Shelf Gold: Hawaiian Dick

Review by Andrew Uys

Hawaiian Dick, by B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin, reads like a Magnum PI/Supernatural mash-up, with a hefty dose of Mad Men ’50s vibe for flavour. This doesn’t mean the Image Comics–produced title is derivative or trying to cash in on these fan-favourite series, it’s just a great way of summing up this fresh take on the pulp crime genre.

Originally published in 2002, Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise easily predates some of the above comparisons, and heartily acknowledges those stories and shows that did influence its inception. Receiving numerous positive reviews, the first series was quickly followed up by Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort in 2003. Production problems delayed the series’ completion until 2006, when it was collected into a second graphic novel volume. A third series, ostensibly ongoing, was started shortly after, but apart from the first story arc, Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder, there hasn’t been any further material produced for this unique noir series.

The stand-alone nature of each graphic novel makes Hawaiian Dick easy for new readers to quickly jump into. Set in a supernatural-noir version of Hawaii, the story focuses on down-on-his-luck private eye Byrd and his small group of friends, like Honolulu detective Mo Kalama and Byrd's assistant Kahami. Each graphic novel comes with its own eclectic supporting cast of island locales, gangster thugs, and supernatural spirits. B. Clay Moore’s sharp and snappy dialogue is certainly one of the highlights of the series, as Byrd can never seem to just keep his mouth shut, no matter who he is squaring off against.

Steven Griffin’s artwork is the other big draw for readers, as his impressionistic painted style gives the series a soft glow that immediately reminds one of slow hot days spent on the beach... and the shadowy nightlife that takes over after the sun has set and tourists are safely back in their hotel rooms. Never spent time in Hawaii? Well, me neither. But if you’ve watched Magnum PI or Hawaii Five-O, you’ll immediately recognize this world of brightly coloured shirts and bloodied knuckles.

Hawaiian Dickis Steven Griffin’s first published work, but given his three Eisner Award nominations for his work on the series, it’s clear that he executes his artistic duties with all the skill and deftness of a long-time pro. It is a true treat reading Hawaiian Dick and watching as the colour palette shifts from delightfully warm, rich tones into washed-out greys and cold blues as the supernatural horrors of Honolulu come for their revenge. Much like the series itself, the visual tone of the series is a wonderful mash-up of holiday vacations spent on the beach, and that creaking sound you hear from your attic in the dead of night.

My one criticism of Hawaiian Dick and its first two graphic novel compilations is the brevity of the story lines. Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise is only three issues, with the follow up, Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort, a slightly expanded four issues. Certainly the stories don’t suffer, as the tight plotting keeps the story moving quickly through its twists, turns, and double crosses in perfect pulpy noir fashion, but it does make the sticker price seem a little high compared to other series that pack six to eight issues into a single graphic novel collection. Of course, Hawaiian Dick does avoid the “over-stretched” plot lines that too many other titles now cater to in our trade paperback/GN–dominated comic market.

To help offset the brevity of the story line, the back section of each graphic novel is filled with a treasure trove of special features, which make for nearly as enjoyable a read as the comic itself. It includes comic shorts that were used for the pitch to Image Comics and fantastically detailed character designs, as well as early cover mock-ups and a make-your-own-drinks guide meant for older readers. The second volume ups the ante on the special features, including advertisement art, script drafts, further character designs, and even a cut-out game that lets you create your own Hawaiian Dick stories. This wealth of bonus material makes these graphic novels a must-have for young comic book creators who are looking to better understand what goes into creating a successful series.

Whether you are a fan of pulp crime stories, supernatural lore, or just beautiful painted artwork, Hawaiian Dick will definitely have something for you. So before Mad Men returns this April with its latest season, head out to your local comic book store and pick up Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise. You won’t be disappointed with this cheeky genre mash-up that delivers as many laughs as it does brawls and boogie men. Hawaiian Dick is pure shelf gold!