Review by Luke Williams
Written by Juan Diaz Canales and drawn by Juanjo Guarnido, Blacksad is a much celebrated, Spanish created, French published series of comics, not graphic novels. Published by Dargaud in France and Spain, the stories have appeared in several languages besides French and Spanish, including Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Turkish and Ukrainian. And, thanks to US publisher Dark Horse, they’ve been translated and republished into English, too, with a new collection of the first part of the latest story, They All Fall Down, on the way soon.
Set set in an alternate 1950s-styled anthropomorphic populated United States, Blacksad stars the titular, hard-bitten private eye (first name, John), who happens to be a six foot tall cat, with a soft spot for the ladies and a knack of taking on the wrong cases. Luckily, he’s pretty handy with his fists, can recover quickly from a good beating and has his buddy Weekly and a friendly cop on hand, to help him out.
The series has been lauded by luminaries such as Jim Steranko, Stan Lee and Neal Adams, who has a translation credit for one of the stories in Blacksad – Collected Stories, originally published in France in 2014 as Blacksad L’intégrale.
Released by Dark Horse in 2020, this comprehensive volume features five of the biggest cases. Included are “Somewhere Within The Shadows”, “Red Soul”, “Arctic Nation”, “A Silent Hell” and “Amarillo” and a small selection of affecting short stories.
The adventures span your usual noir / thriller topics such as racism, kidnappings, missing persons, conspiracy, murder and grubby politics and politicians. Nothing particularly original, some might say, and, were you to be so reductive, you could label Blacksad as noir for furries; but it’s the mastery in the pacing of the plot and how the characters emotions are conveyed in the art that makes this series so impressive.
The characters take on a life of their own, anthropomorphism used as shorthand for a character’s personality and purpose in the story, their realisation perfectly complemented by the art, which is beautifully rendered. The cast look almost animated.
Each page is so extraordinarily intricate; delivering a fully realised, rich, dynamic world. The “oversized” format, normal for European comics – think Asterix album, or 2000AD sized – gives the reader an opportunity to truly appreciate the art.
If there I had a criticism, then it is that, occasionally, the dialogue can be a little clunky and unnaturalistic, which always raises the question, is that down to the series writer or the translation?
Blacksad is big news in Europe. There’s been talk of a film for a while now, and, as we previously reported, a game has already been released, but, like most European comic output, the UK tends to look across the Atlantic rather than across the English Channel for our imports and influences – which is a pity as the Europe has so much to offer, despite the language differences.
Blacksad albums are released every few years, and the latest translated edition, published again by Dark Horse, is due in July 2022.
It’s unfortunate that as far as much mainstream media is concerned, work like this isn’t cited as modern comics and, thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, interest in superheroes has been resurgent (if not interest in the comics they originate from). Blacksad is a true showcase for the medium and deserves wider appreciation. Wonderful work.
Despite only recently being released, copies of this collection are, it seems, in short supply, so we’ve included links to individual collections below. Check out your Local Comic Shop to see if they still have a copy on their shelves
• Blacksad in Guía del cómic (in Spanish)
Blacksad: The Creators
Born in Madrid in 1972, Juan Díaz Canales began his career at 18 for the Spanish animation studio Lápiz Azul, where he and Juanjo Guarnido first met.
After Guarnido moved to Paris, the two traded ideas about the project that became Blacksad, a series of graphic albums written by Díaz Canales as a 1950s noir. The writer now juggles scripting for comics and animation as well as directing for television.
While Blacksad was Canales’s first published comics work, he has collaborated with several artists, most recently with Antonio Lapone on the Eisner-nominated Gentlemind, co-written with Díaz Canales’s wife Teresa Valero.
Juanjo Guarnido was born in Granada, Spain, in 1967. After meeting Juan Díaz Canales at the Lápiz Azul animation studio, Guarnido moved to Paris in 1993 to join the Walt Disney Studios satellite in Montreuil, where he worked as an animator.
While there, Guarnido began drawing his first graphic album, working long-distance with Díaz Canales toward the 2000 publication of Blacksad: Somewhere within the Shadows.
The overwhelming success of the title has allowed Guarnido to take on other projects, like Sorcelleries with writer Teresa Valero and the best-selling Les Indes Fourbes with writer Alain Ayroles.
Blacksad: The Stories
Do note that some early physical editions of the Blacksad single volumes published by iBooks are quite expensive, but digital editions are also available
Somewhere Within The Shadows
Meet John Blacksad, a cat in the shadows. Imagine New York as a city of criminal rats, jazz-playing gorillas and rhino thugs. Enter a mystery where the suspects have tails. Find out why comics’ biggest names are wild about one of the freshest graphic novels in years. Enter the world of Blacksad.
