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 and thus they publish all Blacksad volumes in French first; the Spanish edition usually follows about one month later. 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 album was delayed due to the bankruptcy of its North American publisher, iBooks. In 2010, Dark Horse Comics published all three translated albums as one volume. The publication of this 184-page collection also coincided with the European release of the series' fourth installment, L'Enfer, Le silence (literally The Hell, The Silence), in September, 2010.
Although it was the creators' first comics endeavor, the first volume was an immense success, selling more than 200,000 copies in France alone. 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, Serbian, Slovak, Swedish, and Turkish.
This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. (August 2011)
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. Attractive female characters are sometimes depicted as cats.
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.
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.
- John Blacksad - hardboiled 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 confesses that his nickname comes from rumors about him only changing his underwear weekly), he has a near-constant optimistic attitude, working as a muckraker for a tabloid called the What's News.
- Smirnov - Police 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'.
Somewhere Within the Shadows
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. The rat quickly dies, and Blacksad 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 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.
This volume deals with inter-racial violence and racial segregation of the 1950s in a pseudo-American suburbia 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.
Beginning with a black vulture hanged in a street, Blacksad meets his future sidekick, a least weasel called Weekly. Blacksad rejects him at first due to his unpleasant smell, and because Weekly mistakes him for a fellow tabloid journalist.
Blacksad is working for an old elementary school teacher, Miss Grey (a doe), to find and rescue a young bear girl, Kyle (in some editions Kayleigh), who was kidnapped, quite possibly by "Arctic Nation", a racist political organization similar to the Ku Klux Klan.
After becoming friends with Weekly through the latter's persistence, Blacksad is harassed in a bar by three Arctic Nation goons (resulting in one of them being thrown into the bar counter). Their leader, a white Arctic fox called Huk, turns out to be a close friend of the local Chief of Police, Karup (a polar bear). The pair is taken to Karup and he is shown to have some racial prejudice himself.
Blacksad subsequently confronts Kayleigh's mother, Dinah, about her daughter's disappearance, which she has mysteriously failed to report to the police. He suggests an affair between herself and the son of Oldsmill, a rich white socialite. This line of inquiry was prompted initially by Miss Grey. Dinah takes great offense at the insinuation, casting doubt onto its validity as a lead. In the following scenes, he and Weekly clash with a black activist organisation - the "Black Claws"—themselves originally accused of Kyle's abduction, and similar in their tough reverse racism to Malcolm X's doctrines. They force Weekly to publish a statement denying their involvement in the kidnapping. Blacksad then decides to follow the Oldsmill lead, but discovers that Oldsmill's son is mentally handicapped (the result, it is suggested, of the Oldsmill family's endogamy), and thus unlikely to have had an affair with Dinah.
In the meantime, Weekly investigates the activities of Karup's wife, Jezabel (again, a 'white' bear), discovering her affair with Huk and her emotional meeting with Dinah, in which she appears to blackmail Jezabel by threatening to reveal 'what she knows'. This compounds suspicion on Karup, already rumoured to be a paedophile. Blacksad then returns to Dinah's apartment to find her dead. At this point, suspecting Karup of the murder, he confronts him and his wife, whom he accuses of adultery. 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 (complicit in the abduction and threatened into co-operation) leads Blacksad to an Arctic Nation meeting in a derelict war factory where Kayleigh - and Weekly, also having been abducted - are hidden. Blacksad saves Weekly from a gibbet after Karup is betrayed and hanged himself by Huk, supposedly for kidnapping and child abuse. As the factory burns and Cotten is shot dead by Huk, Blacksad rescues Kayleigh, along with Weekly. Later, he finds Huk dead in his garage - with a screwdriver through the brain.
The book's finale sees Blacksad cornering Jezabel after her husband's funeral, proving, through a matching birthmark, that she is Dinah's twin. Jezabel clears up the loose ends: her father was in fact Karup, who had abandoned her black, pregnant mother to die after being turned by the racist doctrines of the Oldsmill set. However, Jezabel's mother lived long enough to raise the twins, and, fueled by revenge, Jezabel ascended 'white society' under a false identity, eventually marrying Karup, but refusing him any intimacy (in a bizarrely platonic Electra complex). With Dinah hired as their maid, Jezabel seduced and manipulated Huk, using him to carry out the fake kidnapping, thus capitalising on the rumours of Karup's pædophilia. Huk also spontaneously murdered Dinah 'to make sure she kept her mouth shut'; and so in the aftermath of Karup's hanging, Jezabel in turn killed Huk by way of vengeance. Blacksad meets up with Miss Grey and compliments her on her dedication towards the neighborhood's children. After the two say goodbye, Blacksad finds Kayleigh sadly staring at him, and he stares back sadly as well. The book concludes by highlighting Kyle'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 Kyle, 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.
