Summary: 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!
Blacksad: Quelque part entre les ombres, by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido 8.25
Let me gush about Blacksad for a moment. After reading the latest Parker book, I felt a need to re-read this series – not just because I adore the first three books, but because it would give me a chance to share my enthusiasm for them with you.
Truth be told, I don’t quite remember how I stumbled upon Blacksad in the first place. I suppose that I must have been browsing the library shelves and was drawn to it by the artwork; in a sea of graphic novels, eye-catching art is all that can tell them apart sometimes. Honestly, it doesn’t have to be good art, it simply has to stand out (case-in-point Joann Sfar’s work).
In the case of Blacksad, Guarnido’s artwork is both. Guarnido is (was?) an animator for Walt Disney Studios in Paris. This is a guy who truly knows how to use his pencils with the utmost accuracy and finest detail, and is also adept at setting up frames or panels – because the layout is everything when it comes to visual storytelling. In my estimation, each page that he works on is a sight to behold; the time I spend poring over each line, each element of his work belies the length the book.
What he and Canales have created is a series of crime stories set in the late ’40s or so, with anthropomorphised animals taking the place of human beings. They have a Disney-like quality to them that recalls the work of the studio during the late ’50s to late ’60s. Except that this book is not for kids – Blacksad carries a gritty, film noir-like flavour with an unapologetic penchant for sex and violence. It was obviously designed for mature audiences, not for kiddies and/or general audiences.
This particular book, the first volume in the series, is a brief introduction to our lead character, a private eye. He’s a towering black cat who is drawn into the mysterious killing of an actress, a woman he once dated. As he tries to uncover the murderer, Blacksad is forced to interact with all sorts of unsavoury characters, including a creepy lizard, a sneaky rat, brutal rhinoceros and bear hoods, a dimwitted gorilla and a sleazy toad – as well as the police, who are aware of Blacksad’s connection to the victim.
The story is nothing new: it’s filled with tried-and-true elements. But it’s conceived quite well, and I can find no fault in it other than its brevity – it seems to me that it could have been fleshed out slightly. However, given that the artwork is so fantastic, the book still soars to incredible heights: Guarnido not only pencils the book, but he also colours it – with what appears to be watercolor paints. So what we’re getting may not be airbrushed slickness, but it looks like a master student’s work, rich and textured. I wish I had his talent.
Between his awe-inspiring skill, and Canales’ knack for storytelling, they’ve made a fine book out of this first volume of Blacksad. It’s a solid effort through and through and the only thing that dings its rating (if only mildly) is the fact that it was told in too few pages for my taste.
I would highly recommend it to fans of comic books, crime fiction and pulp novels.