Natalia Wilford is a famous actress. To the world, she had everything anybody could wat: beauty, fame, glamour and lovers who would do anything for her. When she is found murdered in her home, it touches the man who had not seen her since their bitter breakup many years ago… private eye John Blacksad. He vows to find Natalia’s murderer. When the police are told to call off their investigation of the crime, Blacksad charges forward alone, risking his license, his reputation and even his life!
• Buy Blacksad – Somewhere within the Shadows from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link) – iBooks edition
Oldsmill, the town’s head honcho, is a white tiger.
Karup, the chief of police, is a white bear.
Huk, Karup’s henchman, a white fox.
Along with the other animals of immaculate pelt, they form the WASP association (W for White, AS for Anglo-Saxon, P for Protestant). All other town residents, from the black magpie to the reddish-brown fox to the tabby cat, are nothing but trash. And if the police aren’t able to enforce white law, the wide-reaching arms of the ruthless Arctic Nation party, hooded and decked out in white robes, will soon put things in order. And they’ve got all the ropes and burning crosses they need.
In this unwelcoming environment, Blacksad, a private detective, is investigating the disappearance of a child of color, Kyle. Dinah, Kyle’s mother, had a job as Karup’s housemaid, and some say she was getting pretty friendly with Oldsmill’s son.
It doesn’t take Blacksad long to get his claws right into the vipers’ nest, and he’s as quick to lash out as any of them…
• Buy Blacksad – Arctic Nation from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link) – iBooks edition
Blacksad is in Las Vegas, with both his finances and morale at rock bottom, working for a wealthy gambling man. However, an unexpected encounter shakes up his new life: his friend Otto Lieber, a high-profile scientist, is in town for a nuclear conference. The two men manage to find the time to get together and chew the cud.
Otto seems to be leading an exciting life, despite the little eccentricities of his “benefactor,” Gotfield. Gotfield is married to the gorgeous Alma… on whose account Blacksad’s life will take a surprising turn…
A Silent Hell
It’s 1950s New Orleans, and Mardi Gras is in full swing. Thanks to Weekly, a Jazz producer going by the name of Faust sets up a meeting with Blacksad.
Faust asks Blacksad if he could look into the disappearance of Sebastian, one of his musicians. There’s been no sign of the pianist for months, and his absence is jeopardising both the music label and the star’s private life. Faust fears that Sebastian has, once again, turned to drugs. The whole affair is rendered even more urgent now that Faust has learned that he’s suffering from cancer.
Blacksad takes on the mission and discovers little by little that Faust hasn’t told him the whole story. He realises that he is also being manipulated, but determines, nonetheless, to find Sebastian and try and understand the reasons for his disappearance.
Little does he know at this point that this will be his most testing mission yet, in more than one respect.
Blacksad is in New Orleans, looking for work. He just so happens to come across a rich Texan who asks him to drive his car back down to his hometown. Perfect! An easy job and good money, not to mention the beautiful car! So the detective accepts.
But, much to his dismay, the car is stolen from him in a gas station by Chad Lowell and Abe Greenberg, two beatnik writers wanting to get to Amarillo, Texas. Things soon get messy when Chad shoots at Abe during a quarrel, killing him dead.
Forced into exile, Chad finds refuge in a circus. But Blacksad is hot on his trail along those endless highways of southern America.
They All Fall Down
Blacksad is involved in a particularly thorny case, responsible for protecting the president of a mafia-infiltrated union. This new four-volume story of the bestselling series takes us from soaring heights to terrifying depths as Blacksad navigates from the lofty world of New York theatre to the seedy nether regions of the city, where the criminal classes ply their questionable trades.
Towering above them all is the figure of Solomon, a construction magnate well on his way to rebuilding the five boroughs, come hell or high water…
• Print release by Dark Horse Comics, summer 2022 |Pre-order Blacksad: They All Fall Down Part One from Forbidden Planet – expected 6th July 2022 (Affiliate Link)
• Blacksad: The Sketch Files, a ‘behind the scenes’ book offering author commentary, was published by Milk & Cookies Press in 2005
Blacksad: Under the Skin
A dark corruption scandal in the heart of the New York City’s underworld for charismatic detective John Blacksad.
The early 1950s: Joe Dunn, owner of a boxing club, is found dead. Meanwhile, rising star Robert Yale, due to take to the ring for the most important fight of his career, has mysteriously disappeared. Sonia Dunn, Joe’s daughter, takes over the club and must deal with its financial woes. She hires private detective John Blacksad to investigate Yale’s disappearance and to find the missing man. This sinister case will take our investigator to the darkest, most dismal depths of New York.
With its anthropomorphic characters and its incredible 1950s feel, BLACKSAD: Under the Skin offers all the eerily dark adventure of a detective novel, just like the eponymous comic book series. Investigations, searches for clues, fights, witness interviews: let your feline instinct guide you as you infiltrate the corrupt world of boxing.
Blacksad copyright Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido