TERRY MOORE Chooses Prose for STRANGERS IN PARADISE Sequel

 

A few months ago, Terry Moore surprised fans with news that he was returning to the characters from his beloved series Strangers in Paradise in 2013.

At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Moore gave fans some additional information about the project, which is intended to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the hit comic book series.

And what is most surprising is that the book will be in prose.

That's an unusual announcement for Terry Moore, who has been seen as an artist as much as a writer since he took the indie comics world by surprise with the tender yet action-packed Strangers in Paradise in 1988. His 90-issue run as cartoonist on the Eisner Award-winning comic told the adventures of now beloved characters Francine, Katchoo and David.

Since the 2006 ending of the series, known to its loyal fans as "SiP," Moore has released two additional comic stories within his "Terryverse": the sci-fi limited series Echo, which has been optioned for film, and his current horror comic Rachel Rising.

But his return to SiP marks a significant change in his creative approach, as he leaves the pencil behind to begin writing prose. Newsarama talked to the creator to find out how the comic book business and its limited market contributed to his decision to make the creative switch.

Newsarama: Terry, fans have been excited for the return to Strangers in Paradise that you announced awhile back, but in San Diego, you had some new information. The first question that comes to mind is, why did you decide to do this as a prose book?

Terry Moore: I don't want to mess up anything that's happened in the existing material. But the fan base has just never gone away. And the girls are still young and alive, and things are still happening.

And I just felt like, OK, there was a second Sherlock Holmes book. There was a second James Bond book. Maybe I'll write a second chapter in their lives.

So my attitude is like that.

And I wanted to do it in prose instead of graphic novel because I'm tired of making graphic material and pumping it into the direct market to low orders. It's too much work to make a new SiP story to put it into the direct market and get 3,000 orders. You know?

I'm going to have to expand my market. And that's the reason I'm going into prose.

Nrama: Before we talk about that market, was this "sequel" story you're telling in this new book what you always thought Francine and Katchoo would do next? After the ending of SiP, did you always know in your mind what they would do later?

Moore: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I never walked away. I just dropped the curtain on you.

In my mind, the writing continued. In my mind, the story continued. The voices in my head never stopped.

And I think that the illusion that the fans like to have that they're in Santa Fe and today they went shopping.... that whole illusion continues.

It's still a very live subject with my readers. So I don't feel like I'm reuniting an old rock band that everybody's forgotten. I think I'm just writing the second book, in my mind.

Nrama: Is this taking place immediately after the last page of the last storyline? Or is it something that's further down the line?

Moore: I can tell you that it does take place a little bit after all that. All that is done. So it's a new story.

And I can tell you that it takes place in the here and now, because my general impression in approaching the whole idea was that I didn't want you to think of them as something from the '90s. So I'm not going to dip back into old things. It's all about what they're doing now.

And they're just as cool now as they ever were. I'm going to be very careful to be sure that they make their impression now. If they walked into a room, you'd stop and look at them. So I want that impression, that they're very timely and they're all about 2012, 2013. So that's my approach. I'm not going to go in there and do a "Greatest Hits" with long-winded sentences. That's for sure.

Nrama: What does prose offer you as a writer that is particularly enticing for the story you're telling?

Moore: It offers me longer sentences! [Laughs.]

I mean, that's the first thing that comes to mind. I've been truncating and squeezing their sentences to fit into little round balloons their whole life. I spend all my time editing sentences down to three root words and tucking them in.

So it would be nice to be able to let them talk normal, to let them finish conversations and talk them out.

Doing a comic book is much more room than a comic strip, you know? It's a lot of editing and chopping sentences down to the base.

But also, I want to be able to cover material that is a little more mature as well. If I do a graphic novel, then it's going to go into a store that also sells to 5-year-olds. So there's a lot I can't put into a graphic novel. I don't want to get the retailers in trouble.

So I'm just ready to write something a little more mature. My readers are ready to read it. The time has come, I think.

I wouldn't have tried this 10 years ago. But I think it's time now.

