Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnid

Blacksad
by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnid
Dark Horse, 2010

A fascinating mixture of everything that is great about European comics. The writer and artist are Spanish, although this series was produced for the French market. Like the New Wave film movement of the ’50s and ’60s, it takes American forms and genres and reinterprets them with a mature European sensibility. The three long stories in this book are set in a late ’50s film noir America full of anthropomorphised animals, whose species reflects their general personalities. The animals have human bodies and animal heads and tails, and while there doesn’t seem to be species-specific discrimination in this universe, the second story centres around racial tensions between white animals (polar bears, otters, pigs and owls) and black animals (horses, magpies and bulls). John Blacksad, the private investigator hero, is a black cat with a white muzzle. Tricky stuff, especially in the third story, which involves Nazis – it’s not the first time Hitler has been drawn as a cat.

The artwork by Guarnid, a former lead animator for Disney, is exceptional. The characters are expressive, the environments are realistic and detailed, vividly executed in watercolours. Despite the setting and genre, there’s no way Americans could do this for a major publisher without massively dumbing down and censoring the (sexual) content for a mass audience.

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