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Comic Book / Paper Girls

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From left to right: Mac, KJ, Tiffany, and Erin

Paper Girls was a 30-issue (October 2015 to July 2019) creator-owned Image Comics series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

Early on the morning of All Saint's Day 1988,note  12 year old Erin Tieng goes on her normal newspaper delivery route in a Cleveland suburb only to be menaced — and then rescued — from some teenage boys with dubious intentions by a trio of other paper girls who have banded together for mutual protection from any lingering Halloween craziness. That's when things start to get strange.

In July 2019, it was announced that Amazon was developing a series adaptation for Prime Video; Vaughan co-produced. The series premiered on July 29, 2022.


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     Tropes A-M 
  • The '80s: The comic is explicitly set in 1988 and is filled with Eighties pop culture references. 1988 was the election year marking the end of the Reagan administration. The Cold War was still going on amid a great deal of fear-mongering that the Soviets were actually winning. It was also the high watermark of analog culture. Personal computers were still rare and the internet was just a pipe dream. CD players were still a relatively new and exotic technology. Most people still got their music on LP or cassettes and their news from newspapers which were still delivered by Free-Range Children in the predawn darkness.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Erin's father can be this way, at least verbally, according to her twelve year old self. When 2016!Erin calls herself fat, 1988!Erin replies "that sounds like something Dad would say."
    • Mac's parents also appear to be abusive to some extent, or at least neglectful.
  • Accidental Murder: FutureClone!Erin's time displacement field kills an innocent bystander before she can warn him away.
  • Action Girl: All the girls qualify, to varying degrees. The main protagonist Erin is actually the least actiony and most naive of the bunch, though she's picking it up as she goes along
  • Adam and Eve Plot: Thoroughly subverted. One high school boy sees the invasion as his big chance to finally get the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately for him she has never liked him much, thinks he's a total creep for even thinking of such things at a time like this and wants nothing to do with him — shortly before the invaders kidnap them both and render the whole idea moot anyway
  • Adults Are Useless: Worse than useless. They're the enemy.
  • Alien Abduction: Everyone in Stony Stream is vanishing into thin air. In issue #5 we find out where they've gone.
  • Alien Invasion: An oversimplification of the world, though it's perfectly natural for young girls primed by pop culture to grab this interpretation and run with it.
  • Alternate History: The four grown-up counterparts of the girls that show up in issue #26 say that they've made millions of attempts to rewrite the time stream and prevent the girls from finding the time machine in issue #1, but always fail. In issue #30, they finally succeed, as with the Adult/Teen war over, there are no travelers to steal Tiffany's walkie-talkie, i.e. for the girls to look for, i.e. for them to think they might be hiding in a basement.
  • Amazon Chaser: Played With. At first, Mac is both closeted and disgusted by any hints of homosexuality, but once KJ holds a knife to a doctor's throat telling him to save Mac or die, Mac starts falling for her.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Played with a couple of ways. In issue #17, KJ tells Mac that she thinks she might be a lesbian, though the ambiguity disappears later when she decides she really is. However, the flash-forward in issue #13 of her kissing Mac seems to suggest this about Mac. Pretty much confirmed for Mac when she and KJ kiss in issue #25; a kiss which the previously homophobic Mac actually initiates.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Platonic example. Though it seems like Mac and her step-mother Alice don't really get along, when Alice is about commit suicide, Mac is visibly distraught, calls her "mom" (perhaps for the first time), and tells Alice she loves her in a desperate attempt to dissuade the woman from pulling the trigger, while also trying to wrestle the gun away.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Erin has a typically frustrating relationship with her little sister Missy. Making it even more annoying when she travels to 2016 and learns that Missy became a Medevac pilot, which to a 12 year old seems way cooler than her adult self's job at the Preserver. However, she is comforted by realizing they're still best friends.
  • Arc Symbol:
    • Representations of and references to apples show up everywhere, from Erin's dreams to an Apple Records t-shirt. Even Erin's name, which is rather Irish sounding for an Asian-American girl, is awfully close to Eris, the Greek goddess who created the original Apple of Discord. However, despite all of the apple-related imagery, no actual apples (the fruit) have shown up in the comic.
    • Early issues are also sprinkled with references to the shootings of John Lennon and Ronald Reagan, and the Challenger Explosion. Even Christa McAuliffe of the Challenger shows up in Erin's Dying Dream, though Chiang drew her wearing a spacesuit and helmet (which the crew didn't during the flight) out of respect to her memory.
  • Arc Words: The word "fold" (sometimes "folding") is used to describe the time rips with specific allusions made to newspapers, as in the story considered most important at the time of printing appears "above the fold" (at the top of the page).