Is based firmly shortly before 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 meets his friend Smirnov with his family. He finds a leaflet for An Energy for Peace, a lecture given by his old school teacher, Otto Liebber (an owl) a nuclear physician and Nobel Prize candidate, supported by the rich, young, dynamic, idle communist Samuel Gotfield (a dalmatian) and his titular scientific research foundation.
However, all is not going well for Liebber and the Gotfield Foundation; the lecture hall is mobbed by anti-communist rioters and Blacksad takes an instant dislike for Gotfield, who makes a mockery of the lecture. He also meets Gotfield's fiancee, writer Alma Mayer, who reacts frostily to him. Gotfield invites him to a party at his luxurious coastal mansion where Blacksad meets the so-called 'Twelve Apostles' - twelve Leftist intellectuals who gather near Gotfield for protection from the Witch Hunt: Greenberg, a beat poet, photographer Dora, Klein the sculptor, actor Bill Ratcliff and scriptwriter Jess Logan, Russian painter Sergei Litvak, accomplished chemist Laszlo Herzl and Ms. Mayer herself. After Blacksad grudgingly saves a drunken Gotfield from drowning, with the help of Liebber's close friend Otero, Herzl angrily accuses Liebber of promoting nuclear weapons, ending the 'party' on a poor note. When Otero gets back home, he is killed by a mysterious gavial assassin. It seems he actually meant to kill Liebber.
Blacksad and Alma - who will soon marry Gotfield, planning on a honeymoon to Niagara Falls—begin to have feelings for each other. Blacksad decides to become Liebber's 'Guardian Angel', following him and observing him. Soon he saves Liebber from a car bomb, planted at a garage entrance by the same gavial, but despite a destructive leap through a pane of glass and brutal hand-to-hand combat, he fails to stop the goon from escaping and Liebber disappears from the scene leaving just a wrecked DeSoto.
From Smirnov, Blacksad learns that the gavial is a highly-regarded hit man known as Ribs, and that his bomb was uncharacteristically chemically complex. Suspecting that Herzl the chemist might have hired Ribs to kill Liebber out of professional jealousy, Blacksad confronts Herzl. To his surprise, Herzl is a Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, who shows him photographic proof that Liebber used to work for the Third Reich. (The story never resolves who hired Ribs.)
Stricken with this new information, Blacksad seeks solace from Alma, but before they can meet, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrests her and other Apostles as communists, inexplicably betrayed by Gotfield. When the FBI agents visit Litvak in his art studio, they accidentally kill him after injecting him with truth serum to try to find out where Liebber is. Liebber, meanwhile, has returned to his old neighborhood (where Blacksad also grew up), only to find it overcome by poverty and his father's church in ruins. Suffering a personal crisis, Liebber hides at the city aquarium, where Blacksad once hid as a child.
Blacksad intercepts the FBI agents before they take Alma away and rescues her, taking shelter in Weekly's apartment. Falling in love with Alma, Blacksad promises to take her to Niagara Falls, which none of her previous husbands ever managed to do, and which to her is an important act of commitment. Blacksad then finds a fatalistic Liebber at the aquarium. Liebber admits to a lifetime of failure, trying to improve the world and reduce suffering, only to make the wrong choices and leaving the world worse than before. His last sin was to follow Litvak's advice: that to maintain the balance of world peace, both Russia and the United States would need to have nuclear bombs - and Liebber has been supplying Litvak with the information for the Russians.
Hoping to minimize the damage, Blacksad visits Litvak's studio only to find his dead body. Realizing that Litvak had copied Liebber's information onto a canvas and then painted over it to disguise it as a work of art, Blacksad goes to the shipyards, where the painting has been loaded onto a boat bound for an art exhibition in East Berlin. It turns out Litvak had made two copies of the painting entitled "Red Soul", one of which would return to North America after the exhibition, while the other copy (containing Liebber's information) would remain behind for the Russians' nuclear program. Blacksad re-routes this painting to Australia.
As Blacksad prepares for his trip to Niagara Falls, the FBI agents arrest him and plant fake evidence to frame Blacksad for killing the painter. Senator Gallo himself interrogates Blacksad, trying to find out where Liebber is hiding. When Blacksad refuses to cooperate, Gallo points out that his fingerprints were found in Litvak's studio and that he is likely to die in the electric chair if he refuses to cooperate. Blacksad is then released.
Blacksad visits Gotfield to find out what made him betray his friends and move into Gallo's camp. Since Gotfield is rich, Blacksad deduces that Gallo must have offered him something money couldn't buy, and this turns out to be the case. Gotfield is now one of a selected group of people who will be evacuated to a special government shelter in the event of a nuclear war. The main criteria for selection is being a friend or supporter of Senator Gallo.
