Thursday, July 29, 2010

Funnies Aficionado; Strangers in Paradise

I love visual/graphic, sequential, story telling. Ok, "Comics." But I'm not really into aliens and mutants and people in tight, colorful costumes (well, except maybe for Mardigras).I once spent an hour and a half in a comic book store trying to find a graphic novel by a specific writer/artist team because their book emphasized relationships and emotional/intellectual struggles, not just action and violence. I finally found what I wanted, only to realize once I got home that it was the very same comic that I had already bought and read a year before.

What can I say? I guess other readers (presumably younger ones) are more interested in imagination and escapism, maybe even living vicariously- but I'm more interested in compelling story telling.

Terry Moore is a compelling story teller. It's no wonder Moore had already won one Will Eisner award and has been nominated for another, plus a Rubin, plus a Harvey award. Personally I think that Moore's style, both writing and drawing is far more reminiscent of Will Eisner' "the Spirit,' than the team DC Comics has reviving that series.

But Moore's characters aren't fighting crime or saving the world (usually), they're just trying to figure themselves out and help each other get through life, sort of like the rest of us. Unfortunately for me, as usual, I'm climbing on the band-wagon after the parade is over. Moore is wrapping up his master comic, 'Stranger's in Paradise,' after a 17 year run.

Strangers ("SIP") is a character-driven "dramadie" that revolves around Francine, Katina, and David, twenty-something friends caught in an unrequited love triangle. The tension is subtly played, it took me three issues to begin to catch on. David is an ex gang-banger/Art Major who's in love with Katina, who is a successful artist who's in love with Francine, who's Katina's straight best friend just an average girl with your average weight complex and an average job who's trying to make her way in the world.

There really isn't a lot of sexual tension in SIB, the emphasis is placed on friendship and loyalty. No kissing, not flirting or indulging in the erotic... at least not between the three main characters. There's plenty of dating and relationship struggles and angst.

Moore's drawing style is fluid, nuanced, attractive and at times sultry, without ever becoming exploitative. As a reader, I appreciate female protagonists, but as a comics reader it's hard to find authentic women characters. Let's face it, She-Hulk, Cat Woman, even Wonder Woman (who was originally created as a positive role model for young girls by a psychologist) are all pretty much soft-core porn for 10-14 year old boys. Moore isn't shamelessly preoccupied with bodies like say, Frank Cho's 'Liberty Meadows' comic strip.

As a matter of fact, I was convinced that Terry Moore was a woman, until I visited his website. Turns out, he's not gay either. Come to think of it, he's not between the ages of 14 and 30. He's not even single. All of these facts are amazing because he knows his characters, he seems to understand them, and have an uncanny empathy for them. That's what I appreciate most about Strangers in Paradise, that the characters are so genuine- authentic, real, honest, human, multidimensional, etc. etc.

I can't praise him enough for this. As a junior high and high school teacher, I'd like to think I've observed enough adolescents to be considered a credible witness to how realistic Moore makes his young characters and their constant, neurotic inner-conflicts.

It's a shame that Moore will no longer be producing new issues of SIB. It's a shame there aren't more comics like it, standing out among all of the typical overly commercialized, weird, violent, and formulaic stuff. It would also be a huge shame if all the straight readers were scared off by the understandably loyal LGBT following SIB built up over the last two decades.

If you're a true comics aficionado, you really owe it to yourself to give SIB a try. If you never thought of yourself as someone who'd enjoy comic books or graphic novels, then you really owe it to yourself to give SIB a look, it will really show you what a remarkable genre visual/graphic, sequential, story telling can be!

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