The latest album in the series, Blacksad: Amarillo, is the fifth, after Blacksad: A Silent Hell and the three reprinted as simply Blacksad. All are gorgeously painted explorations of classic American tropes told by Europeans (the series is written by Juan Diaz Canales and illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido), which gives the series its unique approach.
Well, that and the anthropomorphic black panther detective who’s the title character. All the cast members are animals of some kind, often selected for an indication of their personality. Blacksad, for instance, is coiled fury, power about to strike. The stupidly self-centered instigator of events in this book, dedicated to his art in sprite of the effects on others, is a bull.
In Amarillo, Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido tackle the great American story of a road trip across the southwest. Blacksad’s stuck in New Orleans, looking for work, when he lucks into a job driving a rich man’s yellow Cadillac Eldorado back to Tulsa. Two crazy writers (one of whom, a poet, might be recognized by readers of “Red Soul”, included in the Blacksad volume) steal the car, so Blacksad pursues them to Amarillo, Texas, and beyond.
Texas, particularly in the unspecified past (but kind of 50s, especially since one character reads Kurtzman’s Mad comic) shown here, is a wild land to imagine, particularly in the dives where these noir-influenced characters hang out. The detail in Guarnido’s art is incredible, and it’s easy to spend a lot of time poring over these beautiful pages.
The story relies a lot on the expected developments, particularly betrayal. The poet steals the novelist’s manuscript to teach him a lesson, and so the novelist kills his friend after a night of drunken debauchery. There’s a carnival, to reinforce the idea of a place for travelers and lost souls, as well as a couple of FBI agents pursuing everyone, representing proper authority and fitting in. All of it is leavened with casual racism, sexism, and violence changing people’s lives.
But as I said above, it’s fun to see how America gets reflected and retold through outside eyes. One can’t read this story without thinking of Jack Kerouac, of course, but there’s also the idea of the hidden heiress who needs rescuing and the villain finding nobility with a moment of redemption. Familiar elements provide a level of comfort while they’re rearranged in a new fashion for reading enjoyment.
Unlike the previous volumes, this edition is adapted by the well-known American comic artist Neal Adams. He provides an introduction about his discovery of Blacksad and his dislike of previous translations, explaining his love of the series and how he came to work on it. It’s exuberant, larger than life, much like Adams’ personality.