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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 198: Tiki Joe Mysteries: “The Pay-Off”

by  in Comic News Comment
Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 198: <i>Tiki Joe Mysteries: “The Pay-Off”</i>

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Tiki Joe Mysteries, which was published by SLG and is cover dated July 2008. Enjoy!

Mark Murphy’s Tiki Joe Mysteries is a cool little comic, and this first page gives us some solid information about what kind of book it is. First of all, Murphy makes sure we know that it’s 1959 in Las Vegas. With that out of the way, he introduces us to his main character, Joe Halliday, otherwise known as “Tiki Joe.” In the second sentence we find out that Joe is an entrepreneur of some kind, because he has “customers.” We find out on Page 2 that he owns a “Polynesian café” called, appropriately, “Tiki Joe’s.” Joe then tells us that Samantha North is the woman in the car, and the way he narrates and the way she talks to him, it’s clear that their relationship is more than just friendly. Of course, there’s always the matter of the disapproving father, which Joe brings up in Panel 3, but Murphy also implies that Samantha is a bit of a free spirit and cares not what her father thinks. Murphy relies on our knowledge of pulp and noir cliché – we can infer that the father is not someone you want to piss off. If he’s a milquetoast, why would Joe care? (Yes, I just used “milquetoast” appropriately. You wanna make something of it?)

Murphy does a lot of good work with negative space in this comic – it helps give Vegas a slightly seedy look even though it’s supposed to be part of a bright and shiny 1950s United States. It’s very evident on this page, mainly because it takes place at night. Without Joe telling us it’s 1959, we can still infer it: the slick building with the jumbled stonework behind Joe, the car, Samantha’s hair style and clothing, Joe’ suit – it all helps set the time period. Murphy puts the light source behind Joe so that his front is in shadow while the light bathes Samantha, creating a dichotomy between them. Joe isn’t a bad guy, but he lives in a slightly murkier world than Samantha does, so while his face is shadow-free, he still looks darker than she does. Circular panels, as we see in the upper right, seem more “old-fashioned,” at least to me, so Murphy’s use of them helps again place the book in a certain time. The use of negative space in the final panel is part of Murphy’s creation of tension between the two strata of Las Vegas society – Joe represents the darker side, while Samantha represents the brighter side. Murphy even makes the final panel a bit goofy, with Samantha’s car tilting on two wheels for no apparent reason. Obviously, this strains credulity, but it’s part of the reason why comics are cool – this would look ridiculous on film, but in a static panel, it doesn’t look too silly and serves a point – Samantha isn’t as virginal as Murphy presents her on the rest of the page. The car tilting is symbolic of Samantha’s crazier side, which belies her words on this page. She eventually gets involved with Joe’s adventures, and Murphy does a nice job implying her desire to do so on this page.

This is a fine comic, and Murphy does a good job with the way he presents the time period through the artwork (the story is a bit weaker in making sure we know it’s the 1950s, but it’s still not bad). It’s a keen book, and this first page shows how Murphy gets us to buy into it.

Next: There’s always potential for craziness when a Ron Marz comic shows up. Hi, Ron! Find more of his stuff in the archives!

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