Drawn to Comics: “Strangers In Paradise” Is An Old Reminder Of The Power Of Happily Ever After

Last year at New York Comic Con, I walked up to writer/artist Terry Moore‘s booth — press badge around my neck — and burst into tears. 36 years old, working at comic con (like as my actual job), I’d sought out him out to shake his hand and tell him in person how much his long-running series, Strangers in Paradise, had meant to me. I say “in person” because we’d emailed dozens of times before that day at NYCC when I sobbed onto a copy of his 2016 sketchbook and thrust ten dollars into his wife’s hand to cover the cost. I’d interviewed him for various websites. He’d published one of my fan letters in the back of one of his books. All I wanted to do was smile at his face with my face and reiterate my thanks for drawing two women in love. I’d interviewed Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter, on the GLAAD Awards red carpet just a few months earlier. How hard could it be to walk by and high five Terry Moore?

Very hard, actually. Impossible. Because it wasn’t the 36-year-old me who waltzed up to his table. I wasn’t a senior editor at the world’s most popular queer lady website, thriving in New York City with my girlfriend of six years. I was younger. Much younger. I was 23 or 24 and all my friends were marrying men and I couldn’t make myself follow their lead, no matter how many times my Baptist pastor urged me to. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but it was something, and I was scared and I was alone and I hated my job and I hated myself. I had no plans for my future because I couldn’t imagine a future because I’d never seen one (in real life or on TV or in a movie or in a book) that made sense to me.

I was 23 or 24, standing in Galactic Quest comic book shop in Buford, GA, when the owner, Kyle, pressed Strangers in Paradise into my hand. He asked me what kind of books I liked to read and I blurted out “Wuthering Heights” for some reason, and he laughed and told me to take the first SiP trade paperback. He said if I liked it I could come back and pay for it later, and if I didn’t, I could just pass it along to someone else who had a thing for female protagonists who love so deeply the weather changes with their moods. It was a good Brontë joke and when I laughed he flipped the book over and showed me the cast of characters on the back cover: “This is Katchoo,” he said. “She’s in love with her best friend, Francine; this is her. She thinks she’s in love with Freddie, but she’s just scared to admit she’s in love with Katchoo too.”

A post-SIP sketch by Terry Moore.

A post-SIP sketch by Terry Moore.

I shoved the book back at Kyle and told him no thank you. My church had been warning me about stuff like this my whole life. You read a book about homosexuals or, say, a boy wizard, and you might get tricked into feeling sympathetic towards them and you might forget how they’re pawns of Satan and you might get dragged right into their lifestyle. Kyle insisted and I relented. It was free and he was so eager to share a comic book he loved.

It turns out my church was right: Ten pages into Strangers in Paradise I realized what Jesus was talking about when he promised that when I found the truth, I’d be set free. Katchoo loved Francine, and it was perfect and heart-wrenching and sweet and sexy and fraught and easy and normal. So normal. Loving another woman — loving another woman — was normal, and I was free.

francine-gay

Francine Peters: The only woman who stayed in the closet longer than I did. She finally said she was gay in Issue #88.

Francine loved Katchoo back; that was obvious before the end of the first trade, but it took 106 issues for them to finally find their way to each other for good and forever. Strangers in Paradise is a lot of things. It’s a love story, for sure. It’s a story about chosen family. It’s a noir mystery and a mob drama and a ’90s sitcom and an art history lesson and a love letter to music and complicated rumination on identity. I used to wait by the mailbox for each new issue to arrive. I’d devour it and then start over at the very beginning and read all the way through again until it was time for the next issue.

I’ve been thinking about Strangers in Paradise these last few days because of something Terry Moore said in the Treasury Edition a long time ago. He started the series in 1993 and had always planned for Francine and Katchoo’s story to have a tragic ending. He thought it’d be bold, and poetic. But September 11 changed the way he thought about story, about his work in the world, and he realized there were enough sad and terrible endings for real people and fictional characters, especially queer ones, and he resolved in the following months to ultimately give his lesbian and bisexual female leads the send-off fans wanted, the send-off they deserved.

francine-katchoo2

My dream come true, too.

