A plucky band of pre-teen kids goes head-to-head with otherworldly forces beyond their comprehension, as the fate of their sleepy town hangs in the balance – I must be talking about Stranger Things, right? Wrong. What I’ve just described is also the premise of Paper Girls, Amazon Studios’ upcoming adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared K. Fletcher’s award-winning sci-fi/mystery comic book series of the same name.
And while Paper Girls is undeniably similar to Stranger Things – both shows even kick-off in the 1980s – prospective viewers shouldn’t write the show off as a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of Netflix’s hit sci-fi/horror series. Paper Girls puts its own spin on the high-concept coming-of-age story formula, all while tapping into the same timeless themes that made Stranger Things such a blockbuster hit.
Still not convinced? Then check out this handy (and very spoiler-y) Paper Girls primer which rounds up all the key info about the show – including its premise and characters, as well as comics to consider reading first – which will leave you eager to press play when it hits Prime Video on 29 July.
What is Paper Girls about?
Amazon Studios’ official Paper Girls synopsis suggests that the first eight-episode season will closely follow the plot of the comic book series. It reads:
In the early morning hours after Halloween 1988, four paper girls – Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ – are out on their delivery route when they become caught in the crossfire between warring time-travellers, changing the course of their lives forever. Transported into the future, these girls must figure out a way to get back home to the past, a journey that will bring them face-to-face with the grown-up versions of themselves. While reconciling that their futures are far different than their 12-year-old selves imagined, they are being hunted by a militant faction of time-travellers known as the Old Watch, who have outlawed time travel so that they can stay in power. In order to survive, the girls will need to overcome their differences and learn to trust each other, and themselves.
As you can see from this outline, Paper Girls hits on pretty much all the standard coming-of-age story themes – stuff like friendship, growing up (and growing apart), and the overall impact of time itself. But what the comics (and, presumably, the show) also bring to the table is an additional layer of commentary regarding inter-generational conflict. It’s hard to unpack exactly how Paper Girls does this without completely spoiling several of the story’s biggest twists, so just take it from me: you haven’t seen anything quite like it in Stranger Things.
Who are the main characters in Paper Girls?
Fittingly, the Paper Girls casting announcements so far have focused primarily on the quartet of teenage characters at the show’s core, who include:
- Erin Tieng (Riley Lai Nelet; Ali Wong as an adult): nominally the protagonist of what is otherwise an ensemble series, Erin is the new kid on the block at Stony Stream. She’s something of a straight arrow and tends to mother those around her – especially her younger sister, Missy. Erin’s also a bit of a geek (she has a Monster Squad poster on her bedroom wall) and she only just landed her paper route when Paper Girls starts. She attends one of the local Catholic schools, St. Nicks.
- MacKenzie “Mac” Coyle (Sofia Rosinsky): the first paper girl in Stony Stream’s history, Mac is a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking tomboy from a working-class family well-known to the town’s police force. She’s the most abrasive of the four girls (reacting sarcastically in most situations) and is intensely homophobic, even by the standards of the era. But for all these faults, Mac is also a fiercely loyal friend who doesn’t back down when confronted by bullies.
- Tiffany Quilkin (Camryn Jones): Tiffany is the only non-white member of the group – the Black adopted daughter of a mixed-race couple. While she has previously suffered from bouts of video game addiction, she quickly proves she’s something of a badass who’s more than capable of taking charge in a crisis. Tiffany attends Stony Stream’s other Catholic school, St. Pete’s, and is also responsible for supplying the gang’s start-of-the-art walkie-talkies.
- Karina “KJ” Brandman (Fina Strazza): KJ is easily recognisable thanks to the hockey stick she always totes around with her, even while on her paper runs. Known for her brains as much as her field hockey prowess, KJ is Jewish and is enrolled at the local private school, Buttonwood Academy.
Other characters confirmed to appear in Paper Girls Season 1 include Larry (Nate Corddry), who is described as an awkward loner from the future, and the Prioress (Adina Porter), who is an Old Watch battle commander (in the comics, at least). There’s also a chance that audiences will meet time-traveling trio Heck, Naldo, and Jude in the first season, and possibly even prehistoric hunter-gatherer Wari. Amazon Studios is yet to confirm whether any of these characters will appear in Paper Girls Season 1, however, and no actors have officially signed on to portray them.
Which Paper Girls comics should you read first?
When it comes to deciding which comics to read before watching Paper Girls, it really depends on how you prefer to consume media. If you’re the kind of person who wants to experience the story for the first time on the small screen, then obviously you shouldn’t read any Paper Girls comics beforehand – especially given how faithful the upcoming adaptation looks. That said, if you’re a comics fan (or interested in becoming one) and not bothered by spoilers, all you’ll need to pick up is the complete 30-issue run of Paper Girls published by Image Comics.
It really is that simple; there are no spin-offs, one-shots, crossovers, or anything else like that to worry about here. You can buy all 30 Paper Girls issues as standalone copies – your best bet is to invest in digital versions via ComiXology (despite the platform’s recent setbacks) – or you can shell out for the collected editions. If you go down this route, your options include either six softcover volumes, three hardcovers, or one suitably impressive compendium.
Each of these formats is equally worthwhile, although it’s worth noting that the collected editions include bonus material not included in the single issues.