- Caught in the act: Francine (left) and Katchoo.
Cartoonist Terry Moore is very aware of the differences between women and men.
It's a matter of values.
"They [women] must look at us like we're hostile idiots," he says.
Moore's award-winning, female-centric serialized comic, Strangers in Paradise, is a genre classic. It encapsulates the story of Francine Peters and Katina "Katchoo" Choovanski, two best friends who share a house and just about everything else in their lives.
Moore started the comic in 1993, and for 12 years dedicated readers have been following Strangers' idiosyncratic tales of love triangles, hate quadrangles, deceit, boredom and overeating. In the best true-to-life format, they reflect the good, the bad and plenty of the snotty-nosed ugly.
A handful of characters revolve around our two heroines. David Qin, a quiet art student with a dark past, nurses a nearly hopeless love for Katchoo. Asshole extraordinaire Freddie Femur is obsessed with ex-girlfriend Francine, while his wife, the insecure Casey, ponders more plastic surgery.
Realism is important to Moore, who bases the comic in his hometown of Houston, Texas. Like life, the storyline rolls on slowly.
"I think of it as a modern-day Archie and Veronica. I'm just living with them," he says. "I began knowing what type of people they were and that their inner values would bring them to where they are now. ... It's more of a condensation of life."
Like it or not, these characters learn their lessons and reflect the stress in their lives.
Francine's weight fluctuates throughout the series because she tends to eat when she's unhappy. Katchoo is hopelessly in love with Francine and fights David's advances because of her violent history with men. Though the topics, when presented as a synopsis, seem like Lifetime Network fodder, Strangers is far from a so-called "chick comic." After all, Katchoo knows several ways to kill a person.
Francine and Katchoo's strengths bolster the story. Though the male characters tend to be peripheral and weak, Moore is quick to defend them.
"My basic goal is satirization; I'm a social satirist," he explains. "If I had Mr. Nice Guy and Mr. Perfect in there, it'd be just two guys on a bench, agreeing with each other. ... How interesting is that?
"David is a milquetoast, neutral guy -- almost like a gay guy, in the sense that it allows him to be in the room with women and hear what's going on," he says.
Encountering a man who knows so much about women is surprising, if not a little unsettling. Moore's reason for focusing his works on everyday emotions is equally surprising.
"I'm actually very anti-male," he says. "I'm not a political person, but I get so disappointed and angry at the men in America, and the mess they've made, how they treat women, run businesses, whatever. I tend to spend the day ranting and raving and writing cartoons, walking around, yelling at the TV."
That realism is also present in Moore's artwork. In his cover and layout for a special-issue Spider-Man, he aimed to make the heroic web slinger look like the 21-year-old man he's supposed to be.
And Moore's disdain for hero comics that feature "big-breasted women with nonworkable spines" also feeds his visions for Francine and Katchoo.
"I wanted to draw people so that they'd look like real life, like you could meet these people today."
The Collected Strangers in Paradise, Volume One
by Terry Moore
(Abstract Studio), $8.95
Bargain Comics, at 19 E. Bijou St., may have autographed copies.
Call 578-8847 for info.