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Strangers in Paradise. Volume One. By Terry Moore. Houston, TX: Abstract Studio, 1995. 1v. (unpaged). $8.95. ISBN 1-892597-00-4.


Adults, teens; adult situations, mild language

NOTE: This book collects the first three issues of Strangers in Paradise.

ANOTHER NOTE: This book is in its 9th printing.

Francine Peters, a slightly ditzy 26-year-old .woman, lives with her longtime best friend, Katina "Katchoo" Choovanski, an aggressive woman of roughly the same age. (A sample: when the alarm clock wakes her in the morning, she shoots it with a pistol. She's gone through a lot of alarm clocks.) Francine has been going out with Freddie Femurs for a while, but she refuses to have sex with him--a bone of contention for some time between them. On the morning of their first anniversary, Freddie finally discovers that Francine has been holding back because she thinks he'll leave her if they have sex. Disgusted, he storms out of the house. Katchoo tries to comfort her but ends up going too far (she either is sexually attracted to Francine or is pretending), and Francine runs out of the room.

Later, in an effort to please Freddie, Francine goes to his office clad only in her underwear. Unfortunately she finds him about to have sex with a co-worker. Francine runs off in tears. Meanwhile, a young man, David, is intrigued by Katchoo's "statement" (a bloody tampon) that she left on a piece of "sexist" sculpture; and despite Katchoo's initial reluctance (to say the least), she lets him buy her coffee. Next morning, Francine meets with Freddie to tell him she's ready to have sex with him, but he coldly rejects her, making it clear that he no longer wants a relationship with her. In a fury, she strips naked and throws her clothes at him. Then she drives home, where David is admiring Katchoo's paintings. Francine crashes her car in front of the house and suffers a mild concussion. When she mutters the words "... oh Freddie... don't..." Katchoo swears revenge on the rat.

While David stays with Francine, Katchoo pays a call on Freddie. He ends up in a more-than-average embarrassing position in a store window. Needless to say, Katchoo gets arrested for this. Her big worry is for Francine, who is acting peculiarly, eating chocolate syrup sandwiches and demanding liver. In the clink, one of the policemen attempts to rape Katchoo, but she fends him off, winning his animosity and the grudging admiration of another cop. Elsewhere, Francine, who has finally recovered her facilities, teams up with Freddie's former secretary Margie (who was fired after Francine barged in on Freddie that time) to sneak into Freddie's office to find some dirt on him so they can blackmail him into dropping the charges against Katchoo. But Freddie shows up unexpectedly, so Francine has to seduce him while Margie sneaks out.

The book also includes the short piece "Sweet Dreams," a sketchbook, and several attempts by Moore to create a newspaper comics strip, out of which he drew inspiration for Katchoo and Francine.

An utterly charming book, considerably funnier than the synopsis would imply. For one thing, this is one of the best sets of characters I've seen in comics in a long time. You care about all the characters, even the minor ones; even Freddie is a human being (albeit an obnoxious one) with multiple sides, such as when he shows genuine concern for Francine after her accident. Most of the characters grow during the course of this book, particularly Francine, who starts out somewhat naive and ends up using her former naivety to her advantage to distract Freddie and, later, taunt him. Katchoo is an immensely appealing character, utterly self-possessed yet with a vulnerable side, and devoted to Francine literally to the point where she'd risk arrest for her. David isn't very developed yet, but he comes off as a nice intellectual guy, with his appreciation for art and poetry and his willingness to sit up all night watching over Francine.

You have to admire how Moore finds humor in the grimmest things, such as Francine's car crash or the attempted rape. Part of the humor stems from the black-and-white art, which is simple, clean, and just slightly cartoony. Moore's faces are fantastic, almost the polar opposite of the terrible motionless faces of Bob Fingerman in White Like She; realistic, expressive, capable of displaying subtle levels of emotion that evade most comics artists.

Note that although there are several scenes involving naked characters and people having (or attempting to have) sex, the "naughty bits" are never shown directly.

Another thing that I really like about the visual presentation of the book is the lettering. I don't usually notice lettering unless it's either very bad or very good, and here it's very good. Moore's letters enhance the meaning of their words, especially screams and sound effects. A lot of artists (especially Japanese ones) ought to pay attention to how effectively Moore integrates sound effects into panels without detracting from or covering up the art.


 An example of the lettering and SFX.
Even without knowing what "it" is, I bet Katchoo's expression will clue you in!

 Copyright 1995, Terry Moore

One criticism: If you're going to have a table of contents that refers to page numbers, it's helpful to actually put page numbers in the book....

Man, I love discovering books like this. They justify my faith in the comics medium as a storytelling method. Very highly recommended.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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