Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Edition 1 Review

Gather round readers and I shall tell you a tale of the world’s most elusive creature. No, I’m not talking about Big Foot or Nessie. I’m here to talk about…female comic book readers.

strangers-in-paradise-1I thought they didn’t exist either but believe me they’re as real as you or I. During my annual trip to MegaCon, I’m always surprised to see such a large population of female fans. Their gender isn’t portrayed too kindly in the comic book world. It’s 2011 and a large majority of female characters are still nothing more than damsels in distress. It is a tired cliché that’s been repeated again and again since the medium’s very creation. Women aren’t really depicted as full-fledged characters. They serve as a generic plot device that give the male protagonist some motivation or a pathetic excuse for depth. No time was worse for female characters than what it was like in 90’s. During those days every female hero was sporting porn star proportions and costumes that would tear like tissue paper. To combat this rise of sexist imagery in sequential art, writer/artist Terry Moore set out to create realistic female characters in his black and white series titled Strangers in Paradise.

In this first trade paperback collection, readers are introduced to the strange relationship between Francine Peters and Katina“Katchoo” Choovanski. Francine is a beautiful brunette with a bubbly personality while her roommate, Katchoo, is an angry blonde artist with a dark past. Things seem to be going pretty well for the two close friends until a young art student named David Qin becomes interested in Katchoo romantically. To be perfectly honest, I found it incredibly difficult to finish the first third of this graphic novel. The beginning story arc revolves around the infidelity of Francine’s recent boyfriend, Freddie Femur, and the hijinks that ensue aren’t really that funny. Most of the book’s humor feels a bit over the top for a character drama and the subplots are as cliched as an NBC sitcom. It feels like Terry Moore was struggling with finding the series’ tone in those initial issues. Luckily the book improves as a whole when a group of mobsters from Katchoo’s past come to town looking for $850,000. When this plot surfaces, Strangers in Paradise becomes more structured and the characters are given some real motivation as tensions build towards the story’s bloody conclusion.

His writing maybe a bit hit or miss with me but Terry Moore’s artwork is always phenomenal. Moore’s female character designs are like no other artist in this field. Each woman has a distinct look and body type. His characters aren’t free from realistic flaws like double chins, love handles, or a small bust. Moore’s women designs feel real despite the fact that they are drawn in acartoonish black and white style.

The topic on writer/artist Terry Moore’s mind is sexuality…specifically the sexuality of the modern American woman. Francine is written like a stereotype and I’m hoping that was an artistic decision. Francine feels like a young woman who has watched too many romantic comedies and now believes that her entire existence is measured on whether or not she gets married and has children. Completely transfixed on this idea of being a wife and a mother, Francine tirelessly dismisses Katchoo’s’ constant sexual advances. Moore depicts women as beings whose sexuality are in a constant state of flux. Is Katchoo a homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual? This question is never given a definite answer. Like the character, the reader is left confused. The male characters are generally sex crazed individuals who are eager to manipulate the emotions of women. David, who’s drawn in an androgynous fashion, is the single male in this book who isn’t an antagonist to Francine and Katchoo. David is so eager to win Katchoo’s heart, he practically becomes a human punching bag. Although these romantic ideas are interesting, the characters used to explore these concepts are flawed to the point of being unlikable.

My biggest complaint towards Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Edition 1 is that it ends in the exact same place where the book began. Katchoo loves Francine, Francine loves Freddie, Freddie wants to have sex with Francine, and David loves Katchoo. What changes after a kidnapping, a shooting, a disaster of a wedding, a shocking betrayal, startling confessions, and a death?Katchoo still loves Francine, Francine still loves Freddie, Freddie still wants to have sex with Francine, and David still lovesKatchoo. Absolutely nothing has changed. So really….what’s the point? Characters feel static and are never given a chance to evolve. Even after each new revelation characters return back to their default setting by the next page, which left me completely frustrated with what I was reading.

With interesting themes and stellar artwork, Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Edition 1 is a comic that female fans will adore but the narrative shortcomings are all too distracting for the likes of me.

Final Score: 6.5 out of 10

3 / 5 stars      

David McMillin

David McMillin

Film / Graphic Novel Reviewer David writes movie and graphic novel reviews at That's It Guys.