Terry Moore has been writing, drawing, and publishing his own comic book, Strangers in Paradise, for over ten years. Available in eight different languages and drawing a legion of fans, his story of two very different women and their life together has become its own cottage industry. Yet, it's still somewhat of a cult phenomenon, and one that documentary filmmaker Greg Jurls tries to open up in his film Terry Moore: Paradise Found.
As a film about one subject, Paradise Found starts off a bit strangely, tossing its viewer in the deep end and not even bringing up the comic book for a good while. Assuming a familiarity with what Terry Moore does, the documentary instead begins with who he is--or more precisely, where he's come from. Sitting in his studio, he explains about his childhood, his early '20s as a rock 'n' roll guitarist, and his early '30s as a film editor. Interspersed with the occasional photo and shots from Terry's editing reel, the bulk of the footage is just Moore sitting and talking over one long session, leading us from those early careers to the drastic life change he would make at the outset of the 1990s. He returned to a childhood love of drawing and created his own comic book. Strangers in Paradise debuted in 1993, and Terry Moore has never looked back.
Paradise Found has a rambling structure similar to Jurls' second comic book film, Telling Stories. Spliced into short chapters, it can often be repetitious as the thread of Moore's memory leads from one element to the next. The bulk of it works, because Moore actually takes us from sitting in his house and trying to figure out what kind of story he wanted to tell all the way through the early issues of Strangers in Paradise and on into later success. Moore is extremely self-aware, and so he remembers his steps vividly. As an interview subject, he's pretty fascinating and a little hard to figure out. He steers clear of most personal politics, talking more about reactions to what he has done than exactly how he feels about those reactions. It takes strange math to put the soft-spoken, balding gentleman who speaks to the camera together with the long-haired rocker seen in earlier photos, but they are one in the same.
How Paradise Found betters Telling Stories is that Jurls moves around a little more. While he is still fond of long takes and static shots when interviewing, he does show a good amount of Terry Moore's artwork, including picking comic book pages that fit what Moore is describing. There are also a couple of shots of Moore at work.
Where a gentle editing hand could have been used, however, would be in trimming some of Moore's stories down and sticking to his personal plot, his search for the right creative career for himself and the determination that made him a success. It would also have been nice to leave Moore's studio and maybe get some outside opinions, talk to some of his fanbase and peers. Given the wealth of bonus features that break away from the basic interview pose, the option for more is there. Any sort of stretching might have helped, as Terry Moore: Paradise Found doesn't so much end as it peters out. Its penultimate chapter being titled "Odds and Ends" is illustrative of the bad choices made. You don't finish off a portrait of an artist with soundbites that wouldn't fit anywhere else. It ends up being anticlimactic.
(The availability of Terry Moore: Paradise Found and other comic book films by Hero Video is currently somewhat limited. For more information, visit their website: http://herovideoproductions.com.)
Terry Moore: Paradise Found is essentially presented in full frame, though the interview footage with Moore is letterboxed. Note the screencaps, as they show the difference between how the interview and the art is framed.
The sound is done well. It's really just Terry Moore talking throughout, and while sometimes he can be a little muffled, presumably based on how he positions himself in relation to the microphone, all of his words come through.
There are a gajillion extras on this DVD. Though Terry Moore: Paradise Found is only a little over 70 minutes, the bounty of bonuses makes for a complete DVD package. The added features clock in at 45 minutes, giving Strangers in Paradise fans an even more inclusive look at their favorite comic and giving those new to Terry Moore's artistry a more well-rounded look at what all the hubbub is for.
* Penciling & Inking With Terry: The camera looks over Terry's shoulder as he does a cover-style black-and-white illustration, talking us through the work and explaining what he thinks about while he draws.
* A Look Inside Terry's Sketchbook: Another over-the-shoulder special as Terry looks through his most recent sketchbook. He explains what some of the drawings are, and they range from early designs for Strangers in Paradise covers to random ideas done just for the fun of it.
* The Evolution of Strangers in Paradise: Director Greg Jurls speaks over a montage of Moore's art, explaining his feelings about the progression of the artist's line work.
* Songs from Strangers in Paradise: This is a collection of songs that were featured in the comic books. Many are instrumentals played by Terry on an acoustic guitar in his studio. Reference is given so viewers know where to look in the comics to find the corresponding story scene. The neatest, though, are the ones that were previously recorded by Terry and one by musical artist Desha Dunnahoe. Jurls cuts together the panels from the comic books to go along with the songs, creating an interactive experience with the printed page and musical performance. Topping it off are rare recordings by Maple, the band Moore played guitar for in the early '80s, and random home recordings he has made.
* Strangers in Paradise Locations in the Real World: A montage of Houston locations used in the Strangers in Paradise comic book, with the footage of the actual place juxtaposed with the drawings of them.
* Making the Video: A short collection of humorous outtakes of Terry Moore goofing off.
Recommended. Though the movie Terry Moore: Paradise Found has its flaws, the DVD package raises the level by giving viewers a bunch of creative extras that explore different aspects of the artist's work. In a lot of respects, the disc may be more for fans than those who have never read the Strangers in Paradise comic book series before, but removed from that, it's a noble independent effort to expose one man's creative process.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.