One of the most excellent comics announcements to come out of you-know-what was the news that Dark Horse will be reprinting all three volumes of BLACKSAD by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido in a deluxe oversized volume. The first two BLACKSAD books were published here by iBooks a while back, but with iBooks having gone into bankruptcy, these became highly sought after. Getting the full series reprinted was in limbo, but now Dark Horse has ridden in to fix that right up.
BLACKSAD is best described as hardboiled detective tales with an anthropomorphic cast, but with a darker side and social criticism mixed in. The real star is Guarnido’s art, which is some of the best stuff out there (the series has won over a dozen European awards). He worked extensively on several Disney films, and his art has the best qualities of that brand: indelible character designs, flawless storytelling and the attention to mood and place that is the hallmark of the great European comics. The series is hugely popular in France and Spain, and we can’t wait to read the whole thing in English.
And as you also point out, it has a different flavor than the usual “funny animal” titles. I devoured the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics while growing up, am an ardent fan of Usagi Yojimbo [fist-bump of UY solidarity], and look forward to digging into Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge at some point, which is widely recognized as genius work. So in no way do I think that the visual trope is without fundamental merit. But each of these prominent books follows more of a cartooning tradition, and Guarnido’s realism is ultimately rooted in caricature. What he does in Blacksad transcends anthropomorphism–a boxer is literally a gorilla, a cold-hearted villain is an actual reptile–to the extent that the term “anthropomorphism” itself feels backwards; he’s not giving animals human-like qualities so much as he’s giving his human cast animal-like qualities. (Which would be what, bestepomorphism?) However you want to describe it, the result is creative alchemy, as the title’s “holy grail” popularity can attest.