Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
You know what would make a great Christmas present? A publisher announcing they’re going to collect this great, lamentably short-lived series.
In 2003, after Yeah!, his all-ages series with Gilbert Hernandez, was canceled and the one-shot Spider-Man comic for Marvel came and went, Peter Bagge attempted one more volley in the world of mainstream publishing with Sweatshop, a monthly series that covered the trials and travails of a hapless group of worn-down cartoonists who worked as “interns” for Mel Bowling, creator of the sub-par daily newspaper strip Freddy Ferrett.
A lot of familiar Bagge archetypes reside in this comic. Bowling is clearly created in the Brad Bradley/Murray Wilson category of reactionary, loudmouth father figures, someone more eager to share his opinion than listen to someone else’s. The cast is further rounded out by Mel’s long-suffering, pushover sister Millie; the constantly grousing, put-upon Nick; the nerdy Alfred, who dreams of superhero glory; and Carrie the sweet, ever-optimistic indie girl.
Setting his story within the confines of the comics industry may seem like navel gazing at first glance, but Bagge avoids easy jokes about comic conventions and smelly, socially awkward fans to offer a narrower, more sharply observed satire. He gets to mock various styles of comics by running one-page samples of the interns self-published work for example. It also allows him to poke some gentle fun at well-established figures like Neil Gaiman (who gets his pants set on fire) and Patrick McDonnell (who gets an award shoved down his throat).
Bagge’s writing is in fine form here; the charcters are broad enough to allow for a good bit of slapstick and bug-eyed reactions, but sharply drawn enough to seem more like individuals than types. Even better, Bagge brought in a bunch of his friends and compatriots from the alt-comics world to help him work on the comic, including Johnny Ryan, Stephan DeStefano, Stephanie Gladden and Bill Wray.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t last very long. Sweatshop failed to pick up much of an audience, DC didn’t market it well and the series was cancelled after the sixth issue. With Fantagraphics releasing the collected edition of Yeah! earlier this year, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hope that Groth and company — or some other publisher, I’m not picky — will attempt to collect this series into a slim trade paperback. While back issues are easy enough to find, it would be nice to have the entire thing sitting in one volume on the bookshelf.