Sunday, June 17, 2007

In Review Of: Blacksad - Arctic Nation

Had the genuine good fortune of getting a couple of graphic novels for father's day, and the one that I want to review today is probably the least well known of all of them.

First off, lets get this out of the way: I'm not generally down with anthropomorphic animals. Don't really know why, perhaps it was Ty Templeton getting to me with his classic "Even Teddy Bears Get the Blues" story in an old issue of Critters, but it even was a central complaint of mine when Spiegelman did it in Maus, so i'm putting everyone on warning. It bothered me in Omaha The Cat Dancer as well, since you asked.

And I'm trying really hard to put aside for this graphic novel, since the story is straight up, with almost none of the cutsey crap that infects other anthro animal tales, and the artwork is drop dead gorgeous.

The skinny on the plot is something right out of Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe: Blacksad, the Private Detective, is in on a case on an ecomically depressed area of the city, one littered with racism, lies and corrupt cops. Something that is generally overlooked in the Chandler and Hammett writings is that they were very much products of their time in all ways, especially in the social and economic locales that they inhabit. People continue to think of Chinatown as the Jack Nicholson movie, when it really is a story about people who really run LA: the money, the power (or lack thereof), and the control that they have. Blacksad takes a case in "the Line", which is overrun with the animal versions of the Ku Klux Klan who have taken the depressed economy as leverage to gather others to their "white" side. Against all this, a child is missing: who might be kidnapper, and why?

The artist and writer, both Spanish, should have a lot to thank for this translation, with never gets too bumpy or incomprehensible in a convoluted murder mystery. And the reproduction makes Guarnido's art look beautiful, the fulfillment of all those poorly printed Heavy Metals from the '70's giving us a taste of what full color comics should look like.

I guess that should be raving over the work, since I'm a real sucker from someone who gets the roots of why noir works, as opposed the simply aping the trappings, and make no mistake Canales does, but my brain kept slipping out of gear on certain things. things like the scene where our hero, a black and white cat, is getting something in a bodega, when a gang of black anthropomorphic horses come in and beat up the storekeeper as well as a ferret reporter with Blacksad. They then turn on Blacksad, who has white fur on his face, and say "what happened to your face brother?" and I'm thinking, why would horses care about the white fur/black fur race issues of the cats? If we're really dealing with race issues, wouldn't there be disention among the cats over other animals taking their jobs? And how did the horses get on the same evolutionary plane as cats and ferrets anyway?

Am I thinking about this too deeply?

And yet, the rest of the story, the resolution of the story, has a gravitas to it that doesn't demand light reading, it is ready to bear the full dramatic weight that Canales and Guarnido can convey. And I don't want it to fall apart at the last minute becuase the animal metaphor doesn't happen to hold up on a scene or two.

Quibbles perhaps, but worth noting, since the last thing that I want to have anything jar me out of a story as compelling as this one. I'm now on the hunt for book 1 in the series. I have no idea how many shops have this one on their shelves, but its sure worth a look. Canales and Guarnido make a dynamite team.


hcduvall said...

I had the same reaction when I read this. I kept thinking, shouldn't it be carnivores and herbivores or something? Or African continent animals and European ones? I shrugged mostly until one of the reveals, where I just had to laugh. It's deadly earnest, but I just don't think it works, and to be honest, I feel like the story was sort of predictable, though well done.

I got over the anthropormorphic animals (even if inexplicably female animals tilt closer to human so they can be sexier), and you'd would probably like the first one, if you track it down. It's just beautifully done.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

thank you! And here I thought I was the only one. Yes, i agree with all the objections that you pointed out. And I hated to find myself pulled out from the simply gorgeous artwork and storytelling to end up thinking these things.

Nevertheless, I fully intend to search out hte first one. I'ts just too darn beautiful to not get, even with it's own subtle flaws.

Peter said...

I dunno guys, I think your thinking way too much about this. The Anthro approach is less about animal distinctions and more about their humanoid characteristics. "I kept wondering how horses got onto the same evolutionary path as cats..." All I can say is WOW! Literature has a lot more going for it than Literal distinctions; Anyone heard the word metaphor? The only problem I had with any of these books is the terrible English translation, which was uninspired at best. It seemed more or less transcribed word for word and didn't at all make an attempt at reinterpreting the material using English idioms. (Lone Wolf and Cub) being a great example of a proper translation. Granted the second volume was done better than the first. I've yet to read the third in English, but hopefully the upswing continues. Check out the sketch files if you can, it is essentially a dvd commentary of the entire first volume, not to mention it's full of beautiful draftsmanship.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

peter -

perhaps you're right, we are thinking waaaaaaaaaay too much about this, but damn the art is good and the story is good and i hate that i can't just shut off that one part of my mind that takes me out the story. If I just saw it as allegory, which i'm sure is how it was meant to be taken, than it might be easier to work with.

Be that as it may, i do have the sketch files, and I may be even more impressed by that than the finished work. the draftsmanship is amazing, and so beautifully done that it makes me feel ashamed for having a drawing board in my house. great stuff.