Strangers In Paradise XXV Issue 1 – Can You Go Back Again?

by Richard Bruton

Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise is 25 years old this year. Which means a few things; it’s a fine time to look back over this beautiful, heartbreaking, love story of a comic, the twenty-fifth anniversary makes me feel very old, and most importantly, take a look at the new Strangers In Paradise XXV issue # 1, Terry Moore’s return to the world of SIP.

My love for Strangers In Paradise dates back to 1993 and that very first issue of a three issue series from Antarctic Press. It stood out as something completely different back then, and I fell in love with it instantly. Hilariously funny, full of slapstick moments, but more than that, these exaggerated adventures in relationships of two wonderful women; Francine Peters and Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski felt absolutely real. As it developed past those initial three issues of comedy, Moore developed it into something of a romantic drama, the romance and comedy still there, but with a bittersweet, sometimes heartbreaking side. When it ended in 2007, Moore had published 116 issues, mostly through his own Abstract Studios. That final issue ended with Katchoo and Francine finally together, happy, their lives laid out in front of them, Francine finally closing the door on us, on them, on the series.

But Moore has more to tell it seems, which brings us to SIP XXV issue 1. Twenty-five years after that very first issue, we’re back with Francine and Katchoo. It’s a few years after they closed the door to us, and fittingly, the comic opens with that door opening once more.

Katchoo and Francine have settled down with their children. The threat of Darcy Parker and her influential “Parker Girls”, a network of deadly women who have infiltrated the highest orders of power in America and beyond, seems to be gone.

Oh, it could be so perfect, with Mommy and Momma K:

Yet from the off, this isn’t the relationship drama I fell in love with, instead, it’s straight into the thriller aspects of later volumes of SIP that I was never as fond of. There’s little here of the emotional core that gave the series its heart, with Francine relegated to a minor role, mommy in the pool.

Without blowing any big secrets, the solicit for issue 2 talks of a rogue Parker Girl threatening to reveal her secrets; all about Darcy Parker, the criminal empire, the “Parker Girls” out there still in positions of power and influence. In a call back to the events of Moore’s sci-fi series Echo, the Parker Girl in question was involved with the deadly explosion of the Alaskan Collider, and the subsequent investigation has offered her a deal to tell all. But the details she could reveal would shatter Katchoo’s new life, destroying the happiness she’s finally embraced. Katchoo being Katchoo, she’s going to stop at nothing to get to the Parker Girl. The whole issue races by with Katchoo just a step behind as the Parker Girl bolts, grabbing her go-bag, and escaping.

Moore’s always been a master of delivering drama in a few panels, of packing a punch with few words, conveying all he needs through his beautiful artwork. And that’s just the case here, the sequence when Laura/Stephanie realises her assumed life is over and heads out the door. The loving wife visage of a page ago dropped instantly.

The last three panels, with Stephanie realising Katchoo is onto her, that her life as Laura just ended–that’s what Moore does so well. The punch of that last, silent panel is just perfect. Leading to another perfect page, no captions, no words needed, as Stephanie goes into Parker Girl mode:

In truth, I’m not sure where Terry Moore is going with this. As an opener, it’s a small masterpiece of pacing and reveal, of tension building, hooking you in to want to know more. But at the same time, aside from the admittedly beautifully done cat and mouse game between Katchoo and her target, there’s precious little here that would make sense to anyone who isn’t already a fan of SIP. Maybe that’s Moore’s intent, but any new reader won’t have a clue of why Katchoo is so desperate to deal with this new threat, as there’s no indication of the strength of the relationship between her and Francine here. And that’s such a shame. The closest we get to it here is with a sketch at the end of this issue….

So, SIP is back. I’m not sure it should be. Not this way. Over the previous 116 issues, primarily self published, Terry Moore created a massive, sprawling story, but one with a beautiful, pure heart at its core, of two women and their determination to be together, no matter what life threw in their way. For so long, despite the slapstick and the comedy, despite the increasingly dark reveals of Katchoo’s former life, SIP was a perfect romantic drama. It succeeded in making you care so deeply about the characters. And in Francine and Katchoo, you had the solid, emotional core of the book, a relationship that gave the book its heart.

It was so perfect. But it couldn’t last. At some point in the story, this simple, romantic tale seemed to transform into something completely different. Moore had always hinted at the dark past of Katchoo, but when this really came to the fore, the romantic, funny, heartbreaking relationship drama I’d fallen in love with turned into something more of a thriller. It wasn’t about Francine and Katchoo anymore; it was about a huge international crime syndicate and Katchoo’s relationship to that. I followed it to the end, but it was never the same for me.

I always said that reading Strangers In Paradise was a little like falling in love for the first time. The early intensity gives you everything, it’s perfect, simple, beautiful. But over time, as things evolve, that initial intensity falls away and other things begin to encroach upon your perfect love. Until there’s a point where you wake up and realise it’s no longer what you initially had.

SIP XXV isn’t the comic I once fell in love with. It’s a fine comic, and Moore’s art and storytelling is on top form. But it’s not SIP for me. Time to revisit the first half of the original series and fall in love once more, I think.

Strangers In Paradise XXV #1 is out right now from Abstract Studios. Story and art by Terry Moore. 

If you want to explore the world of Francine and Katchoo, there are many ways to do it, including omnibus editions, pocket books, and single volumes. Personally, I’ll always recommend the first four volumes as a perfect place to start: The Collected Strangers In Paradise (the earliest high on the slapstick issues), I Dream Of You, It’s A Good Life, and Love Me Tender.