Detective John Blacksad returns in Blacksad: Amarillo (finally in English!). He’s still in America and this time we learn more about his family, his values and how far passion can drive a person.
BLACKSAD: AMARILLO HC
Writer: Juan Díaz Canales
Artist: Juanjo Guarnido
Translators: Katie LaBarbera and Neal Adams
Letterers: Tom Orzechowski and Lois Buhalis
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Previously in Blacksad: Blacksad finished up an adventures in 1950s New Orleans filled with jazz, voodoo and Mardi Gras in a book subtitled A Silent Hell.
THE GREAT WIDE WORLD
The third graphic novel by Juan Díaz Canales starring feline detective John Blacksad has finally come to the English language! Fans of the series will find that Blacksad: Amarillo HC picks up not long after the events of A Silent Hell. True to its mystery novel format we begin with two completely new characters – Abe, a bison, and Chad, a lion. They are both writers with comparisons to be drawn between Abe and Neal Cassady and Chad and Jack Kerouac, but more as inspirations than director correlations. Chad is the more successful of the pair and, as a result, much less confidence in the quality of his own work, it’s validity and it’s truth.
We catch up with John and sidekick Weekly for the first time in Blacksad: Amarillo HC at the airport in New Orleans. John is broke and determined to get some work in his homeland under his own steam, not to be indebted to anyone. With his easy charm John manages to catch a gig driving a businessman’s (who is actually a giant anthropomorphic steer), car back to his home in Amarillo, Texas.
Thus begins the real drama of Blacksad: Amarillo HC. Chad and Abe are on a multi-state trek to deliver Chad’s latest book to his publisher, be on the road and learn a little bit about the American experience. Childish even for their adult years they engage in petty acts of vandalism and theft which crosses their paths with John Blacksad’s and soon the detective is in hot pursuit of the young artists – and let me tell you, John Blacksad has never appeared so stunningly American as standing astride a motorcycle.
Abe’s appearance in Blacksad: Amarillo HC is brief and Chad spends the majority of the graphic novel hiding and trying to atone for his sins. In a truly American move he seeks asylum-cum-employment in a traveling circus and, before long, is mixed up in the affairs of a beautiful cat woman – Luanne – with a dramatic history of her own. Both Chad and Luanne are good people who have sloughs of bad choices laid out behind them and when they come together are both hoping to wipe their slates clean with one good deed. Unfortunately for the pair, character wind up dead in their wake.
As with Blacksad’s own character development (including a nice scene in Blacksad: Amarillo HC where we meet his sister, a single mother, and her adorable son), Canales proves himself a masterful storytelling by peppering this graphic novel with emotionally and morally complex characters. They fail, repeatedly, and despite the fact that Blacksad: Amarillo HC has an objectively happy ending it is difficult not to wonder if John, Chad or Luanne will ever find themselves content.
As with the two volumes preceding this, Blacksad: Amarillo HC is an utterly compelling story with complex, real characters … who happen to be anthropomorphized animals.
A special credit needs to be given to translators Katie LaBarbera and Neal Adams for making Blacksad: Amarillo HC read as if it was originally written in English.
STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL ART
Juanjo Guarnido brings every bit of talent he has to Blacksad: Amarillo HC – a graphic novel populated with the aforementioned anthropomorphized animals. The species of animal assigned to each character is clearly well thought out and mean to say something about the type of character they are and purpose they serve to the overall narrative. Chad, for example, is a lion. Male lions are majestic and beautiful, but not good hunters and not particularly aggressive compared to the females of the species; Chad is handsome and talented, but lacks confidence or extreme self-control.
Everything down to the colour of the characters fur is telling. The titular character in Blacksad: Amarillo HC, for example, has black fur. His feline sister has black fur and they encounter characters throughout the graphic novel (set in the 1950s version of the United States), that have issues with “coloured” or “black” characters.
It’s just stunning to see such a thoughtful, well-developed world that is stunningly beautiful. Guarnido’s style speaks to his experience working with Disney, but also his unique perspective. The world of Blacksad: Amarillo HC is vibrant and colourful, every nook and cranny teaming with the life and intrigue that makes these books such compelling reading.
THE BOTTOM LINE: GO TO AMARILLO
Blacksad: Amarillo HC is a perfect third installment in the Blacksad saga. Every member of the creative team is firing on all cylinders and Anglophone comic book readers should consider it a privilege to be able to read a graphic novel of this caliber.