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Blacksad: A Silent Hell
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2012
Blacksad is a comic album series created by Spanish authors Juan Díaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist), and published by French publisher Dargaud. Though both authors are Spanish, their main target audience for Blacksad is the French market and thus they publish all Blacksad volumes in French first. A Spanish edition usually follows about one month later. Now the most recent adventure of John Blacksad has made its way into the English language. Comic fans will love it.

Rendered in a film noir style, the stories are set in late 1950s America. All of the characters are anthropomorphic animals whose species reflects their personality and role in the story. Animal stereotypes are often used: for example, nearly all of the policemen are canines, such as German Shepherds, Bloodhounds, and foxes, while underworld characters are often reptiles or amphibians. Attractive female characters are sometimes depicted as cats. Well, wny not?

The strip puts forth a dark dirty-realist style. The artwork uses clean, realistic lines. Very detailed watercolor drawings, including real-life places and cities, contribute to the realism and arresting (no pun intended) nature of the series. Nevermind the fact that characters are animals.

John Blacksad, for those as yet uninitiated, is a hardboiled private investigator in the New York of the 1950s. He is also a big black cat. Blacksad was raised in a poor neighborhood and spent much of his youth running from the police. Now he helps them. Sort of. Weekly is Blacksad's occasional sidekick. Weekly is a weasel who doesn't much like soap and water and has an odor problem. His nickname comes from rumors about him only changing his underwear...weekly. There's also Smirnov, Police commissioner and friend of Blacksad. Smirnov is a brown German Shepherd who sometimes helps Blacksad.

The knowledge of US culture and New York design is stunning. Neither creator is old enough to remember it. They are nothing short of brilliant. And subtle. I love this series. But you already knew that.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 3, 2012
Mid-20th century N'Orleans and Detective John Blacksad is in the Big Easy, hired by the suggestively named Faust, the owner of a popular music label to track down Sebastian "Little Hand" Fletcher, a wayward jazz pianist and the star of the label whose heroin addiction may have gotten the best of him. But as Blacksad investigates the characters' murky lives in this outwardly jovial town, he finds the place riddled with corruption and murder, a bloody trail leading from the poorhouses to the highest levels of power. But there's a killer on the streets and the air is filled with mardi gras and voodoo... and time is running out.

For those new to this series - and really, you can just start right here rather than pick up the previous book - this is the world of Raymond Chandler and James Cain; that is, noir. But with animals. Every character is an animal-headed humanoid doing the things humans would normally do. And the book does hit all the noir buttons - the gritty detective, the dames, the drugs, the smoky bars and boozy nights, the fights and deaths and guns. If you love noir, comics, and animals this is your book.

But my problem with this book, like the first book, is the lack of originality in the characters and story. Blacksad is your average gumshoe: he's tough, he's street smart, he's tortured and angry - and he's unoriginal. Same goes for every character in the book. The evil rich guy, his entitled smug son, the working class depicted as honest, salt of the earth heroes, and so on. And the story of finding the pianist is barely touched on because it's over really soon and the subplot of the masked killer is easily solved by page 3 - it's as obvious to figure out as an 80s Columbo TV movie where the bad guy is always the most famous person in the cast. Then the real story begins which takes the form of a staple of the noir genre - the abuse of power and the corruption it brings. The private eye against those in power, the little guy versus the big guy! Etc...

The finale of the book is a poorly chosen plot point mainly because it relies heavily upon an artistic form comics cannot replicate: music. I won't go too much into it but suffice it to say that not since Alan Moore's atrocious "LXG: 1969" has there been such an unconvincingly written use of music in a comic book. And it's anti-climactic, coming off as more than a bit contrived. It may have seemed poetical in the planning of this story but reads very clumsily in the execution.

The art is faultless and every page - every panel! - is a master-class in illustration. From the simplest of scenes like Blacksad interviewing a drug dealer in a run-down bar to full page street scenes, Juanjo Guarnido brings it every time. For a noir story, the New Orleans in Mardi Gras setting gives Guarnido the chance to inject glorious amounts of colour to the normally muted stories of Blacksad and he takes full advantage of the newly opened up colour palette for this story, producing page after page of first class art. The full page street scene of the carnival in full swing is a page I would love to buy as a picture to hang on my wall. It's so detailed and full of mini-stories in the enormous cast of unknown characters living in that page, you'll find yourself happily pausing the story to examine the scene in the detail it deserves.

"A Silent Hell" is a slimmer volume containing one story while Dark Horse's previous Blacksad book had three. Dark Horse have beefed up the page count by including a 50-page "making of" commentary by Guarnido who walks the reader through the steps he took in creating this story. While the book is well produced with high quality paper and the artwork is gorgeous, I felt the book was overpriced for what is essentially a 54 page story plus two 2 page short stories. The additional 50 pages of behind the scenes material is really only going to appeal to the devoted fan rather than the casual reader who probably won't be as interested in finding out how Guarnido decided to draw a particular scene. It's inclusion seems to be Dark Horse's justification for charging so much for the book.

