Exclusive: Extra! Extra! The creators share the transition of Paper Girls from a comic book to a TV series

Paper Girls star Riley Lai Nelet
Riley Lai Nelet stars in Paper Girls. Pic credit: Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Prime Video

Fans of the ’80s young adult adventure comic book Paper Girls will now be able to see the story in live action when Prime Video launches the series today.

Based on the best-selling graphic novels written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls is a high-stakes personal journey depicted through the eyes of four girls — Erin Tieng (Riley Lai Nelet), Tiffany Quilkin (Camryn Jones), Mac Coyle (Sofia Rosinsky), and KJ Brandman (Fina Strazza) — who are a new breed of young women who are delivering newspapers.

“This actually happened in the suburbs of Cleveland [not the time travel] where I grew up, where there was one year where I felt like all of the people who used to deliver our papers were young boys, and then all of a sudden, they were young women,” Vaughan tells Monsters and Critics. “It was so intriguing to me that these guys are the real pioneers. They’re the first young women to be doing this job. But, also, I had this recognition that they’re the last of a dying breed, that paper boys were already starting to die off. I thought it was intriguing.”

The story begins in the early morning hours after Halloween 1988 when 12-year-old Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ are out on their delivery route when they become caught in the crossfire between warring time-travelers. As they are swept up in the action, their lives are changed forever when they travel into the future.

The girls then begin their journey to find their way home. As they look for allies to help them avoid detection by a militant faction of time-travelers known as the Old Watch, they meet their future selves to surprising results.

In our conversation with Vaughan, Chiang, and executive producer Christopher C. Rogers, they share their thoughts on the transformation of the comic to a TV series, the rules of time travel, and how three grown men channeled their inner 12-year-old girl!

Monsters and Critics: What was the biggest challenge in converting Paper Girls from the comic book to the screen?

Christopher C. Rogers: That’s a great question. We felt like the real opportunity was to slow down some of those really deep, personal moments from the comic, let those conversations go on longer. And, if anything, just make the story take more days. The whole arc of the story takes place very quickly in the comics, so that’s what we were trying to do.

I’d say the biggest challenge was probably casting and finding real girls that could inhabit these roles, match what’s in the books in terms of the sharpness of the dialogue, the intelligence of the dialogue, and make it their own, but also not project as characters, to maintain some realism. So there was this huge international search. For my money, we really found four very special young women who added themselves to the characters and were able to bring forth both what’s in the comics, and I like to think a little bit more.

Paper Girls cast on the rest carpet.
Paper Girls cast Fina Strazza, Riley Lai Nelet, Sofia Rosinsky, and Camryn Jones. Pic credit: Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Prime Video

M&C: You didn’t want to use 12-year-olds. You wanted older girls who can be on set a little bit longer maybe and not need teachers?

Chris: We talked about that, but actually, two of them were 12, and I think the other two were 13 at the time of the casting because we just felt like it was important to have fidelity to that.

M&C: Brian, you have said in a previous interview that you can do things emotionally in comics that you can’t do in TV and film. Is part of that that the TV show has to maybe be more politically correct in what happened during the ’80s before we go into the future?

Brian K. Vaughan: No, I don’t think so. I think the TV show’s been equally fearless about showing a 1980s that’s hopefully true to life, and it’s not rose-colored glasses. They’re all about nostalgia but showing that we come from a complicated and not always pleasant time. So, no, I love both mediums.

I love comic books. I think they can do things emotionally because it’s maybe a little more participatory. When you read a comic book, you’re a final collaborator, you’re imagining these characters’ voices, you’re imagining what’s happening from panel to panel. But television can do things that we can’t. Our comic series was only 30 issues and really only takes place over a few days in these girls’ lives. Chris and his team had eight hours to luxuriate in this world and could go to places that we just didn’t have the real estate to do. No, I look at them as two separate but equally beautiful things, the comic book, and the show.

M&C: Initially, when this world was created, Brian and Cliff did this together. Where did the inspiration come from to do a story about pre-teen girls? They actually weren’t really friends when they first meet. They’re business associates, I guess you would say.

Brian: I just remember being a young person, and I felt like there were so many genre stories that I was able to look at. Whether it was Ripley and Alien, or Sarah Connor and Terminator, I got to have all kinds of different protagonists in my stories. Then it felt like during the ’90s, it was just teams of young men, a male lead or something. I was like, “I miss that.” It was combining that desire to see a female protagonist again at the heart of a story and then thinking back to these real women from my youth.

M&C: Paper delivery now is an adult job done from cars. I don’t think there’s people on bikes delivering. Will kids relate to that? Or is the job not important at all, it’s just how they met that was important?

Cliff Chiang: I think it’s incredible if kids can’t relate to it. Having that responsibility and getting up at 4 a.m. and not having a cell phone or a connection back to your parents, there’s a sense of adventure and danger to that. I think that’s part of why we wanted to set the comic in that time and to give these kids, these characters, a kind of responsibility that they don’t really have that opportunity for now.

