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Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Writer: Juan Diaz Canales

Art: Juanjo Guarnido

Continuing the grand tradition of glorious, enormous, episodic, European comics such as Tintin and Asterix & Obelix, the comic series Blacksad: A Silent Hell uses worlds of watercolor, mid-century American noir, and detective jargon to tell the tale of John Blacksad, a private investigator.

You probably noticed that everyone in this book is an animal; let me rephrase that: they’re all anthropomorphized. There’s a fascinating flavor to this book, considering the fact that all the characters are clearly human…yet they’re clearly creatures as well. Physical features are used quite interestingly; ears and tails provide new degrees of expression, and different species fulfill different roles, often dictated by stereotypes. Wolves and huskies are often cops, and sexual female characters are portrayed as lithe felines and foxes. All this takes a curious turn when you realize that several of the main characters are black, and you start to wonder about the race of other, more ambiguous characters, and whether you can really judge someone’s race based on their fur color.

Speaking of the characters, the series revolves around one John Blacksad, a private detective from some northern U.S. city, who’s hired by an aging man by the name of Faust Lachapelle, who is trying to find the famous jazz pianist Sebastian Fletcher, who has been missing for quite some time. Before long, the story takes several intriguing turns, and slowly a web of deceit and old lies is uncovered, ending in tragedy. No spoilers, though! The story jumps around quite a bit; the first scene takes place before the second, but not before the third scene, and it’s continued further on into the book. Chronological order takes second place to good storytelling, deftly paced by writer Juan Diaz Canales. The tale is pieced together magnificently, with each scene placed carefully in order to result in the several climactic events of the final night. The book is illustrated in glorious watercolor by artist extraordinaire Juanjo Guarnido. Every page, every panel, is a dedicated work of art, filled with details and love and carefully considered colors. It’s so elegantly simple, yet so entrancing at the same time. This book is fantastic, and I recommend you read it, as well as the rest of the three previous stories (That are collected in one hardback available from your local comic book shops).

This one isn’t precisely new. In fact, the translated English version (from the original French) is nearly a year old by now. Still, if I don’t recommend Blacksad at some point, I should be flogged. If at first look you dismiss it as “Disney-ish", just take a closer look at the pages above. If you dismiss it as “furry pandering", you couldn’t be any more wrong. There are two ways you can use anthropomorphic characters in a story setting: Animals as people, and people as animals. Blacksad belongs to the latter variety, and pulls it off brilliantly. But that’s only part of the appeal. Brilliant art. Brilliant storytelling, setting and characters… It truly is a must read book.

5 out of 5 stars

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