Blacksad, Volumes 1-3 - Review
You know that café that everyone raves about? Colleagues go nuts for the coffee, your neighbour endlessly tells you about their cheddar and thyme scones, and there’s that one friend who every time you catch-up asks, “Have you been yet?” You don’t avoid the place on purpose. At first you just didn’t have time, it was a little bit out of the way and required more effort than you were prepared to invest. The muffins couldn’t be that good could they? But now it’s been so long that it’s become a thing – a point of pride that you haven’t been. Something that shows how you’re a free thinker; not one of those sheep that mindlessly follows the herd.
That was Blacksad for me. I remember the buzz when it first broke the surface of the pool of comics culture. A crime noir comic, drawn by a Spanish former Disney artist about an anthropomorphic tomcat? Seemed like a something the cool kids would talk about to show how in the know they were – too good to be true.
Fast-forward to last week; I was flicking through the graphic novels and trade paperbacks at the local library and there it was: the first Blacksad collection, pulling together volumes one, two, and three. I couldn’t find the book I’d been looking for on the shelf so I figured I’d give Blacksad a chance. At worst, I’d be able to throw out a one-raven review on Night Gathers to create some hate-traffic to the site by baiting the Euro-comic fanboys.
Here’s the thing…it totally lives up to the hype. The art is amazing. Brushed watercolours subtlety blend the Disney-inspired animals with the cinematic 1950’s American setting. Guarnido’s panels are wonderfully constructed and through his characterisation you somehow manage to forget that when our anti-hero private detective confronts the corrupt sheriff the whole thing takes place between a cat and a polar bear while a weasel looks on. It sounds like a gimmick but the talking animals aren’t played for laughs. The species of each player is carefully chosen. The look and mannerisms are emphasised by the creature’s natural appearance from the gorilla prizefighter to the puma that’s an agent for the FBI.
Blacksad would be admirable if it was just pretty to look at but this isn’t some show pony with nothing between its ears. The love of the genre flows from the art and into the text. With grizzled narration like “My self-respect and bank account were slugging it out to see which could hit rock bottom first” it can stand with confidence next to The Maltese Falcon, A Touch of Evil, and even Casablanca in a line up. There’s double-crosses, a crop of femme fatales, and no one gets a happy ending. From his name to the tip of his tail, John Blacksad is an intriguing character and noir all the way through.
The only thing that lets this wonderful title down is that some of the dialogue can feel forced. Translation from another language is a tricky thing and not all the back and forths are as snappy as they might be. It’s not a reason to throw Blacksad to swim with the fishes but it does take you out of a world that otherwise so wonderfully immersive and definitely worth all the hype.
A beautifully drawn and told noir story that just happens to take place in a 50’s America populated by anthropomorphic animals.
- Incredible artwork
- Takes on classic crime tropes that ring true
- A central character that I want to keep reading about
- Let down by some clunky translation