The cat’s out of the bag – Juan Diaz Canales talks about Blacksad #4 (part 2)
This is the second part of the interview by Stripgids editor-in-chief Toon Horsten with Blacksad writer Juan Diaz Canales (you can read the first part here). In this part, we discuss the state of the Spanish comic market, telling stories with flashbacks, and Diaz Canales’ and artist Juanjo Guarnido’s future projects. We would like to thank Toon and Stripgids for kindly allowing us to reprint their article in English.
TH: You were saying that the success of the Blacksad books largely boils down to Juanjo Guarnido’s art. But you created the character, and at the start also provided the art…
Diaz Canales : That’s right, but the character from that time – I must have been 20 then – had little or nothing to do with the look of the comics as Juanjo’s drawing them. To begin with, because I am a very bad artist when you compare me to Juanjo. But then, almost anybody’s a bad artist compared to Juanjo, I must say. When we met, twenty years ago, we both worked in an animation studio. Since we both were very passionate about comics, we thought about doing a project together. But at that moment Juanjo got hired by Disney, and moved to Paris. I stayed in Madrid. We kept talking about our plan to make something together, but it never got real. In the mean time I did a few short stories about Blacksad, but it was a totally different storyline, in black and white – a style that is slightly reminiscent of Munoz and Sampayo’s.
TH: At the moment, there is some resemblance between Blacksad and their Alack Sinner, you could say.
Diaz Canales : There’s certainly some connection, since their book also is a hard-boiled detective story with an American setting. For us, it certainly was a piece of reference. “Why don’t you have me draw that ?” Juanjo asked when we were looking for a project to do together, and he saw my sketches. And because he was in Paris anyway, he suggested doing things with a bit more ambition. A long story, in color, in a graphical style of its own… We finetuned the project, got ourself a publisher, et voila !
TH: You immediately made it for the French market, then ?
Diaz Canales : I made the short stories for the Spanish market, but that was nothing more than a quite awkward amateur comic. An amateur comic that was rejected by all Spanish publishers and magazines, by the way. When it became a more high-concept project, getting in on the French market became necessary.
TH: The Spanish market is too small ?
Diaz Canales : It’s almost impossible to earn a living when you just work for Spain. You need an additional market : the French one, or the US. Quite a few Spanish artists work for the American scene.
TH: Blacksad’s success must have come as quite a surprise, then ?
Diaz Canales : You can say that again. We were two totally unknown Spanish authors, who didn’t know the French market, and the first Blacksad book was our first comic altogether. You wouldn’t have dared to dream this would become a success.
TH: In terms of the story, the fourth book is the most demanding on the reader, it would seem : you use a lot of flashbacks…
Diaz Canales : The story really takes up one single night, and within that time frame we do indeed make a few jumps back in time. It was a bit of a risky thing to do, but I hope we pulled it off. I’ve had a few people tell me that, in order to really grasp the story, you should read it twice. To be honest, I kinda like that remark. If a comic invites you to read it twice, that’s a bonus for the reader, I think.
For the previous Blacksad book Juanjo and I had agreed to tell the story without using a single flash back. And when we sort of pulled that off, we wanted to do the total opposite for this book : tell a story that only takes one night in real time, but with a whole bunch of flashbacks that clarify the story. It’s up to the reader to reconstruct everything in his head, which is a risk. At one point, we thought about using captions like “Ten days earlier”, but scratched that eventually.
But you’re right, the story is quite demanding. On the other hand, when the reader perseveres, he gets rewarded. And if that setup works, it’s good for everyone…
TH: You worked in animation for a long time.
Diaz Canales : Juanjo worked for Disney, and he collaborated on Tarzan and Atlantis. I stayed in Spain, and set up a small animation studio with a few friends. We mainly worked for French production houses, on quite a few animated versions of celebrated comic series, such as Corto Maltese, Cédric, Bécasinne, Astérix, … I did the storyboards, and sometimes do so still.
TH: You always worked with someone else’s characters, though.
Diaz Canales : That can be a problem, particularly for artists. They have to adopt a complete different art style for each project. Which isn’t easy, because, well, Corto Maltese has very little to do with Cédric or Bécasinne…
TH: You’re probably pleased that a Blacksad movie is in the making, now.
Diaz Canales : Well, that remains to be seen. I’m not even sure myself what’s the situation there, to be honest. All that’s certain for the moment, is that a producer bought the movie rights, a long time ago already, immediately after the first book had been published. Through the years, many directors were named in connection to the project, and they all left after a while.
TH: Welcome to the world of movies…
Diaz Canales : That’s what it boils down to in a way. We’ll see. I’m not even sure whether the film will one time be made at all. Maybe, maybe not. For the moment, we’re not in a development phase, that’s for sure.
TH: So, you’ll keep doing comics for a while ?
Diaz Canales : Yes, we certainly will.
TH: On the back of Blacksad 4, there’s already mention of issue 5.
Diaz Canales : I can’t really put a timeline on that issue, to be honest, but it won’t be five years this time. Juanjo and I have already agreed on that. He first has to complete the last book in the Voyageur series (with Boisserie, Stalner, and Bourgne, published by Dupuis), and then the third book for Sorcelleries (with Teresa Valero, Dargaud), and then it’s Blacksad’s turn again. It will probably be another two years before the new book gets realised.
TH: Are you working on other projects for the moment ?
Diaz Canales : I’m currently working on Les Patriciens, a comedy comic (published by Glénat) with a derailed kind of humour, strictly for adults. It’s about a best selling author who only has one ambition : write a literary novel with a big L. He tries to write poetry, but that doesn’t work. In the end he has a lot of visions and nightmares, and the characters he imagines, come to life.
And I’ve also started a series with José Luis Munuera, the first issue of which will be published by Dargaud newt year. The script’s finished, and José Luis has completed about twenty pages. It will be a two-parter, set in the States, during the American Civil War. It’s about a small village, a community that’s based on almost socialist principles. And it will also have a slight fantasy touch.
TH: We’ll be looking forward to it.
(the first three volumes of Blacksad are collected in a hardback edition published in English by Dark Horse)