Tag: Blacksad

Holy Crap You Guys Major Backlog! (Part 3, European Artistes—and Other Stuff)

by on Jul.26, 2012, under Comics

I said when I reviewed the first American collection of Blacksad stories that the thing elevating Blacksad over any other anthropomorphized animal private-dick story was the absolutely stunning watercolor art by Juanjo Guarnido. That continues to be the case in this long, standalone story Blacksad: A Silent Hell, which brings Blacksad down to New Orleans. Appropriately, the second half of the volume is a long essay from Guarnido in which he explains in detail how he manipulated light, color, shading, and much more to create specific effects in each of several impressive panels. Highly recommended if you love comic book art and want to see how one of the best approaches his work.

Preview here.

The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy is a similar case—another European comic where I like the art the best—but it’s the first comic I can think of where the most striking work is turned in not by the artist whose name goes on the cover, but by the colorist. I can’t think of another comic where I even noticed the colorist.

In Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy, though, colorist Santiago Villa is working on a level I can’t even understand. Juan Cavia’s black-and-white drawings were very good to start with—you can see pre-colored examples in the back of the book—but Villa has turned them into something extraordinary. It’s like noir computer animation. I have no idea what process he’s using.

The stories author Felipe Melo tells through that art are fun, too. PizzaBoy loses his scooter to gargoyles and hires paranormal private dick Dog Mendonça to get it back, which leads to one insane adventure after another across and beneath Lisbon. Nazi zombies, that sort of thing. The jokes are funny even in translation, so kudos to translator Raylene Lowe too.

Preview here.

Shooters is one of the bleakest comics I’ve read in a very long time. The marketing blurbs and preface to the book make it out as an attempt to write something positive about the security contractors who worked in Iraq, and I have no doubt that’s the book co-author Eric Trautmann intended to write. In trying to show the reader how a decent military man might come to sign up with a mercenary crew, though, what he and Brandon Jerwa actually did was write a step by step account of a man watching his life completely fall apart.

Terry Glass’s absence during his tours of duty weakens his marriage and his PTSD when he comes home kills it, making him feel like a terrible husband and father. He tries to win posthumous honors for the soldiers who died beside him under friendly fire and fails. The majority of the book is him at home, slowly going to pieces. He signs up with a private security outfit because that makes him feel competent and useful, and gets a few weeks of doing good work in Iraq before everything falls apart on him again. He has a moment of epiphany then, but given all we have seen him go through it’s hard to believe his realization will bring him happiness or even much peace.

As I said, bleak as hell.

The best parts of Faith Erin Hicks’s Friends With Boys are the family character moments. Which on the one hand isn’t so surprising: Hicks was home-schooled alongside her three brothers until high school, and her book’s protagonist is a girl just starting high school after being home-schooled her whole life alongside her three brothers. She knows these people well.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s hardest to write convincing characters based on the people you know the best.

Somewhat weaker are the plots that she adds to the character mix. The kids’ mother has just left the family, which is an emotionally resonant conflict, but it doesn’t really connect to much action apart from a ghost story plot that feels like it floated in from a different book. Similarly there’s good motivating stuff about cliquishness and power dynamics in high school, but it’s largely wasted on a secondary character.

Overall pretty good, but not as great as it might have been.

Preview here.

Something is beginning to worry sci-fi writers. One episode of last year’s Brit miniseries Black Mirror imagined a perfect memory technology implant that records everything you see and hear for later playback. And Peter Bagge’s miniseries Reset, which just wrapped up, imagines a virtual reality simulation of a subject’s life, reconstructed through interviews and publicly available information. Our fetish for recording and sharing every detail of our lives pushed to extremes.

But what Black Mirror got right (and Reset doesn’t) is the insidiousness of putting the individual in nominal control of all this archiving and sharing. Bagge’s hero is a down-on-his-luck minor celebrity who signs up for a virtual reality test controlled and administered by others.

This is the second recent Bagge book to make science fiction from the internet age. (The other was Other Lives.) I get why he’s fascinated by these technological changes. I’m just not sure he really gets the details of how people interact with them emotionally. As a result, both of these attempts to deal with the big picture—in this case, of the potential for government surveillance of your entire life—feel a little off.

Also, because it’s Peter Bagge the main character is an aggressive, insecure douchebag. That’s always a hurdle with Bagge. Either you can stand his characters or you can’t. I like them, but I can certainly see why one wouldn’t.

Preview here.

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by on Feb.16, 2011, under Comics

The French mega-hit Blacksad doesn’t have wildly original characters or plots. It tells straight-ahead noir detective tales—in this latest American collection from Dark Horse, three of them—that aren’t anywhere near the best the genre has to offer. I mean, the character of Blacksad just can’t stand up next to heroes like Philip Marlowe or the Continental Op, detectives who were complicated, human, and flawed.

What Blacksad has instead are a knowing wink and great art. Here’s the wink: Blacksad is a man with the head of a cat! The police captain has the head of a dog! He’s up against villains with the heads of rats, frogs, and snakes! (Or, in the best of the collection’s three stories, polar bears and white wolves.)

All these are depicted in luscious watercolors that look like high-class versions of furry porn. It feels like a gag straight out of Disney (and Art Spiegelman), but artist Juanjo Guarnido executes it far better than any Disney movie of recent vintage. If his paintings were less expert I’d probably dismiss the whole book as a silly and none-too-original gimmick, but they’re so good they redeem every predictable page.

Previews here and here.

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