Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hawaiian Dick

Now, before I begin I need to preface this with the amusing story of when I met B. Clay Moore last year at the Paradise City Toronto ComicCon. This is mainly becuase I like anectdotes, and I feel like it.

Moore was minding a table, I think it was the Image table, and had some interesting books fanned out. So I stopped to watch, and chatted about his work, and breaking into the industry, and the like. Hawaiian Dick caught my eye, but unfortunatly do to being a student it didn't manage to catch my pocket book. But I found out something: B. Clay Moore hates it when you start at the end of a book. Which is how I ended up with the first issue of Battle Hymn: picked it up, flipped through it, and he then said something to the effect of "Dammit! You've ruined the ending! You might as well take it."

Well, I didn't really pass by the first HD trade again until a day or two ago, when I decided to do some comic shopping when I got offwork. There's an open-late comic store down on Yonge Street, so i went inside and decided to take a go at the HD trade since it was selling for US cover (a steal at $15, considering how much is in there).

So...actual review.

I read the book in one sitting today. And its good stuff. I'm not really familiar with Moore's writing outside of Battle Hymn, so I really can't go into a detailed comparison to his previous books. But I'll pick out some things that really caught my eye here.

First, Steven Griffin's art is fantastic. I'm not sure if that's paint, ink, or if he threw it through a computer, but its beautiful. Griffin really gets the atmosphere of a scene, and the emotions of a character, down in color as much as in line work. Its in this that the art is so fantastic: its the coloring. Griffin's art would be great in black and white...hell it IS great in black and white (as the B&W sketches in the back show), but with the colors he just kicks everything up to a whole other level.

I'd like to draw particular attention to the scenes where the only light is from a single lamp or a flashlight. Griffin just nails the lightning dead on. Its not all vibrant colors, but black and white and things washed out in an off-white yellow. It generates a very creepy atmosphere, the sort of place where you expect shit to jump out at you from the corners. The only thing its close to is some of the stuff that Mike Mignola has done, but Mignola tends to achieve that effect with solid colors, while Griffin plays with subtle changes as the light flickers out towards the edges. Its quite nice to see.

Secondly, the story and the writing. I'm not real familiar with the old Hawaii cop/PI shows like Magnum or 5-0, so I can't speak for how close he nailed it, story-wise, but its still damn good storytelling. Hawaiian mythology isn't something that a lot of books touch on, and even then its typically just volcano goddesses and shark men. Moore's supernatural Hawaii is subtle, the magic takes a back seat to the detective work...but when it shows up its the sort of thing that creates the folk legends. A brush with the Marchers of the Pali Highway, and zombies...I don't want to give away too much.

As far as a detective story goes, its not big on mystery...but that's not the point. Its got a bit of a hardboiled detective-story edge to it; things happen even after the case has been "solved" by the detective, and people still want answers. There's some really nice short strips in the back of the first trade that mingle supernatural encounters with amusing little criminal anecdotes.

The one issue I have is that the story tends to jump around a little, and it steps in with little introduction of some of the characters. This isn't normally a problem, but here it was a bit difficult to figure out everyone's deal, leading me to be confused by the actions of one or two characters. But that was really just in the first half or so of the first issue, after which point things smoothed out considerably.

If you're looking for a complicated, Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler-style whodunnit, Hawaiian Dick isn't really the book for you. But there's a reason its filed as "crime drama" rather than "mystery": its a story about a PI, not a story about something the PI is investigating. Its far more in the neighbourhood of Sam Spade getting hired by some mysterious dame to do something, does it, and then gets beaten up by someone else who didn't want it done, and is happy to explain why. Not a lot of mystery, but a whole lot of fun. And a whole lot of weird as well.

Hawaiian Dick has definitly earned a place on my dorm room's shelf.


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