Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Writer: Joshua Dysart Art: Alberto Ponticelli Publisher: TKO
WHAT IS IT?
A Venice Beach murder mystery where the homeless population is a major focus.
The mystery plays out with beats similar to many major murder mysteries, but the underlying socio-economic theme that plays such a large role in the book's mechanics is closer to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Eddie Quinones is a homeless drunk, but he doesn't seem to mind. He's settled into his Venice Beach life well for someone without a home. He has friends. A safe place to sleep. He knows where the good bathrooms are.
But when finds the body of a murdered homeless girl and her dog stuffed in a dumpster, he can’t let it go. This kind of thing happens, even in Venice Beach, but he knew here, even if just a little.
Eddie sets out to find her killer. He knows he's homeless and an alcoholic, but if no one's going to get to the bottom of what happened, Eddie feels like it's up to him.
His investigation will take him through the poorest shantytowns and the richest neighborhoods, and everywhere in between. But can a man with so few resources hope to not only solve a murder, but effect any change whatsoever in the institution that is Venice Beach?
As mentioned throughout this review, Joshua Dysart expertly crafts a story that works as both a traditional murder mystery and a nuanced and emotional commentary on homeless life and culture. The people who care for them. The others who ignore them, like the Lamborghini driver who nearly hits Eddie and still doesn’t look up from his phone. Joking about how a murdered homeless person used to help keep the rent in the area down. Newspeople caring less about someone offering a solution to the problem and more about capturing footage of a grieving mother. The story takes a holistic approach to the issue rather than pointing the finger at any one factor as part of the problem.
Thanks to TV and film, everyone imagines Venice Beach as this pristine, gorgeous place. Alberto Ponticelli's photorealistic art shows us the truth, especially in relation to the poorer parts of town. Everything looks dirty. Grime and garbage litter the streets. It's a metaphor for homelessness: there's what we want to see and what we've been conditioned to think, and there's how things really are. Goodnight Paradise portrays the latter.
It makes sense for the story to take place in Venice Beach. Being one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, it makes the contrast between the "haves" and the "have-nots" all the more pronounced.
Ponticelli sows the seeds of discord subtly in his art. Whether he's representing the resistance or his own beliefs is uncertain, but he rewards readers who spend a little extra time with the art. The sideways glances your everyday person gives to the homeless when they're in public places. A shirt that says "Eat the Rich." Graffiti that denounces Snapchat." The "crime" section being positioned right next to the kids' section at a library. A "Dead End" sign marking where the homeless congregate.
It's fascinating how Ponticelli uses space in Goodnight Paradise. Most illustrators would show multiple actions across the same panels repeated down a page. Ponticelli crams minutes or hours of action into one panel, like a time lapse with a stationary camera. It's an economic use of space in the comic that also serves to show how the poor use the smaller space that is theirs in the real world.
Giulia Brusco's colors are often as photorealistic as the line art. This changes rarely, most often with flashback scenes. Those scenes have a sort of color filter associated with them, as well as a simplified art style to help differentiate between past and present. This shift in art style for both Ponticelli and Brusco is not only impressive, but immensely helpful in distinguishing between past and present without relying on captions to tell us.
Steve Wands's font choice is intentionally messy and looks based on handwriting. This is a book where crime and the homeless are front and center, so it makes sense. A clean, perfect font wouldn’t represent the tone of the book very well, would it?
Wands also uses pink, borderless balloons for dream/hallucination sequences with Tessa in them, which seem ethereal and strange next to the standard white balloons with a black stroke.
Wands's sound effects are often bright and garish in Goodnight Paradise, like they've been taken off store signs on the boardwalk. One use of them that I really loved was when one effect comes from a sound inside a room, and it's shown bookended by the door jamb. It shows how it keeps the sound mostly inside the room in such a subtle and smart way.
Without giving away too much, the ending is highly satisfying. It's interesting seeing early scenes revisited with new context, and Dysart continues developing Eddie as a character right up until the end, through his choices and priorities.
There's lots of minority representation in the book, though few characters are seen in a good light.
I have pages of notes on different aspects of homeless life highlighted in the comic, how money ties into the concept of the American Dream, how people treat the homeless like prisoners in a war zone, how society fails the poor, how the rich are terrible and ruin culture, and more. But it might save an already long review from getting longer if I just tell you to read the comic and discover these things for yourself.
Though I didn't get to read it in TKO's gorgeously designed individual issue box set or uniquely sized trade paperback, I do have to say that the art was so crisp digitally, it looked fantastic on an iPad.
You can also get a peek at the creative process in this video Joshua Dysart created as reference for Venice Beach.
Also, check out the soundtrack Dysart created for the title.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
TRIGGER WARNING: Racial slurs, violence to animals, and themes of r*pe.
This may have just been in the review copy, but there were several typos missed during the proofreading process take away from the book's polish. But if you're not sensitive to that, you'll be fine.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
At face value, Goodnight Paradise is one hell of a murder mystery, with plenty of twists and turns. It follows the traditional path of the genre without being predictable, and it holds you in suspense effortlessly. You care about the characters. Their safety, their wellbeing, their choices and how they effect their lives. Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli tell such a compelling story, it's easy to feel emotionally invested in it.
Beyond the story itself, or perhaps underneath it, is a depth of socio-economic commentary. At times, you think you get what the creators are trying to tell you: "Money is a trap." At others, you backtrack: "No, money is freedom." So often, with stories showing the ocean between the rich and the poor, it's easy to default to "Rich people are bad. Poor people are good." Goodnight Paradise's message seems centered more around the perceived nuisance and disposability of the faceless poor and the reminder that they are people, too. Often, they're poor because of a breakdown in cultural safeguards more than their personal failures.
But that's getting into a whole discussion that may work better if you read the book and see for yourself. Goodnight Paradise is a showstopper of a comic that you will definitely be hard-pressed to put down.
Required reading from new publisher, TKO.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Living Level-3: Iraq by Joshua Dysart & Alberto Ponticelli
KINO #10-12 by Alex Paknadel & Diego Galindo
Friendo #1-2 by Alex Paknadel & Martin Simmonds
If you like the art:
Unknown Soldier by Joshua Dysart & Alberto Ponticelli
Negative Space by Ryan K Lindsay & Owen Gieni
Sara by Garth Ennis & Steve Epting
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Joshua Dysart – Writer
Name Recognition: Is a New York Times Bestselling comic book writer who has written numerous hits, like Unknown Solider, Violent Messiahs, Swamp Thing, & more.
Prolific: Has written for nearly all major comic book publishers
Alberto Ponticelli – Illustrator
Dream Team: Has worked with Joshua Dysart on numerous projects
Outlander: Born in Italy, but his works are also famous in America and France
Giulia Brusco – Colorist
Outlander: Italian but lives in London
Also colored 7 Deadly Sins, another TKO title that debuted at the same time as Goodnight Paradise
Steve Wands – Letterer & Design
Multitalented: Also writes the indie comics series Stay Dead
Also creates typefaces for his company, Lo-Fi Fonts
Dream Team: Also lettered Lemire's comic, Descender
Sebastian Girner – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the Editor-In-Chief of TKO
Multitalented: Writes comics, as well as edits them
Jared K Fletcher – Cover & Title Designer
Designed all of TKO's box sets as well as many well-known comic book title logos
Robert Terlizzi – Book Designer
Multitalented: Works as an associate creative director and designer for major brands for his day job
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