Blacksad: hardboiled detective fiction about anthropomorphic animals (no, really)

Spanish graphic novelists Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido created their hardboiled, anthropomorphic animal comic Blacksad for the French market in 2000, producing three full-length stories over the next five years (Spanish editions were published shortly after the French market). The individual stories have been published in English, but now, for the first time, Dark Horse has collected them all in a single volume.

In the hands of a lesser writer and artist, Blacksad would be a trite furry joke -- anthropomorphic cat/hard-boiled detective solves crime in an alternate America populated by other anthropomorphic animals. But Blacksad is superb: Guarnido uses the animals as totems, to expand the range of expression into expressive realms that make the story more gripping and immediate, despite the fantasy element. And Canales keeps puns and double entendres to a minimum, airbrushing in the faintest references to the animal natures of the players, to excellent effect.

The three noir stories here are classics of the form: in Somewhere in the Shadows, a rich and powerful man offs his lover and gets away clean; in Arctic Nation, white supremacist demagogues kidnap a poor girl; in Red Soul, the Communist witch-hunt overshadows a story of murder and betrayal. They could be straight out of Hammett or Chandler, but for the fact that the players on the stage are humanoid lizards, cats, dogs, bears, frogs, and so on.

The improbable fit between the grim theme and the silly conceit is what makes this such a standout, more than the sum of its parts. You won't be disappointed.



  1. For the record Blacksad is cult in France.

    Somehow this is very symptomatic of France’s culture of comic where you can find the widest variety of the world, by far.

    All 3 majors traditions are widely available (France/Belgium’s Bande Dessinée, America’s Comic, Japan’s Manga) but also it seems that there is a solid appetite for all secondary nations of comic (South America – esp Chile & Argentina, Spain, Italy etc…) And sometimes, those authors find in France a welcome that they couldn’t find in their country.

    France’s account for more than a third of translation worldwide (all type of books mixed). I always remind myself of it when I hear people that the “old” France is turning back to the rest of the world.

  2. I read this a few years ago, and it was excellent. For anyone who likes that style of story and/or art, it’s an excellent read, and I’ll probably have to pick up a copy to reread it all together.

  3. Blacksad is, imho, the very best of Franco-Belgian ‘bande-dessinée’. It’s just pure, raw talent made paper.

    Fun fact : Guarnido used to work in animation for Disney. You can tell from certain parts of his works (the mice maids, for example)

  4. This is what comics should mostly be in US, instead of these childish superheroes “stories” without originality or coherence.

  5. If you enjoyed this, you should find the novel “Gun, with occasional music”. Just a few antrhopoanimal characters, but quite memorable and well done.

  6. Interesting. Another comic that did a good job doing serious work with anthropomorphic characters was Usagi Yojimbo, sadly best known for a brief crossover with the Ninja Turtles (though early TMNT was actually pretty great).

    One recent issue of Usagi was on the topic of the Japanese tea ceremony, and the issue was nearly wordless throughout. Very meditative.

  7. “The improbable fit between the grim theme and the silly conceit…”

    Uh, isn’t this what “Maus” did over two decades ago?

    Not saying it’s bad (in fact I really like the idea of merging anthropomorphic animals with hardboiled detective stories) but it’s hardly a new concept…

  8. I second the “Gun, With Occasional Music” recommendation. Such a good book that no one has read. I wish Lethem would go back to his weirdo writing – his last two novels have left me cold.

  9. Oh yes, Blacksad is a masterpiece of comic art! Animals and facial expressions are used to bring across personality and body language perfectly. Here’s another review of the series that came out a few years ago. (Warning: furry site, clean actually.)

    A few notes about the Dark Horse reprint: This is the first time the third story, Red Soul, has been published in English. They’ve re-done the lettering and re-worded the earlier translations, and have done a really good job, especially in keeping the hard-boiled ‘tone’ of the narration. (In a couple of places they could’ve used better wording, but then I’m bilingual so it’s easy to nit-pick – Dark Horse has done a fine job.)

