Pulp Corner: Blacksad
Film Noir is my favorite genre of movies. I’m not sure why it speaks to me the way it does. Perhaps it’s the low lighting or extensive use of shadows, maybe it’s the a-moral shady characters or a glimpse into the seedy side of life. It’s a large umbrella that many things fall under, movies, novels and comic books, there’s a lot …but I can always tell it when I see it and Blacksad has it in spades.
Blacksad is a comic created by the spanish team of writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido. Not a monthly comic, but 60 page features each detailing an episode in private investigator John Blacksad’s life. To date 4 of these have been published since 2000. The one we are looking at today is the first three installments translated and released in one book by Dark Horse Comics simply titled “Blacksad”.
The world of Blacksad is 1940s/50s America populated by anthropomorphic animals. Dogs and foxes are usually used to represent law enforcement with the exception of Blacksad, the lone cat in the series. Reptiles are stand ins for criminals and other devious characters, yet all the females tend to have much more human like characteristics.
The first story is “Somewhere In The Shadows” and for my money is the best installment. It’s the most simple and noir like of the three. It starts with the way any good noir does, with a fresh corpse. The police commissioner has asked Blacksad to identify the dead women since he had been in a relationship with her at one time. Once a burgeoning movie star, we see a flashback of how a young Blacksad was hired to protect her, how they fell in love and how her Hollywood lifestyle drove them apart. The commissioner tells Blacksad to avoid getting involved and to let the cops handle it. I’m sure you can guess what happens next. Blacksad tells him to go to hell and starts his own investigation.
The story becomes a bunch of twists and turns as Blacksad starts on the trail digging for clues to solve the murder of his former love. Throughout, it achieves the perfect balance of the tough as nails, no bullshit attitude with an undercurrent full of forlorn tenderness and remorse. This is true of all three stories.
“Arctic Nation” is the next installment and is a much more complex and rich tale. Blacksad is hired to find a missing girl from an economically depressed suburb known as “The Line”. Racism plays a major role in this which elevates it into much more than your average cop story. A group of white furred animals (acting as a mix between the Nazi party and the KKK) are hell bent on cleansing the world of the lesser black furred animals. All isn’t what it seems in this suburb as Blacksad’s case heads him on a complex mystery of lies and deceit where the very color of his fur makes him public enemy #1. For a comic book to be able to tell a story this good impressed the hell out of me.
The final story “Red Soul” is my least favorite. It’s solid and definitely has its moment, but it just didn’t appeal to me as much as the others. Blacksad goes to a lecture by an old friend, Otto Lieber on the topic of nuclear energy. Lieber’s father had built a charity mission in Blacksad’s neighborhood when he was a kid to help those in needed. Lieber now belongs to a left leaning intellectual group that called themselves the 12 apostles. Scared that the 12 apostles will share information on the newly developed H-Bomb with the Russians, the US government slowly begins to kill them one by one.
While this installment keeps up with the consistent quality of the other two. The political rhetoric of it turns me off a bit. However, it is still highly recommended.
Guarnido’s art definitely needs to be mentioned. It’s so evocative and pitch perfect. There is so much detail in all his panels that it would be hard to not to get caught up in. He absolutely nails the era and the vibe completely. The end of Fall/beginning of Winter scenery in “Arctic Nation” is nothing short of gorgeous. Formerly with Disney, Gaurnido did animation work on a few feature films and lent his expertise to some shows. This is almost what the book looks like…Disney for adults.
The writing of Juan Diaz Canales is what good noir/pulp writing should be. Firm, crisp and to the point, no flowery descriptions, the characters never say more than they need to and there’s just right amount of mystery. He also does a great job with Blacksad’s narration, a hallmark of any noir whether it be the Out Of The Past or Daredevil. Take this for example from “Somewhere In The Shadows” as Blacksad is ruminating on his deceased love. “A star has been eclipsed, leaving my past in the darkness, lost somewhere within the shadows and nobody can live without a past”. I can practically hear Robert Mitchum speaking it.
I stumbled upon Blacksad by accident. I don’t recall what I was looking for exactly, but what I found on google images was a cat dressed in a suit and tie, trench coat and brandishing a gun. Looking like the main character from any given film noir movie. Based on my recent good luck with comics dealing with anthropomorphic animals I decided to investigate and I’m glad I did.
A fourth installment “A Silent Hell” was translated and released in 2012. I plan on checking it out as soon as I can.
Till next time, Nerds.
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