Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise
There are so many hooks to Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise by B. Clay Moore I hardly know where to start talking about it. It’s been variously described as tropical noir, a hardboiled supernatural thriller with a tiki-influenced setting, and a retro island take on Sam Spade. (Younger folks might see it as Thomas Magnum as written by Raymond Chandler.)
It’s 1953 in Hawaii. Byrd was a mainland police officer until a mysterious shooting drove him to semi-retirement. He works as a private detective with help from his ex-Army buddy Mo, a local police officer. When Byrd is hired to find a missing car, the locals say it was taken by spirits. The story expands when a mob boss’ girlfriend turns up missing and Mo and Byrd think they see the Night Marchers, native ghosts.
The setting, combined with the pre-statehood time period, is an exotic paradise with a seedy underbelly. Imagine someone like Jim Rockford in this setting, steeped in cocktail jazz culture but dealing with gangsters and bar girls. The details, like bar decorations or mailboxes, really ground the story. The creators have done a lot of research to get them just right.
While the writing is well-done, it’s the art by Steven Griffin that I found immediately gripping and gorgeous. The deep painterly style and incredibly vivid use of color perfectly set the stage for the time period and genre. Whether it’s Byrd’s sun-splashed apartment or a spooky nighttime assignation, the look is amazing and atmospheric. The digital painting is phenomenal.
The book has a ton of enjoyable extras beyond the story. There are several comic strips with the characters, a text story about Byrd and Mo’s first meeting during the war, lots of character design sketches and notes, a cover gallery showing the development process, and even illustrated cocktail recipes.
This is a refeshing take on the private eye genre made special through a strong sense of place. Hawaiian Dick is a great crime story read, especially if you’re looking for something that makes full use of the comic medium.