How Strangers in Paradise and Terry Moore Stand the Test of Time

Terry Moore is a living legend. The comics writer/artist launched Strangers in Paradise, considered by most to be his magnum opus, in 1993 and has continued on to produce some of the best creator-owned comics on the market in the decades following. From the launch of his career as an indie comics creator, the mainstream styles of the industry shifted from late 180s grit, to the Liefeldian superheroes of the 190s, to the hyper detail of the '00s, to the indie egdge of the '10s… all through it all, Moore's work has remained consistent. Both Terry Moore himself and Strangers in Paradise stand the test of time in an industry designed to only push what is currently on pre-order right now, now, now in Diamond. Here's how he does it.

How Strangers in Paradise and Terry Moore Stand the Test of Time

Timeless artwork

The artwork in Strangers in Paradise is remarkably consistent over its 100+ issues. Only the very earliest stories is a bit broader in the depiction of the characters, with the first few issues leaning more toward humor with art that seemed halfway between the Terry Moore work we know now and newspaper cartoons. It was a bit more slapstick back then, but the evolution to the Strangers in Paradise we know now was swift.

From Strangers in Paradise #1:

Strangers in Paradise interior page. Credit: Abstract Studio.
Strangers in Paradise interior page. Credit: Abstract Studio.

To Strangers in Paradise #38:

Strangers in Paradise interior page. Credit: Abstract Studio.
Strangers in Paradise interior page. Credit: Abstract Studio.

Moore's work isn't trapped within any of the eras in which it was created, because he never adapted his style to what was in vogue at the moment. Instead, Terry Moore developed a style that was his own and, tried and true, stuck with it. The characters of Strangers in Paradise are both very obviously drawn by Terry Moore in style, but also feel completely real. Without leaning into any photorealism, the artwork captures life in small details: the way an elbow bends, how Francine's eyes change shape when she smiles, the way Katchoo slouches when she sits, how characters stomachs roll up in certain positions. Besides being visually beautiful, the comic, and all of Terry Moore's work since, bursts with life.

Characters we know

It's the same for the writing, because Terry Moore creates characters that we know, deeply, in Strangers in Paradise. The same way that styles of artwork come to define eras, and so, too, do storytelling tropes. Moore avoids this in his epic slice-of-life by creating a character that feels like a friend. We see our hopes and dreams and heartbreak in Francine, our longing wistfulness in David, our fire and soft-heartedness in Katchoo. Strangers in Paradise is also filled with characters that were introduced as one-note jokes, or so it seems… because down the road, that character is a fully fleshed out human. There is no better example than Casey, who started as a bit of a foil and comic relief, and turned into one of the series' best characters.

Strangers in Paradise is funny

And so is Terry Moore. Too few comic books, especially now, evoke genuine laughter. Comics has become a medium where creators take themselves very, very seriously, which is a bit funny in and of itself considering that "comic" is in the name of the thing they create. Anyway. Humor is perennial, and everyone, always, wants to, maybe needs to, laugh. Strangers in Paradise takes itself just seriously enough, and just as… well, not seriously enough to feel like real life, in all of its absurdity.

SiPXXV interior page. Credit: Abstract Studio.
SiPXXV interior page. Credit: Abstract Studio.

Care, craft, and charisma

Terry Moore recently brought Strangers in Paradise back for an anniversary sequel series, Strangers in Paradise XXV, that led into Five Years, which crossed the title over with his other work, including Rachel Rising. The artwork is gorgeous, and Moore manages to pull the impossible trick of getting much better with every passing year and still, somehow, keeping the characters consistent. It's the care he takes with his craft, along with the indescribable charism of his work that has turned Strangers in Paradise into the definitive modern classic.

Terry Moore is among the best living comics creators today, and as much as we can examine his work and ask why… the truth is, all one has to do to find out is open up a copy of Strangers in Paradise and start reading.

About Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.