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.