While this is a beautifully illustrated, well produced book, look beneath the surface texture and the story and characterisation is lacking nuance, originality and true intrigue. It is an average detective story that is fairly interesting but lacking the integral qualities that would make it a great comic book. In the end it is a pretty but insubstantial and forgettable read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2012
Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido do it again in the new Blacksad story, "A Silent Hell." They lead the reader on a journey through a crime story that is filled with the same amount of complex twists and turns of a much longer novel or film. This can be confusing at times but makes for a fun read for the attentive reader. I spent a lot of time flipping back and forth between pages, just as I would in a crime novel, in order to retrace clues and reassemble the flashback intensive narrative. Not only do they lead the reader through a well-written narrative but an artistically dazzling one. This may be Juanjo Guarnido's finest Blacksad work. Of particular note is the opening striptease scene, a barroom brawl and a chase sequence that culminates in a Mardi Gras parade. His skill is further demonstrated in his surreptitious placement of characters in the background that serve to illustrate Blacksad's process as a detective and invite the reader to do some work of their own. I also enjoyed the references that evoke past works of the crime genre, including a quotation attributed to Jean Paul Sarte, which links the work to Camus' "The Stranger" in its existentialism. The scenes between John Blacksad and Faust are also reminiscent of the opening scene of "The Big Sleep," when Philip Marlowe meets General Sternwood in that ridiculously hot greenhouse. My only complaint is that I wish this volume contained two stories but the back up features, including a look at Guarnido's process and 2 two-page short stories make the shorter length a little more tolerable. In conclusion this is a great hardcover collection of one of the best comic books being published. I can't wait for the next one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2013
I'm not the biggest fan of detective fiction. I mean, I enjoy The Maltese Falcon as much as anybody, but it's not a genre I make a point of seeking out (though perhaps I should). What I'm saying is that you don't have to be a hardcore genre fan to get the incredible appeal of Blacksad, one of the best comic series running today.

Blacksad himself is the just this primordial kind of cool: always getting into situations that are seemingly too big for one cat to handle, always having tragic love affairs, he wears cool clothes, he likes Jazz.

I want to make special mention of the artist on this series, Juanjo Guarnido. This has to be the most gorgeously rendered comic art I've ever seen. Each page is an overwhelmingly beautiful painting, and it avoids the danger that that can entail: namely, that it becomes a bunch of beautiful but static images, not working in sequential form. That's not the case with Guarnido, as these paintings are moving! His work as an animator (for Disney) is in full display, as the action erupts from panel to panel, and the emoting from the characters (both facial expressions and body language) are superb.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2013
Blacksad: A Silent Hell is the fourth novel in writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido's collaborative noir series that revolves around Private Detective John Blacksad, a black cat. The Blacksad series would most likely be classified as "funny animals" due to its cast of furry, feathered, and scaled characters, but it is anything but "funny". The series is the Spanish interpretation of American Film Noir from the 1940's and 1950's. Film Noir is classified by lead characters usually being a private investigators, moody settings, and the mystery at the center of the story. Blacksad has all of the above, with noir (or black) even being in the title character's name. Blacksad is very cinematic in quality, and reads just like a film. In fact, I am surprised there has not been an attempt to adapt any of these stories to film or television, as they are perfectly suited for it.

The novel is riddled with Film Noir tropes, like shadowy locales, neon-lit streets, murders, mysteries, plot twists, and seedy characters that give the reader a tour of our familiar society's unfamiliar underbelly populated by the criminal and the corrupt. Canales and Guardino crafted some of the most beautifully illustrated and sharply written noir that I have seen in any medium. The use of animals as characters is deceptive, because it could lead some to assume these novels are lighter fare, appropriate for young audiences, but that would be underestimating the maturity of its gritty subject matter. The author himself calls into question whether we, the readers, see his use of animals as symbolism or typecasting, and it makes for an interesting dynamic to analyze why characters are presented as the specific animal they are.

The animal characters are meant to be representational of human characteristics and personality traits. In the introduction to the American translation of first novel, Blacksad (which technically contains the first three Spanish novels), Canales claims that he wanted his characters to be people who resemble animals, and not the other way around like your typical zoological animation where animal characters are personified. The funny animal subgenre can open you up to all kinds of creative ways to tell a story, and Canales uses this quite well. The introduction also referred to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", the 1988 Robert Zemeckis film where cartoon animals are at the center of a noir story. The comparison is apt, because I cannot think of many other noirs with animals, and even that film does not consist solely of animal characters. So, Blacksad is something unique and inventive, as far as I know.

