The final arc of Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson's Paper Girls begins with this week's #26 and culminates in July with a double-sized #30 - and "all will be explained" according to Chiang.
Paper Girls uses our culture’s love for nostalgia to tell a story about the struggles of growing up, all while tackling the dark side of technology.
And on the eve of the beginning's end, Cliff Chiang spoke with Newsarama about expectations for the finale, fan support, and his love for KJ, Mac, Erin, and Tiffany’s individual journeys - as well as his own.
Newsarama: This week's Paper Girls #26 is the beginning of the final arc. How did you and Brian decide this was the ending point for the series?
Cliff Chiang: The series was always meant to be three acts told over 30 issues, and we're so grateful to all the readers and shops who've supported us and allowed us to reach the end.
It's a rare, wonderful thing to end a story on your own terms and in the way you always envisioned.
Nrama: What can you tease about this last story?
Chiang: I can't say too much, but all will be explained. Brian's a master of doling out information while maintaining an air of mystery that keeps you interested, and it all comes together in this final arc. I'm amazed how smoothly he's able to weave all the different threads together, especially in issue 28 - which is told simultaneously over four time periods. We wanted to try something more formally daring before the end, and I'm really proud of how it turned out.
Nrama: At the end of the last arc it was revealed that the girls have been separated and thrown into four different time periods. Can you talk about the process of creating these four different worlds that the girls are about to explore?
Chiang: Jumping around in time certainly keeps me on my toes, and luckily Matt Wilson is so good at giving each issue and setting its own personality though color.
I really do enjoy trying to evoke each time period and making each feel distinct through design. What kind of houses, cars, or clothing tell the audience it's 1958 or 2019? At the same time, I want the setting to feel natural and not like a caricature of the time period. You don't want to fall into cliche, but you also have to make use of shorthand. It's a balancing act.
Nrama: What can we expect from KJ, Tiffany, Erin, and Mac’s individual character journeys for this final arc?
Chiang: Each environment reflects something about the girls' journeys and where they're going.
Erin's alone in 2019, where she has to depend on her newfound courage and confidence on Halloween of all nights.
KJ's also taking matters into her own hands in 1958 while grappling with her personal realizations.
Meanwhile Tiffany takes point in the generational time war 60,000 years in the future, trying to make the most of her life after witnessing the fiery death of her future self.
And finally, Mac tries to survive in a strange and desolate landscape, pondering her own mortality while desperately trying to get back to her friends.
Nrama: What can you tell us about KJ and Mac’s romantic relationship moving forward?
Chiang: It’s definitely a young, budding romance, full of the sparks and fumbling that come with first love. It’s kind of crazy to think how formative those early relationships are. For KJ and Mac, it's also bittersweet because they know that it won’t last. But really, does it ever?
Nrama: Are there hints of any more romances on the horizon?
Chiang: That would be fun, but sadly I don't think we have room for anymore!
Nrama: KJ is the only future version we haven’t seen. Are we going to get answers on why?
Chiang: Um, maybe? KJ’s future is hugely interesting to me, that's all I can say.
Nrama: How is Tiffany going to react to the death of her older self?
Chiang: Tiffany is certainly shaken by what she saw, but in a strange way it gives her freedom. If that's how she’s ultimately gonna die, then she can react more spontaneously and confidently in the moments leading up to that. It opens her up to the present.
Nrama: Were there any time periods that weren’t touched upon that you wish you could have drawn?
Chiang: I do kinda wish we’d seen them in college, mostly because we all make so many questionable fashion choices then. Or was that just me? I do get to allude to one character’s college days in her design, but we don’t get to dwell on it much. In another world, we'd do a spinoff with no science fiction or time-travel, Love and Rockets-style. Remember when Maggie used to fix hover cars?
Nrama: What message would you like readers to walk away with after reading the final issue of the series?
Chiang: [Laughs] I don’t think Brian or I are big on messages, but we do want readers to walk away satisfied and maybe a little wistful. It’s kind of like thinking about childhood friends: you might wish you’d done something differently or kept in touch better, but above all you’re glad to have had those times together.
Nrama: Do you think Paper Girls is a story you would like to return to?
Chiang: I’ve got to finish first! I do love these characters and it's so tempting to think about revisiting them. But I firmly believe that every good story needs a proper ending and we’re approaching one that’s very final and fitting.
Nrama: How did Paper Girls help you grow as an artist?
Chiang: It's weird, but I feel like it has unlocked something in me, or put me back in touch with the creative ambition I had when I first started making comics. Like a lot of people I read superhero comics as a kid, but a lot of what drew me back to comics later in life was independent, creator-owned books with interesting viewpoints and diverse stories to tell.
With Paper Girls being my first creator-owned project, I learned how liberating it is to call the shots creatively and how important it is to take chances and shoot for the moon. The audience knows when you’ve got skin in the game, and it brings everything to life. It’s a responsibility, too: to do your best, to make hard artistic decisions, to balance the business (every creator-owned book is a small business) aspects with your imagination.
Our one guiding principle was putting the reader’s experience first and I think we did a pretty good job with that, especially from a design perspective. Jared Fletcher makes every issue and collection of Paper Girls feel like something special and far from the disposable stuff we're so used to.
Nrama: Has this experience given you the writing bug?
Chiang: How'd you guess? I’m lucky that my collaborators are some of the best in the business, and I’ve tried to learn as much from them as I could. Comics is one of the few places where you can honestly do it all, and I’d kick myself if I didn’t give it a shot. As satisfying as it is to play in a band, as much as I enjoy that camaraderie, part of me wants to see what kind of glorious mess I can make on my own, you know?
Nrama: Can you tell us about any projects on the horizon after Paper Girls?
Chiang: I’m horrible at multitasking these days, so it’s no exaggeration to say I’m completely focused on this final arc of Paper Girls. So nothing concrete yet, but there’s so much interesting stuff going on in comics and I’m excited for whatever’s next.
Nrama: For your upcoming projects would you like to focus on indie comics or do some more work for the Big Two?
Chiang: I’d be very happy to do either. Creatively, I try not to see them as being diametrically opposed. Some of my favorite Big Two comics have an indie sensibility and the same goes in reverse. I’ll go wherever a good story leads.