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Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Tuesday, July 10 2012 and posted in Reviews

The English-language translation of the next volume of the European noir masterpiece Blacksad comes out tomorrow from Dark Horse!

Comic Review Cover

Credits & Solicit Info:

Detective John Blacksad returns, with a new case that takes him to a 1950s New Orleans filled with hot jazz and cold-blooded murder! Hired to discover the fate of a celebrated pianist, Blacksad finds his most dangerous mystery yet in the midst of drugs, voodoo, the rollicking atmosphere of Mardi Gras, and the dark underbelly that it hides!

* Features an extensive making-of section, with tons of prelim sketches and watercolor studies.

* 2011 Eisner and Harvey Award-winner!

* The first Blacksad collection is already in its fourth printing and approaching 20,000 copies sold!

Blacksad is back!


Writer: Juan Díaz Canales
Artist: Juanjo Guarnido
Genre: Graphic Literature, Crime
Publication Date: July 11, 2012
Format: FC, 112 pages; HC, 8 3/8" x 10 7/8"
Price: $19.99
Age range: 16
ISBN-10: 1-59582-931-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-59582-931-3


"Mardi gras had ended two days earlier, but I was getting the feeling that people in this city wore their masks all year long."

When the first English-language translation of Blacksad came to American shores via Dark Horse comics last year, noir fans were thrilled with what they saw.  A hard-boiled mystery story that featured all the tropes of the noir tradition filtered through the lens of an expressive talking animal book, Blacksad was one of the more solid reads of the year. 

The second book, Blacksad: A Silent Hell, continues the stories of feline private eye John Blacksad and his woman-loving sidekick Weekly.  Hired to track down a missing jazz pianist in mid-century New Orleans, the two end up embroiled in a twisting mystery that leads them to uncover tragic secrets of a near-forgotten past.  It's a pretty standard noir story that's rendered in beautiful, lively watercolors.  The New Orleans setting provides a rich environment for Guarnido to really cut loose and create distinctive and very real locations grounded in a tangible reality.  A Silent Hell is really a story that's about its setting, and the atmosphere really lives in its milieu.  It's a story that's set against the jazz scene of 1950's New Orleans, but without any sound effects, the colors and panel-to-panel storytelling brilliantly connote the music that's in the air.  In fact, the storytelling comes through largely in the artwork.  Juan Díaz Canales' script stays out of the way enough that Guarnido is able to convey the world and action entirely through visuals.  If nothing else, Blacksad is a triumph of storytelling through color and design (the hardcover contains over thirty pages of Guarnido explaining his process, complete with color and lighting studies). 

In addition to the page design, what's truly remarkable about the storytelling is how lively the characters are.  Guarnido never gets overly cartoony with the artwork, but his consistenly expressive figure work really carries the script's well-defined characters.  Those characters interact with each other in a solid space and convey emotion so effectively that the story moves along in a wonderfully compelling manner.  It looks lush and gorgeous, and it pairs up really well with what Canales is doing with the script.  His noir plot is familiar and doesn't break much new ground, but the story he's telling is about more than that.  In composing an authentic setting, Canales focuses on not only the jazz music scene of the city and era, but with great subtlety he synthesizes Voodou, mid-century racial tension in the American South, drugs, social injustice and of course, violent action.  It's a noir story that would make Dashiell Hammet take notice.  The tough-guy protagonist gets suckered into a world that shifting alliances and shady characters who are never what they say they are.  There are secrets behind every door, and John Blacksad feels like he's always standing on shifting sands. 

Ultimately, Blacksad: A Silent Hell is a tragic story of a man lost in a world he never had a chance in.  Sebastian, the piano player Blacksad Blacksad is hired to track down, is a sad figure who's been a victim of one institution or another his entire life.  When Blacksad gets involved in his situation, it reveals a lot about the type of man (uh, cat) he really is.  But Blacksad, like Sebastian, can only live in the world he's stuck in, so victories aren't always assured, and are rarely without some bit of messiness.  That's exactly what makes A Silent Hell so engaging narratively, and the execution of this idea is simply masterful.  It's truly a beautiful book, and one that lives up to its many forebears in both the noir and talking animal traditions. 

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Advance Review: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Review by: Royal Nonesuch

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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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