In the film Shakespeare in Love, Queen Elizabeth bears witness to a wager that plays cannot show true love — They make it pretty; they make it comical; or they make it lust. They cannot make it true. So a wager is set at fifty pounds: can a play show us the very truth and nature of love? If that bet had been comic books instead of the theater, with Strangers in Paradise, Terry Moore would have won the bet.
I'm going to tell you straight — Strangers in Paradise is one of the best comics ever written. More than any comic I have read since or after, Moore captured the reality of love; of being in love; of the horrible pain and terrible joys that love brings, and how love is not a single moment but a lifetime of coming together and parting and (hopefully) coming together again. He created characters that were more real than any I had seen before. He drew women like real women — sometimes stunningly beautiful, sometimes plain and scruffy looking, sometimes red-faced and blubbery.
Terry Moore's independent, black-and-white comic about the adventures of Katina "Katchoo" Choovanski, Francine Peters and David Qin was an absolute anomaly when it first appeared. This was the '90s, a time when over-the-top was not far enough, when excess and sparkle ruled the stands. When I picked up the first issue to browse through, it rocked my world in the same way The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen had back in 1986. It taught me about a whole new level of comic books, about the potential of the medium and how limiting the books where I had been reading until then.
I've written about this before, but when I owned a comic shop Strangers in Paradise was my ultimate weapon in converting bored girlfriends into comic readers. While their boyfriends were shopping, I would hand a copy of the first trade to the girlfriend to browse while waiting, and 9 times out of 10 that trade would wind up in the pile of comics to be bought that day. And the girlfriend would keep coming back for her fix of Katchoo and Francine, often long after the relationship was over.
Which isn't to peg Strangers in Paradise as a "chick comic." There is action, violence, drugs, intrigue, sex (including the bisexual kind, which was much more shocking in the '90s than it is now. Moore was prescient.) — it's awesome. I had so much faith in the comic that I established a "No questions asked" return policy on the first two trades. If you bought them and didn't like them, you could bring them back for a full refund. I never once had someone bring them back. Not once.
If you have never read Strangers in Paradise, then you are seriously missing out on something truly special. And right now, Terry Moore has a deal for you. Even though Strangers in Paradise was self-published, Moore had to censor his comics to get retailers to put them on the stand. He did one run of the uncensored version in hardcovers, but they were ridiculously under-ordered and hard to get a hold of. Publishers have been loath to risk their money on doing a softcover run of the uncensored versions, so Moore is staking his personal savings and paying for a print run himself.
Let Moore tell you all about it:
"Five years ago 1,250 hardcover edition (Strangers in Paradise) box sets were offered and sold out immediately. It was grossly underprinted due to low pre-orders. (Pre-orders paid for the printing and that was all we could print.)
Now, finally, we are making an affordable, softcover version. The Strangers In Paradise Softcover Omnibus box set includes the same two 1200 page books containing every page, every story ever printed relating to SiP! The price for this 2400 page collection in a boxed slipcase? $100.
I can't make it any more affordable than that, folks. That's 4 cents a page for a labor of love I spent 14 years making.
Why has it taken 6 years since the end of SiP to make this softcover Omnibus? The answer is simple: it is very expensive to print and the printing must be paid before the book ships. This means, I have to pay for everything before the industry can help with purchases. The cost of printing the softcover Omnibus is shockingly high. But after 5 years Robyn and I have decided it will never happen if we don't go out on a limb and take the risk. So we are printing the book at great personal risk, because we believe the fans and retailers will support us and buy the book once it is available. I've always believed in SiP. Now I'm putting my money where my mouth is. But I need your support.
We will be taking pre-orders soon. As a thank you, a new, exclusive print will be included with every pre-ordered Omnibus!"
This is as good a deal as you are ever going to get on the complete Strangers in Paradise. Moore will sign every copy you order from him, you get the print and you get every single issue of one of the greatest comics ever made.
You can pre-order and guarantee your copy at Terry Moore's website.
And you should. Trust me on this one.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.