Wikipedia states that Furry Fandom is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics. I assume, the audience for Furry is huge, but it's a world I have no access to. I remember that the only time I've been in touch with furry material was back in the early '90s, when Eric W. Schwartz* released a couple of incredible (for that time) animations of Flip the Frog. These 4 to 5 minute clips could be run from a single floppy disk on your personal computer. A real milestone back in those days.
I could argue, that the work of Walt Disney might also be counted as furry. After all, Donald and Mickey are animals with human personalities, but I'll keep it to a more narrow definition here. For me, Furry also means that the traits of the animal are part of the character. In the mainstream media, The Lion King might be the best example. But to be precise, The Lion King isn't Furry, as the animals are not walking on two legs, etc. You see, it's complicated.
Blacksad is a Furry comic. The whole comic is populated with anthropomorphic animals. The protagonist - John Blacksad - is a black cat, other main characters are Shepherds, Weasels, Crocodiles, Lizards and Bears. You get the point. Using animals as characters adds a special layer of anticipation, as the reader is automatically associating the earlier mentioned traits with the "person" displayed.
To be fair, not all characters are as straight forward and easy to see through as the rat in the above example, who is of course a rat (pun intended). Canales and Guarnido choose from a wide range of animals, and each pick makes perfect sense. Blacksad is a crime/detective story, that takes place in America in the '50s. The style and setting is close to Film Noir, a genre that loved to use animal related insults like "cold-hearted snake" or "dirty rat." How appropriate.
John Blacksad is a private investigator, currently working on the murder of famous actress Natalia Willford. The first clues reveals that someone higher up is trying to lure the investigation in the wrong direction, and even the police are pressured to let the case rest. Blacksad ignores early warnings (by being beaten up) to stop his research, as he has personal motives to uncover the murder of his former lover, Natalia. The situation escalates as he finds himself threatened by two killers, who are out to make him stop once and for all.
Blacksad is on many top lists for graphic novels. I don't I need to applaud Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido more than they've been already. Three Eisner Awards speak for themselves. There are numerous reviews of Blacksad out there that go into detail on how great and fantastic the book is. So I would like to only focus on two details, that specially caught my attention: Firstly, the coloring. I enjoy reading black & white comics. Sometime, the coloring of a book doesn't help the story. Sometimes, sloppy coloring can even hurt it. But in Blacksad, the coloring adds yet another layer to communicate to the reader. The watercolored panes support the ambience and atmosphere of the Noir setting. Everything is a little washed out, like watching one of the first color movies, or looking at old pictures. It is easily one of the best colorings I've seen, and that is just of the many details that complete this perfect graphic novel.
Second, the talent Juanjo Guarnido has for capturing facial expressions while using animal faces. His talent improves in later issues, some of the faces in the first issue feel like overacting. Nonetheless, it is fantastic to see, but please, decide for yourself.
I said the authors don't need more applause, but then again, I cannot close this review without praise. Señor Canales, you are a gifted author, and I'm sure Raymond Chandler would have been a fan of yours. Señor Guarnido, your art blew me away on every single page of Somewhere Within The Shadows. I'm happy to say that Blacksad is in the top spot of my recent Top 5 Alternative Comics list. A place it does absolutely deserve.
If you enjoyed Blacksad, I recommend you read Criminal, Sin City, or Mouse Guard.
*) Eric Schwartz is still active today, producing his web comic Sabrina Online.