Page 45 Review by Stephen
There is no comic I am fonder of than STRANGERS IN PARADISE.
I may have declared THE NAO OF BROWN by Glyn Dillon to be the finest work of graphic novel fiction, and I have pronounced that the best body of comics anywhere in the world to date is the autobiographical ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS by Eddie Campbell.
But there is no comic I am fonder of than STRANGERS IN PARADISE. It means the world to me, and I know the same goes for our Dominique.
We have history, you see. We have a lot of history. We also have a lot of love, but nobody I know has as much love for his fellow human being as its creator Terry Moore, and it shines from this ultimate collection as radiant as any sun in the heavens.
All 2128 pages of this epic, heart-warming, heart-cleaving story are reprinted here in these two slipcased softcovers restored as nature intended them without several slices of self-censorship. Oh yes, even if you have the original issues, you still dont have the full story.
In summary: David is in love with Katchoo, who is in love with Francine, who thinks she is in love with serial philanderer Freddie Femur. Unfortunately David is not who he seems, Katchoo is not who you know, and poor Francine is caught in the middle.
The comedy is all the funnier because it is juxtaposed against gut-wrenching tragedy; and the tragedy is worse because you will never see it coming.
From the creator of RACHEL RISING and ECHO. Here are three of the six component parts original reviews:
STRANGERS IN PARADISE BOOK 1:
I dont 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 thats 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 (Ill 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. Dont 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 wont sleep with him. Instead, aghast at Freddies 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 hes cheating on the absolute love of her life? Its 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. Ive typed twelve sentences here already, but I just dont 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?
Im fine, Emmie. Looking forward to seeing Canada with you when you get out of here.
Then you better grow wings.
dont talk like that.
Really. Its okay. I talked to God.
Im worried about you, Chewy.
anger. Itll eat away at you till theres nothing left. You need to let somebody
Youre there, Emmie. Youre there.
I mean somebody wholl stay with you..
Katchoo has boundaries and theyve been built pretty high. The only person shell let in is Francine who, lets 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 hes rejected he wont go away, he just will not give up. Hes 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. Theyre played out in all their confused complexities then exhumed later on, whereas in so many other series theyre 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? Heres David and Francine when Katchoo suddenly sends herself straight off the radar.
So what was the deal?
I dont know! You tell me! Youre the one who was with her! Youre the one shes buddy-buddy with these days! Youre the one she talked to about that whole Emma thing! Im just her best friend! She doesnt tell me squat!
Francine, the only reason Katchoo talked to mes because I was there and she really needed someone to talk to.
No sir! Im not buying that! Ive been here all along! She can talk to me!
Shes afraid to, okay?! Shes afraid if you find out what shes done, youll hate her or something.
Thats absurd! I mean, were best friends! I could never
I think thats 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! Whats that supposed to mean?!
I mean Ive tried to fit in here and believe me, theres no room!
I told you Katchoo wasnt interested in men! Shes gay! You idiot!
Oh, Im not so sure about that, but I definitely know why shes not interested in men or anybody else right not
Shes 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 Davids place in Katchoos 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 shes ever met. Hes kind, hes 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!!
STRANGERS IN PARADISE BOOK 2:
There are very few comics on this planet with the power to move me like STRANGERS IN PARADISE. I could choose to quote from so many of these 350 pages. So much happens, so much is said. So much of it should never happen to anyone and so much of it should never have been said. Thats life.
Katina? I hope this is still your number. This is Marie Peters. I know its been a long time
but remember you gave me your number when you moved to Hawaii and then Santa Fe, and asked me to call you if anything ever happened to Francine
I guess Im making that call. Im in Houston, Im calling from Francine and Brads house
Luisa! Book me on a flight back to Houston!
