Stranger in Paradise

This is the blog post I’ve been meaning to write for ages. The one about one of my great writing influences, and how it walked back into my life after I thought it was gone forever.

Once upon a time, in the neon flannel decade known as the nineties, a teenage girl went on her weekly visit to the comic book shop and saw a cover. She knew nothing about the story or author/artist, and, at that time, had barely ever read outside the Marvel or Image lines. All she knew was that the cover featured a grungy-looking artist who looked she had exactly zero fracks to give for your nonsense, aka pretty much everything the girl wanted to be when she grew up. So she dropped $2.75 and instantly fell in love.

~where it all started for me~

Strangers in Paradise, for anyone unfamiliar, was a comic series written and drawn by Terry Moore, which ran from 1993 until 2007. Its story followed a cast of characters– mainly Katchoo, Francine, and David–and their day-to-day lives, various romantic entanglements, and involvement with organized crime syndicates and a prostitution ring. (Sounded really cute and fluffy there for a second, didn’t it?)

Reading SiP as a teen, it hit so many personal notes for me. Katchoo was a talented artist, assertive, and tough as nails (while at the same time able to be vulnerable). Basically, everything teen me wanted to be. Francine, on the other hand, was insecure, struggled with body image issues, and wanted nothing more than to be loved. (I…uh..I’m sure I don’t have to explain how that would resonate with a teen.) And finally there was David, who was handsome, sweet, intensely loyal, and just the right amount of broken.

I got the SiP story in pieces. The #1 issue I bought wasn’t a true #1; SiP had had two short 3-issue storylines prior to it. And, being that this was before you could go on the internet and find anything you wanted, this meant combing through boxes and piles in literally every comic shop I came across for back issues. I spent YEARS doing this, and can still remember the thrill of finding an issue I didn’t have, the missing connector between one chunk of story and another. (That being said, it’s not something I recommend; thank goodness for the internet, trade paperbacks, etc etc.)

There are a lot of emotional levels to SiP. Sometimes it’s a comedy, sometimes it’s a drama, sometimes it’s something else entirely. (Is there an entire issue where Francine and Katchoo are Xena and Gabrielle? Yes, yes there is.) It’s also one of the first things I ever read with any significant representation of queer characters.

~mmm…evil on a stick~

But at its core, SiP is a story about friendship and love. Katchoo loves Francine, and has a complicated relationship with David. David loves Katchoo, but has a complicated relationship with…well, a lot of things. And Francine wants to be loved, but struggles with how the fairytale version of it she’s always been fed never quite seems to materialize.

Are you using that heart beating in your chest? Would be a problem if it got ripped out repeatedly? Then maybe SiP is not the read for you.

~even out of context, this moment is just…ouch~

But beyond the stab-you-with-the-feels-knife-and-twist-it storylines, Terry Moore also has a gift for drawing people. Like, REAL people, not the miniature-waisted, beach ball-breasted, occasionally feet-less superhero characters I was mostly seeing at the time. One of my favorite panels of all time is of Francine getting dressed, wearing normal underwear and nylons, and actually looking like a human woman would look in those items. I didn’t know terms like body-positivity at the time, but Francine is now one of my favorite examples of it; even when she’s voluptuous (curvaceous, ample-bodied, even kind of *gasp* FAT) the other characters in the story always find her attractive.

~this panel tho~

Given that it ran for like, fifteen years, there’s obviously so much story I’m not touching on. Like how Katchoo was a sex worker for a powerful, dangerous madame named Darcy who tasked her girls with gathering compromising information, including at the highest level of politics. (At one point, Darcy even implies that a certain First Lady is a deep cover Parker Girl, and, geez, do I wish that had been real life and not fiction.)

~still would have voted for her~

And here’s where I get into the personal stuff. A while back, Terry Moore announced that Strangers in Paradise was returning. Not just returning, but beginning it’s new run in January 2018, which would be the same month that my debut novel, Gunslinger Girl came out.

It was a feels-knife stabbing all over again. Like, the kind of feels that I tend to keep private because I’m easily embarrassed and Katchoo was always tough in public and, and, and…well, yeah. It’s impossible to pick apart Gunslinger Girl and not find the SiP influences in it. One GG character (no spoilers) is basically an overt homage to an SiP character. There are clear shades of David in Max, my main character’s love interest. And on and on and on…Strangers in Paradise was simply such a formative read that there will likely always be hints of it in whatever work I produce.

Today, I arrived home after being on tour for Gunslinger Girl, something that I never dreamed would happen as a smol baby creative waaaaaay back in the nineties. I am utterly wrecked, running on adrenaline fumes, sugar, and whatever residual chemicals are coursing through my body following almost a week of restaurant meals. But an envelope was waiting for me in the mail, with a logo that took my extra crispy brain several seconds to register.

It was the first issue of Strangers in Paradise XXV.

It’s been at least two decades, but I still remember so clearly the feeling of seeing that initial #1 issue of SiP on the shelves. If there are points in a person’s life where their future creative fires spark, for me that moment was a full on flare up.

So, I am many years older now than when I first met Katchoo, Francine, & Co, but that’s okay, because so are they. I have no illusions about revisiting these characters; I may love the new stories, I may not. I know that if (when) I go back and re-read the original runs, I will be reading them through different eyes, in a world where some once accepted things are not longer acceptable, and where the conversations have evolved. But none of this stops me from being incredibly excited to dive back into the lives of old ink and paper friends.

And so, because we should always try to tell creatives when we love their work (so they keep creating, dang it!) I’m going to wrap up by saying thank you thank you thank you to Terry Moore for reviving this series, and that I’ll be eagerly checking my mail for new issues in the months to come. (>ahem< And also that the entire run of SiP is available in trade paperback, along with Moore’s more recent series.)

Can’t wait to read! ❤


P.S. All panels, art, the copy within them, etc etc included in this blog post are copyright Abstract Studios, and are the gosh darn best.