Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson: The Look of Paper Girls [Gallery]
October 12, 2015
Image Comics: You're using an interesting way to render faces in PAPER GIRLS, where things like noses and lips are rendered in color while eyes and eyebrows are normal black. I noticed you used this effect on Wonder Woman occasionally, too. What appeals to you about this approach?
Cliff Chiang: I started doing that on my cover work years ago, and I like how it adds depth to the art. It integrates the color with the linework, where traditionally comics have used more of a coloring book approach, keeping the lines and the color separate. For PAPER GIRLS especially, I like how it softens the girls' features. Sometimes the stark black line art can be a little harsh, and having colored lines really helps.
IC: PAPER GIRLS has a bright and bold palette, with cool blues and bright yellows. Tell me about working with Matt Wilson and Jared Fletcher, the letterer. How did you come to decide that this look was the right one for the series? What makes this style of lettering the "one"?
CC: With the lettering, Brian requested upper and lowercase letters, which can be really warm and inviting. The key was to find a look that would be organic and avoid looking too typeset. Combined with the open balloon style, Jared gave us a look that feels a little more hand-drawn than the usual comic. I think little touches like that go a long way in establishing a rapport with the reader. It feels much more personal.
CC: Matt and I are really proud of the work we did on Wonder Woman, but for PAPER GIRLS I wanted to take a step back from the saturated and rendered look. Sometimes the darker colors can overwhelm the line art, and we wanted this to be ultra-readable and approachable. We took inspiration from Moebius and other European comics, as well as some animation and illustration. We're trying to do more with less. It took a few rounds to get it right, but I'm thrilled with how it looks.
IC: You've got a cast of teen girls from the '80s. What are you looking at for inspiration? Are you actively avoiding "'80s kitsch" or do you want to lean into that skid? Is it even a factor in your thinking?
CC: One of the things I strive for in period pieces is authenticity. It's really tempting to do kitsch in the '80s because there's so much of it, but often that's just lazy and inaccurate. 1988, when our book takes place, is pretty different from say, 1984, and that wasn't the feel we wanted for the story anyway. I love how Spielberg films like E.T. and Close Encounters really nailed everyday suburban life even though they're ostensibly sci-fi films. It's crucial to give context. I was lucky I still had my junior high yearbook from 1988, so I could see exactly what my classmates wore when we were the same age as the girls.
IC: Fashion is another form of storytelling, and one that often goes under-noticed in comics. How do you go about deciding the specific look for each character? Is it a team effort, or do you sketch until it feels right?
CC: Brian really nailed their personalities in the script, so it was up to me to bring them to life visually. Clothing and hair is a big part of how we present ourselves to the world, so the girls' looks had to reflect who they were, but I also didn't want to rely on cliches. KJ is kind of a jock, but she's not rocking a bat and a baseball cap, you know? Mostly, I wanted them to feel like girls I could have grown up with. Specific period and cultural details would keep it from being generic. What's believable, and age-appropriate? Erin's rocking the classic teased Asian perm and the black and white clothes a lot of us Asian-Americans favored then. I spent a lot of time looking for the right Denise Huxtable hairstyle for Tiffany (season 3!), and loved putting her in a sweet varsity jacket. Mac's doing a proto-industrial thing, and I imagine she listens to all the music I wished I was listening to in 1988. You can be overly faithful too, so Mac and Tiffany's jackets are a little cropped to reflect contemporary style. You want them to look cool!
CC: I thought about it so much that when I started sketching, it all came pretty fast. Brian loved the looks, and with some small tweaks we were good to go!