Recommended Reading: Blacksad

Don’t let the anthropomorphic animals in people clothes throw you off: Blacksad is a comic to be enjoyed by adults.  I can easily see how people would be confused by this book; the cast is made up entirely of animals, mostly cats and dogs, as well as bears, weasels, owls and other barnyard variety creatures, all dressed to the nines in 40s suits.  Plus, the artwork is done by Juanjo Guarnido, who previously worked for Disney (he helped create storyboards for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and A Goofy Movie and also designed the character of Hades for Hercules).  Again, don’t let that throw you…  Not only is Blacksad for adults, but it’s also one of the best comics I’ve read specifically aimed at adults.

Cover of Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido

I wish I could show interior art from the book, but I’m afraid that’d be copyright infringement.  Plenty of other people have posted scans, so just Google Blacksad for examples.  The interior art is executed with the kind of quality and craftsmanship that usually is only employed with covers.  The penciling and inking create highly detailed images, but the watercolor look makes each panel arresting.  There are some awe-inspiring and beautiful panels in this book.

The graphic novel released by Dark Horse last year collects three issues of Blacksad.  If you look at the huge amount of time and effort put into the book, you’ll understand why only three issues have been released so far, and each one years apart from the last.  What makes things worse for us in the States is that this is a French comic, and it always takes comics a long time to be translated and distributed here.  It’s still hard to find any issues of The Air-Tight Garage, and that came out in France decades ago.  Still, although three issues sounds slim, there’s a lot going on here, and for the art alone it’s something you’ll want on your shelf to flip through.  It doesn’t hurt the stories by Juan Diaz Canales aren’t at all bad either.

Blacksad (possibly a pun on film-noir) is the main character, a detective who happens to be a black cat.  He lives in a world that you might recognize from film-noirs and crime novels like Out of the Past or Double Indemnity.  Around every corner waits a thug, and in every smile a gleam of murderous intent.  Blacksad has to navigate the bustling city, trying to uncover crimes while wondering who he can trust.  The first issue deals with Blacksad finding out (on the very first page) that his one-time girlfriend has been murdered, and goes questing to find her killer, starting on the grimy, crime-ridden streets and ending at the top of a skyscraper.  The last panel of issue one is among the most beautifully drawn and colored panels I’ve ever seen.  Issue two deals with race, except with black cats and birds on one side and polar bears and white wolves on the other.  Blacksad has to navigate both sides.  Issue three is I think the most brilliant of the issues.  Blacksad visits an old college professor only to find out the professor now mixes with radicals and leftists who are intent on nuclear disarmament, if in-fighting and sabotage from the extreme right (portrayed by a rooster resembling Joseph McCarthy) don’t stop them first.

All in all, Blacksad is a good read and a great piece of art.  If you like Jill Thompson’s watercolor style (she illustrates the Beasts of Burden Series, also for Dark Horse) you very well might also like Juanjo Guarnido’s work here. If you like 40s film-noirs, you’ll like the stories here, and if you like anthropomorphic animals as much as I do (I even sat through all of Howard the Duck) then Blacksad is the book for you.

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