Blacksad

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Blacksad threatening a stalker, as shown in Somewhere Within the Shadows

Blacksad is a comic album series created by Spanish authors Juan Díaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist), and published by French publisher Dargaud. Though both authors are Spanish, their main target audience for Blacksad is the French market[1] and thus they publish all Blacksad volumes in French first; the Spanish edition usually follows about one month later.[2] The first volume Quelque part entre les ombres (literally Somewhere between the Shadows, but simply called Blacksad in the US) was published in November 2000. The second volume, Arctic-Nation, was published in 2003 and the third, Âme Rouge (Red Soul), was published in 2005. An English translation of the third volume was delayed due to the bankruptcy of its North American publisher, iBooks. In 2010, Dark Horse Comics published all three translated volumes as one volume.[3] The publication of this 184-page collection also coincided with the European release of the series' fourth installment, L'Enfer, Le silence (literally Hell, Silence), in September 2010. In 2014, a fifth installment of the series, Amarillo, was released in various translations.

The series has been translated from the original French and Spanish into Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Czech, English, Finnish, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Swedish, and Turkish.

Guarnido and Diaz Canales have received several prizes for the series, including three Eisner Award nominations and an Angoulême Prize for Artwork.[4][5][6]

Synopsis[edit]

Rendered in a film noir style, the stories are set in late 1950s America. All of the characters are anthropomorphic animals whose species reflects their personality, character type and role in the story. Animal stereotypes are often used: for example, nearly all of the policemen are canids, such as German Shepherds, Bloodhounds, and foxes, while underworld characters are often reptiles or amphibians. Female characters are often much more human looking than their male counterparts, especially those filling the role of love interest to more important characters.

The strip attempts at recreating a dirty-realist outlook and a dark cinematic style through fairly clean, realistic lines. Very detailed watercolor drawings, including real-life places and cities, also contribute to the realistic feel of the series, despite the fact that characters are animals. The style of drawing has evolved throughout the series, with later issues displaying sharper, higher-quality colour and fewer grainy lines.

Cameos[edit]

The series occasionally features anthropomorphic versions of famous people, most notably in Red Soul. Adolf Hitler is portrayed as a cat (possibly in homage to Art Spiegelman's Maus), Senator Joseph McCarthy as Senator Gallo (a cockerel), Mark Rothko as Sergei Litvak (a bear), and Allen Ginsberg as Greenberg (a bison), while Otto Liebber (an owl) bears a strong resemblance to many of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.

Main characters[edit]

  • John Blacksadhardboiled private investigator. A black cat, Blacksad was raised in a poor neighborhood and spent much of his youth running from the police. This and his service in World War II likely account for his above-average marksmanship and fighting skills. He also spent a year in college as a history major before being expelled. Like other hardboiled detectives, Blacksad narrates his stories, adding cynical commentary on the evils of the world around him. Unlucky in love, he never seems to be able to form a lasting relationship, often due to circumstances beyond his control. He usually wears a dark suit and trench coat, and uses the alias John H. Blackmore on several fake IDs, including debt collector, FBI agent and customs officer.
  • Weekly – Blacksad's occasional sidekick. A brown Least Weasel who doesn't like soap and water and has an odor problem, he has a near-constant optimistic attitude, working as a muckraker for a tabloid called the What's News.
  • SmirnovPolice commissioner and friend of Blacksad. A brown German Shepherd, Smirnov sometimes helps Blacksad to reach the rich and powerful which he himself cannot touch due to 'pressure upstairs'.

Volumes[edit]

Somewhere Within the Shadows[edit]

Blacksad investigates the murder of the famous actress Natalia Willford, who he used to be involved with – first as a bodyguard, then in a more intimate capacity.

His first inquiries lead him to Léon Kronski, a screenwriter and her last known lover, who has disappeared. He finds Kronski already dead and buried under a pseudonym. After Blacksad is severely beaten by two hired thugs, the police arrest him. Smirnov, a police commissioner, explains to Blacksad that because of "pressure upstairs" he himself cannot investigate the matter any further. Smirnov offers him a deal, advantageous to both sides.

