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There’s really only one rule: please don’t call them “furries”. Especially Blacksad. That’s not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with “furry” comics as a legitimate genre trope—quite to the contrary, some of the finest creations in the medium are of that ilk—but because it’s a terrible oversimplification of the genre; as though you could conveniently lump every anthropomorphic creation under one fur-laden umbrella and call it a category of comics. It just isn’t so. Especially for Blacksad.

Brash and breezy, private investigator John Blacksad—an anthropomorphic black cat—first burst onto the European comic scene in 2000 and after a string of consistently superb comic albums, he has no reason to look back. Brought to life by the talented Spanish duo of Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guardino, the pair have managed to successfully infuse their European sensibility with sublime artwork and top-notch storytelling to in turn produce some of the best literary and visual throwbacks to film noir ever to be printed in comic books.

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Blacksad’s adventures have always managed to be a savvy blend of all the elements that have allowed the genre of film noir to persist in popular culture for so long: part pulp-novel, part crime story, part critical commentary, Blacksad has worked hard to balance itself in the that tricky dance between cliché and homage; a maneuver that faces every piece of serious art and this triumph also means that Canales and Guardino have worked hard to make sure that their material transcends the cookie-cutter quality found in so many books today.

So much so, in fact, that Blacksad has effectively worked itself into a—if not the—revival of film noir as a medium for visual storytelling. Yes, yes, there are a host modern interpretations that could make that claim. There are plenty of books pertaining to cynical, hardboiled fiction that have found critical and commercial success but there’s something about Blacksad that elevates it from neo-noir worlds of Sin City or Fatale or 100 Bullets; something that sends readers catapulting face-first into noir-heaven: it’s just utterly classic.

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That by no means is a knock on any of those fantastic titles; they’re all long and permanent branches on film noir family tree. Blacksad however, has just taken a decidedly different route by sticking to the roots and it’s done so with resounding success. Pages, layouts, character designs and dialogue are all chock-full of character and charm; it’s the kind of vintage grit you might only ever find in a dime-store paperback novel or an Edward G. Robinson film.

Nowhere is the homage to noir sensibility stronger than in Blacksad’s first comic volume, Somewhere Within the Shadows. It’s an appropriately dark and winding start for the series and serves as a perfect gateway into John Blacksad’s home: the seedy world of 1950’s America, a world that the eponymous gumshoe cautiously—and sometimes clumsily—navigates his way through. Shadows makes for one hell of a journey and it wastes no time with a flowery setup as readers are thrust right along Blacksad into the heart of his dilemma: a beautiful woman, dead in her bed. But she’s no ordinary woman. She’s a film star and socialite but more importantly (in true film noir fashion) she’s an old flame. The kind that never quite burns out.

Neither does the depth of the mystery that precipitously engulfs our lead character. Suddenly he’s a man—make that a cat—on mission and his motivations are among the very same that have driven detectives, PI’s, and lawmen for as long as they’ve been roaming the streets: the truth. What follows is a kind of urban odyssey that sees Blacksad try to weave his way a through a web of deceit, deviance, and double-cross. It’s a web peppered with as much intrigue as there are characters, all of whom present their own individuality.

Blacksad particularly excels in this regard as everyone from the central figureheads to even the most trivial characters—the entire dramatis personae—come across as unique people; an amalgam of characters in a rich, pulp-laden world. This is, of course, largely due to the effective use of the animal kingdom. Yes, there are the obvious animal stereotypes: canine policemen, rhinos and bears as enforcers, snakes and weasels as…well snakes and weasels but it’s this effective anthropomorphization that simultaneously lends the characters gravitas and permits the reader to perhaps question their own prejudices (a theme that plays heavily into the next Blacksad volume). It’s a smart and interesting choice. One that elevates a simple genre trope into a serious journey in a serious medium.

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It should be obvious then that the journey would be half-hearted if it wasn’t visually compelling. This is a noir book after all—a European one at that—and that brings with it, certain kinds of artistic expectations. Fortunately the Spaniards have risen to the occasion and their artwork not only pushes the material in Shadows well-beyond commonplace but the medium manages to be brought to an entirely new level as a result.

Canales and Guardino are both established animators, illustrators, and film directors and there’s proof of that bursting-bag of talent on every page. Lines are crisp; the colours are muted yet punchy; the contrast and shadow-play manage to seep and ooze across the panels like streaks of haze that condense on a pane of glass. It’s just so damn beautiful. The watercolour style lends to the heavy ambiance that permeates from subject matter and setting with a timeless kind of style. Page-to-page, the whole aesthetic of Blacksad just works. It’s a perfect blend that lends the whole album a sort of cinematic quality, as if the reader might be examining a tinted reel celluloid under the glow of a soft light.

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It’s hard not to wax poetic when coming across a piece of artwork, particularly a comic, that challenges and changes the status quo of the medium and the genre. Especially since it seems to do it with an effortless kind of finesse. It’s just that good. Almost as though John Blacksad wandered out the dusty covers of a Raymond Chandler novel or off the screen of a Bogey flick and straight onto the glossy pages of a graphic novel.

Almost.

Blacksad can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop or on Dark Horse’s website.

Overall Score
90 %

Story 85%
Writing 88%
Pencils and Inks 95%
Colours 95%

About The Author

Kabir Chauhan is self-professed lover of video games, photography, fine films, and Oxford commas. When he isn't indulging in any of that, he enjoys the occasional comic book or two...or three as well as talking about himself in the third person.

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