  • Artificial Script: Untranslated "alien" speech is rendered in Cypher Language using a simple substitution cypher.
  • Badass Normal: In the original timeline, KJ was certainly this. She willingly attracts the attention of men she knows to be rapists so the other girls can run, later kills one of the men by bashing his skull in with a stone club, and unflinchingly stands up to someone pointing a gun in her face. And she's only 12 years old. Subverted in issue #30 when the Reset Button'd timeline means she is the one the three boys corner instead of Erin, and she doesn't yet have the self-confidence of her other self.
    KJ: Lady, I've actually killed someone before, so trust me when I say, you do not have it in you to pull that trigger.
  • Bad Future: The girls are somewhat convinced 2016 is a bad future until they notice the really huge televisions, and Tiffany points out that from a Cold War-era kid's perspective, it's actually surprising there's any kind of future at all.
  • Big Brother Worship:
    • Mac has a ton of this for her older brother; she constantly mentions different things he's told her about various topics, and insists that he's "right about everything". Considering that most of what he's told her is complete nonsense, the other girls tend to mock her for it.
    • Erin's younger sister Missy seems to have this for Erin.
  • Big Damn Heroes: At the end of issue #19, Charlotte shows up and kills one of the Adults who are menacing the girls and have already taken Chris. Doubles as a Brick Joke, since KJ earlier claimed Charlotte wasn't prepared to kill someone.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Remember the vision KJ had in issue #13 of her and Mac standing on a rooftop in the future and kissing? It finally happens in issue #25. It's made all the more affecting because it's the culmination of the two realizing both the depths of their friendship and the possibility that they might feel a different way about each other. To top it all off, the kiss is actually initiated by the previously homophobic Mac, who'd spent the last eight issues being a complete and total bitch to KJ after KJ confessed she was gay.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The girls are returned to November 1, 1988 with only the barest impressions of memories making themselves known in quickly forgotten dreams, but instead of going their separate ways at the end of their shift, they decide to hang out some more, insinuating that they may continue to team up instead of riding solo the way they did in the original timeline. Mac is still seemingly fated to die, however, but at least she no longer knows and can't worry about it happening.
  • Body Horror: When Heck and Naldo attempt to escape an Adult ship, they 'break curfew' by trying to 'shift' lower in the atmosphere. It does allow them to land safely, but while Erin is unharmed, Heck and Naldo partially fuse with both the wall of the time capsule and each other, dying soon after.
  • Boys Have Cooties: Shows up indirectly when 2016!Erin worries that 1988!Erin will think she's a loser for being unmarried at the age of 40, forgetting that her 12 year old self has no interest in boys yet and would actually consider that a good thing. And sure enough 1988!Erin is thrilled her older self has remained independent.
  • Call-Back: When the girls meet Charlotte the Secret-Keeper cartoonist, she tells them they'll be safest from The Adults in her basement. Mac immediately protests, pointing out that "Going into creepy basements is what got us into this mess!"
  • Catholic School Girls Rule: Erin and Tiffany go to different Catholic schools and KJ goes to Brentwood Academy "with the rest of the heathens". Mac is the sole public school girl.
  • Children Are Innocent: The girls are all young enough and have just enough POP Culture-driven Cold War-era Genre Savvy (or Wrong Genre Savvy) to accept all of the weirdness going on around them at face value.
  • Cliffhanger: In classic Vaughan style, every issue seems to end with one. Issue #10, "What is Past is Epilog", seemingly doesn't but only if you forget to consider the What Happened to the Mouse? implications of the climax five pages earlier.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Seems to be developing into a Running Gag with Erin. She first takes hearing that her mom is "in heaven" literally (dead, instead of "in heaven" emotionally, i.e. happy), then later misunderstands Mac referring to KJ's "time of the month" (her period) by saying that they don't even know what year they're in.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Erin thinks Mac is cool for insisting "our routes, our rules" as she spurns company policy by refusing to deliver a paper to the guy who stiffed her the previous month.
  • Crapsack World: The girl's impression of 2016. Stony Stream is a dying Rust Belt town, cars (or at least 2016!Erin's Smart car) are "the size of Hot Wheels", and the mall's been closed for a decade.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Charlotte is incinerated by one of the Adults staff weapons in issue #20. It doesn't look very pleasant.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The invaders use religious titles like "Bishop" and "Cardinal" but most of the rest of their religious motifs seem randomly plucked from Buddhism and Hinduism with a dash of druidism thrown in.
