Juan Diaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido
‘How do you picture hell, Mr Blacksad? For me, it’s a place without music. . . totally silent.’
It’s been a stellar week for fans of crime and noir comics such as myself, with new tomes of comic paragons Blacksad and Parker hitting shelves. I don’t think there’s been a disparaging review of Juan Diaz Canales and Juanujo Guarnido’s Blacksad over the course of four volumes and this one isn’t about to be any different. With English language Blacksad fans having to wait 2 years for a translation, I’m not going to spoil the book for anyone with a detailed breakdown of the plot. Instead, a brief outline of the story and then a bid (and most likely failure) to find new superlatives to describe it.
Whilst interviewing famous veteran music producer Faust LaChapelle, Weekly -the aptly named journalist fox- is asked if he knows anyone able to undertake a special task and Weekly has just the cat in mind. . . Thus returns our dapper, trench-coated feline, enlisted by a cancer-ridden Faust to track down his hugely talented but troubled pianist, Sebastian, to whom he wishes to say a final goodbye. Needless to say, this doesn’t prove to be a straight-forward task, as Sebastian’s friends start turning up dead faster than Blacksad can reach them.
Where previous volumes have switched between Blacksad’s internal monologue, and the omniscient action, you now have the action divided into three, with Weekly in fully-fledged side-kick mode. It’s not a complaint though- the pairing is good to see; Weekly nicely offsets the darker edges of Blacksad’s personality, without negating them entirely and Blacksad seems (slightly) mellower for it. There’s a nice contrast between Blacksad’s been there, done that approach and Weekly’s enthusiastic naivety. Despite this meaning a little less of the cat himself, the story remains undiminished.
(Blacksad: not that much mellower)
The great thing about Blacksad stories is that they manage to incorporate serious issues with a bit of depth as well as being an entertaining genre read, without it ever feeling as if things have been shoe-horned in for the sake of weight or meaning. Canales plays A Silent Hell a little more straight- there’s no big backdrop like race in Arctic Nation- focusing on the story as it unspools its various themes: father/son relationships, the effect of legacy, attempting to rectify the mistakes of one’s past whilst living under the burden of it; the bid to escape and start afresh and the things that drag you back. Another thing I like about Canales’ writing is that he doesn’t shy away from offering finishes not atypical of comic book denouements, resisting the flash flourish or saccharine tie-up, but still providing a satisfying conclusion with real synergy.
I didn’t think it possible, but Juanjo Guarnido’s art has definitely gotten even more beautiful. He explains in the notes and sketches section at the end of the book how he’s altered his watercolour painting technique and it’s obvious why it takes so long to produce a Blacksad comic: Guarnido doesn’t scrimp on backgrounds, each page exquisitely painted with so much to look at. The colours and sheer amount of detail in the Mardi Gras scenes are astounding.
I know I’m always banging on about anthropomorphic characterisation and design, but I just love to see it when its done well and the different ways in which it’s interpreted, particularly as it’s easy to descend into caricature. It’s definitely what makes Blacksad special- these stories would transplant easily onto humans, they may even still be good, but they would not ascend to the level of brilliance displayed here. Take for example, the rooster in the page below: the way his comb is draped droopily over the side of his face and the manner in which his wattles dangle, his gait, posture and claws all work to make him look sinister and menacing. Then there’s a scene on a yacht where Faust and his son stand talking- Faust’s face thin and drawn with long, tapering horns and little tufts of sad-looking hair, his son’s ram face full and round with strong, elaborate coiled horns. By merely looking at them, you can read the story of their personalities and relationship.The thought that goes into these little touches elevate the story.
I have to mention the two short Blacksad stories at the end- the first of which is simply and honestly a knockout- a great example of compact storytelling in comic: in 2 pages Canales and Guarnido manage to evoke humour, curiosity, poignancy and sympathy. So yes, not really breaking news: Blacksad is still brilliant and if you haven’t bought your copy yet, I declare you a fool. My wait for volume 5 is officially on.