Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 145

Blacksad

by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, with lettering by Studio Cutie and translations by Anthya Flores, Patricia Rivera, and Katie LaBarbera
Genre notes: crime, 20th century America
3 vols
ISBN: 159582393X (Amazon)

John Blacksad is a cat. Or, at least, he is cattish. And not like kitty-cattish but big-cattish. He’s dark and comely, like Bagheera. Maybe he’s sort of a pantherish guy. And that’s the thing. For all his cattishness or pantherishness, he’s definitely a guy—a tough guy with brimfuls of moxie and the good sense to wear a hat that matches his attire.

Blacksad’s animal avatar is a dark panther with white muzzle. He’s got plenty of feline qualities (curiosity, predatory nature, fleet violence, and a certain sleekness to his movements), all of which contribute to his occupation as a private dick. He’s got luck with the ladies—though perhaps not enough that he can ever keep one for long. He’s a tough-bitten customer, but leans toward acts of charity that tend to get him beaten up more than he deserves. Essentially, he’s a young Philip Marlowe (maybe Big Sleep-era), only with less verbal wit and penchant for dialogical gymnastics.

This volume of the Spanish creators’ noirish tales collects three separately published stories about the cattish detective. The first is a standard revenge pursuit (like the first volume of Sin City), the second twists a kidnapping in with WWII-era klansmanship, and the third deals with McCarthyism, immigrant thinkers, and the Bomb. None of the stories are particularly novel, but each is visually well-spoken enough that most readers will never mind. While the mysteries rarely keep ahead of astute readers, the real fun is in devouring this lush, over-detailed world—and the beasts that inhabit it.

Guarnido is an incredible artist. Not only are his character designs prodigy-level, but his use of these figures is completely liquid. His miniature biography reveals that he’s trained in animation. It shows. Characters move in believable, extra-human mannerisms, filling the space of their panels with regality or temerity or fury or pathos or joie de vivre—with whatever aura their stories demand. Guarnido’s sense of locale is likewise impeccable, and he supplies a full-fledged world for these denizens to inhabit. And all of this is painted in palettes wholly suitable to moods governed by story concerns.

Honestly, I can’t say enough kind things about the art. It’s simply magnificent.

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