  • Death Seeker: Played with: Mac develops a mild case after learning the approximate year and supposed cause of her death. She rationalizes it with the statement that, since she knows when she's going to die, any other situation she finds herself in won't kill her. Tiffany doesn't seem to buy it and Mac finds her one death-seeking experience so terrifying it scares that attitude right out of her.
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Mac becomes less cynical and more accepting of her fate, more open to her friends, gets over her homophobia and seems to embrace her own sexuality. Most of this is undone by the ending of Issue #30, but she seems a little friendlier in the new timeline.
  • Delayed Reaction: Done in issue #17 when KJ tells Mac she might be gay.
    Mac: I don't like this, Kaje. You see the way this crazy old lesbo is looking at Erin?
    KJ: Mac, when I grow up, I think I'm going to be a lesbian. I think maybe I'm a lesbian already.
    Mac: I know, right? It's like this lady is...
    Mac: *Eye Take*
    Mac: The fuck did you just say?
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Mac is prone to offhand homophobic comments because casual homophobia was considered normal in the 80s. She also smokes cigarettes, which supposedly eventually contributes to her death from leukemia in the '90s. All of this helps establish her as the redneck girl from the Wrong Side of the Tracks.
    • Erin mentions that Mac isn't just a papergirl, she's "the first paperboy who wasn't know". Younger readers might be surprised to learn that the glass ceiling was that low in 1988.
    • Tiffany was her church's first altar girl, making her, as KJ says, "the Amelia Earhart of crap that doesn't matter".
    • Erin also mentions (in a discussion of Halloween candy of all things) that her neighbors don't like her family, likely due to good ol' middle-American racism.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: Some of the Adult leaders ride pterosaurs.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: 1988!Erin hears "Mom's in heaven" and being a good little Catholic schoolgirl (as well as being primed by a nightmare she'd had the night before) assumes the speaker is being literal and not figurative. And if just Mom is in heaven, what happened to Dad?note 
  • Drugs Are Bad: 1988!Erin freaks out when she sees 2016!Erin pop a Xanax. It makes sense considering that she's been in school smack dab in the middle of the "Just Say No" campaign. Finding out that it's a prescription medication doesn't help calm her down any, since she immediately questions if her older self is ill.
  • Dying Dream Erin has one after she gets shot. She doesn't die, though.
  • Eager Rookie: 2000!Tiffany decides to go with the gang when they try to go back to their own time, from a combination of wanting to use her knowledge of the future to prevent disasters like the Oklahoma City bombing, and feeling that she hasn't done what she wanted to with her life. She ends up being the one to pilot the time-traveling mecha they commandeer.
  • Easily Impressed: Tiffany gets hit with this more than Mac or Erin once they're in 2016.
    Mac: If you keep spazzing over every new-fangled lamppost or whatever, we're gonna get picked up.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Mac says her father believes there's no future in the newspaper business because "we've pretty much used up all of the trees" and "everyone's gonna get their all their news off the TV" in the future.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Tiffany convinces an Adult to back down by threatening to shoot her pterosaur.
    • All of the adults — good, evil, indifferent and even imaginary — scold the girls for swearing.
  • Evil Twin: Remembering their encounter with FutureClone!Erin, Mac in issue #18 begins to believe this about KJ, but for vastly different reasons. FutureClone!Erin tried to kidnap them, while KJ has just told Mac she's gay.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: In the future, Jahpo thinks Wari is his older sister, when she's really his mother. A flashback to their time in 11,706 BCE reveals that Wari met another time traveler after the girls left, and traded giving Jahpo up to be raised by someone else in exchange for them both being taken away from the men who wanted him dead.
  • First Period Panic: Averted when KJ gets her first period in issue #12 after the gang travels to 11,706 BCE. Amusingly, Mac ends up being the one who's more affected by the situation (a preteen girl experiencing her menarche while stranded in the distant past, and with no feminine supplies) than KJ, though issue #13 makes it clear this is mostly because KJ is well-informed enough to stay calm; as she puts it: "I got my period, not the plague." Mac unfortunately only got a gym teacher who told her that talking of such things was "unladylike", and she spends most of the issue peppering KJ with questions about it, much to KJ's annoyance.
    KJ: Jesus, you're obsessed.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: The girls are this both when three of them get shunted to 2016, and also later when all four eventually meet up in prehistoric times.
