When I was about 11 years old, I got really into comics. My entry was through the ‘90s X-Men cartoon, and soon I was consuming back issue after back issue, going to the local Borders in search of more (Editor’s Note: KD is the reason local comic shops closed). In the height of my desperation to find more X-Men, suddenly, a comic book kiosk appeared in the mall near my family’s home. Right when you entered on the north side of the Coral Square Mall in Coral Springs, Florida — Big Entertainment Industries stood blocking the regular flow of traffic.
This was a gift for my young self. Going to a brick and mortar comic store seemed really daunting — I was that fifth grade age where my mom really embarrassed me, where comic stores filled with teenage and adult dudes felt really scary, and I wanted a little bit of anonymity as I cruised through what comics I might want to check out. The mall entrance kiosk supplied that: I could abandon my family and also look like I was interested but not too interested in the wares sold there. Big Entertainment also had something else — two nerdy dudes who worked there, who looking back must have been in their early 20s, but they seemed huge and aged and very mature to me. One of them took a unique interest in helping me expand past my X-Men fixation — and introduced me to the likes of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, my first foray into indie comix.
I vividly remember the day he pulled Strangers in Paradise’s first compilation down from the plastic case rotating on that small, kiosk counter. The front was all black, with an illustrated tear across the cover and two eyes, puffy and red from crying, glaring out at the viewer. I didn’t need to know the story, something about that cover read “forbidden” to me, and I used what money my mom had given me to buy it.
Strangers in Paradise (SiP) follows the exploits of roommates Katina Marie ("Katchoo") Choovanski, Francine Peters, and their mutual friend David Qin (and later on, David’s sister and mob boss, Darcy Parker). Originally slated to be a three-issue mini-series published by Antarctic Press in 1993, SiP wound up being so popular among readers, Moore decided to self-publish another 13 issues himself. Image Comics, famous for its power to lift up indie comic authors and allow artists to keep all their publication rights, picked the series up for a brief eight issues before Moore went back to self-publishing, with the comic going until 2007.
The plot does become disjointed throughout these various publishing changes, but it’s still a powerful story. What starts off as a love triangle becomes a dark, twisted plot about a female-led mafia running various sex rings throughout the city to control governmental decisions. Basically, picture a soap opera comic with regularly proportioned women, a ton of slapstick humor, and women with guns, and you’ve got Strangers in Paradise. Throughout the ups and downs and wild adventures, the series’ backbone is the relationship between Katchoo and Francine.
SiP has a cult following by this point, up with other ‘80s and ‘90s indie comic darlings like Maus, Bone, and The Sandman, so it’s no surprise die-hard fans have gotten tattoos of comic panels, of Katchoo, Francine, and the infamous Parker Girl tattoo. While the series has been over for a decade, and Moore’s storytelling and depiction of women still inspires. I recommend snagging the series — now helpfully packaged in a box set — and giving it a try. Strangers in Paradise helped to pave the way for a lot more indie comics with strong female leads getting bigger distributions, and for that, I’m really grateful.