Finding a list of names along with a description of this plan (called 'Project Noah') in Gotfield's safe, Blacksad uses it to blackmail Gallo. Blacksad is not blamed for Litvak's death, and the government fakes Liebber's death and allows him to leave the country. Blacksad gives the list of names to Weekly in a sealed envelope, with instructions to publish the contents if anything happens to him.
The end of the comic is bittersweet. Liebber writes Blacksad a letter, explaining that he has returned to Germany where he is happy again, helping a community rebuild itself after the war, and is teaching children to read and write. Alma, meanwhile, gives up on 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.
The Hell, the Silence
The fourth Blacksad album is a murder mystery set in the jazz scene of New Orleans. It has been translated into several European languages but has yet to be released in the United States.
Blacksad and his sidekick Weekly travel to New Orleans to meet Faust LaChapelle, a failed musician who found success signing other much more talented but less fortunate musicians to record labels. They soon find out that LaChapelle has terminal cancer, and is being treated by Ms. Gibraltar, a Voodoo Priestess. He begs Blacksad to find Sebastian, who, despite being known for having one hand smaller than the other, was the most successful, talented, and renowned jazz musician he's ever signed and who has gone missing. He is afraid his addiction to heroin has gotten him into trouble, or worse. Blacksad and Weekly accept the case. They meet Leeman, the last detective LaChapelle had hired to find Sebastian who had failed. He proses they all work together, but Blacksad is put off by his obvious drinking issues and they part ways on a sour note.
LaChapelle's estranged son Thomas, a businessman, had formed a bond with Sebastian's wife Hannah after he was signed and was busy performing, amongst other distractions. He and Blacksad get on well at first, but eventually he asks Blacksad to give up the case for his father's sake; Sebastian is a bad influence having left his pregnant wife in Thomas' care, and his father is wasting his money trying to find him again when he could be saving for treatment for his disease. Blacksad walks out, disappointed in Thomas' request.
Later, Blacksad finds Thomas and Hannah who has just given birth to Sebastian's son. Despite Thomas' insistence that he leave her alone he questions her as to where Sebastian is, and she tells him that Sebastian's turned his life around for her and their son and that he isn't a drug addict anymore. Meanwhile, Weekly finds that some of Sebastian's friends seem to have been mysteriously murdered in staged suicides, and Blacksad fears someone might be after Sebstian's life as well.
Detailed in Sebastian's new song, he sings of how when he was a child, his town was cursed by a horrible affliction that caused many miscarraiges and left many newborns congenitally deformed. In reality, a cure-all pill was being hocked there by the mysterious "Dupre" that was carcinogenic, but bureaucratic payoffs kept it from being shut down. Sebastian and his friends were part of a band of these "cursed" children, and when they would have otherwise led lives of poverty due to their afflictions, LaChapelle signed them all to a successful band. Soon, the effects of their sickness caught up with them, each of them coping with it in different ways... drugs, booze, or worse, and now, those who have made it are mysteriously being murdered, leaving just Sebastian left to tell the tale. Meanwhile Blacksad is wrapped up with a bit more detective work, and he discovers Leeman has been the one offing Sebastian's friends, and finds out that he has fixed to have Sebastian sold poisoned heroin and is gambling on Sebastian shooting up with it after his performance.
A very sick LaChapelle confesses the story to Blacksad that he is Dupre, the medicine manufacturer, and it was that medicine he developed which gave him cancer as well. Weekly appears and urgently informs Blacksad of Sebastian's whereabouts, and Blacksad runs as fast as possible to the lounge where he is playing... but is too late. Sebastian couldn't resist his drug, one last time.
Afterwards, Blacksad sees Thomas and Hannah at Sebastian and LaChapelle's funeral, and they nod to each other in respect.
A 'behind the scenes' book has already been compiled, with author commentary.
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, which was reportedly budgeted around $100 million. However, the project never went into production and there has been no mention of it in the press since 2008.
- Interview with Juan Díaz Canales[dead link]
- "Overview of Blacksad". Guiadelcomic.com. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
- Publishers Weekly - Eagerly awaited: BLACKSAD coming from Dark Horse 6 Aug 2009, Retrieved 15 Sept 2009
- "Angoulême International Comics Festival - Prize for Artwork". Toutenbd.com. 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
- "Sierre International Comics Festival - Prix de la Découverte". Archived from the original on 2005-05-09. Retrieved 2006-11-22.
- Sauriol, Patrick (April 8, 2004). "2004 Eisner Award nominees announced". Mania.com. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
- "Blacksad Volume 3 - The Sketch Files". forbiddenplanet.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
- "Mr. Beaks And Alexandre Aja Get Into The Gory Details Of PIRANHA 3-D!". Aintitcool.com. August 18, 2010. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
- Hopewell, John (2008-01-25). "Langmann launches edgy schedule". Variety.