Strangers in Paradise (Book 1)

Prior to reading Pocket Book 1 of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, I had never really read a comic book. Of course, I know people who read them—and many of them are vocal proponents of the form—but somehow I’ve never felt compelled to pick one up myself. In truth, I only read this comic because my boyfriend lent it to me, and I tend to read everything that’s lent to me unless it’s really really bad. (So, for example, I read the first Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Until Dark, but just couldn’t bring myself to finish the first Gossip Girl book, Rich White Kids Pretty Much Have No Souls). I didn’t expect to like it. I flipped through some pages and just couldn’t understand why anyone would bother to draw all those little frames when, I figured, words would suffice. But once I actually gave it a chance, I was pleasantly surprised. And so, this may not be so much a review as it is the story of my conversion. I’m not planning on hanging out at comic book stores anytime soon, but I’d certainly be happy to get my hands on the second Pocket Book in this series.

Strangers in Paradise begins as the simple story of two friends, Katchoo and Francine, who share a very close bond. Katchoo is blonde, strong-willed, and a little bit crazy, while Francine is her perfect complement: dark-haired, appeasing, and mostly even-tempered. The main tension appears to be that Katchoo is secretly in love with Francine. At first, the comic chronicle their various romantic woes, and it looks as though the heart of the story will be the typical will-they-or-won’t-they trope so common to serialized dramas. Quickly, though, things get weird, and we learn a lot about Katchoo (bless you!) that we never would have guessed.

For one, she was a high-class prostitute. And she may or may not have run off with $850,000 of mob money. More than that though, she knows a lot of shady people, has a lot of shady skills, and pretty much subsists on secrets. These developments are a little jarring, even if it’s always been clear that Katchoo and Francine’s relationship was never based on openness and honesty. The shift from Katchoo fighting with Francine’s jerky ex-boyfriend to her accidentally getting Francine kidnapped by mobsters is, admittedly, sort of hard to swallow. Still, it makes for an exciting read, and allows numerous relationships to develop in very interesting ways. These obstacles, though not the typical kinds, force Katchoo and Francine to reevaluate their relationship; they test the boundaries of their friendship—and their love—and show both the strengths and weaknesses of each young woman’s character. Furthermore, they reveal the true nature of David, a young art student with a puppyish devotion to Katchoo. Despite Katchoo’s insistence that she is not interested in men, David persists in pursuing her. His loyalty and gentle support has the unintended consequence of winning Francine’s heart. Thus each of the three must decide to whom his or her heart truly belongs…and how far to go to fight for that love.

Having never read a comic before, I can make no strong judgments on the illustrations or style. Suffice it to say, I did like Moore’s drawings, and found them both consistent and clear. I also appreciated some of the more unusual flourishes, such as the occasional disruption in the standard narration—for example, by introducing a dream sequence drawn in a different manner, or a section made up of lyrics and sheet music. The reading was, on the whole, quick and easy to adapt to. While I at first read tentatively, I soon started to devour almost a hundred pages in one sitting. As I’ve stressed, the experience was new to me, so I didn’t know quite how to process it. Still, in the end, the comic was mostly about interesting characters that I would like to revisit. I look forward to reading more in the saga of Katchoo and Francine. And maybe eventually I will stop pronouncing Katchoo as if I am fake-sneezing.

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