Nrama: Has your recent experience with the book market contributed to that? It's pretty impressive that you're going to self-publish a novel. Do you feel like you have enough networks through bookstores and libraries to do this yourself? Did that also contribute to your decision to do this?

Moore: Yeah, we spent about five years on the library circuit, you know, at the library conventions, the ALA and the different states. And also some of the book conventions. And I had been doing some appearances in bookstores that were not comic book stores, because they were carrying my graphic novels.

I was around it enough to lose my fear and intimidation. It really is an industry that I'm not afraid of. I'm really willing to get into it. I think a lot of the basics work the same. The distribution, of course, is completely different and changing every week. But I think the distribution and the business of books is coming to people like me. It's becoming more friendly for me to be able to consider options.

At least I have options now that I didn't have before.

Nrama: I know a lot of people are self-publishing by offering digital downloads of prose novels. It's so prevalent right now. Is that something that also opened the door for you? Or are you really thinking "print" for this project?

Moore: I have to admit that I have been waiting for some sort of digital success story. I thought it was going to be Neil Gaiman who would break through. But there have been a couple of other people who are well known. And I'm a perfect candidate for that. If I were to write a graphic novel and not put pictures in it, it would kind of be the same thing. And I certainly have a point of view and the business model already established where I self-publish. So I always consider that my first option.

However, when I was in San Diego this week, talking to other writers I admire, they were telling me about their publishing offers. So it's very enticing to go with a large publisher too.

And amazingly enough, I think that the purchasing price for books is getting higher now because there's competition. It used to be if you said, oh, I got a first-time offer, and you had a first novel, people would say, oh, "Well, you're not going to get more than this amount, no matter what. They just don't do that any more."

That's not the case anymore. They have to pay to get a good book now.

So the business is coming to people like me, to individual writers. It's coming around so it's a little more friendly for us to be able to get a book and put it out.

Nrama: You mentioned that it's difficult to get orders over about 3,000 copies for an independent comic. It feels like indie comics were growing so much in the '80s and early '90s, but lately, that audience does seem to have changed. It's got to be disheartening for you to have to seek something beyond comic book stores.

Moore: Yeah, any answer that I could give would have to acknowledge the incredible support that I've had from a certain percentage of the direct market retailers. I would not be here if it wasn't for retailers in every major city that have supported me from day one. So I don't want to do anything to mess that up. I don't want to say anything to mess that up. So I always have to be very cautious about how I talk, because I don't want to be taken out of context. I don't ever want anybody to say, "Oh, he's fed up with the direct market." That would be the kiss of death for me.

But what I do want to do is embrace an additional market into my picture, because I think that my material would do well in another market as well. You know?

Clearly, I am not "mainstream" comics. But the work I do is mainstream in general America. So it's crazy for me to continue to ignore bookstores, in a sense. I'm just not a comic book specialist. What I'm doing is so offbeat that there's only so much success I can have in a comic book market. I'm acknowledged, but I've never broken the Top 100 with anything. So clearly, this is not my perfect market.

I'm hoping that by adding a prose book, maybe I can just get a little bit of a foothold in another market and add on to my picture. You know? Just make my sales go a little bit higher.

Because we're all struggling to find sales and new readers. We're all chasing them around the internet, trying to find new readers' attention.

I don't know. A lot of my readers have matured to the point where it would be just as easy to find them with a novel as it is with a graphic novel.

Nrama: Have you started? And is prose coming pretty easily to you? I think of you as a director as opposed to a prose novelist. You're going to have to write "Francine smiled" instead of just drawing it. Does it come fairly naturally despite that change?

Moore: It actually does, because I've been writing for a very long time. You just don't see all of it. So I've been able to, hopefully, work my way past the amateur stage and we'll just have to see how it goes from there.

But I feel very comfortable writing. I'm also very prolific when I write. It's the drawing that takes forever. I write quickly.

I have been admiring writers since I was a teenager, and studying how they do it. And I think that even the writing that I've included in my published work so far has shown some growth. And it's just the tip of the iceberg compared to what I've been producing in the studio.

