Paper girlsone of the most successful cartoon series of the last 10 years, finally hits the screen in the newly minted TV adaptation on Amazon Prime Video. When the streamer first announced that it would be adapting the graphic novel for TV, I was skeptical. But after talking to the creators of the book and ultimately watching the show, skeptics like me might be interested in giving the show a fair shot.
“This is a thing that started in our heads and now it’s out in the world,” Brian K. Vaughn, one of the co-creators of the comic, told ELLE.com at San Diego Comic Con last week. “Not just for being out there, but for being so good and so faithfully capturing that, I thought could never be on TV. I didn’t think you’d ever have four pre-teen female leads and a story of this magnitude with gigantic robots and a time war. It just feels like this is the kind of thing only comics can do, and they proved us wrong.”
The original comic book series by Vaughn and Cliff Chiang follows four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls from 1988: Erin Tieng, Tiffany Quilkin, MacKenzie “Mac” Coyle and Karina “KJ” Brandman. The group becomes caught in a time war between the “Old-Timers”, the first generation who invented time travel and gatekeepers to preserve time, and the “Teenagers”, the descendants of the Old-Timers living in the 71st century.
The Old-Timers seek to strictly follow the rules of time travel and keep history as it was. However, the teenagers believe in changing history and don’t mind a bit of rule breaking. The Old-Timers prove to be formidable antagonists with outrageous methods: they kill people with dinosaurs, time travel on a zeppelin, and send some of the scariest and wildest warrior cops after the girls to send them home and lobotomize their brains so they donate I can’t remember time travel. (Yikes!)
Paper girls won two Eisner Awards and was nominated for the prestigious Hugo Award when it first debuted in 2016. In six short years, the 30-issue series has quickly become one of the most beloved comics on the shelves today. What does Paper girls What’s special is that in a sea of comics that focus primarily on the male experience, it focuses on what it’s like to be a teenage girl going through changes – all while surviving and stopping a time war. The story explores girls’ sexuality in a non-exploitative way, as well as friendship and first periods. As two of the characters, Tiffany and Erin, meet their adult selves, these relationships explore the idea of loving yourself and protecting your inner child. One of the biggest takeaways for readers is an understanding of how precious our lives are and that the messy parts are just as important and necessary as the successful ones.
While the comic series has a lot of heart, there are some epic parts that would seem daunting to adapt for TV — like out-of-this-world outfits, a battle between two giant water bears, or an apocalypse involving soldiers riding dinosaurs. Did I mention the main characters also have clones?
So how does the show compare to the comic? And does it do the comic justice?
Both the show and the cartoon begin exactly the same way. The four girls do their work and deliver papers on Nov. 1, also known as Hell Day. Because it’s the day after Halloween and the kids are probably still messing around, the girls decide to stick together on their route. To cover more ground, they eventually split into two groups, each half equipped with a walkie talkie. Suddenly, one of the girls’ walkie talkies is stolen by teenagers Naldo and Heck, time travelers who collect artifacts from the past and fight in the Time War. Trying to get their walkie talkie back, the girls not only find Heck and Naldo, but also their spaceship. After this point, details begin to differ between the comic series and the TV adaptation.
But to be fair, the TV show keeps a lot of epic factors from the comics. The adaptation contains a time war, but the names of the pages have been changed. Now the Old-Timers are “The Watch” and the teenagers are the “STF Underground” (although the meaning of STF is not explained). Naldo and Heck are part of the latter group and flee the Watch when they encounter the girls. And while the first episode of Paper girls doesn’t give a clear explanation of how time travel works, by episode seven the science is broken down: basically, there are folds in time, and you can get caught in a fold, like a wormhole, and go to another era.
Understandably, there are parts that the showrunners and writers left out, probably because it would be far too expensive to recreate the many Kaiju-style battles, like the one between the water bears. The comics also have a really intense scene where all four girls end up in the Pleistocene era and meet the woman who invented time travel, but that story isn’t in the show at all.
Still, fans of the cartoon series will be happy to know that Vaughan and Chiang were executive producers and co-creators of the show. In addition, the writing and directing teams on the production consisted predominantly of women.
