It’s been almost thirty years since I first saw this title and wanted to read it. I’m so glad I finally got the chance, even if it has been decades since it first came out!
But mixed in with the glee of long anticipation is a note of dissonance. Even while I was reading this, I was fairly certain that I would have enjoyed it way, way more had I been reading it closer to the turn of the century. And this isn’t just because I’ve learned how to be more comfortable in my own skin since then. So many ideas of acceptable behavior change with the times, and so often for the better! Twenty years ago, the thought of a throuple would have seemed weird and seedy to me, but nowadays I can only think that Francine, Katchoo and David should really be a polyamorous unit, instead of being uptight and angsty over their feelings for one another.
Not, ofc, that they don’t have plenty of reason to be angsty outside of their relationship drama. Francine is probably the most normal of the bunch, and even she has a lot of codependency issues. As the graphic novel (and series) begins, she’s fending off the sexual advances of her long-term boyfriend Freddy Femur. She believes that sex has always been a turning point in her relationships with men, so wants to foster a deeper connection with Freddy before introducing sex into their relationship too.
Her best friend and roommate Katchoo (short for Katina Choovanski) hates Freddie, and not just because she’s in love with Francine herself. Into this already complicated relationship steps art student David. His persistent pursuit of Katchoo — despite her telling him to piss off as she’s uninterested in men — is meant to come across as romantic. Despite their differences, and through the trials that beset them, the three form a supportive bond that is not without its jealousies.
So far, so standard (if edgy) relationship novel. But then Terry Moore introduces a really seductive criminal element which was by far my favorite part of this book, and which also went a long way to explaining why Katchoo is as messed up as she is. Katchoo happens to have a really shady past, and the even shadier Mrs Parker is ready to come collect.
I couldn’t tell you which issues comprise Volume I, as Abstract Studios’ latest hardcover collection takes the entire series and divides it into four equal parts. As a result, the last forty pages or so here feel like they’re part of a fresh story arc. If you’re not already familiar with what the publisher is doing, then this feels like a really weird place to end the book. But since I’m a huge fan of independent publishers (being one myself,) I totally understand the economic choices behind it. Frankly, I’m rooting it on, because it’s honestly really great that more people will get a chance to read this seminal story courtesy of a fresh printing. The fluidity of Katchoo and Francine’s sexuality is really well done, and would have meant a lot to younger me had I been able to read it back then. But a part of me is also glad that I’m reading this book as an adult because, y’all, David is not okay. Tbf, a lot of Katchoo pining after Francine is not okay either, which is likely why she puts up with David treating her the same way. And, y’know, if consenting adults decide they’re comfortable being openly mooned over by their friends — who sometimes have secrets and sometimes get involved in really scary, really violent things — then okay, I guess. But it doesn’t feel healthy for these people to spend their lives so wrapped up in these one-sided relationships.
While I’ve been told that I don’t have the typical female responses to things (whatever that means,) I do feel distinctly uncomfortable in the presence of guys who don’t back off after being turned down. I don’t trust guys who don’t understand that no means no. I don’t trust guys who think no means maybe. I can’t say for a certainty that that’s how most other people feel, but it sure is how I feel, so guys like David make me feel deeply uncomfortable.
For all that, Terry Moore writes so well about such a ridiculous, emotionally turbulent time in the life of a — gosh, I don’t want to say Young Adult like a teenager but a young adult like a 20-something — that I really do want to read the rest of these books and see how the relationships shake out. Maybe they will end up in a loving throuple! Finding out what’s up with Mrs Parker and her criminal empire is a decided bonus. Hopefully, it won’t take me another three decades to achieve these aims.
Strangers In Paradise: Vol I by Terry Moore was published June 20 2023 by Abstract Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including