As Blacksad returns home, a goanna hitman and a rat goon attempt to kill him and each other. Blacksad shoots the rat, interrogates the dying goanna and finally uncovers the culprit of the whole affair: Ivo Statoc, a frog, the richest and most powerful businessman of the city, who considers himself above any law. Statoc shot the actress himself because of her infidelity. After brutally infiltrating the office suite at the top of his skyscraper, Blacksad confronts the completely calm and cold-blooded Statoc – who first offers him a job, and later a bribe. Blacksad rejects both offers as a matter of principle and shoots Statoc in the head. The police arrange it so it appears to be a suicide.

Arctic Nation[edit]

This volume deals with inter-racial violence and racial segregation of the 1950s in a pseudo-American suburb called The Line. The book also obliquely addresses issues of economic depression, sexual repression and perversion, all intended to expose the social malaise and prejudice that exist beneath the apparently harmonious surfaces of communities.

Observing the aftermath of a lynching on a city street, Blacksad meets his future sidekick, Weekly (a least weasel). Blacksad initially rejects him due to his unpleasant smell and obnoxious behavior. It is revealed that Blacksad is working for an old elementary school teacher, Miss Grey, who has asked him to search for a young girl named Kaylie. Miss Grey believes that Kaylie was kidnapped by Arctic Nation, a racist political organization. After befriending Weekly, Blacksad is harassed in a bar by three Arctic Nation members. Their leader, Huk (a white Arctic fox), turns out to be a close friend of the local police chief, Karup (a polar bear). Blacksad and Weekly are taken before Karup, who himself is revealed to be with Arctic Nation.

Blacksad confronts Kaylie's mother, Dinah, who has mysteriously failed to report her daughter's disappearance. He suggests an affair between herself and the son of Oldsmill, a rich white socialite, but doubts this lead when Dinah takes offense at the insinuation. Blacksad and Weekly cross paths with a violent black power organisation called the Black Claws, which were originally accused of Kaylie's abduction. They force Weekly to publish a statement denying their involvement in the kidnapping. Blacksad decides to meet Oldsmill, but discovers that Oldsmill's son is mentally handicapped and thus unlikely to have had an affair with Dinah.

Meanwhile, Weekly investigates the activities of Karup's wife, Jezabel, and discovers that she is having an affair with Huk. She also has an emotional meeting with Dinah, who appears to blackmail Jezabel by threatening to reveal 'what she knows'. This compounds suspicion on Karup, who is already rumoured to be a paedophile. When Blacksad returns to Dinah's apartment, he finds out that she has been murdered. Suspecting Karup of the killing, Blacksad directly confronts him with his suspicions and reveals Jezabel's affair with Huk. In consequence, Karup attacks Huk and argues violently with Jezabel; during their tête-à-tête, it comes to light that they have never had sex.

At the violent climax, a black magpie called Cotten – who has been complicit in Kaylie's abduction against his will – leads Blacksad to an Arctic Nation meeting, located in a derelict war factory. There, Kaylie and Weekly – himself kidnapped by Arctic Nation – are hidden. Blacksad saves Weekly after Huk betrays and hangs Karup, supposedly for kidnapping and child abuse. As the factory burns and Cotten is killed by Huk, Blacksad rescues Kaylie and Weekly. Later, he finds Huk dead in his garage, with a screwdriver through the brain.

Blacksad corners Jezabel after Karup's funeral, proving, through a matching birthmark, that she is Dinah's twin. Jezabel reveals that Karup was her father, and had left her black pregnant mother to die after being turned by Oldsmill's racist doctrines. Fueled by revenge, Jezabel ascended white society under a false identity, eventually marrying Karup. With Dinah hired as their maid, Jezabel seduced and manipulated Huk, using him to carry out the fake kidnapping and implicate Karup. However, Huk killed Dinah to ensure her silence, leading Jezabel to kill him in kind.

Blacksad meets with Miss Grey and compliments her on her dedication towards the neighborhood's children. After the two say goodbye, Blacksad finds Kaylie sadly staring at him, and he stares back sadly as well. The book concludes by highlighting Kaylie's innocence and her ultimate abandonment, but her fate is not made clear.

There are probably some discrepancies between publications. Cotten is also seen as Hewitt, Kayleigh as Kaylie, and some versions of the book end with Blacksad scattering Cotten's (Hewitt's) ashes to the wind over Las Vegas, fulfilling his last wish.

