This handsome hardcover volume collects three stories about the toughest, hard boiled cat detective out there, John Blacksad. It’s the post War world of police corruption, Hollywood glamour, building racial tensions, Communists, and the Bomb. And these stories are grimy with the human filth of Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. Written with pulpy flair by Juan Diaz Canales and rendered in gorgeous color by Juanjo Guarnido, it’s like someone blended the anthropomorphic world of Disney (Guarnido used to work for Disney in France) with the gritty world of Film Noir. It keeps reminding me of the flashbacks to young Don Cornelius’ early days in America from The Godfather II. Like a painting of a nostalgic memory, tainted with violence and betrayal.
Somewhere Within the Shadows introduces Blacksad. His ex, a famous actress, has been murdered and he must deal with his feelings for her, while tracking down those responsible. Something about this story reminds me of the movie Devil in a Blue Dress. Not the story, but it has a kind of Easy Rollins vibe to it. And they do such a good job of casting characters by way of animal choice. Need a dirty rat? Well, draw him as a rat. A big boxer? Gorilla. That gross bartender? A sweaty pig in a tank-top.
Arctic Nation deals with racism and the disillusionment beginning to grow in the aftermath of the post WWII economic and cultural boom. Failed neighborhoods, white supremacists, the hypocrisies and abuses of power. There’s a Chinatown element to this, but again, a dose of Easy Rollins. Arctic Nation is probably the most sad or melancholy of the stories. I think because it’s about so much failure. Sure, it’s about racist skumbags, but it’s also about shattered dreams, haunting mistakes, and lives lost in the shuffle of progress. The art throughout the volume is beautiful, but I find the snow shrouded suburbs especially effecting.
Red Soul is about Communism, fervent anti-Communism, fear of the Bomb, and the attempt to overcome past sins. Blacksad has eyes for a pretty young intellectual, but with all that murder going around, he’d best be careful. And nobody wants to be called a Red. The Beats, protesters, spies, and bomb shelters. There’s a lot going on in this story, and I’ll admit, I was a bit lost, a couple times and had to go back over a couple pages to keep everyone straight. Probably my least favorite story of the three, it’s still quite enjoyable.
If you’re a pulp fan, or a film noir fan, this is one of the coolest graphic novels out there. It’s well written and beautifully illustrated. And it has a very different look than you might be used to. European comics have their own thing going, and I like it quite a bit. I’m constantly amazed by how much emotion Guarnido is able to get out of cartoon animal faces. Top notch work all ‘round.
Author: Diaz Canales
Artist: Juanjo Guarnido
Publisher: Dark Horse Books