    Also, volume 4 of the series (in French) may be showing up in late September. Possible front cover art here, interior art here and here.

    The premise of it, roughly translated: “1950, New Orleans, where the Mardi Gras celebration is in full swing. Through Weekly, a music producer named Faust meets Blacksad. Faust asks him to handle a case: one of his musicians, a pianist named Sebastian, has disappeared. He’s not been heard from for months, jeopardizing a star’s private music label. Faust is concerned that Sebastian might have gotten caught up in drugs once too often. His concerns are all the more urgent, knowing that Sebastian also has cancer. John accepts the mission and gradually discovers that Faust has not told him everything. Realizing that he’s being manipulated, he still decides to find Sebastian to understand the reasons for his disappearance.”

  10. If you enjoy Blacksad, you may also appreciate S. Andrew Swann’s Moreau series. It has a similar theme.

    1. Swann’s Moreau books differ greatly from Blacksad in how and why they use anthropomorphic animals. In Blacksad, animal-people simply are, a graphic conceit for shorthand characterization and dramatic visuals, and the plots are standard noir fare. In Swann’s books, the animal-people are genetically engineered beings, created for war and other uses, trying to survive in a world that doesn’t much care for them, and the plots concern science-fictional conspiracies about the nature of the setting. Put differently: the stories told in Blacksad could easily be told with pure humans, but the Moreau books could not (there are human-looking genetic constructs, but they blend in too well for the story to work if they replaced all the animals). I enjoy both sets of works, but for different reasons.

  11. One of those cases where the furry fandom knew about this ages before because of that. But it’s a stunning book. Funny animal stuff from europe is almost always a good read.

  12. Nice!! I hope it will be easier to find the English version now that Dark Horse publishes it. I’ve had the French collection for years and really wanted my anglophone friends to be able to fully appreciate it. The artwork is simply breathtaking but the writing is also excellent.

    I really wish that ‘furries’ hadn’t hijacked anthropomorphic art as their turf. Anthropomorphic characters have always been used in clever, credible and sensible storytelling. Tons of great work have had animal or animal-like protagonists long before the furry movement, or that dumb TERM, even existed.

    Nowadays, the minute an artist uses animals as sentient characters, reactions invariably include allusions to how “the furries are going to fap to this!”. That’s a meme I wouldn’t mourn should it die a fiery death.

    1. And I wish there was no such misunderstanding of the concept of “furry”.
      Furries are people who enjoy anthropomorphism, and it often comes in many different forms, this novel being one example. Furries didn’t hijack anthro art, they are its fan base. They do sometimes produce crappy fan art, but some artists in that community create sensible art as well. That’s not much different from any fan base, really.

      Granted, there are a lot of quirky individuals in there too, but I think that counts for any fandom. It is only more visible for the furry fandom because the internet magnifies that part of it, for some reason. Those lulzy communities chose to pick on dodgy furry art rather than on adult Star Trek fanfiction, and the hatred and misunderstanding started there.

      1. I just think it’s divisive to come up with a term to segregate people who ‘like’ anthropomorphism. It wouldn’t bother me as much if so many people wouldn’t assume that someone is a ‘furry’ whenever an animal is featured as a protagonist, like it’s a de facto term.

        I am a ‘fan’ of anthropomorphism, same as I am a fan of any art featuring interesting characters and good storytelling (as opposed to crappy art and storytelling). There is no special group or term for people who happen to appreciate brown-haired protagonists, is there? I just don’t like whenever I’m being branded a ‘furry’ whenever I rave about a story that happens to have anthropomorphism in it. I also have to remind people no to say I do ‘furry art’ whenever I draw a sentient animal.

        Fandoms are usually associated with specific brands or genres (like Star Trek, Harry Potter, or Sci-Fi in general). Anthropomorphism isn’t a genre any more than ‘brown-haired characterism’.