  • Forever War: The invaders are locked in a perpetual inter-generational civil war, with adults as the enemy and teens leading La Résistance.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Sanguine: Erin
    • Choleric: Mac
    • Melancholic: KJ
    • Phlegmatic: Tiffany
  • Free-Range Children: The girls. Children actually were allowed this degree of freedom back before cable news and new media convinced everyone there was a pedophile lurking behind every bush. They even use Erin's newspaper bag as protective coloration because the truant officers "don't bother Preserver kids". In issue #19, 2000!Tiffany tells her younger self that once shows like America's Most Wanted became popular, her parents forced her to quit being a paper girl, and without that connection, she and the other girls drifted apart.
  • Future Loser: 2016!Erin fears that she's given this impression to her younger self, but it turns out it's not as bad as she fears.
  • Future Slang: When the girls watch a 2016 news report, Mac is dumbfounded by talk of Vine, Twitter and odd combinations of words and numbers (internet handles) being used as names.
  • Gamer Chick: Tiffany is addicted to Arkanoid, and sharp-eyed fans noticed, with Word Of God confirming, that there's an Xbox ONE in 2016!Erin's TV stand.
  • Genre Savvy: Erin is extremely well-versed in sci-fi movies, and is therefore the first to guess that it's time travelers who are invading them.
  • Genre Shift: The book starts off as what looks like a slice-of-life story about preteen girls in 1988 Middle America. Then the timewarps and monsters start showing up...
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Played with in issue #13. KJ touches a device that puts her into a trance and shows her visions of a future, including one scene where she and Mac are kissing in a definitely romantic way. After Mac breaks the connection KJ warns her not to touch it, presumably so Mac won't see that, though her motives in keeping this secret are as yet unknown.
  • The Glomp: When 2016!Erin starts running herself down for being fat and single at 40, 1988!Erin argues with her that she's not fat, and is glad she's not married because that gives her freedom. 2016!Erin promptly glomps her younger version in gratitude.
  • Goofy Print Underwear: Not exactly 'goofy', but issue #12 shows KJ wearing striped boxer shorts instead of panties.
  • Goth: Tiffany, seperated from the others in 2000, heads to her old house. Once there, she meets a black-clad Goth man, who admits when questioned that yes, he does know Tiffany Quilkin: he's her husband.
  • Happily Adopted: Tiffany, probably from somewhere in Central America based on her appearance. Central America was the source for adopted children in the 80's just as was Russia in the '90s and China in the early 2000s. Further supported by her statement that she's taken three years of Spanish (a girl who was an immigrant from a Spanish-speaking country or whose family were immigrants certainly wouldn't need to learn the language in school) and later confirmed in issue #13 when Tiffany says she was given up for adoption because her birth mother was only seventeen years old.
  • Happily Married: Chris and 2000!Tiffany seem to be this.
  • Hello Again, Officer: Mac and Erin run into a Stony Stream policeman who refers to Mac by her last name, accuses her of breaking the law by buying cigarettes, and then accuses her of vandalism. She knows the cop by name and is apparently used to this treatment.
  • Heroic BSoD: 1988!Tiffany has one after 2000!Tiffany seemingly dies in an attempt to save the girls lives.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In issue #25, 2000!Tiffany jumps on a cop's hoverbike to allow the girls to escape, but her struggle with the cop leads to it blowing up.
  • Hidden Depths: Tough girl Mac is a Girl Scout. You wanna be a bitch about it? Tiffany speaks fluent Spanish and unwittingly reveals she's under considerable pressure to excel academically
  • Human Alien: Save for their strange speech, clothing, and mounts, the invaders could pass for human. Because they're time travellers, not aliens.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Seems to be how Mac has reconciled her possible attraction to KJ right before their kiss in issue #25.
  • I Hate Past Me / Future Me Scares Me: First played straight, then averted as the Erins come to an understanding with each other. Reconstructed when a "future" 12 year old Erin turns out to be a treacherous clone sent by the Adults.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Mac insists on retrieving her father's gun for protection but they find it in the hands of her drunken and suicidal stepmother, and Erin promptly gets shot by accident.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • Mac frequently starts smoking whenever something particularly stressful or frightening happens.
    • Inverted: looking for 2000!Tiffany with the girls while dodging Giant Mecha that only 1988!Tiffany can see, Chris laments that he really shouldn't have taken mushrooms earlier that night.
  • In a Single Bound: When KJ goads the men who raped Wari into chasing her as a distraction, she comes to a very deep, very wide ravine. Lacking any other options, she jumps off the ledge — only to find that the boots she stole from a time machine in issue #12 allow her to do this.
  • Indy Ploy: Pulled by 1988!Erin when she sees the message "Don't trust other Erin" written on KJ's field hockey stick that's sticking out of a fold. She isn't sure who it refers to once another Erin who looks just like her shows up, but doesn't tell anyone about it until the other Erin (a FutureClone) tries to kill 2016!Erin, at which point she chooses to save her older self. Takes a meta turn when it's revealed in issue #13 that Erin herself is the one who wrote the message, since she knew what had already happened .
