Comic Book Bootcamp Day 6: Slice-of-Life
What we’re reading…
Alright folks, this is the last day. Coincidentally, it is also my favorite comic genre: the slice-of-life.
Unfortunately, slice-of-life comics are little difficult to find, mostly because of the history of comics being very science-fiction/fantasy and slice-of-life stories gearing towards women. Don’t worry, we’re going to cover what is in my opinion one of the best comics ever period. Strangers in Paradise (1993 – 2007) by Terry Moore is a romantic story between two friends. While some of the situations they find themselves in may feel stretched, the interactions between characters is well-written and genuine.
Before you read…
Let’s take a look…
It was really, really difficult to not assign the entire Strangers in Paradise series. There are so many things this series gets right about men and women, all while breaking the tension with comedy. This first volume is relatively short – just three issues – but those three issues are jam-packed with relationship drama. To break it down:
- Katchoo and Francine have been friends for over a decade.
- Katchoo and Francine are roommates.
- Katchoo loves Francine, but only jokes about their relationship.
- Francine is dating Freddie, who is scum-of-the-earth
- David is interested in Katchoo, and he is playing the “nice guy” role to get to her
- Despite being scum-of-the-earth, Francine wants Freddie…
- Until Freddie threatens Katchoo. Then she wants revenge.
The shojo manga reader in me is squealing with delight.
This volume focuses on the interactions and relationships between Katchoo, Francine, David, and Freddie. As an arc, it works to introduce the main players and give a bit of their background. Francine is insecure. She is drawn as slightly larger and taller than most women, and Moore allows her weight to fluctuate throughout the series. Katchoo is hardened, and there are glimpses of her past as she interacts with others. Freddie is a womanizer, selfish and just as insecure as Francine. David is a quiet soul, and it is difficult to determine his motivations when it comes to the girls.
An aspect that stands out in every one of Terry Moore’s series is the idea of sex without sexualization. In Strangers in Paradise, Francine is naked onstage due to a costume malfunction. Moore is able to present this event with a focus on the embarrassment rather than sexiness. His ability to do so continues from there. Francine and Freddie fumble around in the dark, and the result is more comedic than sexy. Francine shows up to Freddie’s work in a sexy outfit with a giant grin on her face (only to have it wiped away quickly after arrival). Francine’s nakedness in the park is portrayed as a cry for help rather than an excuse to see her naked. Katchoo is nearly assaulted while in jail, but she turns the tables before she could be harmed. In each case, Moore draws the women as people with flesh and imperfections, and they are not on display for the reader’s pleasure. Women can be sexual without being portrayed as objects, and every instance of exposed flesh does not have to be sexy. Moore proves that in this work.
Moore uses Strangers in Paradise to explore gender roles as well. Francine embodies many characteristics that are perceived as feminine. She is meek, quick to forgive, and insecure. Katchoo, on the other hand, is brash, loud, coarse, and bossy, all traits associated with men. David also embodies feminine characteristics, displayed in his love for art and poetry and his meek nature. Freddie is…well, an example of the worse men have to offer. Beyond these first few issues, Moore plays around with these gender roles and how they impact the characters’ world views and decision-making.
I’ve been reading comics for quite a few years, and I’d like to think I’m pretty well-versed in what’s out there. That being said, no comic comes near to what Strangers in Paradise has to offer to readers. It is incredibly smart, full of drama, explores unrequited love, and brings to life characters that are more human than any other character in any other piece of literature.
What does Strangers in Paradise get right about relationships?
How does the art style differ in this book than in others?
What is the appeal of slice-of-life stories?
Thanks for sticking with me during the Comic Book Bootcamp. Hopefully you’ve left camp with the foundation for a great comic and graphic novel library for your home. Looking forward to hearing about what you think of these books and more!