BLACKSAD : COLLECTED STORIES – review
BLACKSAD : COLLECTED STORIES – review
AT A GLANCE :
All five BLACKSAD graphic novels in one volume ? Now you can follow PI John Blacksad’s journey all the way through the dark heart of 1950s America !
Great writing and truly great art – recommended to most people who read comics regularly, especially to fans of PI noir and to those who read comics for the art in them.
BLACKSAD : COLLECTED STORIES. Juan Diaz Canales, writer ; Juanjo Guarnido, artist. Dark Horse Comics. Released July 14, 2020.
As Dark Horse puts it :
Celebrate Blacksad’s twentieth year with this comprehensive volume featuring five of the biggest cases.
Blacksad is constantly up to his ears in trouble. Sticking his nose into mystery after mystery, often getting involved with women almost as dangerous as the criminals he thwarts. Be it solving the murder of a famous actress or keeping nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands, Blacksad’s grim work often provides a mirror for real world conflict and human issues, never turning a blind eye to racism, political tensions, or brutally sudden violence.
This volume collects the following Blacksad stories: Somewhere Within the Shadows, Arctic Nation, Red Soul, A Silent Hell, [and] Amarillo; and the comic shorts “Spit at the Sky” and “Like Cats and Dogs.”
REVIEW IN DEPTH
It’s easy to dismiss anthropomorphic fauna stories as Funny Animal fiction. Then again, the graphic novel form owes much of its current credibility to Art Spiegelman’s MAUS.
And when Hitler makes a cameo in BLACKSAD : RED SOUL, the tyrant is a cat, clearly a nod to Spiegelman.
However, John Blacksad is a cat who fought Hitler – and, as a PI, he’s been fighting murderers and criminals ever since.
You might expect that Blacksad is a stock character, the tough-guy PI with an unerring moral compass. However, the character development here is more nuanced. Blacksad is no two-dimensional Lone Ranger type – for one thing, he doesn’t always follow that moral compass, e.g., at the end of BLACKSAD : SOMEWHERE WITHIN THE SHADOWS.
Even when he acts according to type, there’s a deeper reason at work. For example, at the beginning of BLACKSAD : A SILENT HELL, Blacksad plays the tough-guy PI in his first meeting with his new employer. Later, he tells his sidekick Weekly, a red fox who’s a reporter, that it’s all about marketing : the act is what people expect, because they’ve seen that kind of PI in movies.
This kind of ingenuity extends to the plotting, as well. While the cases in BLACKSAD are always interesting, they go well beyond the formula fiction pieces so often found in noir. When Juan Diaz Canales does use familiar tropes, like The One That Got Away, but it’s not to comfort those who favor familiarity. Rather, when Blacksad loses contact with the love of his life, we grieve with him, because Canales had made us care about the protagonist. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of most fiction ?
Canales balances this with variety : each of the graphic novels has a different basic approach, from the taut Chandlerian feel of the first one to the road trip comedy in the last one. In between, you’ve got the nuclear arms race and magical realism in New Orleans.
As for Juanjo Guardino’s art, you’ve got to see it to believe it. His draftsmanship is impeccable, particularly in the backgrounds, and the level of detail is really incredible. I have included a splash page depicting New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parade below, to give you some idea of what I mean. The colors are always just right throughout – full on in the splash page shown here, but subtle when they need to be, as in the first one, which is as shadowy as its title suggests.
All in all, it’s like I said above : I would recommend BLACKSAD : COLLECTED STORIES to most people who read comics regularly, especially to fans of PI noir, and to those who read comics for the art in them.
However, I hasten to point out that I have only seen the digital review copy of this title, so I can’t give an unqualified recommendation to the trade paperback, but at 308 pages, the digital copy was a welcome read to while away the hours of The Great Hunker Down.
ART and COLOR 5
If you liked this review, I’d be honored if you would please check out the rest of my stuff for Outright Geekery. Thank you.
PLEASE NOTE that if you can’t afford this book, you can still get the individual BLACKSAD graphic novels from Hoopla Digital – all you need is a library card, and if you don’t have one, many libraries are accepting library card applications online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aaaaand, here’s the splash page mentioned above :
Recommended to most comics readers, especially those who read comics for the art in them.