Saturday, February 9, 2008

14 Comic Book Couples I Love - Part 7

Given my sloth today, I was tempted to put up part 2 of this series WAY earlier than planned. I mean, part 2 is just going to be a quickie one where I rehash the accolades of folks like Time Magazine and Neil Gaiman, then link to a 7-page preview . . . but no! I insist on giving you all your dollar's worth today, my friends, with an in-depth discussion of the wonderful couple known as . . .

7. Francine & Katchoo (from Strangers In Paradise)

Francine Peters and Katina "Katchoo" Choovanski don't have superpowers. They're just real women with real problems. They're messy. They're passionate. They circle around each other and hurt each other without meaning to. Their love can be both burden and gift. Unlike so many fictional couples, they don't just get a happy ending - they earn it. Welcome to Strangers In Paradise.

Terry Moore began this romantic series as a self-published comic and it soon rose in popularity until it was garnering Eisners. Strangers In Paradise, boiled down to it's simplest essence, is about three friends. Katchoo is a volatile lesbian artist with a past full of unsavory characters. Katchoo is in love with her "straight" roommate whom she met in High School - Francine, a beautiful, meek brunette with low self-esteem and a dreadful boyfriend. Enter David into the mix, a sensitive young man who falls hard for Katchoo. Now, a lot happens in the course of the series but the crux of it all (for me, anyways) is the story of how Francine learns to love herself and subsequently, Katchoo.

Now don't misunderstand me - this relationship is the opposite of a storybook one. At times, it seems like they fight, cry and run from each other more than we see them hold each other close. Francine has to deal with her religious background and how loving a woman might ruin her traditional dreams of a white picket fence and family. Katchoo, meanwhile, has a very ugly past and a lot of anger issues to work through. David and a myriad of other characters appear in their lives to make the questions they ask themselves about life and love even more complex, showing that sexuality is not an either/or. There's murder, heartbreak and a surprising amount of comedy along the way. This is not a simplistic tale with easy answers . . . which is why I've loved it so.

To be honest, I stopped reading Strangers In Paradise a while ago, much as I enjoyed Moore's beautiful, naturalistic dialog and flights of poetry. While the story itself was good, I felt like he was perhaps dragging it out a lot more than was necessary (and I gather from Interweb chatter I'm not alone in this). In the end, I felt the story had come to a natural conclusion and took one of the many alternate endings he presented as canon (a happy one with the two women as lovers who had raised a child together), so I can't tell you with complete certainty how the romance between Katchoo and Francine ended well. I can only tell you that those first few trades containing their story felt more real and honest than 75% of the fictional couples I'd read about or seen in any other medium. I still own volumes 1-7 of SiP and reading them is like getting to know old friends all over again. I'd like to complete my collection someday, just to see if I've been unfair to the talented Mr. Moore and so I can finally know how it all turns out.

In spite of my displeasure with the pace, I still want to thank him personally for this series and especially this couple. I find it especially heartening to read a love story where it doesn't all come together with a song and whirlwind romance. Seeing someone find an inner peace and a trust in someone they love after years of confusion and struggle feels more valid - and therefore more beautiful - than any simple, easy romance I could have posted. I mean, I love Lois & Clark or Ralph & Sue Dibny but they've never made me cry (and please don't mention Identity Crisis - that just made me nauseous and depressed). Terry Moore has made something unique that's touched a lot of people and proved that romance comics aren't dead. So for that, and many other reasons, I'm glad to spotlight it.

So, here's to Francine and Katchoo - the couple that taught me that not all love stories have to be easy. And to Strangers In Paradise, the comic that taught me that sometimes, the best comics are indie.

On a side note - I still think there's almost nobody more perfect than Terry Moore to take over Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane and I'm hesitantly optimistic about his turn on Runaways. How about y'all?

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