“On the show, they had an all-female writing team and directors, so that point of view comes through, and I think that makes the show unlike anything else that’s out on TV now,” Chiang says.
The TV show focuses primarily on Erin, Tiffany, Mac and KJ; their relationship; and development between their children and their adults themselves. But this is only season 1, we may get clones and other larger than life battles if Paper girls has been renewed for Season 2. Until then, we take a deeper look at how the show compares to the comics below.
One of the main changes to the screen customization is the absence of the clones. In the comics we get the child Erin, the adult Erin and the clone Erin. The clones play an important role in the story because they help explain why the paper girls are special: when the girls first encountered Heck and Naldo’s spaceship, it encrypted their DNAs, making them – and anyone who shares their DNA – invisible for Old-Timers.
There are several clones of Erin and there is a clone of KJ. We don’t see any clones of the other characters.
The biggest difference between the show and the comic was the creation of a few new characters for the screen, like Larry and Juniper, members of the STF Underground. Larry plays an important role in getting the girls to time travel once again, explaining the STF Underground to them and introducing them to the amazing mech suits.
The girls first meet Larry when they accidentally travel to 2019 and see him trying to kidnap the adult version of Erin. He initially believes that Erin is part of the Watch because she has a certain electronic device that Naldo and Heck gave to the paper girls, which the girls then gave to her.
When Erin asks what the electronic device is, Larry explains that it activates the mech suit (which he has hidden in a corn bin). Because the device is synced with adult Erin, she is the only one who can control it.
When another time warp appears, Larry convinces Erin to navigate the mech suit, ostensibly to 1988 to bring the girls back to their original time, but he tricks them and actually gives Erin the coordinates to 1999.
When they arrive in 1999, the clock sends a giant mech to stop and capture the girls and Erin. Larry dies by being lasered to death by a giant mech. Don’t worry, we also meet the 1999 version of Larry, but he is later eaten by a dinosaur.
None of what was just explained is in the comic. But it works for this story.
“There are some scenes that just break my heart and we’re like, ‘Oh wow is this a missed opportunity?’ I wish we had done this in the comics. Every character they added felt like they were organic to our story. They could have been in the comics; we just didn’t have room for them,” says Vaughn.
Another big change was making the Prioress, a group of warriors in the comics, one character instead of several. (In the comics, many different characters go by that name.) In the show, the Prioress is a kind of hunting dog for the Watch. She chases the paper girls through time in an attempt to bring them back to their proper time and correct the timeline. The Prioress desperately wants to end the Time War, and her desire to do so becomes even stronger after she loses her brother.
“In the graphic novels, there’s a female captain, and then there’s the Prioress. In our TV show, I play both,” says actress Adina Porter. “The Prioress is the combination of a few female warriors on our TV show.”
Meet the adult counterparts
An important aspect of the cartoon series is that the main characters meet their adult counterparts and see what their future holds. Although the show makes the girls meet their adult selves, the circumstances are a little different.
In the show, Erin appears to have much more anxiety and has a strained relationship with her sister Missy, whereas in the comics, Missy is referred to as Erin’s “best friend.” The tension between the adult sisters bothers the child Erin, and she tries to talk sense into the adult Erin to rekindle their bond.
The adaptation also changes how Tiffany finds out she is adopted. In the comics, Tiffany knows she is adopted by a biracial couple. In the show, the truth about her adoption by her adult self is revealed.
And while KJ is a lesbian in both the comics and the TV show, and her sexuality is explored, she doesn’t encounter an adult version of herself in a lesbian relationship like she does in the show. In the comics, an entity shows her a future version of herself kissing Mac, and this is how she comes to terms with her sexuality.
Mac in both the comics and the show is supposed to die at the age of 16 from cancer. She never meets or sees a future version of herself. The show adds a brand new but touching story between her and her brother Dylan. He gives both the audience and Mac a glimmer of hope that they might be able to catch her cancer early, but circumstances tear her away from a second chance at life.
Even with these differences, the spirit and feel of the original Paper girls series are still captured in the show. All the key elements are brought to life on screen, but the TV series will still keep fans of the comics surprised.