"SIP Kids" #1 by Terry Moore is an all-ages spinoff and comedy, in which the original "Strangers in Paradise" characters are all six years old. It doesn't represent the canonical past of the characters, since most of them didn't meet until well past playground age. Rather, it's a what-if scenario with the characters' personalities and relationships, intact but set in an alternate universe, similar to the approach of "Lil' Gotham" or "Tiny Titans."
While it has plenty of cuteness by itself, "SIP Kids" is enhanced by the original source material and is best read by fans already familiar with the characters. The original "Strangers in Paradise" had many light moments, but it was fundamentally a melodrama and a good soap opera, earnest and full of big sweeping emotions, unlikely coincidences, last-minute rescues and dramatic twists of fate. Its large and sprawling history gives Moore a ready-made well of reader memories and groundwork. However, for a spinoff, "SIP Kids" feels particularly fresh, and while it draws upon "Stranger in Paradise," it doesn't devolve into rehashing or cannibalizing.
There is Francine, Katchoo and David, of course, as well as Freddie Femur, Darcy, Bambi and Casey. David is much sillier and dopier, but the rest of the characters capture the exact essence of their adult counterparts. Moore has just put them into a radically different situation. The character dynamics are the same, too, in particular Katchoo and Francine's relationship as well as the Katchoo/Darcy/Bambi triangle.
Moore's treatment of all of them is affectionate, but he's not without a gently mocking sense of irony. He aptly sums up a comic lifetime's worth of interactions between Katchoo and Francine in a few pages, making fun of Francine's emotional reactivity and body image issues and Katchoo's urban hardscrabble childhood, and their eternal push/pull dynamic.
Katchoo is an easy fan-favorite. She's the whole package: beautiful and intelligent, a tortured but witty artist. It's not a challenge to make Katchoo compelling, but it's a stretch to believe in her reality. Moore's talents are more evident with the characterization of Francine, the Girl Next Door, or an Everygirl or Everywoman, who is average in so many respects, except for her big heart. In "Strangers in Paradise," she was alternately gorgeous and plain, sharp and slow, reliably herself and in the end, the character with the most dynamic development. When "SIP Kids" toggles briefly over into "Strangers in Paradise," the sudden lack of color enhances the nostalgia, and Francine is so stunning here that the reader can easily identify with Freddie, who deliriously breathes out the words, "Wow, you're beautiful."
It isn't a huge surprise that Moore might break the fourth wall and reference the adult characters within "SIP Kids" #1, but when it happens, it's a surprise how natural-feeling and breathtaking it is. The back-and-forth sequence conjures up a perfect swell of emotion. The visual pacing is spot-on.
The other scenes are good too, if not as arresting. Darcy's Machiavellian scheming is particularly hilarious when her dominion is reduced to the playground. Katchoo going up to Francine's window is an echo of their "real" childhood friendship. Moore's style is cartoony for "SIP Kids," but his usual command of body language and facial expressions is the same, and even without names, the characters would be easily recognizable. The cheery and carefree tone of "SIP Kids" is enhanced by Hamaker's springtime color palette.
If the reader is familiar with "Strangers in Paradise," "SIP Kids" #1 will be a deeper, funnier and more bittersweet read. It's not a bad debut issue for newbies, but this is really one for the fans, and it hits the mark.