Oh, SiP, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
I first discovered this title in a back issue box at my parent’s comic book store. At the time, I was a ravenous devourer of all things Chris Claremont, the Classic X‐Men series were my peanut butter and jelly. I lived for the stuff and couldn’t read the X-Men back issues enough, pouring over the panels over and over again before re-bagging the singles and placing them back in the box in numerical order.
One day, a different comic popped up that I had never noticed before. It looked so foreign to me. The cover featured two young girls, a blonde sporting a wry smirk, cigarette dangling from her mouth, while her brunette counterpart stuck her tongue out and surreptitiously gave the smoking blondie bunny ears. But…where were the costumes? The villains? The alien warfare and the lasers?
I put the comic back, wanting nothing to do with it. The last thing I was interested in reading was a story about two chicks dealing with whatever silly issues they were having, and went back to the epic trials and tribulations endured in the Dark Phoenix Saga.
But like the siren call that cannot be ignored, I kept going back to that oddball comic, growing more and more curious about those two girls. I finally caved and pulled the single from the box and read my first issue of Strangers in Paradise. If you’re familiar with the series, then you know which issue I’m talking about: High School.
Upon finishing it, I knew there was no way in the world that I wasn’t going to find out what happened next and what happened prior, come hell or high water.
Over the years, I became our own best customer, ordering the graphic novels as soon as they were published and catching up on the series by reading the past ones that were already released. And to think I believed they had silly issues! These characters were put through the grinder! I cried over X‐Men but full-out bawled over Francine and Katchoo. Like the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once said in regards to writing, “Be a sadist. Make terrible things happen to your characters if only to see what they are made of.”
Moore definitely filled his quota.
When I finished the final graphic novel in the series, Ever After, I literally set it down and cried. It was exhausting to read. Trying to make something last as long as possible, while at the same time wanting nothing more but to learn what happened next, was a task I had never undertaken before the way I did with Strangers in Paradise. I was so bummed when it was over, so thrilled that it ended the way it did—with love.
That’s all these two women ever wanted, Katina Choovanski and Francine Peters, two people tripping and stumbling their way haphazardly through an obstacle course that we call life.
These ladies went through it all. Murder, addiction, hate sex, love squandered, souls cheaply sold. And let’s not forget about the leading male character, David. To hell and back he went (on more than one occasion) all in the hopes of saving these girls from this wicked, wicked world—and themselves. All of it, all of it, done for one thing and one thing only—love.
It’s what we all want. Hell, it’s what we all need. Anyone who has it will tell you it’s the only thing that matters, and everyone who has yet to attain it knows that no matter what they already do have, it’s made better when shared with someone special. And these characters are special, revealing in the end that love isn’t something that you can label with trite words like “straight,” “gay,” or “lesbian.”
This story conveys that message with grace and beauty achieved through pain, suffering and the will to never, ever give up on who you love—or die trying.
Here’s a taste of what this comic has to offer, a poem from the series (this comic is rife with poems, a feature I love):
There’s a shadow on my back
From a light that never cracks
I come to you in my sorrow,
A broken man who has to borrow
In my eyes it’s plain to me,
You’re my star and destiny.
An empty house I can’t call mine,
Deep in debt and buying time
Turn what’s left of energy
Into you, my only dream
In my eyes it’s clear to me,
That you’re my star
Shine for me,
Blind my sight,
Don’t let me see
What I can’t fight.
In my heart
You are there
But I don’t care.
‘Cause in my eyes
It’s clear to me
You’re my star
People typically tend to enjoy the stories they do because they can relate to it in some fashion, and considering the content of Strangers in Paradise it’s no wonder it was a raging success with both women and men, not the easiest feat to accomplish in the Kingdom of Comics.
The series never experienced a slump in sales, the demand was always sky high, the loyal readers chomping at the bit for the next issue, wondering what was going to happen next, what was going to be accomplished next, the next defeat, the next triumph.
So imagine the sadness that settled like a funeral shroud when the announcement was made that the series was drawing to a close—and the enthusiasm that arose when it was announced that Terry Moore was going to release another book, five years after the tale reached its supposed end, and just in time for the 20th anniversary of the story’s existence.
The book, planned to be released this year, won’t be in sequential art form, however. No, Moore has something different in mind for his SiP world and instead of a comic he is producing a sparsely illustrated novel. Why? Simply put, he feels there is just too much story to illustrate and, pursuing a desire to write novels, he believes SiP is the perfect place to begin. As to what he has in store for us material-wise, we’ll just have to wait and see.
And wait we will, for as we have all learned from Francine, Katchoo and the rest of the SiP gang, patience, like love, is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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