It’s no wonder that I reached for SiP yesterday in the wake of the Orlando attack. It’s a well-worn comfort, a story that tugged me out of the closet and sent me off in pursuit of my dreams, a story that has offered me distraction and reassurance for years.

Over a decade ago, Terry Moore realized what so many storytellers before and after him have been too obtuse to see — that happy endings for gay people aren’t cliche. They’re not the norm. They’re rare and remarkable and we hold them in our hearts forever. I never knew a future until Galactic Quest Kyle wrapped my hands around Strangers in Paradise.

Francine and Katchoo lived happily ever after.

Francine and Katchoo lived happily ever after.

And so can I.

And so can you.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 928 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. Perfect. I can’t remember if your first email to me was about the Lady Vols or Strangers in Paradise, but by the time you mentioned both, I knew that we were forever family. This piece is perfectly timed and wonderfully written. As usual. :)

  2. I read SiP for the first time five years ago basically because you told me to. You have done well carrying on Galactic Quest Kyle’s legacy. And I now might just have to read it all through yet again.

  3. SiP is my comfort blanket, and my strongest memory is of reading it in a queer cafe in London laughing and crying because I didn’t know how to be gay. I didn’t know how to order my drink in a queer way, or sit down at the table in a queer way, and I was sure that everyone was looking at me as though I was a fake.

    But, then, neither did Francine. And Katchoo loved her anyway, and Francine found her own confidence to be her own big beautiful self, and WE GOT A HAPPY ENDING.

    This series meant so much to me that even at my low low point, homeless, hungry, I still scraped money together for SiP before food. Because it kept me alive by making me feel like a human being. Like it was okay to be confused and fail and have complicated feelings and screw up again and again. And there could still be love for who you were on the other side of it.

    Oh Heather, I haven’t even met you, but I want to sit in a cafe with you, and laugh and cry over our favorite episodes, whilst we show each other photos of our amazing wives/partners, and whisper and shout in amazement “We did it, we have our happy ever after, we did it, no-one is ever going to take away the truth the absolute TRUTH of that love that we are.”

    Thank you Heather, thank you and I’m going to re-read every one (do you remember Francine at the Ad agency?? That outfit!!!)

  4. Yes, yes, yes, yes. SIP was a story that I couldn’t put down when I was first coming out years ago. Thank you for reminding me to pick up the story again.

  5. I have been thinking about re-reading SiP again and how it was a happy ending and how I really didn’t think that was going to happen.

    One of my favourite parts (besides the entire Parker storyline, which I ate up) was Casey. You just didn’t see that coming and it was amazing.

    PS: I also cried when I met Terry Moore. I wonder how often this happens to him.

  6. Great read.
    I got into Terry through SiP as well and I just love the way he portrays people, and doesn’t just paint women with a singular, stereotypical brush.
    It was a great strip, though for various personal reasons I find it hard to go back to now (we had a large group of friends that had a culminating meeting and it was like “Ok, this chapter is done now”) but I’m glad you got it. I hear Rachel Rising is amazing too, and he has some of the Black Edition left! :-)

  7. “Francine and Katchoo lived happily ever after.

    And so can I.

    And so can you.”

    NOPE IT’S FINE JUST CRYING ALL THE TEARS TODAY BECAUSE OF YOUR POSTS.

    Seriously, though, I needed to hear this today. I’m still reeling from Orlando, and everything feels hopeless and I feel small and tired. So, thank you. I need to keep believing we get happy endings, too.

  8. SiP was the first trade series I owned, and the first comic about queer women that I read.

    I love, love Terry’s art: really good, strong, expressive line work gives me butterflies like no other form. And, as “difficult” a character as she is, Tambi’s whole look was something that helped me a lot, when I was coming out as trans, and I needed to tell myself I could be beautiful. And Casey. Casey helped in just every way. (There’s a great picture of the two of them, I wish was here).

