A Guide to the PAPER GIRLS Comic Universe - Nerdist
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A Guide to the PAPER GIRLS Comic Universe

Paper Girls is making its way to television on July 29, bringing the beloved comic to life. There certainly will be creative license taken for the TV show so the casual viewer can get into it. However, this is a twisty time traveling universe that can get a little confusing, especially if you aren’t super familiar with the comics. And, even those who have read the comics before may still wonder how much they really remember.

We get it… no judgment here. There’s a lot to read and watch these days, right? Nerdist always has your back with primers and this is a fact. Sure, we can’t possibly fit everything about it into a post but we can at least give you a good start, especially if you want to devour the comics for the first time (or again) soon. Here’s the very basics of what you need to know about the Paper Girls comic, including its characters, locations, and overall themes. 

comic image of paper girls characters riding their bikes new tv show prime video
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang

A Brief Paper Girls Comic Synopsis 

Paper Girls is about four twelve year old girls—Tiff, KJ, Mac, and Erin—who become friends through the oddest circumstances. The quartet are all paper girls in Stony Stream, OH in 1988 and run into each other on “Hell Day”—a.k.a the morning after Halloween—to run their routes. They decide to stick together and that’s a good thing because they encounter some potentially dangerous and weird dudes who call themselves “Teenagers.” They find a spaceship/time machine that throws them into the middle of a time war involving the Old-Timers, a faction led by a mysterious man known as Grand Father that’s determined to stop time travel. The girls confront versions of themselves, go to unimaginable places in many different years, and try their best to hold onto the only thing they have for sure—each other. 

The Paper Girls 

In classic pop culture fashion, the four girls are all wildly different people who bring their smarts and strengths together for the greater good.

Erin Tieng
Erin from paper girls close up comic panel photo
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang/Matt Wilson

Erin (who is Asian American) is the “new girl” to both Stony Stream and delivering papers as well as the “good girl” of the group. A consummate perfectionist with a stack of familial responsibilities on her shoulders, she tends to stick to the rules and anything outside of her expectations causes anxiety. But she can also be quite naïve, lacking street smarts but making up for it with heart and logic. While all the girls are important, Erin is the ultimate protagonist, much like Mike was once upon a time in Stranger Things.

Tiffany Quilkin
photo of Tiffany from paper girls comic panel holding a staff and saying follow me
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang/Matt Wilson

Tiffany is the gamer girl who loves technology, especially her walkie-talkie that catches the eyes of those weird Teenagers. She’s a Black adoptee living in a mixed-race household while attending a predominantly white Catholic school. Tiff isn’t afraid to head right into the action, especially after realizing she’s “wasted” her days gaming. From driving to figuring out mysteries to using her wit, Tiffany plays a key role in the Paper Girls narrative. 

Karina “KJ” J.
KJ from paper girls comic in a panel
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang/Matt Wilson

KJ is the “rich girl” of the crew who goes to a private school, Buttonwood Academy, plays field hockey and will 100% use that stick as a weapon. KJ and Mac often bump heads with the latter picking with her about being a well-off Jewish kid. She comes to a realization about sexuality in the midst of time travel, which leads to a few brief romantic moments with Mac. She’s thoughtful, loyal, and goodness can this girl survive by herself if she needs to.

MacKenzie “Mac” Coyle
comic book image of Mac from Paper Girls riding her bike at night
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang/Matt Wilson

She’s the “bad girl” of the group and a tomboy who is the first girl to deliver papers. A local legend. The police know her by name and she puffs cigarettes to no end. And she will say something wildly racist, homophobic, or inappropriate in a heartbeat. Unlike the other girls, Mac comes from the “other side of the tracks” from an Irish-Catholic family including her dad and stepmom, who both struggle with alcohol addiction, and a brother who is rather rough towards her. Mac’s journey is a critical one considering she discovers that she has a rare cancer that will cause her to die at 16. 

Other Versions of the Paper Girls

Besides Mac, who obviously doesn’t make it into any future given her diagnosis, we meet a few versions of the other three girls. Some of them are generations of clones that were created throughout their travels. Here’s who pops up in Paper Girls

The Erins

Erin is the first paper girl to meet a future version of herself when they end up in 2016 Stony Stream. (We know the TV show will alter this to 2019 Stony Stream.) And she’s not very impressed with her life progress. There are also several clones of Erin, each one falling into a Generation (much like updates to a game). We get a First Gen Erin who is also 12 and finds the girls from the 71st century. She warns them that they will play a key role in this war. And there are descendants of her clone, too.

The Tiffanys

2000s Tiff is a fun one. She’s very goth and married but ends up encountering our original Tiff and getting into the time traveling mix. We later see her again as an older woman. 

