Getting Loaded: B. Clay Moore talks 'Hawaiian Dick'

With all the acclaim that Image Comics' "Hawaiian Dick" mini-series received and the praise heaped upon the recent trade paperback collection, it seems like one area of discussion has been missed:

Writer B. Clay Moore and artist Steven Griffin once again have shown that yeah, the 50's were cooler.

The mini-series is coming back this fall with a sequel of sorts "Hawaiian Dick: Last Resort" and CBR News caught up with Moore to talk about his work on the series and introduce readers to one of 2003's comic gems.

"In 1953 a disgraced detective from the United States has landed in Hawaii to escape his troubles," explains Moore of the comic's driving concept. "His name is Byrd, and his wartime pal, Honolulu Detective Mo Kalama, keeps an eye out for him. The two of them often handle cases that are a little outside the jurisdiction of the police. Toss in a few supernatural stumbling blocks and an array of entertaining and eclectic villains, and you've got 'Hawaiian Dick.'"

But Byrd isn't the only character who gets spotlighted in "Dick," and the diverse array of characters is responsible for much of the love directed towards the series. "There are three main characters who play a part in the first two books.

"Byrd has a mysterious past that's alluded to in the first series, and touched upon again in the second. We know an act of violence has led him to Honolulu, and we know it involved his brother. But that's about all we know. Perpetually disheveled and generally unarmed, Byrd doesn't really solve cases, he sort of stumbles through them as things blow up around him. Nonetheless, he possesses a certain charm, and when he's not sequestered in his beachside shack listening to jazz, he can be found sampling tourist drinks in one of the local watering holes. As a fan of fifties pop culture, cheesy tiki culture, film noir, and jazz, Byrd seemed like the perfect culmination of those elements. I've always gotten a kick out of heroes like Jim Rockford, from the Rockford Files. He was a guy who always seemed more lucky than good when it came to solving crimes, and generally spent a good portion of any episode getting the shit kicked out of him. Seems to me that's a more likely reflection of a private eye's lot in life than the super sleuths we see in pop culture.

"Mo Kalama may appear to be your standard gentle giant, but he doesn't mind smacking a suspect around or running a stoolie into a mailbox if it gets the results he wants. Mo will follow his conscience ahead of the dictates of the law, and is fiercely loyal to Byrd. Mo almost always sports a dark blue suit and his trademark porkpie hat, but in the second series we get to see him loosen up a bit as he takes what he thinks will be a vacation.

"Kahami is a waitress at the Outrigger, a local bar frequented by Mo and Byrd. Since Byrd entered her life she's spent more time helping him handle his business affairs, although at this point their relationship seems purely platonic. Kahami's family ties played a huge role in the first Hawaiian Dick book, and she's along for the ride in the sequel. I have no idea what the inspiration was behind Mo or Kahami, to be honest. They just seemed like natural fits for the book.

"The villain in the first story is Bishop Masaki. Masaki is a sinister, yet strangely appealing drug lord. Masaki comes off as polite and erudite, but won't let anything stand between himself and his goals in life. Most of his goals revolve around being wealthier and more in control of the islands than anyone else. I've always felt the most frightening villains were the ones who masked their villainy with a smile, and Masaki fits right into that crowd.

"The marquee bad guys in the second series ('The Last Resort') are mob bosses Red Piano and Dandy Danny Quinn, and their respective right hand men, Tony Antonio ("the Thinker") and former boxer turned mob enforcer Stew Mulligan."

There's an interesting mix of a lot of elements in "Hawaiian Dick"- from the obvious love for jazz to the different view on culture in Hawaii and setting in the past- and one has to wonder how Moore put together this unique vision. "Basically, I sat down one day and literally made a laundry list of things in pop culture that I dig. Film noir, fifties pop culture, jazz, retro 'tiki' culture, detective stories, zombie movies... Threw 'em all into a bag, shook 'em up, and up popped 'Hawaiian Dick.' So to speak. Steven Griffin helped solidify those elements when he came on board, but I'd be remiss in not mentioning the early contributions of artist J. Bone, who was the one who convinced me to use 'Hawaiian Dick' in the title (although we pitched it as 'Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise,' just in case someone thought another title would be more appropriate).

"There's also the whole dual nature of our perception of the fifties. The bright, plastic decade that hid its share of dark secrets. I mean, we remember 'Leave it to Beaver' and 'Father Knows Best,' but It's no coincidence that film noir also flourished in the fifties. I thought Hawaii would provide a nice allegorical backdrop: this bright, sunny island paradise that surely held some secrets of its own in its back alleys."

In the recently released trade paperback collection, Moore mentions doing a lot of research- no, he doesn't mean watching "Hawaii Five-O"- and says it added interesting nuances to the story. "Well, it's most evident in the visuals, I'd say. When Mo runs Paulo into a mailbox in the first issue, that mailbox is authentic, damn it. Steven and I spent about three hours one afternoon fretting over what mailboxes looked like in 1953 Hawaii before I finally stumbled upon a color picture of a Waikiki street scene that featured a tiny mailbox in one corner. The use of Hawaiian myths and legends is a little less specific. Doing research, we found several variations of the story of the Night Marchers (ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors), for instance. So we used them in a way that we didn't think would upset anyone with a devotion to Hawaiian folklore, but we still felt comfortable taking a bit of creative license for the sake of the story. It's not as easy as you'd think to find good pictures of Honolulu in the fifties, either, as the city has undergone a massive facelift since then. But people who know have assured us that Steven managed a pretty credible job in capturing the look of the city."

