Sunday, November 9, 2014

"...The old tricks still work just fine." Blacksad: Amarillo review

Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido's Blacksad has been published in Spain since 2000; by the time Dark Horse Books brought an English-language version to these shores in 2010, only three stories had been produced. Perhaps encouraged by the growing interest in the character, 2010 saw the fourth story, A Silent Hell published and the English version arrived in 2012. Now we have Blacksad: Amarillo, the fifth entry, having been published last year in Spain and now in English - the speed at which the stories are being both created and translated is clearly increasing!

Strangely, this volume features two translators - Katie LaBarbera (translator of A Silent Hell) and Neal Adams! I say "strange" because Blacksad seems to have enough interest behind it that it shouldn't require a familiar North American such as Adams to promote it (and Adams is renowned for his art, not his scripts). Fortuitously, Adams explains in the book's introduction how Guarnido made a personal request for Adams to collaborate with him by translating this newest volume. I skipped the introduction and credits on my first read and didn't realize Adams had been part of the finished story; that Amarillo reads like the other Blacksad tales is a testament to Adams' fidelity to the source material, I think (perhaps if I learn Spanish one day I'll have a better idea of what precisely he contributed).

For those who are joining us late, John Blacksad lives in a world of anthropormorphic animal-people; Blacksad is a black cat. Blacksad usually makes his living as a detective and the timeframe is that of the 1950s; despite the cast being a bunch of animals, Blacksad's 1950s face very much the same social/political issues as our own 1950s.

In this tome, Blacksad accepts a very simple job - drive a sweet Cadillac Eldorado to Tulsa, Oklahoma on behalf of a wealthy bull. Unfortunately, the car is stolen and winds up in the hands of Chad Lowell, a young (lion) author who's living out his "difficult second novel" anxiety. Also in pursuit of Chad is his literary agent, Neal Beato, who becomes Blacksad's ally. Further complicating matters are a few murders, circus performers, a drunken bird and two dogged FBI agents.

Surprisingly, we gain some character insight into Blacksad here; we meet his sister Donna and they speak cryptically about their father, whom evidently neither gets along well with. We also hear Blacksad lecture his young nephew about guns, stating "Good guys don't carry guns," despite we readers being well-aware of Blacksad's use of firearms in earlier stories - so he's not proud of those escapades.

Part of what I enjoy about this book are the swerves away from predictable characters. Blacksad stories delve deep into noirish tropes, but while this may be a world of femme fatales, corrupt officials and dark secrets, it's also a world where a tough gang of bikers turn out to be reasonable and helpful; a world where a greasy lawyer can be a good friend and decent guitarist; a world where a tough FBI agent enjoys reading Mad magazine.

Diaz Canales and Guarnido not only love noir, but love the world they've built and the characters they created to inhabit it; that love is infectious! The next Blacksad won't be along for at least a couple of years - but I remain quite pleased to have it at all!

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