Lovefool 11.28.11 | The Heart Has Its Reasons, That Reason Cannot Know

This week, Lovefool tackles a universal romance, one as concerned with gunfights and intrigue as it is with its characters innermost feelings: Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise.

 

My first exposure to Strangers in Paradise was probably the iconic image of Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski in a bath wearing a leather jacket and holding a drink and a gun being waved at me because I had requested “something new” and was staring down the Star Clipper employee across the counter from me. “Well,” I said to myself, “this seems like my thing.” So I bought it and then the employee and I went out to smoke a cigarette in the sunshine because, honestly, what else are you going to do after seeing that? You’re certainly not going to sit down and think to yourself “Oh, I seem to have stumbled on the modern answer to the romance comic and it’s funny and naughty and, gosh, Terry Moore can draw a lady really well.” No, you’re going to go outside and sit in the sun and laugh with an uncomplicated and excellent friend and think about how lucky you are because you’re not sorted but you’re in better shape than the gun-toting blonde you’ve just encountered, though you could go for a glass of wine.
 
Strangers In Paradise, Moore’s sprawling wonder, is the book that is universally recommended to people who “aren’t into comics” and is championed by such nerd rock stars as Neil Gaiman, who is quoted on the first volume of The Complete Strangers in Paradise and sums it up neatly with “What most people don’t know about love, sex, and relations with other human beings would fill a book. Strangers in Paradise is that book. I have long suspected that what people did in private was much funnier than it ever was erotic. Terry Moore obviously thinks so too. Strangers in Paradise is a delightful new comic, and Terry Moore is a fun writer and a fine cartoonist.”
 
Well, too right, Neil. As with all romances, what we’re seeing in Strangers in Paradise is not necessarily a pretty story, it’s not an entirely sexy story. It is the story of an abused teenager who grew up into a high class call girl who was part of a secret espionage ring and then went on to steal a bunch of money before she ran away to make a new life for herself with this cute girl she was friends with in high school and occasionally sidetracks to do things like see one of her best friends and mentor die of AIDS or beat the living hell out of people or rescue them. She does this between hospital stays because she knows some bad people and gallery shows because she’s an amazing artist and has managed to land in a crummy rental with her muse. The muse/friend from high school is Francine Peters, who is approximately as wholesome as the name implies and, seriously, she’s kind of in the deep end here but it’s okay because Katchoo would kill for her, and Francine’s got a little bit of a temper of her own and a spine that is amazingly solid when it needs to be. Add into this David, the equally charismatic and problematic brother of Katchoo’s former madam, a lot of sexual humor of the will-they-won’t-they-omg-they-are-with-who, and a handful of highly trained lady spies and enforcers and you’ve got yourself a comic book.
 
But that’s not all there is to Strangers in Paradise. I mean, sure, all of that is in there and it’s quite a thriller but Neil’s right: this book is about relationships. It’s about how we throw them and each other away, only to realize that something’s not quite right and we need to fix it. It’s about figuring out where we are and where we’re going and how to get there. It’s about accepting a little (or a lot of) help from your friends and, more importantly, deciding what kind of person you’re going to be. Are you going to be a weird S&M call girl who steals political secrets and occasionally hurts someone real bad, or are you going to have a house in New Mexico with the pretty-but-slightly-plump innocent next door? Are you going to be the pretty-but-slightly-plump innocent next door who is a doormat for beautiful men who are dangling the American Dream in front of you? Will you give up your soul for your creepy sister and help her keep her scary crime empire running smoothly?
 
More importantly, isn’t it super-cool that this comic about girls and boys and their feelings about each other has gunfights? Strangers in Paradise is truly universal in that you don’t have to pick—there’s discussions about art and talking about feelings and then someone tries to kill someone or busts a few noses. It’s nonstop drama for two issues and then a simple conversation at a diner that ends with someone in the rain. Terry Moore is a master of pacing and his artwork is jaw-dropping. His sad moments are sad without descending into melodrama (unless melodrama is called for), his happy moments are infectious, and the questions he asks—no matter how outlandish the context or how dramatic the outcomes—are questions that we all ask ourselves. We all recognize some version of these situations. (Well, maybe not the one where you have to bring down your former madam and girlfriend’s crime empire. I’m, umm, not very familiar with that one.)
 
More importantly, this is a story that understands the journey is as important as the destination. Reading Strangers in Paradise is a little like being in a relationship itself—you never know quite what’s going to happen but you’re very, very interested to see where it goes. It’s a little frustrating at points, but your time is rewarded, and you have something you’ll want to last for the rest of your life. So, if you haven’t dabbled already, let yourself fall a little bit in love with a Stranger. You won’t regret it. | Erin Jameson
 
Learn more about Strangers in Paradise at strangersinparadise.com.

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