Review: Blacksad

Blacksad

Written by Juan Díaz Canales
Art by Juanjo Guarnido
Letters by Studio Cutie
English Translation by Anthya Flores and Patricia Rivera

$29.99 / 184 Pages /Color / Hardcover

Dark Horse

"There are a lot of cliches about us cats. One says that we have nine lives. I've honestly never really wanted to find out if that's true or not."

John Blacksad. Blacker than Shaft. Blacker even than the Maltese Falcon. And he's one black cat you'll be glad to have crossed your path.

Stop throwing vegetables at me.

Thank you.

Created by Spanish animators Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido back in 2000, John Blacksad was an instant sensation in Europe. It all started with a French language comic album called Blacksad: Somewhere Within the Shadows, a simple crime yarn that borrowed heavily from American detective films of the 30s and 40s. With one major twist. John Blacksad is a cat. But like the rest of the critters roaming the streets and rushing down fire escapes, he's anthropomorphic. Given the animation heritage and all the cigarette smoking monitor lizards and german shepherds with windsor knots, I was instantly reminded of things like Disney's vulpine Robin Hood and Miyazaki's Sherlock Hound. For the most part, it's all played straight. But these characters are all fully aware that they're animals, their species' traits often informing their nature or class. The tone of the book also shifts from grim to comedic, lending it no small similarity to The Spirit.

But that's not the only ingredient Blacksad shares with the work of Will Eisner. it's also an exceptional example of fine cartooning. Guarnido is primarily an animator, having worked on several projects for Disney through their French studio. That background is wholly evident on every stunning page of this book, which collects all three Blacksad stories currently in print. Every animal character displays a range of expressions, sometimes human and other times animalistic. Blacksad himself is seen as stoic, ferocious, and even adorably meek depending on the scene. There is great sense of movement here, and that truly adds to the dynamism and energy of the panel progression. Fight scenes and chases are rendered more urgent, more kinetic. Guarnido's careful attention to detail–no page or panel could possibly be considered phoned-in–also does a great deal to establish place, from Blacksad's cluttered office to a vibrant flower shop, to a crowded urban intersection, or the damp observation deck at Niagra Falls. It's so absolutely rare to see a book so meticulously illustrated that still manages to maintain such grace, poise, and excitement in storytelling. Blacksad never feels static, and even with such beautiful pages, that initial read is still swift and focused. 


What I'm saying is that this is one of the prettiest damn books I've ever seen.

Brains too. While I sense that a small portion of the poetry may have been lost in translation, this collection still presents three very cool crime stories ripped from the very best films in that genre. The quality of the writing also gets a little more sophisticated with each new chapter. Consider the opening story "Somewhere Within the Shadows" as a proof of concept. It concerns Blacksad's investigation into the murder of an old flame. It's a very straight forward revenge tale, but does a great job of introducing the world of Blacksad with it's law enforcement dogs, bear and rhino heavies, and reptilian assassins.

The second story, "Arctic Nation" makes great use of the anthropomorphic animal ensemble for an even darker story about race relations. This is probably a good time to mention that Blacksad is much more mature and even salacious than you might imagine when you hear "black cat detective." There are adult themes aplenty in these stories, limited not only to violence, but also to sex (I won't call it bestiality because Guarnido actually evokes some smoldering sensuality, if you can believe it) as well as political intrigue and bigotry. "Arctic Nation" actually features a white supremacy regime within a snowy suburb, with white-furred animals actually lynching a black-feathered bird. It's a richly textured story and a major step up from the first album in terms of complexity.

The third and final story in this collection, "Red Soul," focuses on the assassinations of various communists within a group of scientists and artists in a collective called the Apostles. Blacksad gets involved when a former college professor is targeted by the killers. This one even features a Joe McCarthy analogue in the form of a…ahem..cock. Though the previous stories have been published in English before, this is a first for "Red Soul."

According to the back matter, there's a fourth Blacksad story slated for publication in Europe in 2010. Here's hoping Dark Horse can snag the rights and get a translation stateside soon after. I have nothing to compare it to, but I honestly can't imagine a better handling of this material. This collection is positively gorgeous.

Blacksad ranks among the very best cartooning I've ever seen in comics, and this new comprehensive collection is a must for any enthusiast of visual storytelling. Seriously. Don't miss this one. It's the cat's pajamas.

Again, with the vegetables! 

Story: 4 Stars / Art: 5 Stars / Overall: 4.5 Stars

(Out of 5)

 

Blacksad is out now, and you can grab a copy on Amazon

 

Your recommended soundtrack: Black Star by Talib Kweli and Mos Def 

 


Paul Montgomery is allergic to cats, put he'd pop a Benadry for more Blacksad any time. Find him on Twitter or contact him at paul@ifanboy.com. 

Comments

  1. lmao! sold.

  2. I’m low on dough, but man, when I’m free from my debts this is definitely getting bought. 

    I spent a good portion of last night just looking at the gorgeous preview pages. 

  3. This sounds great.  I pondered picking it up, but didn’t for some reason.  I’ll snag a copy when I can.

    Also, "Black Star" as a soundtrack choice?  It’s a great hip-hop album, but I don’t know if it fits the noir genre.  Of course, thinking back to your guest spot a couple weeks ago, it’s probably because they both have "Black" in the title…

  4. I picked this up and strummed through it.  It’s got some of that same European comic booking like some of the other Marvel European releases like Sky Doll.  It’s also a good size for reading as well.  Perhaps I’ll pick it up when I’m at the store.

  5. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Neb   ……………

    Though somewhat anachronistic, you may substitute Roy Ayers’ "Coffy" score.  

  6. I feel this could definitely be POTM. A great package.

    Really disagree on the soundtrack, I’d personally recommend some laid back jazz for this book. 

  7. @Neb

    Well Thieves in the Night will work great withthe example page!

  8. I bought this the day it came out despite already owning the first two stories in paperback. It’s one of those things you don’t mind re-purchasing. The newly-translated third story did not disappoint. This collection really is solid gold. Anyone who appreciates illustration, crime noir, or cats should pick this up without hesitation.

    Bring on more Blacksad, Dark Horse!

  9. Can’t wait to pick up my copy from my LCS in a few hours!

  10. Damn it Montgomery! Your reviews keep causing me to dip into my bank account to buy these things. But when I end up in the poor house, I’ll have such pretty pretty books to look at. So thank you for that. 

  11. Looks very interesting, added to pull list.  Thanks Paul for bringing some of these stories I’ve never heard of to light!

  12. This book was so fantastic, if you like detective noir comics this is perfect! Also what an awesome album choice although not what I would expect to recommend to read with Blacksad, I would say that Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z would fit this book much more, IMO.

  13. Bought this on the gang`s recommendation and I have to say it was fantastic.  Truly, truly great.