Propaganda special – “take my hand, I’m a Stranger in Paradise”
This is Propaganda, I’m Richard Bruton and this is what I’ve been reading lately:
Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore.
116 issues, 19 volumes. 1993-2007
(cover art to Strangers in Paradise volume 1 issue 1 by Terry Moore – check his official SiP website for more artwork)
Strangers in Paradise, when it first appeared in 1993 from tiny Antarctic Press for a little 3 issue series was a wonderful, beautiful thing. Instantly accessible, memorably funny, sweet, touching and a perfect example to me of the incredible potential of comics to sell to a huge audience. I fell in love with the series straight away and became positively evangelical about selling it to as many people as I possibly could.
And sell it did, by the absolute bucketload. We had stumbled upon that rarest of things; a comic that would sell to anyone and everyone. Hell, even my dear wife was into it, and would usually steal the latest issue from my reading pile way before I could read it.
(cover to Strangers in Paradise Volume 2: I Dream of You, (c) Abstract Studios/Terry Moore)
For years whenever a customer came into Nostalgia & Comics wanting something new, we’d point them at SiP. Whenever a customer came in to look at the superhero comics and dragged in his unfortunate girlfriend, sister, parents etc etc, we’d often end up talking to the lost looking non-comics reader and would often get them to try a SiP volume. It never failed, within a week or so, they were back, looking for the rest of the series.
The first volume was just 3 issues, collected as The Collected Strangers in Paradise Volume 1. After that Terry started self publishing his work, and after a brief sojourn with Image comics, has finally finished this month with issue 90, after a total of 116 comics and 19 volumes. An incredible body of work. But definitely a work of two parts.
Initially the book was all about relationships. It was funny and touching, heart-warming and made you desperately care about these characters. It followed the lives of Francine Peters and Katina Choovanski (Katchoo). These two women formed the emotional core of the book and gave it its heart.
Francine loves Katchoo as the best friend in her life, but Katchoo is deeply, passionately in love with Francine.
(Francine and Katchoo from Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise volume 2 issue 12)
In addition to this, two other major characters further complicate the love triangle (a four pointed triangle?). David Quinn (in love with Katchoo) and Casey (Katchoo and Francine’s friend and in love with David). Of course, even this complicated love story is further complicated by Francine’s intense feelings for Katchoo that are always threatening to turn a friendship into the love affair that Katchoo wants more than anything. And then there’s Katchoo’s own mixed feelings for David. Complicated indeed.
But such was the quality of the writing and the art from Terry Moore that you desperately wanted to know these characters and month after month an ever growing band of us would sit there and lovingly devour each issue.
Of course, all things must come to an end. Which is where the problems I have with Strangers in Paradise started coming to the fore. Because this simple tale of love and relationships suddenly didn’t seem to have an ending.
The story took a new twist when Terry added a definite thriller aspect to it. When you look back, you can see the seeds for this thriller idea had been planted way, way back, but most of us just took that as Terry adding interesting and curious little facts about his characters alongside the main story.
But Terry had suddenly found himself, so it seemed to me, with a breakout hit and decided to run with the thriller idea. And it was a good story. It was complicated, wide ranging and exciting. But it wasn’t what we loved.
Louise was the first to drop the book after about 20 issues, complaining, quite rightly, that the book she had fallen in love with just didn’t exist anymore. It wasn’t about Francine and Katchoo anymore; it was about a huge international crime syndicate and Katchoo’s relationship to that.
I lasted a while longer, but eventually gave up reading it seriously about issue 40. I did pick up the collections to get an idea of where Terry was going, but nothing I’ve read in the later collections manages to hit that run of perfection he achieved in the early issues.
(cover to Strangers in Paradise volume 3 issue 3 by Terry Moore)
In a way, reading Strangers in Paradise is a little like falling in love. Early on it’s everything you want, sheer perfection and for a while it’s all you can see and all you want to see. But eventually some of that initial intensity falls away and other things start to encroach upon your perfect love.
So I can absolutely recommend SiP to you. But if I were you I’d read just the first three volumes: The Collected Strangers in Paradise Volume 1, I Dream of You (Volume 2) and It’s a Good Life. The story in here is complete perfection. It even has an ending that allows you to forget that there are another 16 volumes after these books. And should you want to investigate the rest of the series, please do, it’s a cracking thriller with a complicated love story or three running through it and well worth reading. But to me nothing will ever beat that first love.
(cover to the final volume of Strangers in Paradise, “Ever After“, by Terry Moore, due this summer)
So congratulations Terry Moore. You’ve produced an incredible comic in Strangers in Paradise. One I think will live on and keep gaining new fans over the years. And I’d personally like to thank you for all those new customers and comic readers whose first wonderful experiences of what comics can truly be were a volume of your finest work.