Strangers in Paradise: That “Girl” Book

I finally gave in and read Strangers in Paradise Vol. 1. My excuse was that it was highly recommended, and I found it at the used bookstore. (Which is the nice thing about loving to read comics, but not being overly concerned about keeping them pristine.) To my surprise, or not, I really liked it. Like read it in two days really liked it, which is a pretty good feat in between working full-time.

Strangers in Paradise always appears on those lists. You know, the ones by pretentious male comic book readers making recommendations of books your girlfriend might like. It always starts off with “Well, have you tried getting her to read Strangers in Paradise?” Author Terry Moore is also know as a women-friendly writer of “girl” books and usually another title he’s worked on appears on the list as well.

I’m really uncomfortable with the classification and pigeonholing of Strangers in Paradise and another “girl” books in the “girl” book category. I can’t help but wonder, what’s a “girl” book? And what does a “girl” book that non-girl books don’t have? Does that make other books “guy” books? Or does it just lead to theothering of women? (Not to mention the implied othering of racial and sexual minorities with the baseline normalizing of the white, straight fanboy as the sole comic audience.)

Hazards of the job make me tolerate marketing calling it a “girl” book. They make me okay with Target’s “Chick Lit” and the goings on about “Chick Flicks” starring Hugh Grant or Patrick Dempsy. That’s marketing, that’s companies wanting to make as much money as possible. That’s a publishing company making sure that it’s on the shelf of Barnes & Nobles and Borders as they know women are more likely to shop for comics there than the local comic book shops. This is the same marketing that also wants me to buy new, improved toilet bowl cleaners and yogurt. A lot of yogurt. Yum. Yum.

But the corporations are probably not controlling the fanboy who decides to write the “girl” book post after his begging of his girlfriend to go to the comic store every week or having to justify how he just spend over $100 on that really cool statue of She-Hulk on e-Bay. If she picks up comics than it’ll be what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Then they can have romantic weekends debating who would win Batman or Wolverine over burgers after sitting through two different convention panels which a guy on them did a “that’s what she said” joke.

My suggestion for fanboys is to find the woman who already reads comics. Who can tell you what issue of the New Avengers the entire team gets strung up naked in the Savage Land and how Batman could’ve totally not mended his broken back by working out really hard. Trust me, they exist. This is what my boyfriend did. Now when he goes shopping on e-Bay for those Alpha Flight comics, he also shows up with a box containing a She-Hulk bust and my lecture about saving money to buy a house doesn’t include sending the bust or the comics back. And if she’s not interested, I’m sure you can show her interest in her hobbies or the same respect as you expect her to show to yours.

And these books, like Strangers in Paradise, that I keep getting told are “girl” books, I’m going to classify as people books. People want solid stories about interesting, three-dimensional characters of all ages, genders, races, sexualities, abilities, etc. They want art that resembles what people, aliens, and creatures might really look like if you encountered them on the street. They want stories and art that are innovative and unique. Get that baseline and then we can start talking about targeted marketing.

I don’t see how a boy wouldn’t want to read Strangers in Paradise with it’s varied cast, thriller-plot, solid characterization, and good art. There’s even guns and violence in this “girl” book. The fanboy and his girlfriend should be reading it together. I think often times it’s not a “girl” issue preventing a newbie so much as a DC/Marvel have been in the comics business since the 1930s and it can be very overwhelming to try to figure out the back stories, not to mention expensive when you can’t get trades, for the person who’s trying to get into comics. No one has time to read all the Batman comics only to find out that Ace the Bat Hound and Bat-Mite aren’t regulars anymore. It’s much easier to pick up the first trade volume of a book like Strangers in Paradise and start there.

Besides, you can always get into the argument: Who would win Batman or Katchoo?

My money’s on Katchoo.

0 Replies to “Strangers in Paradise: That “Girl” Book”

  1. It’s definitely been my experience that girls who like superhero comics like pretty much the same ones that boys do. That doesn’t mean that we focus on the same characters or read them the same way but most mainstream comics seem to have an appeal that cuts across gender lines. I mean, “She-Hulk” appeals to people of either gender looking for an unconventional heroine, and also fans of Marvel continuity porn, meta-humor, and general zaniness.

    Now there are lots of women who would never read a superhero comic, but there are also lots of men who would never read one; so ‘Strangers in Paradise’ may be a good ‘hook your girlfriend’ book because it’s a good ‘hook anybody’ book. You can come into it fresh, it’s sharp and witty and has appealing characters, et cetera. I’d be a lot more likely to give ‘Strangers’ to a guy with no previous comics experience than I would give him ‘Watchmen’ or ‘Dark Knight Returns’ or even the first volume of ‘Sandman.’

    You know what else I think is really interesting? If you read Marvel letter columns from the 70s and early 80s, you see a lot of female names. I haven’t ever done any kind of frequency analysis, but it’s a lot more than I would have thought. Makes me wonder to what extent the hegemony of the direct market — ie, stores that traditionally aren’t welcoming to women as your main/only supplier — drove female readers out?

    /rambling. Good post!

  2. I definitely do think there’s a good divide of people who are into superheros and people who aren’t. I also think that some “superhero” books are that superhero-y. Like I’d argue that Bendis’ Pulse is a story about an expecting mother who’s a journalist and happens to be a superhero. Sometimes, I think that the big 2 are losing out on a lot of money by only toting the really superhero books like invasions of Skrulls instead of also prompting character stories.

