Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido is a Spanish noir, crime mystery graphic novel series taking place in the 1950s about a feline private investigator named John Blacksad who gets rather tangled up in an array of situations from murders and child abductions to white supremist organisations and nuclear secrets. Somewhere along the journey you can usually expect to find a beautiful woman who is as dangerous as she is alluring.
I picked up Blacksad on Libby as an eBook a few days ago. It should come as no surprise that the main attraction for my comic-hungry eyes was the cat on the cover. When I discovered that it was a noir mystery series, I immediately downloaded it and started reading. This collection is one of the most original takes on the noir genre that I have come across.
Some of the reviews that I had checked-out didn’t care for the anthropomorphised animals, stating it was too creepy or bordering on “bestiality” or something. But I strongly disagree. What makes Díaz Canales’ & Guarnido’s use of animals as people so different than others is that rather than merely giving them human shapes while retaining animalistic traits, it’s quite the opposite. All of the people are human in every way and their animal personifications actually work to symbolise the individual nature of that person, which contributes to honest and revealing examinations of serious issues from the time period, such as White Supremacy clans and segregation of people of colour.
The few sex scenes in the book don’t follow the traditional biological methods that animals tend to use while engaging in coitus, but rather follow their anthropoid counterparts. For example, in one scene you have a man and woman who are having sex with her bent over the bed. There is a distinct carnal and wild aura to their interaction, however it’s still quite unmistakably human. The feminine bodies are S curves with natural and realistic looking breasts, nothing overtly exaggerated or outrageously uncomfortable (e.g.: a feline woman who has eight nipples as akin to a real kitty cat). Now, I can totally understand why the sexual encounters can be repulsive to many readers. Nevertheless, I feel that one of the reasons it comes off as such is because of how society views sex in general. There are always lines and borders that shouldn’t be crossed and when creativity takes the plunge to other side it forces us to think outside of our comfort levels. As a person who is very open-minded about sex, I had no trouble with these scenes. However, fans of traditional intercourse may not be too keen on these parts of the narrative.
The story arcs themselves are also marvellously contemplative and shines a light onto issues from the 1950s that are still assuredly alive today, just not as blatant as having a sign on the wall that says, “No Coloured People Allowed.” In one arc, we have a woman who was abandoned by her family for being a POC, and this is tied into some twisted crimes with a racial supremacist group known as Snowflakes. In another arc, we have a person who used to work with nuclear weapons for the Nazi but didn’t realise the ramifications of their actions until it was too late. These two things are being stoked like a fire in modern society and it became easy for me to forget for a short while that I was reading a story was taking place seventy years into the past.
The pacing can go up and down slightly as the we get a look at the main crime that needs to be solve for the respective arc and then join Blacksad on the hunt he tries to find the culprit(s) involved. The gradual stride is unbelievably worth it though. Blacksad is a graphic novel that cannot be read in the traditional sense. It utilises every ounce of its artistic half to truly express the stories that are being shared as most of them are about human nature and the malevolent power of that nature. Sometimes it’s hidden away and other times it’s worn on sleeves like a badge of honour. The illustrations exhibit these in conjunction with John Blacksad’s narration masterfully due to all of the symbolism that is portrays.
The artistry is exquisitely cinematic. The palettes range from blues and greys with muted tans to vibrant splashes of reds, yellows, and greens. No matter the scene, each sheet also takes on a uniquely vintage aesthetic, like it’s slightly washed out in order to make the 1950s characteristics pop, emphasising that it’s plainly noir. The drawings use fine lines and crisp, sharp precision to create flawless character designs. The panels are perfectly perpendicular too, further complementing the neatness while contributing to a classically structured comic presentation. The page breaks in-between each arc are black sketching on a grey background, which ties everything else together superbly. It is literally some of the very best artwork within the medium that exists today.
All in all, Blacksad’s gorgeous reimagining of anthropomorphised folks has a magic to it that is breathtakingly unputdownable, combined with impeccable illustrations, highly introspective narratives, and the ability to revolutionise a medium while paying tribute to its foundation makes the graphic novel a must-read. I cannot recommend this enough.
4.75 photographs outta 5!