Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Before you ask: Yes, Kayla Miller’s Creep does throw in a Radiohead reference. Our superhero, named Creep, gives his own version of the song when he’s confronted by reporters. In a way, Creep is a pretty good song for a superhero. There are lyrics about wanting a perfect body, having control and pining for someone who doesn’t notice you. Shoot, that’s, like, Marvel in the 1960s. Put that jam in the Spider-Man movies, Mark Webb!
Creep, though is less of a Spider-Man and more of a Hulk. Or a Stephan Urquel, or The Mask. His origins mix a dash of Silver Age craziness with modern indie-comic cartooniness. Riley Russell is a mild-mannered modern teen who’s a bit of shrinking violet. He prefers to never come into contact with his parents, and he’s too chicken to even approach Holly, the girl of his dreams. He is the keyboardist in a band that no one goes to see, however, so there’s probably some opportunity for him to venture out of his shell.
One day, the Creep equivalent of the Flash origin hits poor Riley: an unlikely combination of electricity (from the power outlet) and chemicals (from a bottle of fruit punch). The accident unleashes his alter ego — a guy who’s strong, sticky and has stretchy arms. He’s also all unrestricted id. He earns his name after being creepy to his best friend’s sister Sam. “You creep!” she says, launching his legacy. He lives up to it, too: At one point he slaps an unguarded lady bottom and lets a cop take the fall for it.
Riley’s friend Alex is truly the catalyst in Creep’s transformation into a superhero. Heroes and villains are pretty commonplace in the world of Creep, where the city funds its own guardian named Sergeant Splendid, and a quick online search will turn up a list of supervillains. (The search engine is called “Ask the Owl,” by the way, which is pretty delightful.) Alex wants in on the action. After seeing Creep lay the smackdown on an armored thug, he decides he wants to live vicariously through Creep’s superpowers. He puts together a couple of superhero outfits and the two set off to fight crime. It goes badly.
Riley suffers a bit of a personality disorder, as he has little recollection of Creep’s actions. A kiss from the girl Riley likes? He can’t remember any of it. That was all Creep. To further complicate matters, Riley and Creep pine for different girls. The results are the same, though. Riley’s crush on Holly has him batting way above his level, as Holly is the mayor’s daughter and she frequently gets his name wrong. Creep gets the cold shoulder from the hot-tempered Sam. Interestingly, the two sides of Riley/Creep’s personality would probably meet more success if they switched roles. Hmmm … do I sense an imaginary story-style setup down the road, where Superman would split in two to make both Lois and Lana happy? Could be!
Creep is drawn in the Scott Pilgrim style of comic: heavily influenced by manga, but veering on the cartoony side of the scale. While “Creep” the song is dour and melancholy, Creep the comic is anything but. The world is colored in bright pastels, as if everything were covered in a thin layer of cake frosting. Tiny shapes float in the background like something out of a Trapper Keeper.
A lot of webcomics use animation, but it tends to look best in cartoon-style comics like Creep. Miller employs animation liberally and to great effect, from Riley’s epic transformation into Creep to video game characters bouncing up and down in a still frame. It’s not essential, but it’s not distracting, either.