Red Soul[edit]

During the Red Scare, Blacksad is employed as a bodyguard for a rich old tortoise called Hewitt Mandeline, who goes on a gambling trip to Las Vegas. After returning home, Blacksad's last assignment is to accompany him to an art gallery, where he runs into Smirnov and his family. He finds a leaflet for a lecture given by his old school teacher, Otto Liebber, a nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize candidate. Also appearing is the wealthy, dynamic, yet idle communist Samuel Gotfield, who heads a scientific research foundation; Blacksad takes an instant dislike for Gotfield, who makes a mockery of Otto's lecture. He also meets Gotfield's fiancee, writer Alma Mayer.

Gotfield invites Blacksad to a party at his luxurious coastal mansion along with twelve leftist intellectuals: Greenberg, a beat poet; the photographer Dora; the sculptor Klein; the actor Bill Ratcliff; the scriptwriter Jess Logan; the Russian painter Sergei Litvak; the accomplished chemist Laszlo Herzl; and Alma Mayer. After Blacksad grudgingly saves a drunken Gotfield from drowning, with the help of Otto's close friend Otero, Herzl angrily accuses Otto of promoting nuclear weapons. When Otero gets back home, he is killed by a mysterious assassin (a gavial). It seems he actually meant to kill Otto.

Blacksad and Alma – who plans to spend her honeymoon with Gotfield at Niagara Falls — begin to have feelings for each other. Blacksad decides follow Otto, saving from a car bomb planted by the assassin. However, he fails to stop the goon from escaping or a traumatised Otto from leaving the scene. Smirnov informs Blacksad that the assassin is a highly regarded hit man known as Ribs, and that his bomb was chemically complex. Suspecting that Herzl might have hired Ribs, Blacksad confronts him. To his surprise, Herzl is a Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter who shows him photographic proof that Otto used to work for the Third Reich.

Stricken with this new information, Blacksad seeks solace from Alma, only to learn that she has been arrested by the FBI after being inexplicably betrayed by Gotfield. When FBI agents visit Litvak in his studio, they accidentally kill him while using truth serum to ask about Otto's whereabouts. Otto, meanwhile, has returned to his old neighborhood – the same neighborhood where Blacksad grew up – only to find it overcome by poverty and his father's a ruin. Suffering a personal crisis, Otto hides at the city aquarium, where Blacksad himself once hid as a child.

Blacksad rescues Alma from the FBI, taking shelter in Weekly's apartment. Falling in love with Alma, Blacksad promises to take her to Niagara Falls, which to her is an important act of commitment. Blacksad then finds a fatalistic Otto, who admits that his efforts to reduce the world's suffering have only left it worse than before. He also admits to conspiring with Litvak to hand over American nuclear secrets to the Soviets. Blacksad soon realizes that Litvak had copied Otto's information onto a canvas and then painted over it as a disguise. When Blacksad goes to the shipyards, he finds out that the painting is bound for an art exhibition in East Berlin. Blacksad manages to re-route the painting to Australia.

As Blacksad prepares to travel to Niagara Falls, the FBI arrests him and plant fake evidence in Litvak's death. He is interrogated by the demagoguic Senator Gallo about Otto's current location. After he is released, Blacksad confronts Gotfield and learns that he betrayed Alma in order to win Senator Gallo's patronage and become part of a selected group of people who will be evacuated to a special government shelter in the event of a nuclear war. Finding proof in Gotfield's safe, Blacksad uses it to blackmail Senator Gallo into dropping his frame-up. The government fakes Otto's death and allows him to leave the country. Blacksad gives the proof to Weekly in a sealed envelope, with instructions to publish the contents if anything happens to him.

The end of the album is bittersweet. Otto writes Blacksad a letter, explaining that he has returned to Germany and is helping re-build a post-war community. Alma, however, abandons Blacksad after she reads the (fake) story in the newspaper that Liebber committed suicide after Blacksad turned him in. In her mind, Blacksad is now as much a traitor as Gotfield. Blacksad tries to find her again, but she has vanished.

A Silent Hell[edit]

The fourth Blacksad album is a murder mystery set in the jazz scene of New Orleans. It has been translated into several European languages and released in the United States by Dark Horse Comics as Blacksad: A Silent Hell.