        I’m sorry. I don’t want to be harsh on a fandom that you enjoy and understand. But since I happen to be an artist and older than the movement (the term ‘furry’ is relatively new), I remember a time when one could create a non-human character without it being labeled anything other than ‘a character’ or somehow being seen as actively endorsing a whole movement merely by drawing it.

        Now get off my lawn ;)

        1. Oops, I missed your point in the first post then. Sorry about that!
          Seen from your perspective, it does indeed make a lot of sense, and I understand where your irritation comes from. Thank you for putting it in context :)

  13. Does this have anything to do with those weird anthropomanimal threads over on /r/? Cause that would be bad. I’m not sure what those are all about. Big muscular animal headed hermaphrodites with fur, huge breasts and fully engorged members engaged in bizarre sexual acts.
    I don’t follow those. Seriously.

  14. Hmm… makes me wonder whether the great British graphic novelist, Bryan Talbot, had read this before he wrote the superb Grandville (which seems like a steampunk take on this).

    Has Grandville been mentioned here? I’d be surprised if you’d missed it seeing as how steampunk-obsessed you are all are!

    The sequel, Grandville, Mon Amour – is almost out… maybe time to take a look?

  15. Looks good. As Sekino, I am also a “fan” of anthropomorphism to some extent (Read a lot of Redwall growing up) and Blacksad looks intriguing.

    Somehow it reminds me of Lackadaisy, a work in progress webcomic that although significantly less serious than Blacksad, is amusing in it’s own right.

  16. I want to make some kind of appeal to authors and fans of anthropomorphic works outside the fandom in this space, or at least discuss the fandom further, but I can’t think at this moment. Bleh.

  17. The whole issue with furries( the people that obsess over it) is that they are trying to justify themselves by claiming popular niches as being examples of their “art”, which as anonymous posted, is not true. This is why they claim rights to great works like Blacksad, that not only do not represent them as are lessened in the eyes of prospective readers by the connection with the hypersexualized persons that obsess over it. You dont need to have anthros and sex, the same way you dont need to add sex to every cartoon with a anthro animal.

    At any rate, Lackadaisy and BlackSad are great.
    I would also suggest Northern Star.

  18. It makes me giddy every time I find someone else who likes Blacksad. They’re wonderful comics, and I’ve always thought it was a shame they were so hard to find in English.

  19. I read a fan translation years ago. It’s a fantastic comic.

    I wish a work like this could be recognized for its accomplishments without the absurd drama of the furry fandom coming out of hiding to pretend it had something to do with it.

    1. I would say it’s mostly non-furries that point fingers and make meaningless associations. Sure, furries like this kind of art, but that doesn’t mean it was made for them. This is not anthropomorphism just for the sake of anthropomorphism.

      See, how the association with furry sparks such debates? In other places (e.g. youtube comments – sorry, terrible example), it could quickly turn into a flamewar. It makes sense for anti-furry trolls to label random anthro-related things as furry and enjoy the consequences.
      Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying this is what happened here.

  20. Thanks. I will definitely be picking this up.

    People have already recommended Lackadaisy here; another artwork that I find uses anthropomorphic characters as part of shorthand-characterization is the anime Spring & Chaos, which is a biopic of the Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa. I thought it was a great explanation of what you get and what you give up when you try to pursue life as an artist. It is also neat to see an anime that deals with Showa-period Japan.

  21. my wife loves to rib me and call me a furry when i break out these books, but i’ve long held a deep love for Blacksad. Guarnido’s artwork on that title is hands-down some of the most stunning stuff that comics has ever known. Brilliant storytelling with expressive cartooning, and a fully-realized world of impeccable detail, all executed with supreme skill. There’s really nothing like it.

  22. The closet furry in me wants to get this and read it. I mean “furry” in the non-perverted context, thanks very much.

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