BLACKSAD: Amarillo recently won the “Premio Nacional de Cómic 2014” in Spain, the highest comics award in that country. In addition, writer Juan Díaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido have won two Eisners, and a worldwide audience, both in Europe, and in America now that Dark Horse is distributing them. And I’m trying to figure out why.
BLACKSAD: Amarillo isn’t a bad comic. It’s very competently done, both the writing and the art. The main ‘thing’ is that all the characters, while existing in a sort-of 50s America, are animals. Or, they have animal heads and human-ish bodies, except for the bird-people, who are more birdy in body. The main character is John Blacksad, a black cat who is, well, to be read as a black man. I don’t think the creators intended the kind of obvious-to-us-americans street-slang jive word play about him being a cool black cat. Or maybe they did. In any case, that’s the stock character he is: A noir-ish private investigator, ex-FBI.
All of which I didn’t know going into it, since I didn’t realize this was a series. There weren’t any ‘fill-me-in’ clues for new readers, so don’t be mad I just gave you some spoilers—you’ll thank me later.
This installment of BLACKSAD takes place in the American Southwest, with Chad, a writer (and another cat) based a little on Jack Kerouac, with one published novel under his belt, and another one in scroll form, that he needs to drop off to his agent, who is also his lawyer, or a lawyer, and may or may not actually care about Chad as a person, but who hooks up with John Blacksad as they try to track down Chad, who seems to just have bad luck and get mixed up with some bad folks. Except Luanne, a circus employee, who is also—you guessed it—a cat.
The artwork is fine. The animal-characters are interestingly drawn. It’s just that I don’t find the whole people-as-animals shtick new or unique. Ditto the story. It’s vaguely interesting to see how Europeans view, or mythologize, America and the 50s era, when all the cool people were on the road and/or in noir detective stories, but it’s also kind of derivative. John Blacksad is kind of blah: a nice guy, or trying to be a good guy while meanwhile just kind of drifting. Ditto Chad. The ‘moral’ of the story could be about taking responsibility for one’s actions, and that’s fine, but, again, it’s been done.
The only interesting thing is that the main female character, Luanne, doesn’t really take responsibility, and seems to be fine. Because, you know, females don’t have to do that stuff. Or, they don’t even think about it. But that’s not really explored, Luanne’s just kinda there as a sexy-cat prop for Chad and John, and so fulfills her role as the traditional femme fatale. Yawn….
Three stars is still ok. Like I said, there’s nothing bad here. Keep in mind that this is $18 for a 64-page hardcover book. Maybe request this one from the library.