Sunday, July 24, 2016

Going Graphic with the European Union: Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido

Image Courtesy of Comics Alliance
Over the past few decades, graphic novels have become a respected form of literature. Europe, in particular, has published a wide variety of graphic novels, and these works have become available to wider audiences due to the growth in popularity. In this summer series presented by the EUC, graphic novels from a wide variety of EU members will be reviewed and discussed. 

By Rachel Johannigmeier

Noir...with human-like animals?  While it is not a typical story combination, Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarrido proves that it is a combination that works as a story that is both compelling and complex.  Created by two Spanish creators and published originally in France as three different bande dessinée, the publisher Dark Horse Comics has collected these three stories in one English translated graphic novel.  The stories collected are Somewhere Within the Shadows, Arctic Nation, and Red Soul.

Image Courtesy of Comics Alliance
Story Information

Title: Blacksad

Creators: Juan Díaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist)

Translation: Anthya Flores and Patricia Rivera

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Audience: Adults

The three stories in Blacksad follow the adventures of the title character, John Blacksad, a black cat who has seen many things in his life.  The stories take place in the United States of the 1950s, and even though all the characters are depicted as animals, real historical events and problems are addressed within the stories.  For example, World War I, the atomic bomb, and racism are all significant points of the plot.  Each story provides insight into the main character, a private investigator with a rough past, as he interacts with a colorful supporting cast.  In Somewhere Within the Shadows, Blacksad is tasked with investigating the death of a starlet (and former lover).  In Arctic Nation, Blacksad looks into the disappearance of a child in a town strongly influenced by race politics.  Finally, in Red Soul, Blacksad encounters an old teacher with a dark past that is causing problems in the present.

Crime comics can sometimes rely too heavily on stereotypes, plot points, and genre elements that make the whole story feel as if it is a cliché. I have read many noir comics, and I can say that the three stories presented in Blacksad, are excellent examples of a superior crime comic narrative.  It still utilizes the trappings of the genre, but the emotions and ideas of the story set it above the average story for its genre.

Another area of praise for the story is the artwork.  The characters are incredibly distinct, and the coloring makes the features of the artwork stand out.  These characters are animals but they are incredibly human-like, with a wide variety of expressions and appearances.  The creators have developed a unique world with characters that seem incredibly realistic.

Sometimes the stories feel short which is understandable as they are around 50 pages long, but even with that in mind, the stories definitely work well as short stories.  I would definitely recommend this graphic novel for fans of noir comics and well-crafted narratives. 


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