I have started the novel. And I like it. And hopefully anything you see will have already met my wife's approval, so it can't be too bad.

Nrama: I know you'd said in San Diego that you would probably take a bit of a break from conventions to get this done, right?

Moore: Yeah, San Diego is the only convention in the United States that I've done this year. And so I'm done for the rest of the year. I'm not going to go back out. I'm just going to stay home and make books.

I do plan to go out a lot next year, to promote the 20th anniversary of SiP. So this was intentional, for me to lay low this year, after a heavy year last year. And I'll do a heavy year next year.

Nrama: Rachel Rising is obviously still going. Will you still be working on that while the new prose book is being developed? Or will it be coming out less frequently or anything?

Moore: No. I'm going to continue Rachel Rising and keep her on schedule. That's another world. That's something that is very active and full of energy for us right now. The fans are very excited about it. So I wouldn't mess that up for any reason.

I think I can do both, if I don't travel. So I think I have a schedule set up where I can get it all done.

Nrama: When the new SiP novel comes out, it will be something that anyone can pick up without having read your graphic novels?

Moore: That is my goal. I want them to fall in love with the book in their hand, and then be surprised to hear, oh, there's a graphic novel series too.

I love the idea that there is a story series that is in several mediums. Hopefully, there will be some sort of other medium of SiP, whether it's film or TV or something. I hope that that will happen. And then there would be the novels. And then there would be this graphic novel that I did. Wouldn't that be cool?

And then you don't have any redundancy. You can enjoy them all for what they are.

Nrama: And I know all your graphic novels, from SiP to Echo to Rachel Rising, take place in the same universe. The "Terryverse," right?

Moore: Yeah, it's called the "Terryverse."

Nrama: Is there a chance we'll see, in the SiP novel, some characters from some of your other graphic novels, at least walk through the grocery store or something?

Moore: Yes, there is, because it's all one universe and I can use anything I want. The way Robert Heinlein did it, I admire so much, where he wrote all those stories that centered around Lazarus Long. And anybody you ever encountered in one book might show up in another. And that's the case with me. Those are the ground rules I'm using. And I think it's exciting that way, because it makes all the books valid.

I think it's really hard to keep a loyal readership if you're reading a trail of miscellany behind you. But if all your books relate and it's all one world you're fleshing out from different angles, I think that's fascinating. And I think that somebody who finds one book and loves it would be excited to know there are other books in the same world.

Nrama: It has to be exciting for you to not only return to the characters you love, but it's a new challenge. Is that exciting for you creatively?

Moore: Very much so. I have to confess that drawing art on a deadline for the last 20 years is, man... it's really hard. And it's started to really wear and tear on my skeleton. I've been sitting on a chair for 12 hours a day for 20 years.

So I don't want to be in my 60's on a six week deadline for art pages. I've got to find a way where I can work with some breaks. I haven't had a vacation for a long time.

I'm doing it for many reasons — creative reasons and looking ahead to what I'm capable of doing as a get older.

I would love to go to my grave writing books and cartooning. I would need to do both. But going to my grave meeting Diamond deadlines every month? That would be a very early grave.

Nrama: I just realized that we're going to be able to hear the thoughts inside Francine and Katchoo's heads. Or wait, can you reveal if you write in first person or third person?

Moore: I don't like books that jump around, but I'm going to try to find a way to give you more than one perspective on a book. I've never been much of a chess master in terms of being a creator. I like to have things unfold in real time, which would be more like first time. And I don't like the reader to know much more than the main character, so that there's a discovery process. But I do like having different looks at things.

Just the same way I did with the SiP graphic novel, I really don't want to be boxed into saying, OK, whatever you do on the first page is what you have to do all the way to the last page. I like to have some freedom there.

And I think it's very interesting for people trying to read through the book, if there's challenges in there and things that they can participate in mentally to bridge gaps and take in the story. And not just a lot of descriptive words. But to have an experience.

I've always tried to have you be able to smell and hear and have more tangible experiences with the stories, you know? So I'll be looking for that any way I can get it in this book too.

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