    And I remember reading about how 9/11 had changed his outlook, and the ending too, and feeling strangely guilty, but so happy: unsure whether it was okay to embrace it. I still had a lot of baggage at the time.

    This article is a great reminder of how wise his decision was, and a beautiful personal story: I can’t imagine a world where Francine and Katchoo don’t live happily ever after any more. I tear-up even trying to.

    If you love comics, please look into his work: I’ve been a fan ever since SiP and the series “Echo” and “Rachel Rising” are great sci-fi/thriller and occult/horror stories, respectively, with women at the heart of each tale.

  9. “happy endings for gay people aren’t cliche. They’re not the norm. They’re rare and remarkable and we hold them in our hearts forever.”

    AMEN. This reminds me of something Shirley MacLaine said in The Celluloid Closet about how they didn’t do The Children’s Hour right because Martha broke down instead of standing up and fighting for her “budding preference.” There’s nothing wrong with having queer dramas or killing off queer characters per se. But when the vast majority of lbtq+ female characters are either kiled off or written as being self-loathing or being despised/punished by the other characters, it signals to the audience that this is what lbtq+ women are like, and this is the treatment that they deserve.

    I know it may sound stupid to care about the fate of tv and film characters when real people are being murdered, but the media we consume has a profound influence on our attitudes and beliefs.

    When I was struggling with my sexuality as a teen I read a lot of fanfiction and comics, because these were some of the few mediums where lgbtq+ characters were well represented and actually had happy endings. One of my personal favourite comics that I read is issue 33 of Zot!, by Scott McCloud. For a comic published in 1990, it was pretty revolutionary, compared to popular fair like Archie. Especially the happy ending page that was intentionally sandwiched in the comments section as like an Easter egg just when you thought the ending was going to be awful.

  10. This article says everything I feel about SiP. That is exactly how I would act if I met Terry Moore. My tpb copy of I Dream Of You SiP volume 2 is so tattered. It was a lifeline when I was a nerdy, depressed, lonely teen struggling with my gender identity and sexual orientation. Even though I use different pronouns now, there’s so much of me that identifies with the anger and defensiveness, but also fierce loyalty of Katchoo. I was shocked as a teen to learn that Terry Moore was a guy because rarely do guys write women characters so well.

    Years later I gave up on comics overly tragically losing my 10+ year old collection (still managed to hold onto my SiP) it was too much to rebuild. But this past year I got back into them because I missed them, and I really wanted to read Rachel Rising. I started going to my local shop and getting the newest issues of RR while each 2 weeks I’d buy a volume of the collected books to catch up. One day at work I opened my latest tpb (vol 3 I think) and my hear stopped. Inside was a signature on a solid black page, in silver marker “Terry Moore.” I tweeted a picture to him and asked if it was legit and he said yes. How had my comic shop sold a signed booknow on the shelf like this? Was it an accident? Did he randomly distribute signed copies, how did I get this? Why was I so lucky? Turned out my comic book Shop owner (who I’ve spoken with extensively about Moore since this) is a HUGE fan and one day he looked up as Terry Moore walked into the shop randomly. He asked if the owner wanted him to sign anything and the owner basically gave him everything he had in stock. He decided to not sell them as autographed and mark it up, because people who love Terry Moore LOVE Terry Moore and he just wanted people to get them and be happy. So tons of random stuff was signed in the shop. I went on an Easter egg hunt and grabbed a reasonable amount of back issues and additional tpb (volumes I needed anyway) that were also signed. It was amazing.

    Moore would be on a very short list of people I wish I could meet. SiP was one of the few things I had to latch onto as a teen that kept me afloat. If I met him I would be a blubbering mess of tearful gratitude. But that’s the kind of fans he acquires I think. Because his characters are so much of real people that they speak to us, and we see ourselves in them much more than other superheroeside because he writes so much depth into them.

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