In case you’ve missed it, a brilliant series of European albums featuring Blacksad has now reached its fourth volume in this country, with the previous three being published together by Dark Horse, and this one on its own. Blacksad is a classic film noir detective series with a twist: all the characters act and look mostly human, but are also animal in form, most obviously the heads. These are not simply anthropomorphized animals as in, say “Pogo,” it’s a more complex mix. The characters act very human overall, but with little moments of their animal natures coming through here and there, just enough to keep things fresh.

This story takes Blacksad the detective to New Orleans in a story full of accurate local color, characters and references, and wrapped around a plot featuring jazz musicians that’s so well done you can almost hear the music. It’s a missing person case for Blacksad, but he soon uncovers other layers to the life of Sebastian Fletcher, the missing piano player, that takes him into bars, jazz clubs, a prison, and the lives of many of Fletcher’s fellow musicians, friends and family. The mystery at the center of the story is a deep one that almost no one wants uncovered, as Blacksad discovers the hard way.

The writing on this book by Juan Díaz Canales is superb. The characters are full of life: flawed, cruel, generous, loving, weak, strong, a wide range of the human animal in each of them. If you aren’t moved by this story, you aren’t paying attention. And there’s plenty of action as well.

The art by Juanjo Guardino is equally superb. Every panel is full of wonderfully expressive characters rendered artfully in watercolor and ink. The storytelling is so good, you could probably follow most of it without being able to read any of the dialogue. Guardino’s work has all the best elements of cartooning and realism mixed seamlessly into a style that rivals that of Will Eisner in my opinion.

If you haven’t tried BLACKSAD, this book would make a fine introduction, each volume stands on its own quite well. It has my highest recommendation.

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