  • Informed Judaism: KJ snarks that the Catholic Tiffany's comment about her being a heathen is "so anti-Semitic". Later she makes reference to not having had her bat mitzvah yet (meaning that since she's 12, her family are probably Reform Jewish, who don't observe the ceremony until a girl's 13th birthday), and at the beginning of issue #11 has a nightmare which starts off as a memory of some girls at Brentwood taunting her by claiming that the "K" in her name stands for "kike" (it really stands for "Karina"). In the same nightmare, she has a short talk with her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor whose serial number tattoo is clearly visible.
  • The Ingenue: 1988!Erin doesn't like either "F word" ("fuck" and "faggot") and worries she'll get in trouble for swearing in her dreams.
  • In-Series Nickname: All four girls. Mackenzie is almost always called "Mac", KJ is called "Kaje"(pronounced "cage"), Tiffany is referred to as "Tiff" on one occasion, and all three often refer to Erin as "New Girl" or "New Kid". Erin also begins referring to 2000!Tiffany as "Double-Oh-Tiff".
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Mac and KJ's kiss in issue #25 is happened upon by the Tiffany's, who are stunned (1988!Tiffany) and enthusiastic (2000!Tiffany).
  • Invisible to Normals: For some reason, 1988!Tiffany and her 2000 counterpart are the only ones who can see the Giant Mecha battling it out on January 1, 2000.
  • Irony: Mac thought she was going to die of leukemia, but a medical exam in the future reveals that not only will she not, but she never would have had it. Instead, she's going to contract a different form of cancer which only affects...time travelers.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mac. She's snarky, calls the other girls names on occasion, gets angry easily, and is extremely homophobic, but it's quickly apparent that most of her behavior is a side effect of her having a troubled family. She's also very protective of her friends, gets tears in her eyes when KJ remembers exactly how they met, and is able to keep Erin alive after she was shot for long enough for them to get help. In issue #25, she realizes how much KJ cares for her (as a friend) and this is seemingly enough to break down the last vestiges of her homophobia.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: In the future, Wari tells the girls about a previous visit by 1988!Erin, who later manages to find a detailed plan she apparently wrote. But when the girls make it to the indicated place, it turns out to have been a swerve by FutureClone!Erin, who took advantage of Wari's declining mental capacity to pretend to be 1988!Erin.
  • Kid Hero: The girls don't waste any time on pointless histrionics because they've seen plenty of media about alien invasion and aren't mature enough to see it as anything more than a scary adventure.
  • The Klutz: Mac shoots Erin while trying to get her dad's revolver away from her step-mom, then later confiscates a Boom Stick from a future soldier and blasts the ground near the woman, throwing her into a tree and knocking her out.
    Tiffany: You should not be allowed to touch stuff that can accidentally shoot people.
  • Like a Duck Takes to Water: 1988!Tiffany figures out how to use an Adult staff weapon to reactivate one of their mechas, and 2000!Tiffany manages to trigger its time-travel system.
  • Lingerie Scene: A low-key, non-Fanservice example shows up in issue #12. KJ and Mac, having swum some distance in a river, hang up their soaking wet clothes to dry but keep their underwear on, while Mac also keeps her tied-up t-shirt on (though it's unclear whether she kept it on over her bra for modesty, or if she wasn't wearing one).
  • Loophole Abuse: When Tiffany has Cardinal at gunpoint, the woman correctly assumes that Tiffany won't kill her. Tiffany admits this is true, then explains that she would have no problem shooting Cardinal's pterosaur mount, which quickly makes her cave.

     Tropes N-Z 
  • Ma'am Shock: 2016!Erin does not appreciate the girls referring to her this way(though from their point of view, they're just being respectful).
  • MacGuffin: The girls find a mysterious, futuristic high-tech artifact — instantly recognizable to modern readers as an iPod Nano — but it's the apple symbol that's significant, not the object itself. At least until chapter 5 where we learn it isn't just an iPod and it was deliberately planted for the girls to discover.
  • Mars Needs Women: The invaders seemed to be specifically seeking school-age females, though it later turns out they're taking everyone.
  • Maternally Challenged: Played with. Erin has enough babysitting experience to know from the sound of Jahpo's cries that he needs to be burped instead of fed, but when questioned by Tiffany admits she wasn't really disappointed to learn that her future self never had kids.
  • Memory-Wiping Crew 2016!Erin theorizes this is why she can't remember being shot, despite her still having the scar and 1988!Erin recalling it quite clearly. She concludes that her memory was wiped sometime between 1988 and 2016. It finally happens in issue #29.
