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.