and doing the decoding is one of the things I enjoy about reading Paper Girls. However, I realize that’s probably a specific acquired taste. For folks who derive no pleasure from substitution ciphers and just want to know what Heck and Naldo are saying, here are the translations for “Forever is Now.”

Issue 4 Decoded


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‘Paper Girls’ #3: Death is Forever

PaperGirls_03-coverPaper Girls #3

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics on December 2, 2015

Paper Girls #3 opens with genre-subverting humor but then pours on the suspense and action. Brian K. Vaughan adds a race against the clock to the other odd time-oriented elements, prompting hand-wringing anxiety while also building in absurd, often hilarious, references to 1988 in weird and apt juxtapositions. Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson continue to provide brilliantly nuanced and multi-layered visuals for Vaughan’s unique mix of the strange and the mundane.

The last episode ended with gunfire and the cliff-hanging question of who might have been shot. Of course, that’s not where the new issue picks up. Vaughan wisely pulls us slowly back into the world. After all, it’s been a month, and the emotional effect of the injured party’s reveal has to be rebuilt. So instead we get establishing shots to reorient us with the scene. The pterodactyls circle in the sky like vultures. Then we see close-ups of a teen taking off his cyborg mask (a tongue-in-cheek connection to our mummy men who turn out to be cybernetically modified teenagers), awestruck by the massive portal in the sky. He amusingly thinks he must be tripping until a classmate calls out to him and confirms that she sees it too. Vaughan takes these two high school teenagers and flips their trope–when he attempts to act on his crush on her in the face of certain annihilation (and the elimination of his rival), she rebukes him as the scuzzy dirtbag that he is. Then they hear the creepy “huhh huhh huhh” the girls have been hearing over the walkie-talkie and a man in heavy cybernetic armor lands his pteranodon on the field before them. He calls them “Scruddy teenagers” and shoots them with his staff, turning them into pink dust.

To check out the rest of my review, in which I attempt to put the pieces (and myself back) together, click through to PopOptiq.

PaperGirls3_Gallery

If you’d like to check out the expanded decoder for the chrononaut’s language (we got B, J, and ?), click on through to yesterday’s post.

Three new tracks added to my Paper Girls inspired Spotify playlist. “Walk the Dinosaur” by Was (Not Was) (1988), “Skating” and “Great Pumpkin Waltz” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.


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Paper Girls: Updated Logographic Language Decoder

Paper Girls #3 definitely brings some surprises as the action amps up. Startling revelations and deepening mysteries in almost equal measure. I was excited to see the relatively extensive logographic dialog. We were able to add three characters to the substitution cipher and have updated the chart accordingly. Welcome B, J, and ?.

Paper Girls Time Traveler's Language Key Updated

SPOILER WARNING!

We couldn’t be happier that folks are using the decoder. However, we realize that the appeal is probably limited to a particular subset of fans. If you’re only interested in what the Cyborg Chrononauts are saying rather than how to figure it out, here are the translations for “Death is Forever.”

Paper Girls 3 Decoded.


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Interview with a Cipher

The Dinglehopper has apparently managed a little bit of notoriety for our enthusiasm about Paper Girls. We were contacted a couple weeks ago by Reed Beebe from Nothing But Comics, who interviewed us about unraveling the cipher and creating our decoder.

Paper Girls Time Traveler's Language Key

You can check out “DECIPHERING THE ALIEN TEXT IN PAPER GIRLS” here. Along with our responses, Reed talks about his own unique approach to solving the cipher. We were tickled when he let us know the interview had been mentioned on Comic Book Resources.