Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I don't know what to feel anymore. You confuse me."
Rarely am I allowed the luxury of re-immersing myself in our one my favourite series of all time: there are so many new comics and graphic novels each week which demand fresh reviews. But occasionally a window appears and I defenestrate myself immediately. And that's very much akin to what the cast experience here: free-falling in love and experiencing one hell of an emotional turbulence.
Twenty years ago there was a relative paucity of comicbook fiction in the US and therefore UK readily accessible to women. Of course there were exceptions - LOVE & ROCKETS, EXIT, SANDMAN, CONCRETE - but exceptions they were and I could show you one hundred women I know personally whose first experience of comics, followed by an immediate love affair with the medium, was STRANGERS IN PARADISE.
Drawn by an artist who loves women as women and not stick insects, who can see the beauty and grace in a curvaceous thigh, and written by a man unafraid to be kind (I'll put that into context with volume two), it had a heart of untarnished gold, embracing love as the one thing worth living for - and, if necessary, dying for - when so many play games with affection instead. Don't get me wrong: there are those who play games here, there are those who are proud and stupid and nasty. And what one tends to forget is that actually Terry was really pretty damn saucy. Seriously: lots and lots of sex jokes. Do not denude Terry of his naughtiness!
Indeed the first three-issue mini-series was very much a slapstick burlesque in which we find the main protagonists Francine and Katchoo renting a house together. Katchoo is quite evidently in love with Francine, but Francine is in love with Freddie. Freddie is in love with no one but himself and only after one thing: sex. Francine knows that, Francine tells him that, which is why she won't sleep with him. Instead, aghast at Freddie's philandering, she spends most of her time in the fridge. Katchoo meanwhile is so irascible she shoots alarm clocks. Imagine what she will do to Freddie Femur when she finds out he's cheating on the absolute love of her life? It's really quite cathartic.
But what arrested me on the Market Square the other morning whilst passing onto the main series itself, early morning coffee and a cigarette in hand, is that I had forgotten how utterly shocking it was when the real story first kicks in and the comedy is buried under the weight of the protagonists' past. I've typed twelve sentences here already, but I just don't want to spoil it for you. Instead I will simply tell you that the following scene takes place round a bed nursed by nuns as Katchoo visits the one person in the past that showed her kindness while they both worked as high-class call girls for a certain Mrs. Darcy Parker. Emma is dying of AIDS.
"How you doin', Chewy? You okay?"
"I'm fine, Emmie. Looking forward to seeing Canada with you when you get out of here."
"Then you better grow wings."
"Shhh... don't talk like that."
"Really. It's okay. I talked to God."
"I'm worried about you, Chewy."
"So much... anger. It'll eat away at you till there's nothing left. You need to let somebody... in here."
"You're there, Emmie. You're there."
"I mean somebody who'll stay with you.."
Katchoo has boundaries and they've been built pretty high. The only person she'll let in is Francine who, let's remember, is slightly distracted by a) Freddie Femur and b) the fridge. She has no idea how Katchoo really feels. Then along come David; sweet, doting David; puppy-dog David with whom Katchoo has a little fun. They meet in an art gallery and then in the rain (always, always in the rain) and no matter how many times he's rejected he won't go away, he just will not give up. He's fallen head over heals in love with Katchoo, and he believes.
Which brings us to another of this series' exceptional qualities: the arguments are long. They're played out in all their confused complexities then exhumed later on, whereas in so many other series they're merely nodes in a simple plot device. And they almost always end in rage, remorse and tears. Nothing is linear here. When is life ever that straightforward? Here's David and Francine when Katchoo suddenly sends herself straight off the radar.
"So what was the deal?"
"I don't know! You tell me! You're the one who was with her! You're the one she's buddy-buddy with these days! You're the one she talked to about that whole Emma thing! I'm just her best friend! She doesn't tell me squat!"
"Francine, the only reason Katchoo talked to me's because I was there and she really needed someone to talk to."
"No sir! I'm not buying that! I've been here all along! She can talk to me!"
"She's afraid to, okay?! She's afraid if you find out what she's done, you'll hate her or something."
"That's absurd! I mean, we're best friends! I could never..."
"I think that's the whole point, Francine. Whether you want to admit it or not, what you two have goin' on here is more than just friendship!"
"Of course it is! We... wait a minute! What's that supposed to mean?!"
"I mean I've tried to fit in here and believe me, there's no room!"
"I told you Katchoo wasn't interested in men! She's gay! You idiot!"
"Oh, I'm not so sure about that, but I definitely know why she's not interested in men or anybody else right not... She's in love!"
"With you, of course!"
So when I so casually used to type that David is in love with Katchoo who is in love with Francine who is in love with Freddie Femur, it never did justice to this title. Francine is jealous of David's place in Katchoo's life, and wonders for a while if she may even be in love with David herself. Katchoo is absolutely dedicated to Francine but David is like no other young man she's ever met. He's kind, he's considerate and sensitive. But David
David is not who he seems. Which brought about what was quite possibly the finest-ever cliffhanger in comicbook history.
"RUN!! FRANCINE! RUN!!"
Please note: so many of the pre-PKT EDITIONS are now out of print that we'll be discontinuing that line as soon as what we have has sold out. However, the POCKET EDITIONS are such incredibly good value for money we think you'll prefer them anyway. This reprints the first three of those older books in their entirety with an extra short story to boot.