Paper Girls Takes Comic Book Sci-fi to the Small Screen

As if the wee hours of Halloween aren't enough of a nightmare, four young girls delivering the morning paper around their Ohio suburb are about to find that their daily route is taking a particularly dark turn on this hazy morning

TV’s latest graphic novel adaptation sees four small-town kids from the ’80s hurled into the future, where a fight to save the world awaits 

As if the wee hours of Halloween aren’t enough of a nightmare, four young girls delivering the morning paper around their Ohio suburb are about to find that their daily route is taking a particularly dark turn on this hazy morning.

Caught in a violent conflict between time travellers at war, 12-year-olds Erin (Riley Lai Nelet), KJ (Fina Strazza), Mac (Sofia Rosinsky) and Tiffany (Camryn Jones) are suddenly sent from 1988 to a future where not just the fate of the world hangs in the balance, but their own destinies as well.    

Based on Brian K. Vaughan’s comic books from 2015 to ’19, the series that follows the time travels of the tween protagonists serves as Christopher C. Rogers and his writing partner Christopher Cantwell’s follow-up to another period series, AMC tech drama Halt and Catch Fire.

Rogers says that, although not a huge comic book fan, this was a franchise that had stuck with him. “I used to work at a bookstore in Los Angeles and thought they were amazing,” he says. “When the opportunity came around to do it as TV, I was terrified of messing it up, but felt like there was enough ground there that hadn’t been covered, namely going deeper on the stories of the comic books.” Paper GirlsPrime VideoFor Rogers, taking Vaughan’s comics to TV was a chance to slow down the plot, which lovers of the original source material know is dense with visits to different timelines and characters the girls encounter along the way. “Pretty early on, we decided that we should learn things as they learn, and experience things as they experience, and therefore, not be ahead of them. It’s OK if we are confused if they’re confused. If you experience it that way, it doesn’t get overwhelming,” explains Rogers. “There’s rules to time travel, and there’s a war going on in the background, and there’s a lot for us to have in our heads. But in terms of what we experience, it’s got to be about them reacting as they would really react in that moment, given those circumstances.” 

Adapting source material involves all kinds of pressure to get it “right,” which Rogers and the team behind Paper Girls were eager to tackle. “We have big reverence for the source material, so we wanted to super serve fans of comics, but also to have it not just be ‘Paper Girls karaoke’ and to give it a reason to be its own thing,” he says. “The production challenge was meaningful, too. It was nighttime. We had very heightened environments, young actresses and all these big special effects. We made a series of small movies out there in Chicago.” Paper GirlsPrime VideoFor the actors, who range in age from 14 to 16, being part of a sci-fi spectacle was exciting, but equally interesting was delving into the evolution of one’s formative years. “There’s this really awkward thing about being 12, where a lot of the times people treat you like a kid and expect you to act like an adult,” says Nelet. “I love that the story dives deep into that.”

For each of the girls, their characters presented something fun, yet relatable, to dig into. “KJ is incredibly emotionally intelligent and has a large capacity for compassion. And on top of that, she’s an athlete. It was very interesting to combine those two,” says Strazza.

Jones was attracted to her character’s thirst for knowledge. “She always wants to find something else to learn and some way to improve herself,” she says. “And it was fun to dive into the technology aspect: I got to play with a few walkies, some flashlight and other stuff.”

For Nelet, it was her character’s sense of duty that felt interesting. “She has this really strong sense of wanting to take care of the people that she loves,” the actress reflects. “I feel like she and I relate in that sense of having duty and honour, which is something my dad always taught me. And it’s really cool to see how she grows onscreen after all this crazy stuff starts coming at her.”

The toughest nut to crack, out of the four, is Mac. “Mac comes from a pretty rough family life and has adopted a shell to fit the environment around her,” Rosinsky says. “She’s pretty stubborn and she can sometimes be a bit of a problem, but also, sometimes, be the solution and help protect the group.” Paper GirlsPrime VideoWhile the story is wrapped in a cinematic sci-fi adventure, what Rogers thinks viewers will ultimately latch onto is the idea of coming face to face with your future or past self. “There is a universality to the distance between what you hope for and what you find,” he says. “Whether you’re disappointed, whether you’re happy, whether we remember the past correctly, or whether we improve it to fit some kind of storyline, it just felt like something we could all relate to.” 

Paper Girls, streaming on Prime Video