People are Strange
Houston comic book author/illustrator Terry Moore reflects on the 20th anniversary of his hit series Strangers in Paradise.
It’s been quite the long, strange trip for Houston author/illustrator Terry Moore. The man who once had aspirations of starting his own comic strip ended up spending nearly two decades penning and publishing Strangers in Paradise, the black-and-white, Eisner Award–winning graphic novel that would make him a star in the comic book community.
For those non-fanboys out there, Strangers followed the Houston-based, on again/off again relationship between Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski, a surly lesbian painter with a doozy of a criminal past, and Francine Peters, her hopelessly romantic best friend, roommate, and object of her desire. For 90 issues, Moore had these two escaping from the clutches of either the men in their lives who lust after them or the women from Katchoo’s past who often seek to kill them.
Currently doing a 20th anniversary tour of comic conventions around the globe, Moore answered a few questions Houstonia had about him and the history (and future) of his funny, sad, brutal, and downright addictive pride and joy.
Houstonia: Let's start off with the obvious question: Even though you stopped doing Strangers in Paradise in 2007, did you ever think you'd be telling that story for so long, and go on to have a 20th anniversary celebration?
Terry Moore: No, never. I liked the idea of doing one comic strip your whole life, like Charles Schulz. But to make a comic book that will last more than a few years is not the norm. And it’s so unlike me to stick with something for so long. My desire is to do many things.
H: Strangers in Paradise has to be one of the most consistently heartbreaking love stories ever put on paper. It was bad enough Katchoo and Francine always had trouble being a couple because of societal norms and their own personal issues. Add the fact that they're always in danger because Katchoo used to be a prostitute with underworld ties, and you have one doomed romance. Why you gotta be such a sick bastard when it comes to love, man?
TM: Because I’m a guy. Even if the whole series was the two of them sitting in a park holding hands, I’m going to want to drop an apocalypse in there at some point, shake things up. At the very least, have them arrested for loitering and turn it into a prison love story. Drama, dude.
H: It is quite the fascinating saga. It starts off being this quirky, Gen X type of story. Then it veers off into pulpy-thriller territory. It goes back-and-forth like that throughout the whole series. What inspired and influenced you to do such a twisted tale?
TM: I like so many different kinds of stories and media and music. My tastes are broad. So, when I had the chance to play with a long story, I began using all my ideas. It’s a lesson I learned from a music producer: don’t make a bunch of songs with only one good idea in each one. Make one song full of good ideas. The difference is immense.
H: You also get this strong sense of how much you enjoy storytelling in various forms while reading Strangers. At any given moment, it can go from being a graphic novel to a literary novel to even a screenplay. What made you decide to tell this story in many different ways?
TM: When I decided to use all my ideas in one series, that meant genre-hopping as well. And it adds so much dimension to the story. I found a lot of satisfaction in presenting a scene visually, then offering the next in prose so the reader could get inside the minds of the characters. And, in my mind, the series is full of music, so I did what I could to share that feeling with the reader, at times even showing the score to some pages. If you don’t know how to play, it looks pretty. If you do, you get to hear the soundtrack. It’s like an activity book for gifted readers.
H: You certainly have a flair for writing and creating complex, female characters, in Strangers as well as other works like Rachel Rising and Echo. In fact, we're kind of convinced that everything Joss Whedon knows about writing about women in genre fiction, he stole from you. Where did that come from?
TM: I don’t know. I like women. I pay attention to their side of the story. It’s so different for a woman to walk down a street than a man. Once you realize that, you have a lot to write about.
H: You were just at Comic-Con in San Diego. In your opinion, how much of the comics culture has changed, from the business itself to its fans, since you started doing this so many moons ago?
TM: The fandom is still there for all things new in pop culture. The difference is Hollywood has taken a more aggressive stance with the products. I’m afraid they’re erecting a lot of drills and oil wells and pumping as fast as they can. You know what happens when the niches dry up. Hopefully, the modest comic story will survive a media nova and continue to find fans.
H: Are you going to be at Space City Con this weekend?
TM: No, I will be in Boston for a comic-con there. It was re-scheduled after the bombing, so I wanted to go and support them. Also, I’m concerned about making my face known in Houston—how will I be able to keep going to Starbucks in my underwear?
H: You just re-released the Strangers in Paradise omnibus edition in July, and there is also a Strangers treasury edition coming in the fall. But what's going on with the Strangers prose novel that's supposed to come out next year.
TM: I had to shelf the novel to get a lot of other books out on deadline this year. I’m going back to it after I make the SiP Treasury this fall. I hope to have it done and sold next year. If it doesn’t get a deal, I’ll self-publish it so my dog can have a copy to tear up.
H: Do you think Strangers could ever have a future on the big or small screen? It could definitely be the sort of serialized show you see on cable TV these days.
TM: Yes, it could. SiP would be a wonderful series for TV. If you would like to fund that, I can give you my agent’s number.
When it's said and done, what do you want people, whether they're novices or diehards, to know the most about Strangers in Paradise?
TM: That Strangers in Paradise is a love story that helped many readers of both sexes and various orientations through difficult times in their own lives. That it’s a love story of hope and acceptance. And, it’s in print and digital.