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KJ & Mac

To three young girls, Mac (short for MacKenzie), Tiffany, and KJ, with paper routes in Stony Stream the morning after Halloween is known as “hell morning” because of trouble they’d encountered the year before. This time they run into newbie paper girl Erin Tieng who’s being harassed by Lucas Kurzenberger and two of his friends. They take Erin under their collective wing and return to their paper routes only for a cop to question Mac about vandalism in the area thanks to the reputations of her father and brother. Then things get weird when three figures in “bad ghost costumes” steal one of Tiffanie’s “Realistic TRC-218 CB with channel 14 crystals” Radio Shack walkie talkies. Vowing to get it back, the girls follow clues to a house under construction and discover a mysterious looking machine resembling a space capsule. The girls will find themselves tangled up in the strife created by two opposing groups of time travelers whose technology will send the girls to the distant past, the near future of their adult selves, and the distant future of the time travelers.

I did mention things would get weird. Time travel and future tech aside, the heart of the story is the dynamics of the girls as a group and as individuals. As the story unfolds writer Brian K Vaughn plants clues hinting that KJ (short for Karina J though she is also sometimes called Kaje) is in the process of discovering she is a lesbian and attracted to Mac. In many ways the two girls are opposites. KJ comes from a well to do Jewish American family, lives in a very nice house, attends the private Buttonwood Academy, and loves to play hockey so much that she and her hockey stick seem rarely separated. KJ’s grandmother survived the Holocaust. Her parents support her or more accurately, her mother has an idea of what her daughter’s life will be and does her best to make it happen. As the series unfolds KJ’s character demonstrates bravery whether it’s only herself or the entire group and especially if Mac is involved. Mac is fiercely independent and a boss when need be. At age eleven Mac became the town’s first paper girl. She comes from a family that raises a lot of red flags: her father and brother well known by the police thanks to the number of incidents. Her biological mother is out of the picture and her step mother Alice has mental health issues. Who knows if any of her grandparents are alive or their whereabouts?

The moment that KJ realizes she’s attracted to Mac occurs when a folding, Vaughn’s term for a space-time rift, transports her and the other three girls into the distant past. That awareness, as shocking as it is to her at first, comes about after KJs curiosity gets the best of her and she touches a piece of fourth dimensional tech from the far future which shows her a vision of she and Mac kissing. Vaughn hints in issue #15 that Mac may be more open at least subconsciously than her reply leads one to believe. In that chapter Vaughn has Mac giving KJ a scolding for putting herself in danger being chased by a group of Neanderthals in issue #14. KJ keeps this secret from everyone until the stresses of being time displaced and the emotional weight of it all becomes too much for her and she confides to Mac that she thinks she’s a lesbian but stops short of telling Mac about the vision of them kissing. Mac’s reaction is limited to replying “The fuck did you say?” only because in the very next moment their lives are in imminent danger. (see Paper Girls #17/ volume 4)

Like in real life and with so many other fictional characters this “attraction/repulsion” dynamic continues to play out between them as the series continues building towards its finale. In the future time that coincides with the time of the kiss. In this time period the girls have broken up into two pairs. KJ and Mac are searching for a hospital when KJ decided to confess to Mac the truth about her vision. Mac’s reaction is much worse than her previous one though their bond of friendship is intact still which is key to getting themselves out of the next precarious situation in which after arriving at a hospital KJ threatens to harm a doctor in order to persuade him to cure Mac’s health condition. The situation becomes more intense when the doctor momentarily gains the upper hand and attempts to call security only to be thwarted by the girls in a spur of the moment plan devised by Mac. Taking time to recuperate while on the run, KJ realizes they’re standing in the exact place of her vision. Flush with adrenaline, Mac finds herself caught in the moment and initiates the kiss after KJ explains why her demeanor quickly changed.

All the girls will become separated in time and space again. Erin is transported to Stony Stream circa 2017. Tiffanie goes to the future when the time war has ended. Mac finds herself in the far distant future of a dying earth while KJ is in 1950s Stony Stream where she will meet another teenage time traveler named Jude and enlist his help to return to the other girls. Finding themselves together again KJ and Mac share another kiss before the seriousness of the situation sinks in. They, along with Erin and Tiffanie and representatives from both factions of the time war are gathered in a place that appears to be a small town Western movie set. It becomes a monumental event because this is where and when the two sides put an end to their war and agree to peace. As part of that peace treaty the girls must be returned to their time period with their time traveling memories wiped. And so without any choice future tech erases their memories before one last time travel event returns them to Stony Stream in 1988 in the moments leading up to the Hell Morning events which began the series in issue #1. Vaughn teases readers with an opening dream sequence in which Mac finds herself attending KJ’s bat mitzvah and the girls slow dancing. Both Erin and a future adult Tiffanie appear in the dream before Mac wakes up. What the dream means is left to reader imagination as the girls literally ride off into the sunrise.

Paper Girls was adapted into a show for Amazon Prime that ran for one season. The show has a number of differences from the comics. This profile covers only the original source material.

Read the profiles for Heck, Naldo, and Jude here.

KJ and Mac created by Brian K Vaughn and Cliff Chiang. Art by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson.

They first appear in Paper Girls #1. The scene with KJ’s vision occurs in #14. KJ and Mac first kiss in issue #25.

All rights reserved Brian K Vaughn and Cliff Chiang

June 25, 2024
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