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Blacksad: A Silent Hell
posted September 5, 2012


Creators: Juan Diaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido
Publishing Information: Dark Horse, hardcover, 96 pages, July 2012, $19.99.
Ordering Numbers: 9781595829313 (ISBN13)

imageI'm at a fair bit of loss to describe my reading experience with Blacksad: A Silent Hell. The appeal of this work escapes me, or at least slips right by the part of me that usually locks into comics. My understanding is that these award-winning albums have legions of devoted fans that adore the authors' adherence to rock-solid genre writing craft and, more importantly, elaborately executed painted art. It's hard to quibble with the general effort on display concerning either avenue for enjoyment, particularly the latter. There are several stop-and-stare pages in Blacksad: A Silent Hell, and the whole effort is what we might describe on TV and film as "handsomely mounted." A few making-of elements included in this Dark Horse production make it even more clear the level of focus involved. I wouldn't begrudge these creators a single sale. They've earned it by force of labor alone.

All that said, I don't think this is for me. I found the use of anthropomorphic elements confusing rather than engaging, and I'm not sure I can articulate why. I struggled to find an advantage to the use of that tradition. I couldn't detect a consistent metaphor. The milieu didn't seem to gain any particular strength by being generally made fantastic the way Stan Sakai's does. One effect that popped up at different times -- a kind of cartoon exaggeration that more naturally comes to "masked" figures than it might to straight-up human depictions -- seemed to me startlingly odd, like prime time Jerry Lewis plopped down for a brief second or two in a Lawrence Tierney picture.

As for the story, it felt like playacting to me. It might not feel that way for someone able to better buy into the basic tableaux, but for me the material exuded a "let's put on a mystery" quality that seemed to favor hitting its marks over making a point. There was no attempt to reveal, say, the essential character of the investigators or an aspect of society otherwise hidden. It had a Lance White feel to it, that the mystery was destined to unfold to meet the required story beats rather than what we were seeing was brought into existence by the work of the characters or as an accident of the wider world they inhabit. And while a well-worn genre can provide a pageant-type experience, a march through familiar scenes where the slightest variation becomes worthy of note, nothing in the story being told here felt of such superior, compelling urgency that it impressed upon me the weight and force of the craft strengths in evidence. I think I would have to be far more enamored of mysteries to enjoy the dramatic elements put into play here, to feel that I was witness to a story rather than being walked through one. Blacksad: A Silent Hell felt to me like a work where the assumptions that certain stylistic choices are positive ones, certain kinds of narratives are serious in nature, certain outcomes are a satisfactory treatment of the elements swirling around in it, all of that overwhelms any sense of driving need to tell a story, to communicate something with which I could interact. It's a hammer at rest.