Strangers in Paradise (Book 2)

The second pocket book in Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise series is more action-packed, more fanciful, and, on the whole, more complicated than his previous installment. It begins with a dream sequence (or is it?) in which Francine imagines another life for herself, one of marriage and motherhood and frumpiness—in short, a life far different from the one she is living with Katchoo. She awakens ten years younger, crammed into a tiny apartment with her best friend (and maybe more), pretty much in the same uncertain position we last saw her in. Everything seems back to normal, although Francine and Katchoo, unable to touch the 850,000 dollars in the bank, are struggling to get by. Francine gets a job working for an advertising agency and, due to a wardrobe mishap, unwittingly winds up the spokesmodel for a condom campaign; Katchoo spends her days painting, or trying to—if only David would comply with her request that he pose nude! The fun and games abruptly end, however, when Darcy Parker, Katchoo’s ex-lover and a criminal mastermind (not to mention David’s sister) reemerges, this time with her eyes on the White House.

Soon everyone is ensnared in Darcy’s various plots. David’s presence on her lush estate lures Katchoo back, and into her old ways. Francine, desperate to get in touch with her best friend, starts piecing together the widespread evidence of Darcy’s machinations. Things look bleak, with the entire political system implicated, but the book reaches a fairly quick resolution (indeed, the last hundred pages are unrelated Strangers in Paradise comics). I was disappointed that such a large, almost unwieldy, story line was resolved so quickly, but perhaps, as with the first book, this one will have its various threads revisited in later installments. Many of the ideas were good, such as Darcy’s D.U.C.K.s (Deep Underground Capability), a term which applies to those girls who infiltrated their target’s lives from the most unexpected angles. I can’t imagine that we have seen the last of this behavior, as almost everyone in this series seems to harbor a dark secret.

I also liked how this book gave even further insight into Katchoo’s previous life, which is always interesting, and certainly helps to explain even who Katchoo is in the present. My only complaint is that there is no equality in the main characters’ backstories: while we have learned plenty about why Katchoo left home and what she did while she was away, we still know relatively little about David, for example. He is a mystery to both us and the other characters. I am assuming this will be resolved in later books, so I will hold off on any criticism. Still, it would be nice just to have some straightforward flashbacks or flashforwards: I’m still confused as to whether the peek at Francine 10 years older was a dream or not.

Of course, some of these stylistic choices no doubt represent the appeal of Moore’s work. He can craft a complex narrative and employ interesting storytelling techniques, furthering the plot in endlessly inventive ways. If anything, his skills have only grown since the last book. That makes this latest book more impressive, as well as more frustrating. Particularly for someone who doesn’t read a lot of comics, it is difficult to know how to interpret the rapidly shifting frames that jump across time and space. It is often disorienting…but it is hard to know whether that disorientation is universal to everyone. As with the last book, however, I am interested in seeing these characters again. And so, I look forward to the next installment, to see where Katchoo, Francine, and David end up.

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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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