Blacksad and Weekly travel to New Orleans to meet Faust LaChapelle, a failed musician who found success signing more talented yet less fortunate musicians to record labels. They learn that LaChapelle has terminal cancer, and is being treated by Ms. Gibraltar, a vodou priestess. LaChapelle begs Blacksad to find Sebastian "Little Hand" Fletcher, who – despite having one arm smaller than the other – was the most successful musician he ever signed. Fletcher has gone missing, and LaChapelle is concerned that his addiction to heroin has something to do with it. Blacksad and Weekly accept the case.

The pair soon meet Leeman (a hippopotamus), the last detective who was hired to find Fletcher. He proposes they all work together, but Blacksad is put off by his reckless driving and alcoholism. Blacksad tracks down and roughs up Fletcher's drug dealer, who admits that a masked individual paid him to sell poisoned heroin to Fletcher. Later, Blacksad meets LaChapelle's son, Thomas, who has formed a friendship with Fletcher's pregnant wife, Hannah. The two get on well until Thomas asks Blacksad to give up the case for his father's sake; he believes Fletcher is a bad influence, and his father is wasting his money trying to find him when he could be saving it for his cancer treatment. Disappointed, Blacksad walks out.

Later, Blacksad finds Thomas and Hannah as she gives birth to Fletcher's son. Despite Thomas' insistence that he leave her alone, he questions her as to her husband's whereabouts. Hannah states that Fletcher was supposed to perform his newest song that night, but that LaChapelle had been enraged when he found out. Meanwhile, Weekly discovers that some of Fletcher's friends seem to have been mysteriously murdered in staged suicides, causing Blacksad to fear that someone might be after Sebastian's life as well.

At a nightclub, Fletcher performs his new song, detailing how he had become congenitally deformed and many others had died due to a carcinogenic flu balm that was being sold in his hometown by the mysterious "Dr. Dupre", and how bureaucratic payoffs kept Dr. Dupre from prison once he was found out. LaChapelle saved them from poverty by signing them all to a successful band. However, the afflictions eventually caught up with them, leading them to lives full of addiction and death; now, only Fletcher is left to tell the tale.

Blacksad discovers that Leeman is responsible for killing Fletcher's friends, planning to blackmail LaChapelle with the truth of what happened in Fletcher's hometown. When Blacksad confronts LaChapelle in his house, he confesses to being Dr. Dupre and admits that he is suffering from rare genetic disorder rather than cancer. He has been investing money in medical research to find a cure, so that his son might one day have healthy children to carry on his legacy. It's also implied that he had the drug dealer poison Fletcher to prevent him from performing the new song that would ruin LaChapelle. Weekly appears and urgently informs Blacksad of Fletcher's whereabouts, but Blacksad arrives to find that Fletcher has died of the strychnine-laden heroin.

Afterwards, Blacksad sees Thomas and Hannah at Fletcher's funeral, and they nod to each other in respect.

Amarillo[edit]

In this fifth Blacksad album, Chad, a writer, travels the road as a vagrant with his on-again off-again friend Abraham, a poet. Abe views his vocation more romantically than Chad, who sees writing as his career and a means to money, and Abe accuses Chad of not having a true passion like he does. Abe takes his collection of poems he was about to publish and burns them, and encourages the appalled Chad to do the same with his next novel's manuscript- to give it a "proper ending."

Blacksad is happy to be taking a well-earned vacation, staying behind in New Orleans for a while, while Weekly returns home to New York. He lands a side-job when a rich Texan asks him to drive his prized car to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he is flying. Blacksad accepts, enjoying the free roadtrip. At a pit-stop, two hitch-hikers (who we see are Chad and Abe) steal the prized car and Blacksad, with the help of a street gang, motorcycle after them, hoping to catch them on their way to Amarillo.

Meanwhile, Chad and Abe party with Abe's friend, Billy—a mobster. In front of all of Billy's friends, Abe humiliates Chad by saying he's afraid of the cops and has no guts, forcing him to prove it by shooting a shotglass off of Abe's head. Chad can't do it, however, and the entire bar laugh at him. Later on, into the wee hours, Chad, Abe and Billy sit smoking, drinking and talking. Abe drops into the discussion that he's mailed Chad's manuscript off to some place in Asia, and Chad is instantly infuriated—that novel was his ticket out of the vagrant life, and out of relying on Abe to live. Billy and Abe laugh, until Chad finally takes the gun from earlier and shoots Abe out of vengeance. Horrified, Chad flees in Blacksad's prized car. He crashes it into a post box, and retrieves his manuscript.

Blacksad parts ways with the bike gang in Amarillo and runs into Neal Beato, a litigious, suspicious lawyer while he woos a potential client into suing his boss, a circus owner, for replacing him unlawfully. Overhearing their conversation, Blacksad suggests they are after the same person, and they travel to catch up with the circus where Chad is indeed working. Meanwhile, Chad struggles to fit in, and makes friends with one of the performers, a beautiful and mysterious psychic named Luanne, but is warned about becoming close to her by one of the clowns, the massive and imposing Polyphemus. Later that night during a performance, before Luanne is to go out and perform her act, Chad catches Polyphemus sexually harassing Luanne and while Chad and him fight, she stabs him in the neck. It's an uproar as the circus members apprehend the fleeing Chad and after the show finishes, decide the best way to deal with the tragedy is to abandon Chad and Polyphemus' body in the wilderness. Luanne however has tagged along unbeknownst to them and she and Chad escape on the road, to repay Chad for not ratting her out and with mutual thanks they catch a train to start a new life—but Elmore, the circus leader, finds out they've escaped.

Blacksad and Neal make a stop at Blacksad's sister's church, and borrows a car from her and her enthusiastic little son. Eventually the both of them catch up with the circus. Blacksad questions Elmore about Chad, but Elmore lies and betrays Blacksad to the police. After escaping, Blacksad follows and eavesdrops on Elmore as he tries to kill Chad by throwing him off the moving train, however Elmore misses and plummets to his death. Blacksad sees Chad and Luanne embrace, and realize what has happened.

At a Greyhound Bus depot in Chicago, Blacksad and Neal arrange for Luanne to stay with Blacksad's sister for a while. Neal promises to represent Chad and get him off with less than a year for the manslaughter of Abe, and help him publish his manuscript—the fabulous payout from Chad's manuscript will make both of them rich. However, out of guilt, Chad has thrown the manuscript away, comparing it to toilet paper. Neal is outraged, and their loud arguing attracts a crowd. Chad tries to stop Neal from walking away, but in grabbing his coat, accidentally imbalances Neal into the road and he is violently hit by one of the buses. Blacksad runs to the ensuing commotion and sees Chad, distraught, holding the bleeding and broken body of Neal in his arms. While the crowd murmurs that Chad pushed him, Neal's last words mention how he fell in love with Blacksad's sister from the moment he saw her. Blacksad and Chad flee. He finds Luanne as she is about to leave and insists Chad go with her, and lie low for a while, while he deals with the police. Blacksad approaches, and is about to be handcuffed... when Chad stops them, and confesses everything, hoping to atone for what he's done.

Blacksad returns to New York, eager to get back to work, and water his plants. Meanwhile, in a bathroom stall back in the Chicago Greyhound Bus depot, a well-to-do man finds an abandoned manuscript in the bathroom, and is engrossed in reading it.

Commentary[edit]

A 'behind the scenes' book has already been compiled, with author commentary.[7]

Film version[edit]

In 2006 Variety reported that a movie adaptation of Blacksad was in development. To be produced by Thomas Langmann and directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk), it was originally scheduled for a 2009 release. Alexandre Aja, (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) had also expressed interest in directing the film,[8] which was reportedly budgeted around $100 million.[9] However, the project never went into production and there has been no mention of it in the press since 2008.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Interview with Juan Díaz Canales[dead link]
  2. ^ "Overview of Blacksad". Guiadelcomic.com. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  3. ^ Publishers Weekly – Eagerly awaited: BLACKSAD coming from Dark Horse 6 Aug 2009, Retrieved 15 September 2009
  4. ^ "Angoulême International Comics Festival – Prize for Artwork". Toutenbd.com. 20 February 2007. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  5. ^ "Sierre International Comics Festival – Prix de la Découverte". Archived from the original on 9 May 2005. Retrieved 2006-11-22. 
  6. ^ Sauriol, Patrick (8 April 2004). "2004 Eisner Award nominees announced". Mania.com. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  7. ^ "Blacksad Volume 3 – The Sketch Files". forbiddenplanet.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  8. ^ "Mr. Beaks And Alexandre Aja Get into The Gory Details of PIRANHA 3-D!". Aintitcool.com. 18 August 2010. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  9. ^ Hopewell, John (25 January 2008). "Langmann launches edgy schedule". Variety. 

External links[edit]