Back at the start of my post-college days when I was slumming it in Boston, someone suggested I check out this new comic series called Strangers in Paradise. The first cover was a simple but lovely shot of two women in an art gallery: a moody blonde artist and her seemingly innocent dark-haired bestie. Inside was a story of that second woman having the worst luck with men, specifically a lawyer named Freddie Femur. You’d think this is a classic Bechdel-Test-failing love triangle, yes? Well, maybe not. Because there’s a lot more going on than you think with these characters. A lot more.
Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski, the ‘angry blonde’, is the girl literally from the wrong side of the tracks with a past she’d rather keep quiet. Francine Peters is actually not so pure and innocent and just wants a bit of stability. Freddie, of course, wants to be the slimy alpha male but fails badly at it. And somewhere along the line, Katchoo gets a visit from a fourth character: a kind, quiet and nerdy guy named David Qin, who just wants to take her out for coffee and get to know her.
And that’s only the first three issues. What happens in the next hundred-plus issues that were released between 1993 and 2007 is what truly pulls the reader into this wild universe of criminal underworlds, black ops action, political intrigue, hidden pasts, frustrations in creativity, unrequited love, marriage instability, emotional violence, and spiritual redemption. For some of them, life eventually brings them peace. For the others, not so much, but their downfall is always of their own doing.
What I love about this series is that Moore has chosen to make each female character in this universe as badass as possible in their own unique way. Whether they’re trying to escape their violent past or helping someone battle anorexia or coming to terms with their sexuality or merely just learning how to love and trust someone without any strings attached, these women’s stories very rarely fall into trope or stereotype. These are characters with a vibrant back story and an individuality that sets them apart from each other.
Reading Strangers in Paradise helped me learn how to write and understand my own characters, and how to make them interact. Moore will occasionally throw in silly humor, timely pop culture references, and perfect comedic timing, but when things are serious, he doesn’t hold back. From SiP I learned about pacing, about when to utilize a perfect show-don’t-tell plot device, and how different characters should and could interact. I also learned when to subvert a trope to make the story that much better. And most of all, I learned how a simple back-and-forth dialogue can tell the reader a lot more than just what they’re saying, whether by what’s not being said, or by how it’s being said.
I highly recommend giving the series a try! Moore is a wonderful writer, and he’s also a self-publisher!
**NOTE: If you’ve got $30 to spare, head over to Humble Bundle today or tomorrow, as his complete Abstract Studios bibliography is available in pdf form! If you miss out, check out his work at his Abstract Studios website!**