But you just came from
Things arent right here, Katina. Ive never seen Francine this way and Im worried about her. Shes so sad all the time, she drinks and cries herself to sleep every night. She wont talk to me about it, but tonight she said she wants to go home. I think she means you, Katina. Listen, I know its none of my business but I just cant sit by and watch my daughter die like this. Please come back, Katina. Whatever happened between you two, let it go. Whatever I said about you and your relationship with Francine, Im sorry. Please
I remember my shock when Francine wakes from the dream at the beginning of this book and we see that she has aged a decade. Or is that the wear and tear of being a mother, married to a man who avoids her? After lunch at a restaurant for which Brad never shows up, she ventures onto the terrace with its garden gazebo and stares into the distance, the autumn wind tugging at her thick, dark hair. And she has a vision of a woman with long blonde hair, sitting with her back to her.
Sandwiched between those opening pages and the answer machine message above are events in the past far worse than the first volume, for Darcy Parker is back and this time she means business. She has every intention of getting one of her Parker girls into the White House and she will use Katchoo to do so. Also, something so monumental, so very final, happens which I had forgotten occurring so early.
But half the joy of this series is that Terry juxtaposes the tragic with the comedic and Francines stint as a model at a photoshoot is glorious.
I want you to look into the camera and dont say a word, dont move a muscle
Just give me the look!
Give the camera a look.
Not a look
the look! You know, the one you women have that says, Im sexy but selective, demanding but worth it, aggressive
yet feminine! Seductive in my Anne Klein suit, irresistible in my Camry. Provocative as I make my own bread while closing a big contract on my mobilnet cell phone between reps on my Thigh-Master!
Oh yeah, that look. We have so many.
But there was one particular new element that took some of Moores readers completely by surprise, as David makes another of his many attempts to connect with Katchoo only to have it backfire on him. Again.
You cant hide for the rest of your life, Katchoo.
Im not hiding! I just
dont know what else to do.
I know the feeling. You live like theres no tomorrow, and one day youre right
And it scares the hell out of you. Believe me, Ive been there.
what did you do? Howd you get through it?
Katchoo reacts with fury. Not because David is a Christian but because he kept it from her.
Yet a great many STRANGERS IN PARADISE fans reacted with fury exactly because David had come out as Christian swiftly followed by Terry himself. How dare a man writing with love about same-sex relationships be Christian? they appeared to demand. With confused animosity.
And I dont know about you, but that just makes no sense to me at all. Here was someone who, unlike so many in the history of organised religion, actually followed Christs teachings to spread love and understanding wherever he went and was brave enough to do so in print when it occasionally put him at odds with friends and family. And he was being chastised for that.
Now, I cannot recall whether Terry had come all the way over from America to sign at Page 45 just before or just after that but when he asked me to write the introduction to STRANGERS IN PARADISE: LOVE ME TENDER, the original fourth book in the series that contained this very material, after faltering once I knew exactly what I wanted to write and I chose my words carefully as a subtle rebuttal.
This is what Terry printed. Err, minus the typo and a couple of grammatical errors on my part!
Strangers No More
Thank you so much for producing such a beautiful book. In addition to a personal bi-monthly joy Strangers In Paradise, like so much of the material emerging these days, makes our jobs as retailers so much easier. Without creators like yourself, brave and talented enough to produce a book which appeals to so many different people, wed never be able to begin marketing comics to the general public. Believe me, there are retailers out there who leap with joy every time a new, quality title emerges which we can not only enjoy ourselves, but promote and sell to the rest of the world whove yet to find a comic they might enjoy
Stephen L. Holland
Page 45, March 7th 1995.
So began a very lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership and a wonderful friendship now almost three years old between ourselves at Page 45 (Mark, Dominique and myself), and Terry and Robyn Moore, which I could characterise, succinctly, as a transatlantic, telephonic tennis rally, consisting from both sides almost exclusively of the phrase thank you.
Well, thats not strictly true.
The lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership began the day we received our first issue of Terrys life-breathing comic, and it was cemented but moments later when we sold the first of what have since turned into thousands of copies, to an audience at least 50% female and almost wholly new to comics.
Once we knew what we had in our hands it was relatively easy for us. We didnt have to create the fiction, we just bought it in, promoted it, took the money, said thank you very much, and watched the broad, broad smiles of those returning for the very next issue, the next collection, or a further suggestion to add to their comicbook reading list.
