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'Blacksad' vol. 4 is out

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Wow! I just realized that Blacksad vol. 4, ‘L'enfer, le silence’ (‘Hell, Silence’ or ‘Hell is Silence’), set in New Orleans in the 1950s, was published almost a year ago in France (17 September), and nobody on Flayrah has reported it yet!?

It's not in English yet, but still... You can order it on Amazon.fr.

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I must guiltily admit to having a copy since April and I still haven't gotten around to reading and translating it. Lots of things going on in my life ... I can give it a cursory going-over next week (this week's impossible) and post my impressions, but it deserves a thorough sit-down, slow read as I fumble for my dictionary whenever colloquialisms show up. Unfortunately other things have kept popping up.

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Yeah, I had known of its release but... still waiting on the translated version ^.^;;;

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You can duplicate the effect of Blacksad just by watching an old film noir -- and I don't mean that as an insult -- and mentally imagine all the characters with animal heads. The Criterion Collection recently released the hard-boiled, nuclear-paranoia classic Kiss Me Deadly on DVD, may I recommend that? It might amaze the young 'uns here what a movie made in 1955 could get away with in terms of violence and brutality.

Seriously, no-one's disputing the talent of Blacksad's writer and artist, but what's the big furry deal about it? It's what might be called 'Hepcats Syndrome' -- the furriness exists on a wholly superficial level, with no thematic or allegorical weight derived from it (unlike, say, Maus), and straightforward cliche species (eg, a fat, slobbish bartender who's a pig). Note also how Blacksad himself is supposed to be feline but it's not like he can see or hear in the dark better than anyone else.

Your rating: None Average: 3.7 (3 votes)

(TL;DR version - What may be superficial story-wise, isn't necessarily without artistic merit; the comic is good in some respects and less so in others.)

Oh, it's completely superficial, no doubt about that. There's the occasional bit of animal symbolism and word play but not much else. There are lots of works where you could replace the cast with human characters with minimal loss - the new Thundercats cartoon being a recent example; make up some different fantasy ethnicities and there you go.

The inclusion of an animal theme boils down to being just another method of telling a story, going all the way back to old fables and legends. For a modern furry audience, it's like icing on a cake. "Here's a movie about a fat kung fu wanna-be who has to master martial arts really quickly - and it's got an anthropomorphic tiger and snow leopard in it, yay!" Making a big deal out of the superficial icing even though the underlying cake has been made before, that's the way the fandom goes.

For my own part, I sometimes get bothered by superficial animal themes too, and want something deeper. Like in text stories, there'll be the occasional mention of tails, paws, whiskers, a sense of smell, whatever. Unless the underlying story is really good, it doesn't do much for me. Then there are books that put animal characters in a context where the animal theme is an important part of the world-building, like Watership Down and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Then there's the occasional situation where a fan-produced work is not that great, and relies on its furriness for its popularity within the fandom. (Ecch.) In the end, it works down to what works for the audience, which is frequently irrational - for Hepcats, I heard good things about it, but there was something about the artstyle that I really didn't like when I tried to read it, and I've never been much into college dramas, so I stopped.

Anyway, back to Blacksad. When I got the first French book, the preface lauded it for being "original", which it was anything but. The stories in Blacksad have never been its strong point. The first book's plot is quite shallow; I think it served mainly as a means to introduce the feel and the style of the books that followed.

And even though the subsequent books have had better plots, there's been a theme of Blacksad getting some faint glimmers while following his investigation - then important stuff happens outside his sphere of observation. Without using any special detective skills, he ends up in a situation where he inadvertently hits the informational jackpot, and only then does he make the connections. In the first book, he hits a dead end, gets beat up, and by luck the bad guy's ex-flunkie comes to him and tells him who the bad guy is. In the second book, he's not sure what's going on and lucks out by threatening a blind person who leads him to a white supremacists' meeting. In the third book, the mystery of who's trying to kill his friend is completely abandoned, and he lucks out by knowing where his friend is probably hiding, who spills the beans to him about the mistakes he's made during his life - not much detective work there.

What counters this is that the artwork is really top-notch. There's a strong funny-animal comics and Disney influence to the artstyle, to be sure, and the quality of its execution is really high - in watercolor on top of that - not the easiest medium. The straightforward cliche of a fat, slobbish bartender who's a pig is the whole point. The artist thinks, "I want to show that a character is a fat slob, using an animal - how can I go about that?" A big part of Blacksad is about expressing what a person is like, using animal caricature. It might be for indicating temperament (a mouse for shyness), physical build (a gorilla boxer), or an artistic challenge ("I wonder how much I can express using different reptiles?"). The comic appeals more to people interested in art than in story, without a doubt. In a larger context, in the world of French comics publishing, it's quite the exception, which made it additionally distinctive. Most French "animalier" comics are cartoony fluff aimed at kids.

Finally, one of the main stylistic elements of the hardboiled detective genre is that when you first meet a character, they're described very quickly, usually in one paragraph like in this example by Dashiell Hammett: "A small-boned woman of twenty-five or -six opened the apartment door. Her powder-blue dress was trimmed with silver buttons. She was full-bosomed but slim, with straight shoulders and narrow hips, and she carried herself with a pride that would have been cockiness in one less graceful." It's shallow, superficial, and the character may be given more depth later on, or it could be left at that. Blacksad does the same thing, except it uses animals for the same purpose.

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the furriness exists on a wholly superficial level

The superficiality is a hallmark; if you need your furry to have a point, then you're missing the point. "Allegorical weight" has been done; if there is an artistic statement being made by furries and furry art (and the creator of Blacksad, admittedly, is not really a part of the movement, but doing something similar outside of it), it is that furry characters do not need to be allegorical to be worthy of application to "adult" genres.

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I notice that online sources are reporting that Dark Horse Comics has announced a new Blacksad volume, "Blacksad: A Silent Hell". So I guess volume four is finally getting an English-language release.

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics