If you are still looking for a late Father’s Day gift (and it’s never too late), here is a series of fantastic adult comic books for the man of the house.
Blacksad is the co-creation of the Spanish writer Juan de Díaz Canales and the Spanish illustrator Juanjo Guarnido. The best American comic out there, inspired by the Noir films and themes of 1950s America, is written first in French for the French market and then translated into Spanish and English, usually much later. Let’s call it a paradox.
Blacksad is a black cat in an animal-shaped world; he is also a private detective. Fur color, race, nuclear paranoia, post war refugees, great jazz, cigarettes, guns, alcohol, and several femme fatales complete the picture.
The first book, Somewhere Within the Shadows, first appeared in 2000 published by Dargaud. Blacksad investigates the murder of the famous actress Natalia Willford. Iguana- and rat-shaped thugs, an influential frog called Statoc, and several policemen mark the classic story of someone with power believing he is above law and ethics because of his status. The comic, with great depictions of characters and scenario, won several prizes in France. Guarnido worked for Marvel and was in charge of animating Sabor for the Tarzan Disney movie, so you can imagine the quality of his work.
The second volume, Artic Nation, was published in 2003. Interracial violence and racial segregation of the 1950s in a pseudo-American suburb very far north are the main themes. Blacksad is looking for a missing girl named Kaylie. She may have been kidnapped by a racist political organization called Arctic Nation. Their members are all white-furred animals: there’s Karup, a polar bear who is also the local police chief, and Huk, an arctic fox who is leader of the group. There is an equally violent counterpart called the Black Claws. As an adult comic, the volume deals with serious issues: murders, beatings, lynching, and sexual tension. It won the Angoulême Audience Award and Angoulême Best Artwork Award in 2004.
The third in the series, Red Soul, appeared in 2005. It is the most widely known, and it captures perfectly the Red Scare–meaning both the nuclear fear and communist menace of the time. There’s Blacksad’s old school teacher, Otto Liebber (an owl), who is a nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize candidate. There’s a wealthy leftlist, Samuel Gotfield (a Dalmatian), and his fiancée, writer Alma Mayer. Blacksad falls in love with her almost instantly, and during a murder investigation and assassination attempt concerning Otto, promises to meet her at Niagara Falls. However, he can’t find her; Gotfield has betrayed her to the FBI in exchange for Senator Gallo’s patronage and to become part of a selected group of people who will be evacuated to a special government shelter case of a nuclear war.
A Silent Hell also appeared in 2010. The French cover follows the main color theme of the series: the first cover was black, the second one white, the third red, the fourth blue, and the fifth yellow. It is a murder mystery set in the jazz scene of New Orléans, Blacksad and his sidekick Weekly (a weasel) travel there to meet Faust LaChapelle (a goat), a failed musician. They learn that LaChapelle has terminal cancer, and is treated by Ms. Gibraltar, a voodoo priestess. LaChapelle begs Blacksad to find Sebastian “Little Hand” Fletcher (a Boxer), who was a successful musician addicted to heroin.
Amarillo—that means yellow in Spanish–appeared in 2014. It follows the misadventures of a beatnik poet and novel writer, Chad (a lion), and his friend Abraham (a bison). Blacksad is happy to stay in New Orléans 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. He accepts, enjoying the free road trip. Chad and Abe steal the prized car, and Blacksad, with the help of a street gang, motorcycles after them, trying to catch them on their way to Amarillo. The book follows a murder soon enough, with Chad hiding in a circus and falling in love with a beautiful and mysterious Siamese cat called Luanne.
Each book has a main theme, a very classic story, and wonderful interior paintings. The anthropomorphic features of the characters are chosen to best describe their “human” qualities and work perfectly with each story. Guarnido won an Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior Art) for the Blacksad series in 2011.
Featured image by Guarnido, Photo courtesy Dark Horse Comics