If you're a "Dick" virgin, don't worry about being lost in "Last Resort"- this mini-series may follow up the first mini-series, but it also will be a great introduction for new readers looking to get a "Hawaiian Dick" introduction. "The relationships have been affected by what happened in the first series, but this one stands alone pretty well. Obviously, you'll enjoy it more if you've been properly introduced to the characters in the first series.

"The new series kicks off as Byrd has been asked to investigate the strange goings-on at a brand new resort that happens to be operated by American mobsters. It also just so happens that there's a competing resort across the bay, run by rival mobsters. Naturally, Byrd gets tangled up with both mob families. Mo and Kahami drop in, of course, as do a variety of spooky resort guests, some of whom are quite dead. We've got a couple of huge explosions, lots of gunplay, Byrd in a drinking contest with an Irish mob enforcer (guess who wins?), mobsters falling off of roofs and cliffs, a 1954 Corvette, and Kahami sunbathing. What else could you want?"

Talking to Moore, you'll realize that the man has some traits in common with Byrd- he loves his job and doesn't feel pressure- or at least doesn't show it. "Part of the fun is piecing Byrd's world together using all these bits and scraps of pop culture. For me, personally, the most fun part is seeing new pages or character sketches from Steven in my email box. He makes me look so much better than I am.

"Pressure? Ha! We laugh at pressure! Actually, what pressure could there be? People will like it or they won't. Since I know the second series will demonstrate growth, I can't see it being any less enjoyable than the first."

There's a definite sense of "cool" in the series and it's something many writers wouldn't be able to institute without it seeming forced or cheesy. But Moore's managed to give a hip feel to the series and admits, he never consciously tried making anything "cool." "I don't really know. I don't work all that hard on trying to make them seem 'cool.' They just 'feel' right to me, if that makes sense. I think giving my characters human flaws helps, too. You know, Byrd is cool, but he doesn't think he's cool. He just is the way he is, like most truly cool people. I try to keep that in mind. As an example, I think Byrd's reaction when he first sees the Night Marchers is kind of how most people would react. You know, 'Holy shit. What the hell was that?' If he'd blown it off as no big thing, he would have been 'too' cool. Mo blew it off, but that's because Mo always believed in the Night Marchers. Unlike a lot of writers, I don't base my characters on movie stars or people I know, for the most part. I have a pretty clear mental picture of who they are, and their actions just seem to follow logically."

Speaking of the Night Marchers, they were one of the supernatural elements that appeared in the original mini-series and while there were some other abnormal events, the series never turned into "Hawaii X-Files," something Moore promises will stay consistent in "Last Resort." "The supernatural stuff will probably always be primarily in the background. I imagine the supernatural elements as stumbling blocks between Byrd and the solution to a case. You know: chase the bad guy, get close, run into a headless apparition, head the other way while screaming. Now he has to figure out how to get the bad guy without running into the headless apparition, because who knows what a headless apparition wants? Probably nothing good."

The cast of "Hawaiian Dick" is relatively small thus far- we're not talking the size of the Legion of Superheroes roster- and while Moore doesn't plan an obscene influx of new faces, the cast will be thickened. "I wanted to throw more people into the mix with 'The Last Resort,' and did. This time around we've got two bad guys, each with their own right hand men, and assorted gunsels and gangsters. For the hell of it, I've tossed a few other characters into the mix, as well, even if they don't all do anything all that important. One thing I like about Byrd is that he rarely 'stars' in his own story. Most of the time he's just trying to keep up. So I might as well have some supporting characters in there who don't provide much support. Why not? That's how 'real' life is."

Someone that readers would love to see appear is Byrd's brother- even the corpse is something that Moore is proven he could make interesting- but more specifically, a story focusing on why Byrd shot his own brother. "Somewhere down the road, we'll reveal exactly what happened between Byrd and his brother. When we do that, the tone will shift rather dramatically. For one thing, we'll have to move it out of Hawaii, and Mo won't play much of a role. If and when we do that, I guess we'll find out if the character of Byrd is strong enough to pull 'Hawaiian Dick' fans along with him to a new locale, or if they're just hanging around for the tropical scenery. I haven't talked to Steven about it much, but that might make a good stand alone graphic novel someday. As for Mo and Byrd, the whole series is about their friendship, in a sense.

"I'd also like to branch into 'proper' books with 'Hawaiian Dick' one day. Both of those topics might be addressed in that format, although the comic book world of 'Hawaiian Dick' will always stand on its own, no matter what other media Byrd and his pals wind up in."