  • Most Writers Are Adults:
    • The girls are all 12, but talk like longshoremen...or just like 12-year-old kids who are trying to act tough.
    • Lampshaded when 1988!Erin becomes upset by 2016!Erin's constant swearing because she admits she and her friends swear because they're trying to act cool and seeing her grownup self still doing it is disturbing, not realizing how normalized casual profanity has become in the modern era.
  • Mundane Object Amazement: Coming from an era of (at best) TVs with 480i analog resolution, the girls are transfixed by the clarity of the image on 2016!Erin's 46-inch 1080p Sony HDTV. 1988!Erin says that "it's like 3D without the glasses", and 2016!Erin warns them that their reaction is freaking her out. Tiffany is also impressed by how many buttons the remote control has, and 1988!Erin asks how her future self was able to afford something so incredible.
  • Mundane Utility: In 2000, 1988!Tiffany convinces Chris who she is by showing him old pictures of her.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Happens to Tiffany while she's being strangled by an alien, which bothers her a lot because it's mostly just hours spent obsessively playing Arkanoid, though it's implied by the name of this particular monster (an "Editer") that showing you things that you don't like about yourself is exactly what it does. Played with later when KJ finds another piece of future technology; when she touches it, a possible future life flashes before her eyes, including a vision of Grand Father holding Erin at gunpoint and her and Mac kissing.
  • Near-Rape Experience: A low-key example. In issue #1 Erin runs into three teenage boys in the middle of their Halloween mischief, and when they find out she goes to Catholic school, one of them seems a little too enthusiastic about that, commenting "grass on the field..."note 
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: Halfway averted; as of issue #25, Erin and Tiffany have met future versions of themselves, but KJ and Mac haven't. They do meet an older clone of KJ, but there's no older version of Mac because she dies young.
  • The Nicknamer: Mac calls 2000!Tiffany and Chris "Ms. Facepaint" and "Fright Night". She's also the one to start calling Erin "new kid"
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be:
    • The series is both nostalgic and realistic, pointing out some of the less glamorous parts of the '80s such as the casual homophobia.
    • Erin's Dying Dream reveals she's nostalgic for fifth grade, i.e. last year, because that's when she still had friends other than her little sister and her pen pal. Any parent can tell you that fifth grade is the last stage of childhood before children (and particularly girls) start coalescing into cliques and dividing up into "in" and "out" crowds.
    • The alien script title of issue #2 translates to "Nostalgia is Death".
  • No Sympathy for Grudgeholders: KJ snaps at Mac when Mac makes a derisive comment about her being gay. Understandable, since a Jewish girl in 1988 would not be having an easy time accepting something like that about herself.
  • Ominous Message from the Future: The past, actually. 1988!Erin retrieves KJ's field hockey stick from a fold, only to see "Don't trust other Erin" written on it. Given that KJ was separated from the group before they met 2016!Erin, 1988!Erin figures this means her, then a clone identical to her 12-year-old self shows up and starts acting strange...
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Mac feels this way after KJ says she might be gay. Mac takes it a little too far though, and thinks KJ has been replaced by a clone.
  • Outof Focus: Erin. She was the main character in earlier issues, but after issue #10 she stays in the background and most of the time is given to Mac and KJ. She does have a pretty important role in issues #23-#25, though.
  • People Jars: How Grand Father and the rest of the Adults are storing the inhabitants of Stony Stream.
  • Rage Breaking Point:
    • When FutureClone!Erin attacks 2016!Erin, 1988!Erin teams up with Tiffany to knock FutureClone!Erinthrough a fold back into the future.
    • Issue #18 reveals that Grand Father was much less militant as a younger man, until a woman called Prioress was killed in a Teen attack. Whatever his feelings for her were, in the wake of her death, he authorized the unilateral use of lethal force.
  • Rape as Backstory: Issue #14 reveals that Wari, the presumably 12-year old archer the girls meet in 11,706 BCE, was gang-raped by three men who wanted a child. She's been trying to keep her son away from them ever since.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Mac seems to feel this way, given her Anger Born of Worry reaction when KJ returns to the group after escaping the men who had raped Wari. KJ definitely feels this way, as she later bashes one of the men's head in with his own club.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Earlier on reserved, focused KJ was the Blue Oni for the more emotional, quick-tempered Mac, but in later issues it seems to shift—KJ is the impulsive Action Girl, and Mac is more reluctant and cautious.
