Blacksad Vol. 1: Somewhere Within the Shadows

Written by Juan Díaz Canales
Art by Guarnido
56 pages, color
Published by iBooks

A couple of years ago, a friend returned from a trip to Spain with several graphic albums he’d picked up, and there was one in particular that stood out: Blacksad. With its amazing art and noir sensibilities, I knew that I absolutely had to own this graphic album. The only stumbling block for me to really enjoy it? I don’t speak Spanish. Thankfully, with an English language edition of Blacksad now available, I don’t have to invest in that new foreign language class after all.

John Blacksad’s a private investigator whose past has just caught up with him. An old flame has died, and Blacksad is determined to get to the bottom of the case. With the police leaning on him to drop his investigation, though, will he be able to discover who murdered Natalia? Or will her killers find him first?

In terms of story, Blacksad is actually pretty unremarkable. Blacksad wanders around asking questions, suddenly gets attacked, and is all but lead to the killer. There’s no actual sleuthing going on here, which was a little disappointing. In many ways, Juan Díaz Canales’s story is really only here to service Guardino’s art, to try and provide some sort of narrative to link the art in some sort of coherent order. It certainly does that, and it tries to add in some real intrigue with anagramed-names and secret deals. It’s just ultimately a disappointment because it just doesn’t live up to one’s expectations.

The same can’t be said for Guarnido’s art, though. It’s utterly gorgeous, to put it mildly. Each panel looks like an animation cell, with its gorgeously sharp drawings and colors. In many ways it reminds me of classic Disney movies, where humanoid animals are used as people without any need for an explanation or particular “clever” takes on them being animals. For all intents and purposes, these are people… that Guarnido just likes drawing as animals. But oh, how he draws them! Everything is perfect, from their ’50s-styled outfits to the expressions on their faces. There’s such a great level of character design here, with each species picked to perfectly match their character, from the traits of that animal to the sorts of expressions they’re going to need to have on their faces. Even the backgrounds look fantastic, with an amazing amount of detail packed into every location, be it an office or a street. Guarnido doesn’t take anything for granted here, making sure flashbacks and shoot-outs alike each have their own distinct look and feel. If you feel like I’m overusing the word amazing, that’s only because you haven’t seen just how great this art is.

Was it worth the wait for the English-language Blacksad? Absolutely. Sure, the story didn’t knock me over with delight, but it was nice to finally see exactly what happened in the book. More importantly, though, it means that I’ve got an inexpensive edition of this gorgeous book, and everyone else now has that opportunity as well. With high print quality in an attractive format, this is going to be the sort of book where one look and you’ll be hooked. With a second volume hopefully on the way later this year, you’ll be rushing back for more of Guarnido’s amazing art. Whatever he draws, I will buy it, and so should you.

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