If this were many of the other current comics, Byrd, our good-looking male protagonist would have slept with his "Girl Friday," Kahami, the attractive female lead. Again defying convention, Moore hasn't gone anywhere near this and hates the idea that the two have to be together. "I do hate the cliche that says the male lead must bed the female lead. Steven and I have some thoughts on this, and the careful reader will see an evolution in all the relationships in the second series, albeit a subtle one.

"In real life, there would probably be more flirting than bedding, anyway. At least at this point. And why wouldn't Kahami dig Mo more than Byrd? Maybe she goes for the beefy boys."

One of the biggest reasons for the series' acclaim is the work of artist Steven Griffin and his visuals have impressed many people, including of course, Moore, who recounts the situation that led to recruiting Griffin. "When J. Bone became too busy with other commitments to draw the book, I struck out in search of some new blood, and found Steven via the Internet. He'd just received a pep talk from fellow Perther (Perthite? Perthman?) Ben Templesmith, and decided to give comics another shot (he'd all but given up on them years earlier, at the tender age of nineteen). He sent me some samples that hinted at his potential, but it wasn't until we worked up the first full color, full page 'Hawaiian Dick' strip that things really clicked. For whatever reason, we seem to really gel. He likes my writing, and I love what he does with it when he puts it down on paper (well, he puts it down on a computer, but it ends up on paper)."

As for the reasons why Moore loves Griffin's work, well quite frankly, the writer feels there's no way to sum up his adoration of his partner's work. "I don't know where to begin. Steven has an innate sense of layout and design that I find remarkable," gushes Moore. "He honestly doesn't see this in himself, which makes it even more amazing. Consider that his knowledge of Hawaiian and tropical culture was virtually nil before we started 'Hawaiian Dick', and then see how quickly he nailed the look and feel of the book. He's willing to do the research to assure things look correct. In fact, he wouldn't have it any other way. He's insistent on getting things as close to accurate as he can without turning the book into a textbook. And his use of color is sophisticated and spot-on at all times. On top of that, he just seems to 'get' what I'm going for whenever he starts work on one of my scripts. I trust him completely, and once I've turned a script over to him, I can rest easy knowing that any changes he makes will only benefit the pacing of the book. I got lucky when I stumbled onto Steven, and I will always be willing to work with him if our schedules allow it. I think the guy's a very serious talent, and the sky's the limit for him."

The duo hit the conventions this year, though Moore says his Aussie artist isn't as much of a man when it comes to flying. "I've always got good con stories, but I'm not sharing them with everyone," he laughs. "I got a kick out of Steven explaining to everyone who requested a sketch that he hadn't drawn on paper in forever, so they should excuse him if his sketch sucked. Naturally, he'd then whip out a really cool slice of Griffin Hawaiiana for them. Steven, who lives in Perth, Australia, actually only made it to San Diego this year. You know...as if thirty-six hour flights to the United States are too big a pain in the ass for him to do it more than once a summer. Wimp."

"Hawaiian Dick" is quite critically acclaimed, as noted earlier, but Moore says there's one comment about the series that strikes him as odd. "Well, of course the acclaim is gratifying, but you do have to take everything with a grain of salt. People seem to be reacting in some ways to the notion that 'Hawaiian Dick' is something crazy and off-the-wall in concept. While I'd agree the particular combination of ingredients that we tossed together is unique, detective stories, even ones set in exotic locales, are pretty standard stuff for most media. In that sense, it's nice to be able to kind of open people's minds to the idea that comics don't have to be related to superheroics or mired in the 'indy cool' subculture to succeed. We've produced a book without trying to calculate a target audience. And it worked. There's a lesson in there for everyone."

Some of you may know that "Hawaiian Dick" may be heading to the big screen and those that don't might be groaning. "Another comic book movie and more creators seeing films first," you might say, but Moore takes offense to any claim that a comic being turned into a movie means the creators "sold out." "The biggest misconception seems to be that creators who option things to Hollywood all created their comics with that goal in mind. Steven and I never discussed the possibility of 'Hawaiian Dick' heading to the big (or small) screen while we were developing the book, unless it was with tongue in cheek. We used to joke that if 'Dick' were ever made into a movie, it would be a made-for-television flick starring David Hasselhoff as Byrd. Imagine our surprise when, before the book was even released, a producer came knocking on our door. Honest to God he first took an interest in the book while searching for Hawaiian related projects for...David Hasselhoff.

"Since then the interest from Hollywood has been steady, and we'd be fools not to take advantage of the opportunity. I don't necessarily think that movies are a better storytelling medium than comics, but they are another medium we'd love to explore. Having said that, comics are our first love."

After this mini-series concludes, you can expect to see more "Hawaiian Dick" in some form or another… maybe even an original graphic novel! "I'd like to always have a place for Byrd in comics. We may take a bit of time off after this second series, but the demand for Byrd may increase, so who knows. As for OGNs, I haven't really talked to Steven about it yet, but I wouldn't mind taking some time and putting together a Byrd OGN. Something we can spend a ton of time on, working at our own speed, and letting the story dictate the page count. I think the results could be spectacular."

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