    Now that I have both an older and a newer comic collection, I might have to analyze and compare. I definitely have enough She-Hulk to do a comparison. I do think that the direct market drove down sales in that the kid in the grocery store can’t pick up a comic book while his/her mom or dad is cruising the magazines/romance novels/newspapers.

  3. Deuce said:

    “or even the first volume of ‘Sandman.’”

    What’s wrong with the first volume of ‘Sandman’ as an intro. to comics/graphic novels? It’s very accessible and draws you right in. I’ve recommended it before to various newbies with great success.

  4. Great idea, calling them ‘people comic’. I love SiP, and I still cringe when I see it listed as a ‘how to get your girlfriend to read comics’ book.

    And yes,my money is on Katchoo too… although, if you ask me? Batman would be in even more trouble if he had to face Tambi (I think she appears on vol. 2 or so, so I won’t describe her to avoid spoiling you)

  5. When Strangers in Paradise started out, it was fun.

    But in its own way, it slowly devolved into an incredibly repetitive mess, at least where I’m standing.

    If you enjoy the current UST between Francine and Katchoo being prolonged past the point of being tiresome, you’ll enjoy the later volumes more than I did.

    As it stands, though, I soon came to find it as formulaic and off-putting as Lois Lane not knowing Clark Kent was Superman.

    Which, I suppose, shows the potential overlap between “boys’ books” and “girls’ books” as well as anything.

  6. Hi. Came here through WFA!

    Good post, though I would like to raise a point regarding your “suggestion for fanboys (looking for a girlfriend who reads comics) is to find the woman who already reads comics.” As someone who is in a four-year old relationship, I don’t think you can build a romance off just one common interest. There has to be a lot more common ground than that. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a fanboy trying to bring his non-fangirl girlfriend into the hobby, provided he’s not an idiot about how he does so.

    Case in point – I think the reason Strangers in Paradise gets promoted so much as a “girl book” is because it DOES have very good, unique female characters. I.E. – the same thing that most chick-lit tries to pride itself on. Sandman gets a lot of the same promotion for the same reason given how many stories focus on a “normal” female character in a relatable story (Rose Walker trying to reunite her family, Barbie trying to find herself, etc) despite all the supernatural/horror elements that become involved in their stories. But the fact is that both are GOOD books with varied casts, regardless of which character you connect with and relate to the most.

    I mean, my favorite book right now is Amelia Rules – a book which, based on all the promotions I see – I can’t possibly enjoy because I am 20 years too old and the wrong gender. Even though the book is all about growing up, finding joy in the small moments in life and dealing with change… I’m not supposed to like it because I’m a 29 year old man.

    Honestly, it’s very simple. You find something the person you’re with likes and then find a comic that relates to that interest. That’s how I got my very much not a fangirl girlfriend (debutante, finance major, sorority girl) into comics. I knew she liked fairy tales, so I got her a copy of the first ‘Fables’ TP. I got her into Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey – not because it’s a “girl book”, but because we share the same twisted sense of humor and I knew she’d like Gail’s work. I got her the entire run of Marvel’s Red Sonja books because she told me that the movie was one of her flicks as a girl.

    Conversion to Fandom is not impossible. It’s certainly not as difficult as, say, changing religions or politics. God help you if she turns out to be a Marvel Zombie and you’re a DC Fan, though. 🙂

  7. Adalisa – Tami is in the first volume. However, she really doesn’t do anything but beat/kill people. I am a little spoiled since I read the Wiki article about SiP.

    Kirk Boxleitner, a.k.a. K-Box — I can definitely see how that plotline could get very tiresome. Sometimes things are dragged out too long. And Lois Lane not knowing Superman’s identity is an apt comparison.

    “Starman” Matt Morrison — Oh, I definitely think long-term relationships need more connecting spots than just one hobby. But it’s a good beginning. I just see “complaints” of misunderstandings about the comic hobby. I’m a little bias in that my primary partner reeled me in with the comic connection, among other things. 🙂

    It’s amazing just how well-received gifts are when we tailor them to the person getting them. All those little touches I sometimes wonder if people just forget or haven’t ever been told to do. Is it instinct or is it a learned behavior?

    Hee. Those dang zombies. 🙂

  8. ‘Girl books’ are books that men, in general, are trained to not read. Usually? They involve female protagonists, sometimes in domestic settings that are ‘alien’ to men. I think it is a huge issue in our culture that we train half of our people? To disregard ‘women’s fiction’ – the board definition of which can include pretty much anything with prominent female characters. And as you said, it does contribute to the othering of women. Women, on the other hand, are expected to read as part of their education texts that predominantly deal with the male experiences, which we like to call ‘canon literature.’ Because, you know, the male experience is the universal experience while the women’s issues are just women’s.

    I don’t even think “Strangers in Paradise” contains elements that would make it primarily appealing to only women. It’s an excellent story (up to a point, and I’m looking forward to seeing your thoughts on the rest of it), and it deals with a lot of interesting things that appeal to me. I think it’s one of the very few texts we have that involves an epic friendship between two girls, the kind that’s usually reserved for men in canon, and honestly? Just the originality of that alone is worth reading the entire series for.

    And as you said, kick ass action, underground crime families, and fun, fictional violence? Not exactly things most men would not enjoy.

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