M&C: All three of you are way past 12 years old. How hard is it to go back and capture the emotions – and you’re men – that girls might have felt at that age?

Chris: I’ll let you guys speak to the initial writing of it, but I will say that was a great opportunity in the writers’ room for us. It is an all-female writers’ room other than me. We have women in their 20s and women in their 60s and a very diverse slate of experiences that people have had. I think when the show is at its best, I won’t spoil anything, but in the fifth episode, there’s some very specific conversations that really were just conversations people wanted to have in the room. And so, I think whenever you can sit down in people’s memories and draw out that emotional connection, something that we can watch and kind of put ourselves into, that matters a great deal.

And then I’ll also say, I think using the 12-year-old actresses themselves as kind of sounding boards and proofing the stories through them, if there were parts that they didn’t feel were real or didn’t resonate, asking why. I thought that was a great fact check on some of what we’d written. I think we’re very fortunate to have girls that are living a contemporary version of this experience in our stable of creatives on this. At least on the TV side, that’s how it felt.

M&C: I thought one of the rules of time travel is that you can’t be in the same space as yourself, but these girls go and meet their older selves. How did you establish – and maybe this is for Brian – how did you decide to establish your rules of time travel?

Brian: That’s the nice thing about time travel. We spent a lot of time talking to experts. I think everyone agrees that it’s a fiction, that if time travel were possible, we probably would have met time travelers already. This isn’t a real [science] of here’s a rule that can’t be broken. It’s a fantasy that you get to invent. I think as long as you’re consistent and you come up with your own rules and that those rules have stakes, I think that’s the most important thing.

We wanted it to be that if a character dies, it’s not like the next issue we can go back in time and prevent that from happening. Deaths matter, they’re hard if not impossible to correct. I think it’s always just keeping it on the metaphor and keeping it on the characters and what are we trying to say about ourselves with time travel. That’s much more important, I think, than any kind of arbitrary rules.

M&C: Cliff, talk a little bit about your partnership with Brian on creating this. He has to give you the words, but so much of what he can write depends on what you can draw.

Yeah, and I’m really grateful to Brian for giving me a very long leash when it comes to stuff. The script is so beautifully realized that I know what the characters are thinking. I know what they’re doing at every moment. That actually makes my job really easy because I can then add things around them. I can think about the environment, I can focus on emotions.

Working on the comic was such a fulfilling experience, and then to see it turn into live action by the team is incredible. There’s so much more that they can bring to it, so much more life, so much more authenticity. Seeing the contrast of the real lived-in sets and locations with some of the more fantastical elements really gives a real contrast and sense of adventure.

M&C: Are there changes from the comic book to the TV show? And how do you think fans of the comic book will accept those? Do you think they’ll be happy with the decisions that were made?

Chris: There certainly are changes. I think we always endeavored to live in the spirit of what was written and intended and use that as a jumping-off point. I do think if you’re a fan of the comic, you’ll come here and find what you loved about it, but hopefully, we’ll give you more than that. I think to have just done Paper Girls karaoke, or a carbon copy of what was written would have been a missed opportunity.

It’s amazing to have Brian and Cliff as sounding boards to kind of say, “Hey, we’re kind of thinking about moving in this direction,” or “What about something like this,” and check our heading every now and again. If you love the comic, I really hope you love the show. But I also think if you’ve never read the comic, there’ll be something here for you, too.

Brian: I’m a fan of the comic. I love it. So, who knows? You never know how fans will respond, but yeah, I agree with Chris 100 percent. I think it would have been extraordinarily boring to do karaoke, as he wisely says, and just treat the comic books as a storyboard and do it shot for shot. Why? What’s the point? You already have the book. Let’s do something new. Let’s go to places that Cliff and I weren’t able to in our 30 short issues. Yeah, I think it’s a complete win. I think they’re going to love it.

M&C: Are there plans for a Season 2?

Chris: Yeah, 100 percent. It’s up to the gods at a certain point, but we know where we want to go, and absolutely, we see a long story ahead of us to do justice to what was written in the comic.

M&C: If there is a Season 2 and the girls go back in time but have their memories, can you change the future? Brian, you were talking about how hard it was. Not just can they change maybe who they become, but can they also change what happened in Season 1 in Season 2?

Brian: Yes, I’m so glad you’re asking these questions.

Chris: Me, too. Me, too.

Brian: This is definitely what we want the audience to be thinking at the end and to care about. I’m sorry I can’t say much more than stay tuned. But, yes, we’ve thought about it, and that’s the nice thing about time travel is it’s really hard to just make it up as you go along. You really need to have a pretty concrete roadmap. Even if you need to diverge from it in the future, you need to have a plan. I love what Chris and his writers have planned. So, yeah, the best is yet to come.

Paper Girls is currently streaming on Prime Video.

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