  • Reset Button: Gets pressed hard at the end of issue #29: all of the girls adventures throughout the series get undone and they're returned to the morning of November 1, 1988, although the reason for this is that their actions led to a permanent end to the Adult/Teen war; they just had to have those experiences first.
  • Scotireland: Mac is like a living Scotireland example. Her first name "Mackenzie" is Scottish, her last name "Coyle" is Irish, she has red hair and green eyes (traits not uncommon in both countries) and at one point refers to KJ's field hockey stick as a shillelagh, much to KJ's confusion.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: On a macro level, the girls set out to save their town. On a micro level, 2016!Erin warns 1988!Erin against withdrawing from the world and never seeing any of the other girls again like she did after her own 1988 "Hell Morning", though the Memory-Wiping Crew may have had something to do with that. Similarly, when 2000!Tiffany performs her Heroic Sacrifice, she warns her younger self to "take care of your friends, and whatever you do, don't settle."
  • Shout-Out:
    • Erin and Missy have a The Monster Squad poster in their bedroom.
    • Erin has a Depeche Mode poster from the 1987 Music for the Masses tour above her bed.
    • Erin also has a Far Side page-a-day calendar which depicts an actual Far Side cartoon and may just show the correct cartoon for November 1, 1988.
    • Ronald Reagan appears to Erin in a Dying Dream based on Peanuts TV specials (she gets better). She's even shown with Charlie Brown's characteristic facial expression at one point.
    • The "alien invasion" setup (far future time travelers scavenging resources and people from the past) is a Whole-Plot Reference to the 1983 John Varley novel/1989 movie Millennium (1983).
    • 1988!Erin tells 2016!Missy that she looks straight out of Airwolf
  • Shrinking Violet: Ronald Reagan implies that Erin appears to be on the verge of becoming one in one of Erin's dreams.
  • Shrug Take: Mac tells Erin that KJ said she (KJ) was gay. Erin doesn't see this as any of their business, and tells Mac the only thing which matters is that KJ is their friend.
  • The Slow Path: According to Altar Girl, the Adults are forbidden to travel farther into the future than they are actually from. Not even Grand Father is willing to break this rule, so when the gang escape in issue #20, his only recourse is to wait until he encounters them later in his life.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Mac is considered the coolest kid in town and she smokes like a chimney.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: 2000!Tiffany's husband Chris and Mac in issue #19.
    Chris: Why don't you dial it back, Peppermint Patty?
    Mac: Why don't you blow me, Fright Night?
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Stranger Things, which, despite having similar aesthetics, is deeply critical of the very concept of nostalgia itself, multiple times doing things bout to make people question this line of thinking. Also, while Stranger Things is a horror with a lot of fantastical elements, series with majority male cast, Paper Girls is a firmly a hard science-fiction story with all four main characters being female. It also doesn't shy of portraying things like homophobia, bullying, underage smoking, and other negative aspects of the '80s zeitgeist that Stranger Things tends to gloss over.
  • Stable Time Loop: Another possible explanation for 2016!Erin's Laser-Guided Amnesia. Also, the message on KJ's field hockey stick that 1988!Erin finds turns out to have been written by her because she'd already found it. And in issue #26, we learn the entire series has been one, as everything the girls do over the course of their adventures led to a utopian peace between the Teens and Adults; they just had to have those experiences first.
  • The Stoic: Mac learning that she's fated to die of leukemia in four years at most does not elicit much of a reaction.
  • Stress Vomit: Happens when 2000!Tiffany meets 1988!Tiffany.
  • Tank-Top Tomboy: KJ. She plays on her school's field hockey team, wears boxer shorts instead of panties, and wears a sports bra (which resembles a tank top) instead of a regular one.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Namechecked by an irked adult. The future teens the girls encounter actually do appear monstrous, with disfigurements, cybernetic enhancements and triangular pupils.
  • Teen Pregnancy: If the gang are correctly judging Wari the archer in 11,706 BCE to be around their age, then she obviously had a preteen pregnancy. Given that none of the four are interested in boys yet and that teen pregnancy was much more scandalous in the '80s than the modern era, they're understandably a little squicked by the realization. Even more so once Wari reveals that her son is the child of a gang-rape.
  • Teleport Gun: The Adults who show up at the end of issue #19 have Teleport staffs. One of them uses theirs on Chris, who vanishes.
  • Time and Relative Dimensions in Space: Grand Father tells Cardinal that the girls are all still in the Stony Stream area geographically, they're just in different time periods.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball:
    • The girls lose track of where or when they are by the end of issue #10. Still where they were physically, but in the year 11,706 BCE.