The KJs

In KJ’s glimpse of her future, we see her at a party and she realizes that she is a lesbian. And, we do meet a clone KJ who is in her 40s. She tries to change the past to alter the future to no avail. However, she believes that wiping current KJ’s memories is best for everyone. 

A Guide to the PAPER GIRLS Comic Universe_1

Other Important Paper Girls Characters:

The Editrixes 

They are the beings that Grand Father thinks is responsible for time traveling. And touching one causes a person to either see their past or future. 

Wari

Wari is a woman from 11,706 BCE who cares for her son Jahpo and, after meeting Dr. Braunstein, ends up leaving with her to avoid the Old-Timers. She goes to several years including 2055 and 2171. It is not clear if Wari and Jahpo’s story will stay the same in the TV show or if she will appear at all.

Jahpo

The girls actually end up saving his life in the comics from a sacrifice, which plays a key role into things considering he grows up to be Grand Father! He eventually discovers the truth about his past and it affects his desire to continue this ongoing war against time travel. 

Doctor Qanta Braunstein 

She was born in 2016 and later becomes the woman who invents time travel, landing back in 11,706 BCE. Dr. Braunstein lives there for some time with Wari and Jahpo before being saved and brought back to 2055. She is also patient zero for an affliction that affects time travelers known as 4DC. As with many other comic characters, we don’t know if she will appear in the Paper Girls TV show.

prioress and grandfather talking in paper girls comic
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang/Matt Wilson

The Big Paper Girls Event: The Old Timers vs. Teenagers Time War

The aforementioned war that the girls end up in is between two different factions who have been fighting for many, many decades across time. First, there is the Old-Timers, the first generation after time travel’s invention. They use an odd combination of slang and Old English as their language and are headquartered in the Cathedral. A section of them, known as Restorers, attempt to reset timeline messing with “ablution,” a cleansing method that wipes people’s minds. That is the kindest thing they will do because, well, they do kill time travelers, too.

The Old-Timers believe that the original timeline should be preserved and are willing to harshly punish time travelers. They are led by Grand Father, a mysterious man who actually speaks more like a 20th century person. As the story unfolds, the details of Grand Father’s background and his connection to the far, far past (and the girls) comes to light. The Old-Timers story goes as far back as 11,706 BCE with Wari and Jahpo, who play a critical role in events way past their time. The commander of the Old-Timers army is Prioress (who will appear in the show). 

A Guide to the PAPER GIRLS Comic Universe_2
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang/Matt Wilson

Then, we have the Teenagers. The group is not actually full of teens but rather the descendants of the Old-Timers from the 71st century who totally believe in altering the timelines. They often seek help from “locals” (people who exist in whatever “present” timeline they are in) for assistance. Some of them use an unknown language but can speak our version of English with a translation tool. In the Paper Girls comic, the girls run into three of them—Jude, Heck, and Naldo—on Hell Day.

They include the weird guys that the girls meet that fateful day who end up saving Erin in a dire situation. Their fates are not so great but they still play a role in Erin, Mac, and KJ’s stories in various ways.  So basically the Teenagers are doing what they want and the Old-Timers aim to stop them because they believe too much fiddling with the timeline will lead to a disaster. And, because the girls inadvertently time travel, they are now on the radar of the Old-Timers.

A Guide to the PAPER GIRLS Comic Universe_3
Image Comics/Cliff Chiang/Matt Wilson

Several versions of the girls (mainly clones from different Generations) fall under the Teenager side of the war. But we also get normal folks involved with them like Charlotte Spachefski. She’s a cartoonist who met a Teenager back in 1958 and learns about the Old-Timers. And of course there is year 2000 Tiffany. 

The Big Paper Girls Locations/Time Periods

There are a TON of years we go to in Paper Girls, including the obvious 1988 where it all begins. And the story goes beyond Stony Stream into the wilderness, Cleveland, and beyond. It goes back really far to 11,706 BCE where the girls run into Wari and Jahpo and where time traveling really sparks with Dr. Braunstein going there. The girls end up in a variety of places like 19th Century Stony Stream (their last stop before things reset themselves), 2016 and 2017 Stony Stream, and the year 2000 where they meet adult Tiff.

There’s also years that play a critical role like 1958 where Charlotte meets Jude and KJ ends up trying to find her way back. And, we have 2055 where Dr. Braunstein time travels for the first time. 2171 AD is the perfect futuristic year to go to in hopes of understanding and possibly curing Mac’s cancer. And some places are just wild and weird like some period beyond the 71st century. It may sound like one big mess but every single year ties into each other perfectly. 

So there you have it! You know a little more about this Paper Girls comic universe and what to expect in it.

Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.

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