Monday, May 2, 2011

Review: Blacksad

One glimpse at this beautiful graphic novel in the comic shop told me that Blacksad was a must read.  Three things that instantly leaped out and screamed "Read me you bastard!" are: 1) Crime Noir.  When done right, crime noir is a guaranteed hit with me.  2) Anthropomorphic Animals.  I have a weakness for talking animals.  3) Really, fucking beautiful art.

The Blacksad graphic novel collects three stories each of which is about 60 pages long.  The collection is oversized, and hardcovered, so you get a damn fine product for your money.  Each story centers around John Blacksad, a private investigator.  For better or worse, John manages to get caught up in cases that involve murder, kidnap, and even nuclear secrets. 

In the first story, Somewhere in the Shadows, John investigates the murder of a film starlet who also happens to be one of John's former lovers.  His investigation leads him to underground boxing arenas, the home of a screen writer, sleazy night clubs, graveyards, even downtown skyscrapers.  The opening story establishes John Blacksad as a tough, never say die character, and also delivers a solid murder mystery plot with plenty of twists and turns.

The second story in the collection Arctic Nation deals with the kidnapping of a young girl from a forgotten section of town, and mixes in a group of white supremacists calling themselves the Arctic Nation.  Amidst some intense racial tensions and violence, John must try to rescue the child and keep himself safe from the various white furred animals trying to terrorize the city.  This story also introduces John's pal/informant Weekly, the slightly sketchy, and smelly, news reporter.

The final story, Red Soul, begins in Vegas, but winds up back in John's home city, where the debate and strife caused by nuclear proliferation is causing lots of drama.  Otto Liebber is sort of like a father to John, but he's also one of the fathers of the nuclear bomb and John has become mixed in with Otto's crowd of thinkers, artists, poets, and authors.  When these great minds start getting killed, it is up to John to do what he can to protect his loved ones.  Even if that comes at the expense of his own happiness.

Writer Juan Diaz Canales does a wonderful job of telling some gripping, dark, and entertaining crime stories.  For my money they weren't as dark as I had hoped, but they were still quite good, and did a good job of scratching my crime noir itch.  On the artistic front, Juanjo Guarnido proved to be more than capable.  Each page was an amazing combination of great looking characters, fantastic backgrounds, and rich detail.  I think the most noticeable thing about Guarnido's art was his ability to draw extremely life-like facial expressions on talking animals.  Think about how hard it would be to make a toad smirk, or have a gorilla look like he's in deep thought.  Not easy, but Guarnido pulls it off.

If I were to make one gripe about Blacksad it would come from the depictions of female characters.  The male characters always looked like their counterpart from the animal kingdom.  John looks like a large black cat or puma, a toad looked like a toad, a gorilla looked like a gorilla, and so on.  The women on the other hand, had some animal-like features, such as larger ears, or animal-like noses, however, for the most part, the likeness ended there, and they pretty much looked like human females with knock-out bodies.  The difference between how the  male and female characters were drawn gave me a bit of a hang up because each time I saw a female character, it was hard to figure out what type of animal they were.  Sure, it was a small annoyance, and one other readers might be able to easily dismiss, but it bugged me. 

With beautiful art, and crafty writing, Blacksad is a must have for any lover of the comics medium. The time I spent between spotting this at my local comic shop and saving up the cash for so I could buy it was enough time for them to sell out of copies.  Apparently Blacksad is also out of print, so I had to resort to an Amazon purchase for this one.  Despite the hardship you might face in tracking it down, Blacksad is worth the effort.  Blacksad is a throwback to when stories were told right, without blatant attempts to shock an awe the short attention spans of the audience.  The stories here will make you think, laugh and make you stay up too late reading.  All good reasons to read this one.

Grade: A-


Anonymous said...

I briefly looked through Blacksad at a comic shop too and found the art absolutely beautiful. But on another note, I'm a comic/graphic novel newbie (so I apologize if I'm generalizing) but from the few titles I have read and/or looked at, I do find that females almost always have unrealistic "knock out boobs"...why is that?

Ryan said...

Anon- I don't really know. A few artists, like Jeff Lemire, and Tony Harris, seem to draw women in normal, realistic ways. But I agree that more often than not women in comics have pretty insane bodies. This holds particularly true in the Marvel and DC comics.