My favorite thing about European comics is that a collection of books isn’t called a series, but rather an album. And with that simple twist of terminology, each bit of story becomes less of a book and more of a song. Oh how gloriously artsy.
Blacksad was created by Spanish talents Juan Díaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist), under French publisher Dargaud. It features crime noir fiction with anthropomorphic characters playing out the drama. Think Dick Tracy meets Animal Farm. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was the term “furry”… with “furry sex” not far behind, given that the stories have adult themes. But that blunt expectation fell away three pages in.
The three books that comprise Blacksad boast intricate stories nicely rendered in this rough watercolor atmosphere that a lot of my favorite Euro books share. The characters all have an effective depth, so much so that five pages into any arc, the superficiality vanishes and you start to forget that these are animals acting things out. And I like this same logic when it was used by Quesada and Middleton in NYX, where a fairly dark story was being played out by whimsically rendered characters, making the grit of the tale much more accessible.
Despite the use of lighthearted artwork to veil dark themes, there’s also nothing fake about how Guarnido brilliantly takes full advantage of the animal qualities of each character to help define personalities — Of course the police chief is a German Shepherd; What better fit is there for the cold-blooded hitman than a reptile? And how else could you portray the singular pederast than as a polar bear?
From layered comedy to in-your-face drama, Blacksad is a rich tale of crime and romance that any comic lover worth his salt just has to check out. And true to the European nomenclature, the full album does a wonderful job of evoking 50s blues in a mere three books. Here’s hoping that rumored fourth one really does come out eventually.