(I’ve been falling behind on my reviews lately, and I’m trying to make up for that. Prepare yourself, dear readers, for a sudden increase in reviews while I play catch-up.)
Book: Blacksad, written by Juan Díaz Canales and illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido
Genre: Graphic Novels/Comics/Noir/Crime
Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets. Guarnido’s sumptuously painted pages and rich cinematic style bring the world of 1950s America to vibrant life, with Canales weaving in fascinating tales of conspiracy, racial tension, and the “red scare” Communist witch hunts of the time. Guarnido reinvents anthropomorphism in these pages, and industry colleagues no less than Will Eisner, Jim Steranko, and Tim Sale are fans Whether John Blacksad is falling for dangerous women or getting beaten to within an inch of his life, his stories are, simply put, unforgettable.
I picked this comic up after seeing a sample of some of it’s art floating around Tumblr (link NSFW, but I’ve included some work safe images throughout this post). The artist previously worked for Disney and has some amazing skills, which show in his ridiculously detailed backgrounds and the way he humanises his characters while keeping their animal designs.
Art like you’ll see in this post, where illustrated animals act like humans, has kind of a bad rap around the internet. It gets given the ‘furry’ label a lot, referring to a subculture who like humanised/anthromorphized animal art, and since a lot of furry art is smut the comics get dismissed as smut too.
That’s no use at all, because while some comics with humanised animals unfortunately go this route the best ones don’t. To name a few: Lackadaisy (a gorgeous free-to-read online comic dealing with the dangerous life of rumrunners in Prohibition-era America, using anthro cats), Maus (the story of a Holocaust survivor, using mice) and of course Blacksad.
This collection contains three volumes of the comic, making three separate stories. It starts out with that old noir cliche ‘the beautiful woman I loved is mysteriously dead’ which felt like I was re-reading Sin City, but it was a great opportunity to see hardboiled detective John Blacksad’ struggling to deal with loss. From there the writer/illustrator team take on bolder, braver territory, and it works fantastically. Second volume Arctic Nation takes on racism and inter-racial violence, and seeing animals act like racist dirtbags to other animals somehow reinforces how horrible this is when done by humans. Third volume Red Soul takes things an even further step up, bringing in communism and nuclear power struggles.
With flawless, amazingly detailed and expressive art and tactful, powerful storytelling, this collection is a gem amongst European comics. Highly recommended to all fans of comics like Sin City, Lackadaisy or Maus, or people who just want to look at some brilliant art.
An interesting glimpse into a literary world I know next to nothing about (prior to your review, I knew nothing about it!). In my ignorance, I wonder why the characters are anthropomorphized animals–if they act just like people, and are human in every respect except for appearance, why not draw them as people? I imagine that’s one of those questions you don’t ask fans of the genre if you want to avoid the “who crowned you king of stupid?” look. And I understand. It’d be like asking “if The Doctor is an alien why does he seem to be British?” To which I would reply: “Because. Now shut up and watch the show!” ;-)
Evening Colin! (Or afternoon for you, maybe?) I covered this, but only clumsily: “seeing animals act like racist dirtbags to other animals somehow reinforces how horrible this is when done by humans”
To clarify, I think seeing horrible things done by ‘cute’ animals has the power to really reinforce how terrible an action can be. This works especially well for racism, where you’re completely removing human races from the equation… it’s shocking to see animals killing each other over the colour of their fur.
On an artist side, I think using animal characters makes exaggeration more easy. You can exaggerate emotions with teeth, eyes, ears, tails; exaggerate personalities (a lazy, round-bellied gorilla, a strict and proper German Shepherd police office,, a weasel reporter with an odor problem) , and gain access to a whole world of different unique character designs by using different animals of every type.
Artistically it has a similar affect to serious stories done in a simplified cartoon-y style (or, say, important real-world issues tackled by YA fantasy and sci-fi): it gives it a unique look and it’s a different way of getting your readers to process things in a different, and often more enjoyable, way.
Thanks, Emma–that’s actually very helpful. I get it. :)