Paper Girls is a 'death threat' to the '80s, not a 'love letter,' says creator at Comic-Con 2022

Pop culture is awash in '80s nostalgia these days. The new season of Stranger Things alone sent Kate Bush's 1985 hit "Running Up That Hill" back to the top of the charts in addition to introducing a new generation of viewers to the cinematic language of John Carpenter and Stephen King.

Paper Girls, the upcoming sci-fi series from Amazon Prime Video based on the comic of the same name by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, looks a bit like Stranger Things at first glance. It begins in the mid-'80s, and focuses on a bunch of young characters riding their bikes around the neighborhood. But as you might guess from the name, Paper Girls' protagonists are all female. On top of that, the show has an ambivalent attitude towards the '80s.

"We watched a lot of fiction that views the '80s through rose-colored glasses. But Cliff and I lived through the '80s, and it wasn't always so awesome," Vaughan said at the show's San Diego Comic-Con panel on Friday. "So we wanted to do something that was anti-nostalgic, that was about recognizing we've actually made a lot of progress and it's worth pushing forward and looking ahead, not constantly dwelling in the past. So even though some of our show takes place in the '80s, it isn't so much a love letter as it is a death threat."

Paper Girls Season 1, Episode 1 Riley Lai Nelet as Erin Tieng, Camryn Jones as Tiffany Quilkin, Fina Strazza as KJ Brandman, Ali Wong as Adult Erin, Nate Corddry as Larry
Paper Girls Season 1, Episode 1 Riley Lai Nelet as Erin Tieng, Camryn Jones as Tiffany Quilkin, Fina Strazza as KJ Brandman, Ali Wong as Adult Erin, Nate Corddry as Larry

Amazon Prime Tiffany Quilkin (Camryn Jones), young Erin Tieng (Riley Lai Nelet), K.J. Brandman (Fina Strazza), Larry (Nate Corddry), and older Erin Tieng (Ali Wong) in 'Paper Girls.'

Though the '80s was the era of Prince records and brightly-colored workout clothes, it was also the time of President Ronald Reagan and the AIDS epidemic. This juxtaposition is carried through in Paper Girls, which features characters reckoning with their sexuality beneath bright pink sci-fi skies.

"We really make sure not to glorify it because the '80s were not the best for a lot of people," Fina Strazza, who plays K.J. Brandman in the show, said at the panel. "I've definitely been aware of that my whole life. My mom has told me that her teachers would say in her health class that HIV/AIDS were God's way of cleaning house. That's still troubling today. So when approaching K.J.'s story, I know that her arc is very important to a lot of people. I wanted to make sure that I approached it very delicately and made sure it was told truthfully."

That's heady stuff, but exactly the kind of idea young people reckon with all the time. Brandman and her contemporary co-stars (Riley Lai Nelet, Camryn Jones, and Sofia Rosinsky) were well up to the challenge of depicting it on screen, according to showrunner Chris Rogers — even if they originally had to audition on Zoom.

"This is hard dialogue, this goes to some dark places, and I think in the mouths of less-skilled actresses it could seem silly or like we're looking down on the inner lives of 12-year-old girls. But we're not," Rogers said during a stop at EW's Comic-Con studio. "Everybody wants to take it very seriously. I remember feeling such relief in that chemistry read, like 'oh my god, there they are!' We just knew."

Check out EW's video interview with the Paper Girls cast and creators above. The show premieres July 29 on Prime Video.

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