“Meeting my Hero” by Chloe Spencer
When I talk about how I first became interested in comics, I usually mention my love for the nerdy and relatable Spider-Man and how I, as a little kid, sat next to my father in the local movie theater and watched Tobey Maguire sling webs across city skyscrapers.
But Spider-Man only sparked my interest. It was a different series, and set of heroes, that led me to realize who I was, and to accept my identity.
At the age of twelve, I was a frequent visitor to the local library. Usually, I would show up in a group of friends, where we would run between the aisles and snatch up books off of the shelves, shoving them in reusable grocery bags and backpacks. My parents had long ago stopped buying books for me on a regular basis, as I read too fast and too frequently. I loved books, and I lived in them.
But at a certain point, I stopped enjoying them. I remember walking through the aisles of both the children’s and young adults sections of the library, scrunching my nose and smirking at the Twilight copycats, the Harry Potter wannabees, and the outdated Seventeen magazines. I was too young to appreciate classics, and too hyperactive to sit through nonfiction. I couldn’t fit in with these books—and I realized I didn’t want to. I read paragraphs about the Bellas and the Edwards, the Harrys and the Hermiones, and I couldn’t identify with them. At twelve years old, I didn’t know how to describe it, but I knew that I was different, and felt alone in my sense of being different.
One day, I was perusing the aisles and I came across a series of thick, sky blue books entitled Strangers in Paradise. I picked up the first pocketbook and examined the cover with wide eyes. A short blond woman with haunting blue eyes peered back at me, mysterious and sullen. From a heart tattoo on her shoulder, a thin trail of blood raced down, dripping from the cuffs that were on her wrists. She stood against the backdrop of a burgundy-red sky and a city at night.
Her name was Katchoo.
I remember sitting down with my friends at the ice cream shop outside the library, and thumbing through the pages, engrossed. Here was the story of a woman, fiery and confident, madly in love with her best friend, Francine. They were so bewilderingly different from the women and girls I knew in other books. Here were two people, possessing complex and deep personalities; strengths and insecurities, dreams and tragedies. I wasn’t exactly like Katchoo, and I wasn’t exactly like Francine. In reality, I didn’t have much in common with either of them. But I knew them so well, I grew to love them deeply, and it was through the narrative of these two women that I grew to know and love myself. That I grew to accept the fact that I could love a woman, that I could be queer—and that was okay. That despite being queer, I could find love and I could find happiness.
Strangers in Paradise is the one series that I have reread over and over again. I monopolized the library’s pocketbooks. I pined and yearned for the massive omnibuses that I finally received for one of my birthdays. I invested myself into researching the series and the author, a man named Terry Moore. Who was he, and more importantly, why did he write this series?
Fast forward to the summer I turned twenty. I was sitting across from my best friends on the streetcar that would take me to the Portland Convention Center, where the Rose City Comic Con was held. It was my very first comic convention, and I was beyond thrilled—not only because it was my first comic con, but because I had learned on Terry Moore’s Facebook page that he was going to be attending. My heart was practically leaping out of my chest. I was so excited. I was finally going to meet my hero.
We passed by Terry Moore’s booth, and I caught a glimpse of him. My friends, Aurora and Cody, looked at me, pointing out the booth. I couldn’t do it. I suddenly felt so overwhelmed—what if I broke down in tears; wouldn’t that be so strange? Or worse, what if he’s nothing like I thought he would be?
We walked around the convention center a few more times until I finally was able to muster up the courage. After Aurora met her hero, Mike Mignola, and had her artwork signed by him, I felt confident enough to meet him.
I approached the booth and picked up a copy of the Rachel Rising omnibus in my trembling hands. The sensation of my stomach, hot and tingling, rose up from the depths of my body, and my nerves felt electrified. I looked up and saw his wife, Robyn, who was managing the merchandise at the booth. I paid for the book nervously, and in my most awkward fashion, I asked if Terry could sign it.
She gave me a sweet smile. “Of course!”
I turned my attention to Terry and said, “Sir, I’m such a fan of your work.”
He happily signed my omnibus and returned it to me, who was almost in tears. He was a genuinely nice person, just as I imagined him to be.
Later that day I attended a panel where he spoke about his experiences and his life. I learned about how he grew up in Tanzania. I learned about his influences in creating Strangers in Paradise. I learned about his short career as a musician and about his high school experiences. Then the moderator let audience members come up to ask him questions.
One woman in the crowd, wearing a sweatshirt, anxiously approached the microphone, just as anxiously I had approached him at the booth. When she spoke, her voice warbled with tears, and she was overcome with emotion as she explained how much this book had helped her. She was gay, and she identified closely with the character, Francine. She wondered, where did the character of Francine come from?
Terry was profoundly moved by her words. He spoke of how Francine was based off of a girlfriend he had in high school, who was so sweet, but he treated very poorly.
He opened up to us, strangers in his audience, in a way I never imagined he would.
He talked about how he had struggled, for such a long time, to become published. But back in the 1990s, when Strangers in Paradise was first created, no major comics company was eager to publish a story about a lesbian couple. He spoke of how he, along with his entire family, was criticized at their church for publishing the story.
He was so happy to see how his stories had changed people’s lives.
Few of us are lucky enough to meet our heroes. I was lucky enough to meet mine.