    • One of the invaders, when asked if they are time travelers or space travelers, helpfully points out that time travel must be space travel because the Earth is always moving: If you traveled in time without also travelling in space you'd end up drifting in a vacuum because the planet would no longer be where you left it.
  • Time Police: According to Charlotte, The Adults see themselves as this. They're trying to ensure that history still unfolds as they know it happened, while The Teens are attempting to change things. In issue #25, Grand Father insinuates that if things aren't put back the way they were, Earth could cease to exist.
  • Time Travel Taboo: Adult forces find the girls hiding in a church in issue #19 and correctly identify them as not belonging in this time period, though they do initially mistake them for Teens.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: The girls accept things at face value and act accordingly because they're children and they literally don't know any better. They've seen The Terminator and they've seen The Monster Squad and probably dozens of similar films and TV shows they act and react accordingly.
  • Translator Microbes: The invaders speak heavily-accented English using translation devices attached to their throats. When 1988!Erin rips the one off FutureClone!Erin, they can no longer understand her, and 1988!Erin later has the idea to put it on Wari, the native girl they meet in 11,706 BCE so they can communicate with her.
  • Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Mac. Tiffany dismisses her homophobic insults as just her way of speaking to "the herbs" (teenage boys) in a language that they understand, but it gradually becomes apparent she doesn't have the greatest home life and is just repeating the slurs and attitudes she's learned at home. It also causes her to treat KJ harshly after KJ confesses that she might be gay. She even shoves KJ down at one point when KJ tries to give her a (comforting, not romantic) hug, but her attitude slowly changes when she realizes that KJ really only thinks of her as a friend. Any changes in their relationship from their kiss in issue #25 will have to wait until or if they're ever reunited.
  • Trust Password: 2016!Erin asks several very personal questions in a row to verify that 1988!Erin is who she claims to be. Subverted in that 1988!Erin doesn't know the answer to the first one (her social security number), and the last one isn't a Trust Password at all, it's a genuine question that 2016!Erin has always wondered about.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • The alien translation devices produce some very odd but still understandable idioms.
    • "Break Curfew" appears to be the universal euphemism for any action that jeopardizes the time stream.
  • Unusual User Interface: The iPod-like device projects a virtual map directly into the holder's visual cortex, or so we can only assume, because only the character holding the device can see what it is displaying.
  • Villainous Lineage: A police officer accuses Mac of being up to no good simply because he recognizes her as a member of the Coyle family.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Mac and KJ are the closest out of the four girls, but bicker the most.
  • Wham Issue: Vaughn seems to love putting them every 5 issues.
    • At the end of issue #5, Erin, Mac and Tiffany get separated from KJ and end up in 2016, where they meet Erin's future self.
    • At the end of issue #10, Erin, Mac and Tiffany are reunited with KJ, but they're now all in the year 11,706 BCE.
    • At the end of issue #15, being near another time-travel device when it activates has separated the girls again, with Tiffany arriving at a version of January 1, 2000, where Y2K actually happened and caused a nationwide blackout. And with Giant Mechas in the background.
    • At the end of issue #18, it's revealed that Grand Father is actually Jahpo.
    • At the end of issue #25, the girls have been separated throughout time again: Tiffany is sent further into the future, KJ ends up in 1958, Mac is in the far-distant future, and Erin is in 2018.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After nearly 20 issues, FutureClone!Erin returns at the end of issue #25, having masterminded a plan to permanently seperate the girls from each other.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…: When All You Have Is A Field Hockey Stick: KJ carries her field hockey stick with her while delivering newspapers. It gets used quite often, either to attack/defend or as a message board.
  • Write Back to the Future:
    • Actually "writing" back from the future in the form of an Apple-logo'd virtual reality device.
    • In another unusual variant, the VR device leads them to KJ's field hockey stick sticking halfway out of a small time fold at the abandoned mall. While the stick itself is a message of sorts (KJ is okay and in another time) they also find a (confusing) message scratched into the stick after they retrieve it.
  • You Are What You Hate: Mac is an outspoken homophobe, presumably as a way of covering that she's gay herself.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Seems to be shaping up to be the case, at least in Mac's case: a future-tech medical exam reveals that she doesn't have (and in fact, never could develop) leukemia; instead, she's going to succumb to a different form of cancer.
  • You Meddling Kids: The girls start out as meddling kids but work their way up to Kid Hero fairly quickly.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Mac learns that she's going to die of leukemia sometime in the next three or four years, though the source of this information (the man who bought her parents' house in 1992) isn't exactly authoritative. 2000!Tiffany later reveals in issue #19 that Mac's death notice was also listed in The Preserver.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The invader's ship resembles a giant zeppelin.