"STRANGERS IN PARADISE" by TERRY MOORE
Terry Moore started publishing “Strangers in Paradise” in 1993. The initial premise– cute short angry lesbian loves cute zaftig doofus— sounded like a rip-off of Hopey and the much loved Maggie in “Love and Rockets”. The series won prize after prize, I admired the cover art in passing, but didn’t bother to buy a copy until 2006, when the cover for issue 76 showed some kind of professional Houston asshole (Freddie) hugging a desperate woman (Katchoo) with a note that read “please shoot me”. Since that pretty much sums up the State of the Union, I thought what the hell and bought a copy.
The next day I started obsessively visiting the comic shop to find out what happens next. There are 17 paperback “Strangers” collections so far, making me personally responsible for employee raises and putting the shop owner’s daughters through college. Sure it’s a soap opera (Powell’s Books calls it "Bridget Jones's Diary" meets "La Femme Nikita") and not a cure for cancer, but the series is weirdly addictive.
Katchoo (Katina Choovanski) is a talented artist and corporate spy with a tortured childhood and a terrible temper. Moore’s fans love her, but I’ve had my share of borderline personalities in my life and find Katchoo’s behavior abusive rather than attractive. The world is full of Americans who fancy themselves as rebels, but never actually rebel against anything more dangerous than social mores (Henry Rollins has made a career of this). Katina is a whirlpool of anger and yearning, and as she takes on responsibility for her own little family of gallery workers and models she becomes more appealing.
David is a crime lord’s son and former yakuza whose relationship with his half sister Darcy might have been a little too close for Mrs. Grundy’s comfort. After the murder of an innocent, David drifts into the arts-- the community most accepting of "difference"-- and becomes a Christian pilgrim in the truest sense of the word, a saint not a prig, trying to forgive himself and others. He falls desperately in love with Katchoo: borderline personality, alcoholic, lesbian, another ruined soul like himself. I could have told him this is like buying your life a ticket on a roller coaster lined with razor blades while being sprayed with rubbing alcohol.
Francine is closest to “normal” of any of these characters, but as she is sucked into her boyfriends’ and Katchoo’s forty different kinds of crazy, Francine’s passivity becomes as emotionally destructive as the abuse suffered by the other characters. Francine is also bite-my-knuckles Sexy as Hell, and Moore deserves a special Eisner award for designing characters with more than one body type, each of them erotic in their own way. When will mainstream comics learn this lesson about the human body from Moore and Hernandez? The steroid abusers at DC and Marvel are costing sales, not helping them.
The “Strangers” character who goes through the most development— and surprised me by becoming my favorite character—is Casey, who starts as a stock character piece of fluff, a butt for jokes, and grows into the most sincere, loving person in the series. That Casey can love without being damaged by love makes her my g-ddamn role model.
Don’t forget the laughing psychopath Darcy and her stable of sex spies (just how well do you know your senator’s trophy wife?); Mary-Beth, known as “Tambi”, female weight lifter and assassin for hire; Mike, the cynical but bemused good cop in a bad town; Freddie Femur, the most appalling comic foil since Howard Hunter was chased by a mechanical alligator in “Hill Street Blues”; and Francine’s mom, a life-is-stranger-than-fiction avatar of Bettie Page. The minor characters, even the one-panel walk-ons, are wonderfully observed. My personal so-close-and-yet-so-far fantasies involve FBI agent and artists’ model Sara Bryant, and damn him, I think Moore knew it when he designed her.
“Strangers in Paradise” is available in either a three-volume pocket book edition, or for art junkies like me, in 17 large format trade paperback collections. Moore is winding down the series, with only 8 new issues to go. Oh, and someone's blowing up ambulances by planting bombs in the body cavities of heart attack victims...
See Also: GRAPPHIC LOVE: Comic Reviews Prologue