Written by Juan Díaz Canales
Art by Juanjo Guarnido
I kind of expected Blacksad, published here in English by the fine people at Dark Horse, to be a pretty standard noirish private eye comic, featuring talking animals acting as people. That's basically what this book is, but it is just about the best possible form of that.
There are three stories in this European-sized hardcover, each a self-contained tale although they are told sequentially. John Blacksad is a private eye who investigates stuff, like so many of his literary, pulp, and comic book forebears. In the first story, he gets involved when an old girlfriend, an actress, turns up dead. In the second, he searches for a missing girl, and in the third, he tries to help an old mentor who has been marked for death. All standard stuff, except for the quality in which the stories are told.
These are some very well-written stories. Writer Díaz Canales sets these stories in post-war America, and makes very good use of the talking animal element to flesh out his tales. In the second story, Arctic Nation, the young girl's disappearance is connected to racial tensions, caused by white supremacist animals who make up the upper class and the police department, and directed towards black animals, especially the Black Claws gang, an analog of the Black Panthers. One would assume that the easiest way to portray racial difference would be to have different species of animal stand in for races, much like Art Spiegelman did with Maus, but instead, Díaz Canales sticks with colour as the dividing line, and so a white cat is treated as different than a black cat, at least in that city. It adds some texture to things, as we have a hero with a white muzzle, who has an established aversion to rats. So this is a society where intolerance is even more ingrained and complex than in ours.
Juanjo Guarnido's art is wonderful, in that European way, and displays great detail, especially in terms of the time period shown. I was very impressed with this book, and am happy to know that Dark Horse is publishing more of these.