What do you get if you cross Disney with film noir? It’s the kind of question that you may have thought would never be asked, let alone answered, but comics comes to the rescue in Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad.
Guarnido is a former Disney animator of some repute, having worked his way to lead character animator in Disney’s now disbanded French studio, and the style and skill of a world-class animator is evident in every panel of Blacksad. All the characters are humanoids with the heads of animals, and Guarnido has further humanised all his creatures by blending their faces with human characteristics, which lets him display a stunning range of emotion. But little reference is made to this, except that the characters might conversationally refer to their noses as snouts or their skin as fur. Canales’s script could just as easily be written for humans.
Three of the original Blacksad albums are collected in this edition. The first is an absolute belter, in which feline private detective Blacksad gets involved in the investigation of the murder of a Hollywood starlet and former lover. The second and third stories aren’t quite so strong but develop Blacksad’s world further. First we see a far-right politician try and turn his country against people with black fur – an interesting take on racism given that it’s not the species of creature that counts, but the colour of its fur. The final story takes another political stance, seeing a McCarthy-style Communist witch-hunt with a nuclear threat looming in the background. The first story feels by far the most expertly crafted and a true homage to noir.
The style and craftsmanship of Guarnido’s art is the biggest draw here, though. It feels like it’s had the budget of a Hollywood animated movie spent on it. However, the genre is fabulously decadent, and the book’s themes and content are adult in nature, with sex, violence and nudity throughout. This feels like it would never get properly translated into film and it’s this uniqueness that makes Blacksad such a treat.