Aloha, Hawaiian Dick: Tiki Noir With Moore & Wyatt [Interview]
April 20, 2016
IMAGE COMICS: It's been a while since HAWAIIAN DICK was on the stands, but now it's back in a major way with the Kickstarter and ALOHA, HAWAIIAN DICK. For those who are new to the series, can you give us what we need to know about the franchise?
B CLAY MOORE: Byrd was a stateside cop who, for unknown reasons, killed his younger brother, Danny. Damaged by the experience, he washed up on the shores of Hawaii, where an old wartime pal, Mo Kalama, is a Honolulu detective who throws odd cases his way now and then. Those cases are often interrupted by the living embodiment of Hawaiian myths and legends. Inconvenient. Kahami, a former barmaid turned office manager, assists Byrd where she can. The first series took place in 1953, but we're into 1954 by now. (The first issue contains a better recap!)
IC: And ALOHA, HAWAIIAN DICK—what's the status quo at the beginning of the series? Who is Mike Byrd, and what do we need to know about him?
MOORE: This is the first time we've met Mike Byrd, the middle Byrd brother, and we meet him in 1972, as a young reporter is investigating a jazz musician from the past named Tread Lightly. As the series progresses, we learn how Mike, Tread, Byrd, and crew all came together back in 1954. Mike's an obsessive gambler who's always trying to raise a stake. Sometimes he takes dirty pictures to raise the scratch, and that's what leads him into the story.
IC: Jake, you're stepping into a world that was previously realized by Steven Griffin and Scott Chantler. What are you doing to make this series yours while still being recognizably "HAWAIIAN DICK"?
JAKE WYATT: What struck me most about Griffen and Chantler's work on Dick was the color. Steven and Clay were calling the style "Tiki Noir" and the result was beautiful and bloody and tropical and grim all at the same time. So I've tried to borrow as much of that palette as I could. And obviously, I'm also building on all the period research and design work they put into the first three series.
I can't help but draw like myself, that always shows through, but aside from that the personal touches I've tried to add were pretty light. I went for the sort of graphite/grease pencil line you saw coming from mid-century illustrators like Austin Briggs or Al Parker instead of a standard ink treatment. I dunno how well I did with that, but it was my attempt to further incorporate the period into the art.
IC: The first series came out in 2002, and here we are fourteen years later with the latest round. What is it about HAWAIIAN DICK that keeps you coming back?
MOORE: The truth is, we've been working on this series for several years now. The backup story, by myself and Jason Armstrong, was once intended as the first issue following the last series, SCREAMING BLACK THUNDER. There's a small but intensely dedicated following for DICK, and it remains the thing I seem to be most known for. It was the first thing I really did in comics, and it'll probably always be my baby.
We've also been consistently bombarded by requests to adapt Dick to other media, and I think we may have finally found our way into HD on the small screen, with the NBC/Universal deal we recently put together.
WYATT: The research. It's so fun to look into what people wore, drove, ate, and generally how they lived over 60 years ago. I fell down a lot of internet rabbit-holes researching the first few issues.
MOORE: I grew up obsessed with the history of pop culture, and I enjoy telling stories filtered through our perceptions of past eras. The past exists in two forms, you know? As it actually happened, and as we perceive that it happened. The same could be said of Hawaii, particularly in the fifties. So we start with the brightly colored, family-friendly travel destination that exists in our collective memory, and try to draw out some of the darkness that obviously lurked in the shadows.
IC: Clay, how have you channeled your obsession with pop culture into this series? Do you find yourself leaning into the expectations of a noir tale, or actively pushing against them?
MOORE: I feel like HAWAIIAN DICK has always sort of played against expectations of noir. The vibrant color, initially from Steven Griffin (who received, like, three Eisner nominations for his HD color), and now with Jake (and even with Jason Armstrong, in the backup story), flies in the face of noir's traditional obsession with stark black and white shadows, but thematically, we've always tried to indicate that those shadows are lurking just beyond the bright colors. Not to get too geeky about it, but discussions of what constitutes "noir" always interest me.
As for pop cultural obsessions, I've always made it clear that Byrd is a jazz fan, so why not introduce a trumpet player in the Chet Baker mold, and see where his journey would take him if thrown into this slightly skewed take on reality? And, in a more direct example, if we're opening the story in 1972, why not play up some of the insane architecture of that period in the introduction? I like dropping hints as to what Byrd's universe might look like fifteen or twenty years down the road. Keep fleshing out his world. With luck, maybe we'll follow him into his future. The backup story, which runs through the first few issues, serves as an introduction to trumpet player Tread Lightly and his club of choice, the Blue Aloha, and touches upon issues of race and class in the fifties, without preaching.
IC: ALOHA, HAWAIIAN DICK has a cover design by Sean Dove that's reminiscent of classic pulp novels—perhaps something someone in the series itself would've read. What kind of influences are you putting into the mix for this run? Are there any simpatico works your fans should check out?
MOORE: Oh, man. Too many to mention. When it comes to films and television, I'd maybe start with Robert Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY, which is a favorite film noir. THE ROCKFORD FILES was a huge influence, as was Robert Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE. An entire catalog's worth of fifties and early sixties Blue Note jazz could probably be tossed into the mix. Both the music and Francis Wolfe's iconic photographs of the era's jazz greats. I suppose those are good places to start.
ALOHA, HAWAIIAN DICK #1 is out today.