The Blacksad albums, graphic crime novels written and drawn by Spaniards, might be better known abroad than in the mother country of their creators. The daily El País recently (August 16) dedicated an article to them entitled “El gato negro español que seduce a todos” [The Spanish black cat that seduces everybody]. We cite excerpts here:
Blacksad (©Dargaud publishers, France) is a saga of novels that has sold more than 1 M copies in France and won the Eisner award (“Oscar” of its genre) in various occasions. Even though it has sold more than 100,000 copies in Spanish, due to the titles being comic books, there haven’t been many news – a fact lamented by their author Juan Díaz Canales. Together with the illustrator Juanjo Guarnido, these artists produce an extraordinary work. One of the proofs is the praise they receive from the reading public and the critics alike.
During the last Comic-Con International convention in San Diego (and among a host of other winners), Guarnido was recognized as “Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior Art)” and Blacksad: Silent Hell, the saga’s fourth installment, as “Best U.S. Edition of International Material”.
The success came with a somewhat strange product: a crime novel with an antropomorphic cat-with-a-gabardine protagonist prone to risk his seven lives. “For emotional and aesthetic reasons,” the plot is set in the United States of the 1950s. The authors see a clear connection between that epoch’s events and things going on today. Among the topics treated in these books there are racial segregation (vol. 2: Arctic Nation), the McCarthy Witch Hunt (vol. 3: Red Soul), and addiction (vol. 4: A Silent Hell). The fifth volume, Yellow (at least in Spanish), has been announced for September, and according to its illustrator will be a road movie that “follows the Beat Generation’s spirit”.
Carmen Mañana (El País) calls it audacious to treat these topics through antropomorphic personalities. But looking at the numerous translations and the prizes it has won at the Angouleme comic festival, one can say that the makers of Blacksad have succeeded in their original proposal. According to Díaz Canales, “… animal stories polarize the audience. There are people who hate the genre as such. But Guarnido’s art makes the difference: his treatment of the personalities’ morphology is very realistic, his inking is up to a director of photography’s work, and he dominates the ellipsis as few people do.”
Dargaud editors of France must have appreciated the same qualities when it bought the rights to the series from two at that time start-up artists. Guarnido worked for Disney in Paris and Díaz Canales for a studio in Madrid. They offered their project in France as they considered the comic market there the only one in Europe deserving that name; there are ten times as many comic readers as in Spain [generally few readers]; and in direct contact with the bigger publisher the artists receive a bigger share of the revenue than they would have with a Spanish publisher selling the rights abroad.
But things are moving in Spain, too. Works such as Arrugas [Wrinkles] by Paco Roca and the term “graphic novel”, that Díaz Canales doesn’t like, have helped to overcome prejudices and bring the comic closer to a bigger audience. “In France, the comic book is seen as a popular cultural product consumed by all. In Spain, it also was entertainment for the masses: behind the 600,000 copies of Guerrero del antifaz [The masked warrior] that sold in the 1940s there were other readers than children, too.”
Juanjo Guarnido holds a theory that explains the different evolutions of the comic markets in France and Spain. In France, Uderzo and Goscinny started the tradition of publishing hard-cover comics –Asterix– that were collected and inherited, and not thrown away as happened to the Spanish soft-cover editions. They became part of the family heritage as the rest of the library. They were appreciated in such a way as other books. “It might be the case that for this reason, the French children who read Tintin and Spirou switched to Moebius when they were adults, while in Spain there was a break and no continuation.”