Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Look at: Blacksad - A Silent Hell

At long last the 4th volume of Blacksad has finally been published in English! Originally created by Spanish writer and artist Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido, the comics were made for a French audience before being published in Spanish and eventually in English. Following some tumultuous development when the first English publisher went bankrupt, Dark Horse finally stepped up to pick up the rights and published the first 3 volumes as one book, and now only recently just released the 4th.

The stories told in Blacksad take place circa the 1950s and follow John Blacksad, a panther cat private detective with a wartime past. All the stories are hardboiled detective noir mysteries with characters portrayed by anthropomorphic animal counterparts. One of the best defining things about the character design is how well chosen the animal association is to match the character being portrayed; whether from the main cast extending to even those extras that populate the background. Character is actually emphasized greatly by the type of animal chosen to portray the individual by taking advantage of their own unique strong visual natural attributes as well as popular notions that people associate with them. Artist Juanjo Guarnido manages to capture a nice harmony between detailed stylish realism and cartoon exaggeration great for both hard hitting mature subject matter as well as moments of comedy.

The story of  'A Silent Hell' takes place in New Orleans in the build-up to Mardi Gras. Blacksad is asked by a friend Weasley to take a job there for the owner of a Jazz Record Label who wants to hire Blacksad to find one of his top musicians who has gone missing, however a complicated tale plays out where we discover that the lives of these characters are more intertwined than would be initially revealed with a larger conspiracy belying the events that play out. Unlike previous Blacksad comics, the story unfolds over the course of one day, but not told in chronological order. It jumps back a forth from day to night taking time balancing the pace of the story between the investigative portions and the more climactic moments. The story also bounds around from the present to the past through flashbacks that involve the characters, hinting at moments involving Blacksad's past as well that might possibly be laying the groundwork for future revelations as the series goes on.

Included in the Silent Hell graphic novel is a sketchbook by Guarnido highlighting selected panels and illustrations from the comic where Guarnido breaks down the preliminary process he went through in detail to explore blocking in light and shadow and color. In this volume Guarnido was experimenting with watercolor and he shares his insights and frustrations with regards to controlling this traditional medium. It is highly interesting stuff for artists interested in his work and provides further insight into the thought processes that go on where story and mood can be conveyed through the use of lighting and color.

Two short stories are also included in the collection, 'Spit at the Sky' and 'Like Cats and Dogs' that recount small moments in the life of John Blacksad that are touching as well as deeply involving proving a good story can even be told over the simple span of 2 pages.

Blacksad: A Silent Hell, published in hardcover by Dark Horse is available at our store alongside the first 3 volumes of 'Blacksad' in a separate hardcover collection, both for U.S. cover price. We may also have the original French bande desinee of the 4th volume in stock for those interested and we also carry some sketchbooks by Juanjo Guarnido, so call us to inquire about them! I highly recommend Blacksad for anyone who like the detective genre and has an interest in foreign created comics. It is also a great introduction for adults who don't normally read comics. It is not necessary to read them in order either as each story can stand on its own, although there are reoccurring characters. Blacksad is also a good resource for artists and animators looking for reference inspiration with regards to anthropomorphic character designs, and Guarnido also involves a process in his artwork creating depth in his panels using foreground, middleground and background similar to techniques used in animation. His drawings have a great sense of movement as well. Character personalities are visually strengthened by their posture and mannerisms, all great examples of visual storytelling that let you see what's happening leaving the dialogue bubbles to focus on conversation that moves the story forward. There has been no word on a 5th volume as of yet, but I'm certain when it does arrive, the wait for the English version will be a much shorter affair!