by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guardino (Darguad/Dark Horse, 2010)

Private investigator John Blacksad, a black cat (literally), is enmeshed in a noir world of mystery and intrigue. He's a two-fisted, tough guy detective right out of the pages of an old-school, hard-boiled crime thriller in the style of Philip Marlowe and Raymond Chandler. And, just like an old-school detective, Blacksad is cool and smooth on the outside but inside a passion for justice roars with submerged heat.

Set in Eisenhower America, the three story arcs contained in this volume are set in expressive, clean-lined watercolor artwork. It's not a comic so much as it's a sumptuous feast for the eyes, one that is peopled with characters who have very human mannerisms. This 184-page collection has been translated into 21 languages and has won Eisners and an Angouleme Prize for Artwork.

The personality and physiological makeup of each character is reflected in the animal chosen to represent them. The chief of police is a proud, loyal German shepherd, a sly news photographer with ouija-like skills is a cunning weasel, gang members are sheep, boxers are gorillas, and one particularly amusing casting agent is an honest-to-goodness barking seal. Like a cat, Blacksad himself is curious and unafraid of using violence if threatened.

He's also pretty smart, although his luck with women leaves something to be desired. The story starts out as a standard revenge deal which morphs into a very intricate kidnapping tale combined with the hot issues of that era: McCarthyism, immigration, socialist movements and the atomic bomb.

Stereotypes abound, and the stories are standard pulp fiction, but it's what the writer and artist do with them that counts. The period, from the fashion to the advertising, to the seedy and smoke-filled bars, to the political sentiment and the enchanting, isolated atmosphere of the rich and famous, is perfectly captured in artwork so richly detailed and so amazingly realistic that it's a pleasure to simply gaze upon. Highly recommended for fans of great art and hard-edged detective fiction.

review by
Mary Harvey

29 July 2017

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