The image and text interplay throughout the novel is intriguing right from the start, and especially on the last twelve pages as the plot twists are revealed and the loose ends are tied. One particularly interesting contrast near the beginning (page 8) as we see a dancer undressing with captions of what "Hell" means to the person giving the internal monologue. In typical noir fashion, our lead gives many internal monologues, done mostly with non-sequitur transitions as characters' captions appear over unrelated scenes. But the vast majority of the story is done vey cinematically, with lots of action-to-action and scene-to-scene transitions. Entire scenes are bustling with activity and life (page 13, for example). There are also scenes with slow build ups that explode into action like in a Quentin Tarantino film (pages 16-17). Guarnido's expressive artwork serves these moments perfectly.

The layout remains Traditional/Conventional all the way through. Your focus is certainly meant to be plot-intrinsic, and not distracted by creative and fancy layout structures. Such layout structures are not even necessary when we are provided with such high quality art. The artwork is so beautiful that I contemplated on several occasions whether, or not, this is the best comic book art that I have ever seen. High praise for sure, but well deserving in many instances. After the story concludes, there is a section in the graphic novel dedicated to Guardino discussing his methods for the art, and particularly his use of water colors and how his style developed into him using it.

He said he switched from ink and satin paper to water colors and grainy paper after the second Blacksad novel because it offered more control and cleaner movements than traditional ink and paper, and you can tell. The fluidity of the story and the movements of the characters are natural, and unlike any other comic book art I have seen. Reading the novel, I had no idea that each panel was painted, but it makes perfect sense. Being noir, the use of color is significant for setting the tone of the scene and the mood of a particular location. On page there is a full page panel of the main character chasing a villain through a Mardi Gras parade that encompasses an entire city block. It is a sight to behold because the page is rippling with vivacious hues that represent the traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras purple, green, and gold. What is especially satisfying about the page is that we are able to locate both the villain and Blacksad at different ends of the page, because of what they are wearing.

There were quite a few times that I found myself hesitating to move on because I wanted to just soak in the immense detail of the artwork. As much as I hate to say it, I think the artwork is the true star of not only this novel, but the entire series. The writing is top notch, and the characters are very well developed, but there is just magic in Guarnido's hand-painted panels. To say I highly recommend Blacksad: A Silent Hell, and its predecessors, is an understatement. These novels are essential for anyone who is a fan of Film Noir and enjoys reading graphic novels. Along with stories like Frank Miller's Sin City, Ed Brubaker's Criminal and some of the best of Batman, I would say that Blacksad is my favorite noir available in the comic medium. In my youthful ignorance, I am sure I have not read many other titles deserving of mention, but hopefully I will eventually. For now, Blacksad is some of the best for your money.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2013
This hardcover edition features the fourth Blacksad story and a lengthy discussion of the artwork (specifically the coloring) from the artist. There are overlapping characters, but the stories are stand alone and you don't need to have read the previous ones. That said, the first three stories are available in a single collection and are well worth seeking out.

Blacksad is a classic noir private detective, who just happens to be an anthropomorphic cat. Don't let the world populated by animals fool you - Canales and Guarnido present harsh, hard boiled tales told against grim backdrops with nuanced characters. It easily on par with other excellent anthropomorphic works like Usagi Yojimbo (a black and white samurai epic) and Lackadaisy (a speakeasy/prohibition story).

New Orleans is the setting for John Blacksad's latest adventure, with voodoo and jazz permeating every panel. The story, centered on a missing person's case, is well done and nicely layered. The flashbacks are a bit confusing on occasion since it's not always immediately obvious one has started, but this tale picks up as it goes along and everything comes together by the end. The characters are nuanced and engaging and keep interest high as events unfold.

As with the previous stories the art is INCREDIBLE. The muted color panel is a perfect compliment to the story's atmosphere, uses a wide array of hues for impact and contrast, and really couldn't be any better.

While there is only one story here, the 35 page section from the artist of intermediate images with discussion is very interesting and a great supplement. There are also two "short stories" (2 pages apiece) to close the volume. They are very good and surprisingly memorable for their length,

Overall another great noir style story with amazing art. Recommended.
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on October 23, 2014
Bookworm Speaks!

Blacksad: A Silent Hell Review.

by Jaun Diaz Canales and Jaunjo Guarnado.

The Story: Blacksad and his friend Weekly are on vacation in New Orleans and also on the case. Assigned to locate a pianist who has gone missing, Blacksad and Weekly stumble into a dark underbelly of drugs, corruption, racism, and murder, all beneath the glittering surface of Mardi Gras.

