Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blacksad: Somewhere Between The Shadows Review

Blacksad is an incredibly popular and critically acclaimed title in Europe, selling more than 200,000 copies and winning several awards. Although it's creators are originally from Spain, the comic initially came out in France (and in French, obviously), and has been translated into various languages. The English language translation, however, is out of print due to the publisher's bankruptcy, and the books now cost an absurd amount of money because of their rarity. Enter Dark Horse: the company is going to release a hardcover collection of the first three albums of Blacksad in March. Because I live in Spain, and the Spanish version of this book is more easily obtained, I thought it would be a nice experiment to review the issues before they came out again. Hit the jump to read more.

Written by Juan Diaz Canales
Art by Juanjo Guarnido

So why hadn't I read this critically acclaimed masterpiece that so many people laud and praise? To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive of jumping into the book, because of one simple fact: it starred anthropomorphic animals as characters (more commonly known 'round the Internet as furries). I do admit that it was a bit silly of me, since obviously a professional comic book is not going to be the same quality as the artwork you see for dime-a-dozen in DeviantArt (although the sex scene five pages into the book did not do much to dissuade my fears).

It wasn't just because of the fact that they were anthropomorphic animals, but rather than because of my experience such art lacks much of the subtlety in facial expressions than a drawing of a human will have. But that's exactly the reason why this book stands out so much. Simply said, Juanjo Guarnido is a master of portraying emotions in the faces of the characters, be them dogs, cats, lizards or rats. Guarnido worked in Disney animation studios in the past, and it shows. Add in the fact that each page and panel is done in a beautifully detailed watercolor style, and this is one unique looking book.

The story centers around John Blacksad, a private detective cat, as he is called in to investigate the murder of a famous actress, Natalia Wilford. The reason Blacksad is called in is because she was a former lover of his, and this obviously doesn't sit well with Blacksad, who embarks in a journey to avenge the death of Natalia. Blacksad's investigation forces him to go deep into the crime underworld, visiting various locales around the city, and meeting various allies and enemies (all animals, of course) along the way. The story is deceptively simple, one that no doubt many readers are familiar with, especially if you are a fan of noir stories. Adding to the noir feeling of the book is the fact that the story is set in the 1950's, and the the pale color pallet evokes the looks of old crime films.

I said deceptively simple because although the story that Diaz Canales crafts is not very groundbreaking, the world he establishes makes it all the more interesting. Each character's personality is somewhat defined by what animal they are: Blacksad is a cat, so he is crafty and sneaky, cops are canines, big animals like rhinoceros and bears are bodyguards, and reptiles are cold blooded, amoral characters. It is never explicitly said so, but you learn from the character's actions that this is what this world is like. Another peculiar aspect of the world of Blacksad is the idea that different species play the same roles as different races in the normal world: for example, a rat accidentally runs into a "reptile" bar, and the owner says that he doesn't like "hairy guys". The analogy to racial tension is simple yet very effective, much like the rest of the book.

The noir aspect of the book is a bit broken because of the fact that these are animals that are getting into gunfights, smoking, doing heavy drinking, and having sex with each other. In that aspect, it is very reminiscent of the "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" film, without comedy and the trademarked characters. This revenge tale does not hold many mysteries or twists, and the story plays in a very straight forward matter, but the ride is still enjoyable as Blacksad discovers who murdered Natalia.

Verdict - Buy It. The story is not exactly the most creative one, but the world of Blacksad is very intriguing, and the artwork raises the quality of the book by a lot. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more, and I think the book is also very new-reader friendly, making it ideal for lending it out to friends and family.

Like this review? Interested in the Blacksad hardcover that collects Between The Shadows and two other stories? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Ivan said...

Very interesting. Unfortunately, European comics are not prevalent enough in Brazil. But I loved everything I read from Europe (random issues of Dylan Dog and Nathan Never, and very little Moebius).

Matt Ampersand said...

I'm pretty sure that they have this book in Portuguese, maybe you could find it that way?

Or if not, wait until the HC from Dark Horse comes out and you could order that ( ships worldwide for free, if that is problem)

Ivan said...

Well, it's probably been released in Portugal, yeah...

But quite honestly, I'd rather have to deal with English than the Portuguese dialect any day.

And thanks for the tip, I can't believe I didn't know that site before.

Matt Ampersand said...

No problem, it's been a lifesaver for me, so I am more than happy to pass it along.

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