Blacksad: Arctic Nation
This gorgeous painted graphic novel uses humanoid animals to create a crime story with all the atmosphere of a classic noir film, complicated by the more modern concerns of racism and hate crimes. Blacksad: Arctic Nation is written by Juan Diaz Canales and illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido.
Blacksad is a panther private eye investigating the case of a missing child against a background of color-inspired harassment. A group of white-skinned and -furred animals make up a Nazi-like group that preaches purity. This literal use of color foregrounds the crime elements — “white” racists, a detective walking the shady side of life — making them more obvious to the reader at the same time they’re handled with subtlety and depth in the story.
The use of fur color makes racism look even stupider. The dogs and walrus and polar bears work together just because they’re near-albino, ignoring their natural instincts. Ultimately, their twisted ideals can’t overcome individual, selfish instincts, taking the group down. Political movements don’t mean much when it comes to the basic drives of lust, jealousy, and revenge, especially once class distinctions come into play.
The opening page introduces the world quickly, with a diverse bunch of creatures staring up, apparently at the reader, until the camera pulls back to reveal a hanged vulture, the atrocity they’re really looking at. The animals are drawn in an incredibly detailed style, with a variety of emotion and expression. It’s a shame that the translation, by Anthya Flores & Patricia Rivera, is too literal. The clunky text doesn’t match the quality of the rest of the book; a more writerly polish would have made this an even better read.
Blacksad: Arctic Nation updates the classic outsider-against-the-crooked-cop detective story with modern social concerns. Double-crosses, sexual infidelities, and snitches work together in a thought-provoking, beautifully ugly story.
There is a previous Blacksad graphic novel available as well as a sketchbook that reads like a DVD commentary.