The Good: The artwork is absolutely stellar, once again. The atmosphere of New Orleans, at least from the perspective of an outsider seems right on the money for the time period. One scene in particular, where Blacksad and Thomas Lachapelle are having lunch outside under a tree really stands out. Rather than simply drawing a dark area to represent the shade of the tree, the artist draws the shadows of the leaves and branches themselves, just like what would be encountered in the real world. The amount of skill and patience required in order to pull a feat like this off really illustrates the artist’s skill.

Atmosphere is an important part of any media, especially comics and novels and it is right on the money with a Silent Hell. The candlelit chambers of Madame Gilbraltar, the dark and gloomy settings of dive bars and Hannah’s apartment, the bright, sunlit settings of the streets of New Orleans, the narrative is given time to breathe which is critically important and an undervalued skill, especially in comics, and Silent Hell nails it.

Furry fandom tends to be put down by the higher echelons of culture, the not completely inaccurate assumption being that it is the domain of fetishists and immature cartoonists. That kind of work definitely exists but Blacksad in general manages to surpass all of that and really become a serious tome. Especially in regards to the quixotic nature of the African American that was present American culture during that age and than many say still remains to this day. On the entertainment scene, they received some manner of respect. The majority liked them for their music or their athletic prowess, they probably were good sources of income, but outside of the theater they were treated as second class citizens, which in a very real way they were.

In addition to the main story, the book offers a behind the scenes sketchbook of A Silent Hell. Bookworm really likes things like this. The story behind the story. The commentary is really insightful and offers a glimpse into the world of a comic book artist. If there is one fault with it, is that it is only from the perspective of the artist and not the writer, which would be very interesting.

The Flaws: One of the strengths of the this work is how, despite starring anthropomorphic animals, for the reasons stated above, always transcends its reputation. This is weakened however in the character of Weekly. Weekly’s antics are much more cartoonish than the other characters and contrast with the dark setting of the story. Weekly is intended to be comic relief for the main character but it would be nice to see him be taken a bit more seriously in later volumes.

The main flaw with Silent Hell is a problem that faces a multitude of modern graphic novels: the non-linear storyline. According to the creators, Silent Hell takes place over the course of a single night. It is very difficult to see that, the saving grace being that the writer knew how to sync up the present and past in a way that was coherent, but this a trend that needs to be revamped. There is nothing wrong with beginning, middle, and end in that order.

Some of the short stories at the end don’t make a lot of sense. They are a little too short, especially the second story. Mostly they are just Blacksad’s musings on society. Poetic perhaps, but not exactly what Bookworm is looking for in a hardboiled detective story.

Final Verdict: Blacksad A Silent Hell, is a worthy fourth volume to this wonderful series, with new characters and new setting that is a colorful as it is deadly.

Four out of Five Stars.

thecultureworm.blogspot.com
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on August 26, 2013
If you were lucky enough to have read the first Blacksad volume (Blacksad, Artict Nation and Red Soul), you will love the second volume (if you were not lucky enough, go get the first AND the second volumes, now!).

This volume contains one long story (A Silent Hell) and a couple of short ones. Silent Hell is set in New Orleans, more on the jazz scene of the city in the 50s, following Blacksad and Weekly tracking Sebastian "Little Hand" Fletcher, a jazz prodigy and heroin addict. All the noir elements of the first album are there, and the fantastic art of Juanjo Guarnido. Cannot give all the details of the story (it is a detective story, for Pete's sake!), but if you ever liked Marlowe, or Sam Spade, there is no way you will not fall on your knees with Blacksad.

The short stories explore some more intimate aspects of The Cat, both some of his political attitudes, as well as one of his few friendships. Little pearls, which ornate the main story.

There are, moreover, Guarnido sketches and different attemps to convey a scene at the end of the story. It is quite interesting to follow the various alternatives he explored in terms of light and color until he got the one actually used. Great to see an artist at work.

So go get your copy (the iPad version is OK, but nothing compares to the real thing), and, if you do not have the first one, go get it too and tell me if it is not one of the best thing that has appeared in comics in a long, long time.
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on December 4, 2012
I have loved every Blacksad story to date, and this volume was no exception! Juan's vision, from storytelling to the packaging of the tome, is top shelf. The only reason A Silent Hell gets 4 stars instead of 5 is a personal one: I liked, but didn't love, his move back into watercolors. That's it...no other reason. It IS still gorgeous work, and a sizable portion of the back part of the book explores an almost page by page breakdown of his coloring process that is educational, entertaining, and interesting as Hell! Highly recommended, my friends!
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on December 27, 2014
I am writing in review of the entire series. If you like noir stories and timeframe, this is your book. All the characters are realized and humanoid animals (human bodies, animal faces). That sounds horrible and unworkable- and it is not. This book absorbs its material and makes you believe that detective/noir comics can only be told from this perspective.

The art and writing are exceptional. I give this comic to jaded comic readers who think they have read it all. They are amazed.
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