Tiki Joe Mysteries

I was curious about this short graphic novel because I enjoy Hawaiian Dick, and this sounds similar: a WWII vet detective in an exotic locale with a strong tropical flavor, in this case 1959 Las Vegas, investigates crimes with lots of time spent in the local bar.

Tiki Joe Mysteries cover
Tiki Joe Mysteries
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That’s not necessarily a fair comparison, though — there are plenty of books about and fans of tiki masks and Rat Pack-flavored time periods (kitschy and illusory as both are). If you go into this expecting Hawaiian Dick, you’re going to be disappointed. So much of the appeal of that book is the unique art and especially the coloring. This volume, in contrast, is straightforward black-and-white, heavy on the blacks. It contains two stories: “The Pay Off!” has Joe dealing with mobsters demanding protection money, while “The High-Stakes Patsy” features an all-girl stunt motorcycle team and the robbery of a fabulous diamond.

You may know Mark Murphy’s work from House of Java, slice-of-life stories published by NBM. I enjoyed those, although sometimes there wasn’t much of a conclusion to them. With a crime story, that’s not a problem — you know the story’s over when the bad guy is defeated. Murphy’s art can also be a bit stiff, especially when it comes to the figures. Here, although that tendency is still visible, it’s less of a problem, due to the historical period. The setting is another world that looks slightly artificial, anyway; seeing a posed-looking person just contributes to that mood.

There are other differences between this and Hawaiian Dick, too: this has no air of supernaturalism but a bigger supporting cast, fellow soldiers who now play in the nightclub band. And this is more a thriller — how will the good guys beat the bad guys — than a mystery. The team more often engages in police-like stakeouts than piecing together obscure clues, and the cases end with action set pieces that could easily translate to the movies.

Murphy’s in love with noir-style narration, as his hero savors adjectives, description, and similes in telling us about his life. He’s not the only one: in this world, goons talk a lot before the shakedown starts. And the bad guy blurts out a key piece of information, and other characters then point out how stupid that was. (Made me start wondering about idiot plots, myself.)

Volume One, High-Stakes Patsy, is due out in July (order code MAY08 3554) at 96 pages for $9.95. (A complimentary online copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)


One Response to “Tiki Joe Mysteries”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » June 17, 2008: Everyone wants to have sex with Dash Shaw Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson on Mark Murphy’s Tiki Joe Mysteries. (Above: sequence from the book, ©2008 Mark […]




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