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Juan Díaz Canales – Blacksad, Vols. 1-5

March 10, 2015

2, 9, 10. Blacksad, Blacksad: A Silent Hell, Blacksad: Amarillo by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido (2010, 2012, 2014)
Blacksad, Volumes 1-5

Length: 176, 112, 63 pages
Genre: Detective Noir, Graphic Novel

Started/Finished: Volumes 1-3: 04 January 2015
Volume 4: 10 February 2015
Volume 5: 20 February 2015

Where did they come from? The library.
Why do I have them? Recommended by a friend.

Summary: John Blacksad is your typical hard-boiled detective, pursuing truth and justice but not afraid to get his hands a little dirty in the process, sometimes the only honorable man left in a world of liars and thieves and double dealers… and murderers. Or perhaps it should be “the only honorable cat”, since all of the characters in the world of Blacksad are anthropomorphized animals.

The first volume contains three stories, while the fourth and the fifth story are each published (in the US, at least), as independent volumes.

In “Somewhere Within the Shadows”, Blacksad is called in to investigate the murder of the young starlet Natalia Wilford… who was also his former lover. What he finds is a mess of hatred, vengeance, violence, and corruption, and in a case this personal, it’s difficult to investigate without also getting involved.

“Arctic Nation” brings Blacksad to a small town, where a kidnapping seems like it is linked to a string of racially-motivated crimes, but the arctic animals that hold the power are uninterested in pursuing justice for those of a different color.

“Red Soul” finds Blacksad employed as a bodyguard to a wealthy intellectual, but following the disappearance and murder of one of his literati friends, Blacksad begins to suspect that there may be something political – and very dangerous – going on under the surface.

“A Silent Hell” involves Blacksad being tasked to hunt down a missing jazz musician by a wealthy but dying record producer. In the search, however, Blacksad runs up against deceit, drugs, and murder, and uncovers a dark secret that had been buried for decades.

In “Amarillo”, Blacksad is looking for some work that gets him away from the death and drama that are his more typical fare. He finds himself driving a Cadillac from New Orleans to Texas. But before long, he runs back in to trouble: a down-on-his luck Beat writer who is mixed up in a murder, and some old acquaintances with a grudge to settle on his tail.

Review: Noir-ish detective stories aren’t really my cup of tea, but this series was recommended to me by a friend with reliable tastes in graphic novels, so I figured I’ve give them a shot. And while they weren’t my favorite, they were certainly an interesting departure from my normal fare. As mysteries, they’re kind of hit-or-miss; the one I thought was most effective was “Arctic Nation”, which had a good balance of clues being slowly doled out, and the right amount of twistiness and double-crossing to make it interesting without being overly convoluted. It’s also the most personal, the one that I thought had the most-developed characters (also, probably not coincidentally, the one that featured the most non-corpse, non-lounge-singer women characters). The other stories, particularly “Somewhere Within the Shadows” and “A Silent Hell”, seemed like they either relied too heavily on one-dimensional thugs and corrupt businessmen, or else didn’t really provide enough clues to allow readers to piece together what’s going on by themselves. “Amarillo” is less of a mystery, so that wasn’t really an issue, but even as more of a character piece it still didn’t entirely draw me in.

The artwork is also really interesting. The drawings themselves are lovely and very detailed, but often a little busy for my tastes. The use of color, though, is really gorgeous, mostly a very muted palette that heightens – if not creates entire – the film-noir feel that permeates Blacksad‘s world, highlighted with more vibrant colors in occasional individual panels that draw they eye and grab the attention. I’m still not sure I’m entirely sold on the use of animals as characters, though. Their animal nature is almost never commented on (a line referencing “cold blood” is the only one I remember), and the different species are used as a shorthand for their characteristics – a lizard is a slimy informant, or a rhinocerous the brute enforcer. I suppose it does add something to the overall story, and feeling, and originality of the work, but I found it more distracting than anything else – wondering how animals of different species could produce kids, for example. It also bothered me that the male characters seemed to be more animalistic in form than the women; everyone was walking upright, and had human-ish (if hairy/scaly) hands, but the men’s faces and bodies were clearly still animals, while the women’s were much more human, with hourglass figures and perfect hairstyles and humanoid faces, just with pointed ears and maybe a slightly upturned nose or a slight indication of some whiskers, but certainly not a snout or fur or anything else you might expect on a dog or cat. Maybe that’s not that big of a deal in the big scheme of things, but I noticed it every time a female character was on screen, and it bugged. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If mysteries and noir are your cup of tea, Blacksad is lovely and definitely worth checking out. If not, then it still might be worth checking out – it’s very well done, even if it didn’t entirely click for me.

Vols. 1-3: This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon
Vol. 4: This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon
Vol. 5: This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Can’t find any. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

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