Hawaiian Dick Volume 1: Byrd Of Paradise
Written by B. Clay Moore; Illustrated by Steven Griffin
I’d forgotten how much I liked Hawaiian Dick. Because both the inaugural mini-series and its follow up The Last Resort had problems coming out on time, it’s been tough to keep enthusiastic about Danny Byrd mysteries. In fact, after The Last Resort, I promised myself that I’d wait for the trades on any future installments of the series.
But my fondness for the concept must be deep-rooted because my resolve to wait for trades was severely tested by the arrival of the new Hawaiian Dick ongoing. And though I’m still skittish about buying it in individual issues, the new series got me thinking about revisiting the original. And doing that has me even more tempted to start picking up the singles again.
The first thing you notice about the first Hawaiian Dick collection is the art. I’ve had my copy sitting out in the living room for the last few days and my wife, who is extremely indulgent of my comics fixation, but doesn’t read them herself, saw it and commented on the art. Particularly the coloring, which she called, “stunning.” She’s an artist herself and notices that kind of thing. I had a good time explaining that Griffin’s well known for his coloring and that it’s one of the things that consistently gets mentioned about Hawaiian Dick.
And deservedly so. The setting of Hawaii is vitally important to Byrd’s adventures and Griffin totally sells it with his lush palette of tropical colors. When we first see Byrd on his beach-house porch, smoking and listening to music as he looks out over the water, we can practically hear the slide guitar, smell the surf, and feel the ocean breeze.
That moment of escape would almost be worth the price of the book by itself, but Moore’s got other things in mind he wants to share. There’s a missing car with a recovery reward that far exceeds the cost of the vehicle itself. There’s a beautiful girl’s missing sister. There’s Byrd’s own shady past that he doesn’t seem keen on talking about. There’s a skuzzy client and the elegantly odd drug lord he works for. And there are island ghosts and imported voodoo.
The main characters are all as interesting and colorful as the setting and the story. Byrd has the style of Thomas Magnum, the luck of Jim Rockford, and the charm of both. His best friend, Detective Mo Kalama is a huge, bald Samoan-looking fellow who’s as competent as he is intimidating, but isn’t afraid to deviate from convention to help his friend or solve a case. Kahami serves drinks in the local tourist bar where Mo and Byrd sometimes hang out. She’s a tough, smart lady; a bit too wise to be cute and much too honest to be a proper femme fatale. In other words, she breaks the usual noir gal conventions and makes us accept her on her own terms. Very refreshing.
Reacquainting myself with all this made me question even more my decision to wait for the trades on the new series. I still haven’t made up my mind though, and the choice is even tougher considering how beautifully designed the Byrd of Paradise trade is. Griffin did the book production and design himself and he included some fantastic features. In addition to the usual pin-up gallery, some one-page strips that originally appeared online, and some interesting step-by-step looks at page creation, there’s a short, action-packed prose story that tells how Byrd and Mo first met. There’s also a hilariously illustrated drink menu that tells the story of a typical night at the bar for Byrd as it presents recipes for tropical drinks ranging from the traditional Mai Tai to the unique Bruised Kidney for a Hawaiian Dick.
My favorite feature in this collection though is one that I typically skip over in other books: the character design sketches. I’m not usually interested in seeing the artistic development of characters, but Griffin also includes emails between him and Moore as they discuss Moore’s initial concepts and how Griffin’s interpreting them. It’s a fascinating look at the creative process that goes beyond simply showing us a script and letting us compare it to finished pages. The conversation is a beautiful example of how collaborative a process the creation of a comic is when it’s done right.
As much as revisiting Byrd of Paradise made me fall in love with Hawaiian Dick again, I think I’m still going to wait for the trade on the new series. Like I said, I’m a bit wary about the book’s ability to maintain a regular schedule, but mostly it’s because I know that if future collections are as well put together as this one, I’m going to want them whether I’ve already got the individual issues or not.