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Stairway to Heaven: "Terry Moore: Paradise Found"

In the early 1990s, a shift occurred in the comic book publishing world. Increased desire for creative freedom and financial reward led to a small boom of small press and self-publishers offering alternatives to the mostly homogenous output of Marvel and DC Comics. One of the most successful creators to break into the business was a young Texas native named Terry Moore, whose Strangers in Paradise is the on-going story of Francine, Katchoo, and David and their relationships and romantic entanglements. The on-again, off-again lesbian romance between Francine and Katchoo will automatically filter out a number of potential readers, but anybody willing to give it a chance will find a love story that is alternately maddening, heartbreaking, and achingly romantic, occasionally interrupted by odd subplots and moments of shocking violence.

ImageMoore is living proof of how easy it is to succeed in the world of self-published comics. Apparently, all that is required is a ton of raw artistic talent, a keen eye for human nature, and a tremendous amount of hard work, spending at least eight hours a day at a drawing board and the remainder of your waking hours running a small publishing business. Twelve years, more than 80 issues, and numerous industry awards later, Moore has demonstrated more staying power than many of his contemporaries and shows no signs of letting up.

Terry Moore: Paradise Found is the inaugural DVD in Hero Video Productions’ line of original content, with an extended video interview with Moore forming the core of the disc. Moore is a soft-spoken and thoughtful interview subject, but his intelligence, intensity, and passion for his work are all abundantly obvious. Admittedly, 75 minutes of one guy talking about himself and his comic book will be of extremely limited interest to the general public, but it is exceptionally illuminating for any reader of Moore’s work.

The earliest sections of the interview delve into Moore’s youth and careers prior to discovering the world of self-published comic books. While these sections relate only tangentially to the comic, it is fascinating to note how Moore’s prior careers as a professional musician and a video editor have left visible marks on Strangers in Paradise. In addition, his statement that his father may have worked for the CIA casts the “Parker Girls” subplot of Strangers in Paradise in a whole new light.

ImageThe next major segments deal with the creation of Strangers in Paradise. Moore manages to be both deeply thoughtful and wickedly funny, explaining at length how the characters express different aspects of his personality before admitting he made the lead characters women simply because he liked drawing women more than men. He also deals directly with the common criticism by admitting that the later issues of the comic are repetitive and that he doesn’t know what he’s leading up to, but he argues that this criticism is irrelevant. For Moore, the characters matter more than the story, and he intends to continue making Strangers in Paradise for as long as it sells well enough to pay the bills and as long as the characters continue to hold his interest.

Moore also delves into his views on comics as an art and as a business, dispensing some excellent advice on both aspects for would-be creators anxious to break into the field. Given the frank depiction of homosexual relationships in his comic book, his views on dealing with controversy are refreshingly blunt. He also has some pointed thoughts on the relationship he has with fans, critics, and Hollywood.

The one bump in the film is the segment titled “Odds and Ends,” which seems composed of small snippets of dialogue that were too interesting to be entirely cut but which don’t really relate to each other or to much of what has been said before. While it really would have been a shame to leave these snippets on the cutting room floor, they would have been better suited for a “Deleted Scenes” section. Unfortunately, their inclusion in the actual film only serves to derail the flow of the interview.

The interview is itself enough to hook Strangers in Paradise fans, but Hero Video has also included 45 minutes of extras, which vary in quality and value. The first, “Drawing and Inking with Terry,” films over Moore’s shoulder as he talks his way through the penciling and inking of a pin-up image of Francine, Katchoo, and David. This 10-minute segment may disappoint artists looking for a more in-depth analysis of Moore’s technique, since Moore is not especially forthcoming in his comments, and the segment ends rather abruptly with a half-inked image. I would also have preferred to see Moore breaking down a comics page rather than a pin-up.

ImageThe next extra is “A Look Inside Terry’s Sketchbook,” where Moore delivers a running commentary on the contents of a recently completed sketchbook. While Moore’s comments are often funny or illuminating, the camera angle does not lend itself to a close analysis of Moore’s sketches.

In “The Evolution of SiP,” the director of the video compares early issues of Strangers in Paradise with later ones, displaying Moore’s development as an artist. This feature will only be of real interest to longtime readers of the comic, but is disappointingly brief and shallow, and has no comments from Moore himself.

The longest and best extra on the DVD is “Songs from SiP.” Music figures prominently in the Strangers in Paradise comics, from song snippets wafting through the panels to the occasional page of sheet music included at the end of an issue. Not surprisingly, the songs of the most interest in this segment are the ones taken or adapted from the comic, with the most successful showing panels of the comic as the song unfolds.

In “SiP in the Real World,” the video director compares places shown in the comic with their real-life counterparts in Houston, Texas. This short segment is followed by “Making the Video,” which is just two minutes of outtakes and bloopers.

The DVD itself is very well crafted and doesn’t use annoying DVD “features” like long and noisy animated menus or overlong transition sequences. Both the “Paradise Found” and the “Songs from SiP” segments have chapter stops in the obvious locations, although they are not evident from the menu.

With Terry Moore: Paradise Found, Hero Video Productions is off to a running start in their original DVD series on comics creators and their craft. This disc is not for the general comic-book reading audience; despite its strengths, it is doubtful that the disc will make a Strangers in Paradise reader out of someone who dislikes the comic or who comes predisposed against its subject matter. However, the combination of an interesting and engaging subject and the high quality of the final product make this disc indispensable for any fans of Moore’s work.

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