It will come as no surprise to you, therefore, that this fine work of fiction, about two highly individual girls from Houston, has, for some time now, been our biggest single selling title. Particularly in this format, the collections.
Early in 1997 Page 45 had the pleasure of playing host to Terry and Robyn for a Strangers In Paradise signing and Terry, four hours in (jet-lag no doubt playing havoc with his brain), had a hand so cramped from continuous sketching that
that he just continued to sign and sketch for another full hour. No moans, no protestations, just pure glee and excitement that he was here, with those who cared about his stories as much as he did. Robyn and I caught him shaking that wrist beneath the counter to liven it up, and on he went.
The very last couple in line were a mother and daughter whose names, I regret, elude me during this, a very tight deadline. Neither had read a copy of Strangers previously, but had heard about Terrys presence and the book, and were intrigued. The mother bought a copy of Jon J. Muths beautiful, watercolour re-interpretation of Dracula; the daughter, well under 16 and armed with some of her own spectacularly promising sketches, bought the first episode of the book you hold in your hands.
Do you know what they said, the very next week, was their favourite segment? The piece about the transsexual marriage. Oh, Terry Moore, the love you spread
In a society bombarded with messages of hate, from the tabloid newspapers and self-serving politicians to the more vocal members of organised religions, it is so heart-warming to come across a book whose priorities lie firmly in what was always, to me, the key Christian doctrine: Love Thy Neighbour. I dont remember any post-script, qualification or specific exceptions being made; seems a fairly clear and concise Commandment to me.
So, here we go again, Terry: Thank you.
Thank you for Francine, for David and Katchoo. Thank you for Darcy Parker, Louis and Phoebe, Freddie, Chuck, Rachel, Tambi and all the others. Thank you for such beautiful brush strokes, such moving poetry, and all the joie de vivre you pack into your work.
Stephen L. Holland
Nottingham, England, 1997
STRANGERS IN PARADISE BOOK 3:
"We're not going to make it to Nashville, David. Even if we did, we couldn't land it."
"What are you talking about? How do you know?"
"Planes can't fly without a rudder, David."
The third volume of six begins once again in the present with Francine trapped in a debilitatingly unhappy marriage, and it becomes gradually clear that not everyone has survived the intervening years. For if you thought that the venomous presence of Darcy Parker in the lives of Francine, Katchoo and David was gone, think again. Shes left a legacy behind and a vacuum in her wake with theres a power struggle which is about to ignite and suck the poor girls in again.
"144 people died because they got on a plane with you. Are you at peace with that? ...If you really do care about the girl and her family, you need to get them away from you - as soon as possible. Before they're taken away. Permanently."
And thats the most horrific sequence in an already turbulent relationship where harsh words are said: after the plane crash when one of the casts jettisons the other in the most hurtful way imaginable in order to try to save her life. The dramatic irony is excruciatingly. Francine isnt just pushed into the arms of her future husband who will cause her such pain, she is positively, literally punched there.
Unfortunately its not enough. Do you remember Darcys cousin, Veronica? Because Veronica certainly remembers Francine, and youre in for a very brutal encounter.
It is this, of course, which makes the funny bits all the funnier back when they were safe and happy, and as well as snow and gales he evokes so well with our loved ones staring into the distance, Terry draws a glorious summer countryside where David and Francine once shared some lazy afternoons at Francines mothers.
Youre not sitting on a bughouse or anything, are you?
I dont think so.
Bugs? You down there?
No answer. Must be safe.
Thats what they want you to think. Thats how they trick you!
I think its safe.
Im all about a bug-free bottom.
Its a wonderful thing.
Three hundred and fifty more pages in which we see Katchoos first break in the art world, its unexpected effect on Francine, Davids secret finally revealed, and Francine struggling with her feelings for Katchoo as their trajectories diverge and all that is left are the lonesome lights flashing in the evening sky.
"See that star... the one shining brighter than all the others? I know the girl who hung it there."