Comic Review: BLACKSAD. THE 2010 RELEASE (THREE IN ONE). Its been a long while since I have been this impressed!


Writer(s): Juan Díaz Canales

Artist(s): Juanjo Guarnido

US Publisher: DarkHorse Comics.

The Plot:

Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets. Guarnido reinvents anthropomorphism in these pages, and industry colleagues no less than Will Eisner, Jim Steranko, and Tim Sale are fans!

The Review

Lets come back to Europeans Comics for a bit, and highlight something that should be on shelves of every lover of the visual narrative art.

Blacksad is the creation of a pair of Spaniards that work in France, and so it was published in the land of the baguette first, and in the rest of Europe afterwards, to high critical acclaim.

Blacksad is written in a pure and hard noir style that hasn’t been around since the Hammet days. The clichés are all there, but they don’t take themselves too seriously, and neither should you.

The best way I can put this, is:

What would happen if the Disney animation team grew up and drew their characters in the harsh real world, dealing with harsh topics?

Blacksad would happen.

Lots of people do double takes the first time they check out the book. They don’t know if to admire the maturity of the renderings, the complexity of the panels, the expressiveness of the characters, or just admire the fact that they are animals. Then, some people think twice and assume they should feel embarrassed for looking at a picturebook of animals walking around with pants (no doubt images of Goofy and Mickey are summoned at this point) and close the book, while others (like me) start digging into it like there were no tomorrow.

And let me tell you, it’s been a while since something this good landed in my hands.

The best news is that Dark Horse publishing has come out with a volume that encompasses the first three (3) graphic novels published on this series into one volume. For one incredible low price you are getting three graphic novels!! And I don’t work for Dark Horse, nor get commission from them. I am just that impressed with this!

The three novels in question you get are:

Somewhere Within the Shadows

Arctic Nation

Red Soul

I found the first two titles to be the more rewarding and better constructed as graphic novels than the last one.

“Red soul” is a solid graphic-novel , and it is founded on a solid and interesting script, but it lacks a “pulpish” feeling that permeates the first two works.

“Somewhere Within the Shadows” is a great introductory work. A stellar first graphic novel, introducing a pair or artists into the scene with a bang, and making the comic community turn their heads in unison and take notice. In it you will find that the pace is perfect to get acclimated to the art and the styling of the anthropomorphic animals that Juanjo Guarnido brings to life.

On the plot side, we find a crime-drama story based in US in the 50’s dealing with corruption in politics and the entertainment industry traps and snares.

Let’s dispel something off the bat: Juanjo Guarnido is not a one-trick-pony, an artists that is able to render “cute” man-like animals, and that is it.

He is an artist that is never given enough respect by the popular audience, is growing to be more respected by critics and who is a very complete and well rounded master on his own right. He understands perspective, pacing, understand ambiance, and acting, understand body language… did I write “understands” ??? I meant to write “Masters”

Yes, I call Juanjo Guarnido a Master Artist in the most absolute sense and for a variety of reasons.

Through his art I feel his city. I recognize areas in NYC that have remained the same since the fifties, and they look just like what he draws. I can smell the garbage in these streets, I can hear the wind around me, and sense the drawings in chalk the kids did on the playgrounds.

And when his characters move, they act. And like actors, some over-act, some are well paced, others are too demurred and subtle, but they all are different. This is how you imbue life into your characters, you young artist! Take notice! You make each one unique, by making them move differently, look differently, pose differently.

When creating these anthropomorphic animal-characters, not only did the artist choose the species that most match their personality, but then he gives them the tools to move and position those frames just like their personalities dictate they would.

Again, I tire of constantly seeing lots of artists bend their craft to convert it in an over-stylized affair. It makes me wonder if they can adjust or morph their style. And then I see their illustrations and realize that they can’t . But the problem is not that they can only draw in one style. The real problem is that they haven’t mastered that stylized craft yet.

I always share a lesson with the new artists that come to me for advice:

PICK three artists that you admire above all, and copy them. Imitate the heck out of them. Trace them if you have to, but learn from them. And then, when you have it, then come up with your own, and the stuff you come up with, is likely to be good.

Well, when I bought the first album I French (meaning I couldn’t understand much at all) and I spent time looking at the art in the pages… I knew I wanted to draw like Juanjo Guarnido.

I can smell the gel in the hair of these characters; when I close the book, the smell of their cigarettes lingers in my room, and I don’t smoke; I get decorating ideas from those settings I see in the pages; much like happened to the majority of males in the US with Jessica Rabbit, I have juvenile crushes on these females; the tears on the eyes of these kids make me rub my own eyes (some dust or something ); I feel the fabric on these clothes; I get out of the seedy bars at early hours of dawn and my eyes are teary and my lungs stuffy.

That is why Juanjo Guarnido is a master, and these books stand as proof.

So much that Diaz Canales may not get his due here.

Juan Diaz Canales, the script writer, has a great knack of writing stories for Guarnido, that I think Guarnido is specially well suited to draw. But Canales has range, and has a voice. He does this amazing job at balancing narrative captions with dialog balloons, and giving each character a pretty distinct voice that is something that should be taught in writing schools more often and with greater emphasis. Even more so when the graphic storytelling relies so much nowadays on those idiotic narration boxes, with colors or logos for each hero… Jeezzz… makes my head spin at the dumbness… you would’ve thought the techniques on graphic storytelling are getting more sophisticated with the passing of time, wouldn’t you?

Juan Diaz Canales has stories to tell. And the stories do not involve men wearing their pijamas on the outside, with towels strapped around their shoulders. His are the stories that you learn after life has taken from you all the youthful dreams and the utopian goals you had, and you are left wondering where did your life went wrong, and why the world is such a nasty place.

The majority of the pathos, the bulk of the drama in his stories is provided by this constant duel between the heartless and morally bankrupt, and the ones who still carry with them a shimmer of light in their souls.

And you wind up relating, empathizing and wanting to be this hero. Blacksad, who may be a black cat, but still has a few white patches, may be a panther but is not as wild, may be bitter is not morally bankrupt, may be beaten but is not defeated.

All I can say is that this is a masterful work as we haven’t seen in the comicbook scene for a while, so take advanvantage of the deal that the good old boys at dark horse are putting together here and pick up this book.

So, on my Critic’s rating, Blacksad by Juanjo Guarnido y Juan Diaz Canales gets



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