In 1996, Terry Moore, Jim Lee, Kurt Busiek, and James Robinson formed the Homage imprint as a medium for creator-owned comics. Moore brought his award-winning Strangers in Paradise series along, and published it through Homage for the first eight issues of its third series. For the first time, the adventures of Francine, Katchoo, and David appeared in color. The first five of these issues have been collected under the title Love Me Tender, and they introduce arguably the strongest segment of the series. This trade paperback, the fourth, retains the color for a short segment which, Wizard of Oz-like, introduced color to the original series after two pages of black-and-white. It also features a cameo by Bruce Wayne.
Title: Love Me Tender (Issues #1-5 of the third series)1
Author: Terry Moore.
Superhero sequence illustrated by Jim Lee.
Expect some spoilers.
Strangers in Paradise has always stood apart from most contemporary comics, but Love Me Tender opens with a depiction of the central characters as superheroes. The artwork differs dramatically from previous issues, and this is not surprising; Terry Moore turned over the illustrator’s job to Jim Lee, best-known for his work on X-Men, Batman, and similar titles. This segment nicely parodies the genre for a few pages, before Moore takes the pen again and reveals that the mock-heroic events have been taking place in Francine’s mind. Readers likely expected that twist. Moore immediately provides a more surprising one.
The woman who wakes from the four-color dream is an older, heavier, and forlorn Francine, a married woman with a five-year-old daughter. Later, while awaiting her husband in a restaurant, she sees Katchoo-- for the first time in a decade.
The story then flashes back to the familiar characters and setting, years earlier, shortly after their move to the flat owned by Margie McCoy. Francine gets a new job, and the relationship among the three principals grows increasingly complicated. This issue continues to mine their lives and relationships—- Francine’s, in particular—- for their comedic potential. Francine and Katchoo frolic in their new apartment. Francine gets a new job in a segment which satirizes corporate culture and advertising.
Love Me Tender also revisits past gags. The running joke of prurient neighbors (a nod to the fact that the characters’ lives are on display—in a comic book) continues. In place of the male voyeur who lived next door to their old house, we have a disinterested husband ("I believe you, Phoebe. I'll look at the naked girl later, ok?") and a wife whose angry denunciation of the "wild girls" reveals buried sexual fantasies ("They make me wear leather!"). Pat, the loser lothario who last appeared as a video clerk, now has a job as a valet. His way with women hasn’t improved at all.
This story illustrates the risks faced by writers who publish their work serially, although the problem created in Love Me Tender could not be recognized until much later. Flashing forward ten years provides an excellent structural device. It will become an important part of the series, and help give shape to Strangers in Paradise. Of course, flashing forward creates the potential for continuity problems, and Moore’s decision to include a cameo by Casey Femur does just that.
The older Francine had to meet someone from her past besides Katchoo, and Moore selected Casey who, at the time, was a minor character whom he’d been playing for laughs. As the series progressed, Moore and his readership grew to like Casey, and he made her an integral part of the story. While it is entirely plausible that a married, maternal Francine would have lost contact with Casey, the conversation they have will no longer make much sense after events depicted in future issues.
Nothing terribly original happens in this part of the story; the treatment of the events is imaginative and innovative. The varying angles, the play between pictures and words, the use of wordless panels, and the attention to detail have all made him a favorite among comic readers and artists. At one point, we’re led to believe that two characters are about to have sex; the next page features a suggestive depiction of the sounds of lovemaking, which end to reveal two entirely different characters. One of them appears to be exhausted. Moore uses a clever device to reveal that, in fact, the sound and the fury of the previous page have taken up very little time.
Although SiP can be read as a loose graphic novel, this trade paperback clearly tells the first half of a specific story arc or chapter. It concerns the characters’ relationships. The second half, which appears in Immortal Enemies, focuses on the thriller aspects of the story. The link between the two is the enigmatic Rachel, Chuck’s girlfriend and Francine’s new colleague.
Throughout, Moore continues to juggle realism, parody, satire, and comic-book silliness. Love Me Tender features some of SiP’s shining moments.
1.It's a Good Life!, the third anthology, collected issues 10-13 of the second series, which actually ran fourteen issues. Issue #14, however, featured the experimental story of Molly & Poo, which only tenuously connected to Strangers in Paradise. Much later, #14 was collected with two other Molly and Poo-related issues. Save for one short segment, this doesn’t really form a part of the Strangers in Paradise graphic novel, though it makes an interesting read.