Blacksad v5 "Amarillo" cover detail by Juanjo Guarnido
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Blacksad v5: “Amarillo”

This book feels like a bit of a left turn. Blacksad Lite, almost.

Blacksad doesn’t start this book off with a murder investigation or a missing persons case. He chances into this story and doesn’t even realize he’s involved in it. He’s too busy chasing down some people who did him wrong.

Put aside how you normally think about Blacksad Noir. Don’t try to play the guessing games of who did what to whom, and when. That’s not the point here. This story wanders around a bit more, exploring some new areas and going where the story takes it. Blacksad has very little control in this one.

There’s also a greater sense of humor with this book. That’s always been there, but Canales and Guarnido play to it a bit more. It shows up in the way the characters are designed, how they act, and in some specific sequences where Guarnido’s layouts emphasize the humor.

It’s a series of weird and wild events that lead us from New Orleans to Amarillo to Denver to Santa Fe to Chicago and back to New York. You get a bus station, a train, a motorcycle, and a classic car.

Along the way, we meet a pair of tortured writers, an entire biker gang, and a traveling circus. It’s a story that careens from the serious to the comedic like a fun pinball machine.

In a way, it reminds me of “Stern” v2, which went a little further over the top in its madcap comedic adventure. But it started with a solid, somber first book before launching into a wild change of pace in the second. The third book returned to the seriousness. I have a feeling that’s what we’re getting here.

After four super serious books, we suddenly turn towards slimy lawyers, racist red parrots, and a secret-filled circus.

But first, the credits!

Are Ya Yellow Credits?

Blacksad v5 "Amarillo" cover by Juanjo Guarnido
Original Title: “Amarillo”
Writers: Juan Díaz Canales
Artist: Juanjo Guarnido
Colors: Juanjo Guarnido
Digital Retouch: Chris Horn
Translator: Katie LaBarbera and Neal Adams
Letterers: Tom Orzechowski and Lois Buhalis
Editor (English Edition): Diana Schutz
Published by: Dark Horse/Dargaud
Number of Pages: 74
Original Publication: 2014

What’s Going On?

The two writers of Blacksad, one in the pool and one handling his manuscript

The central story in this volume is a tale of two writers — one is a tortured poet, who is a true artiste who believes in art above commerce. His friend is a novelist who had a wildly successful first novel and is now unsure about his second. But when he refers to the new book as an object of commerce, it drives his poet friend nuts.

The two barely get along, torturing each other mercilessly. But, they’re trapped together. They can’t afford to go their separate ways, until one of them pushes the line a bit too far. He runs away and joins the circus, where a whole second story begins in the second half of the book.

This is all intertwined with Blacksad’s story. He’s stuck in New Orleans. Weekly’s newspaper has paid for his flight home, but Blacksad is basically broke after the events of the last book, “A Silent Hell“. He vows to find a small, quiet job that won’t require getting beaten up or anyone getting killed.

Obviously he wasn’t going to get that lucky…

Blacksad drives an Eldorado

He takes a job driving a rich guy’s car back to Amarillo. Road trip! But when the car is stolen, he’s off on another adventure that eventually crosses over with the writers.

It’s hard to describe this all without major spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

I never quite knew where this story was going. Previous books introduced a new city (just like with “Ekho“), a couple new characters, and put Blacksad onto a specific job in helping someone out or looking for someone or just digging into the situation to find the truth. You could play along with Blacksad, trying to solve the case before him.

It wasn’t formulaic, but there was a certain structure there.

In this story, Blacksad gets caught up in someone else’s story, gets caught in several traps, catches all the bad breaks, and yes, does get beaten up once or twice. C’est le noir.

Yet, there’s still a serious story at the core of everything. It’s just one that builds up as the book goes along. It’s not the kind where there’s a back story you’ll need to uncover and mysterious relationships you’ll need to shine a light on. It’s more of a character piece. What happens when a good guy does a bad thing? Can he overcome it? Or will things only get worse?

In some ways, this book feels more like a tragedy than a noir. There’s none of the flashbacks noir often relies on. This isn’t a detective story. The characters don’t feel cynical and evil – they’re actually good people who go too far once or make a mistake that changes the path of their lives. That leads to a series of bad decisions that have bad consequences.

It’s a formula breaker, for sure. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear die-hard Blacksad fans call this the least of the volumes. I don’t think it’s bad at all. It’s a very good. It’s just tough to judge in relation to the previous volumes. It’s so different.

On-Going Issues

Blacksad tells Weekly about his family's photography history

I don’t know if Canales is leading up to something with this, but he drops more hints about Blacksad’s family in this book. In fact, we meet his sister. There’s also a reference to their father, who is out of touch but apparently writes letters from wherever he is. (Europe? Jail? On walkabout in Australia? We aren’t told.)

His grandfather was a photographer. Weekly tries to talk him into doing more of that kind of work, but that goes nowhere. If it’s Chekhov’s Gun you’re looking for in this book, the camera seen in this book is not it. It’s a cute moment on page 15 that gets picked up at the end, but nothing comes of it.

Will Blacksad be taking pictures in the sixth book, maybe?

Two of the agents Blacksad humiliated in “Red Soul” return, and they’re still fuming over how Blacksad humiliated them. They’re stationed in the middle of nowhere now, and they blame him for it. Of course they’re going to run across him here, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing them again. They’re a little too bothered by him to think sensibly, though, and that’s bound to get them in trouble.

Canales and Guarnido also reach back to “Red Soul” to show us the return of poet, Abraham Greenberg. He’s the one who so memorably quoted Allen Ginsburg poetry at the house party for the intellectuals. This book helps flesh him out as the Artiste-with-a-capital-A who tortures his novelist friend for not being pure enough.

There is no appearance from the police commissioner this time around.

The Art and Lettering

Blacksad leads a motorcycle gang

Guarnido doesn’t return to the primary colors of the previous book, but he does once again stay with a brighter and more vibrant set of colors. The screaming yellow of the Cadillac Eldorado on the cover should give proof of that. There are fewer scenes set in dark bars here, with a lot of outdoor scenes in broad daylight.

Part of this book also feels like Canales asking Guarnido what he wanted to draw this time around, and then throwing it all in to the script. Blacksad on a motorcycle? Here’s a half page panel with that. Classic cars? Circus performers? A train with a tense Saturday afternoon serial moment? Sure, we can throw that all in! And then some! Draw away!

It’s a very visual book. If you don’t like the look of one page, don’t worry — something will change drastically on the next one!

Behind the scenes at a circus

There’s something different in Guarnido’s watercolors, too, that I can’t put my finger on. We know from the back matter of the previous book that he’s always trying new techniques and looking for ways to get faster.

It also feels like the ink lines are a little more pronounced in this book. They’re just blacker than usual. And the colors, themselves, feel a little less… textured, maybe? Things just feel a little smoother than usual.

Again, it’s not bad, but it does feel different to me somehow.

Some cartoonish characters in "Amarillo"

Guarnido’s line work comes in handy for the cast of characters in this book. Between the over-the-top lawyer and the federal official who’s coming after Blacksad, it feels like more of them are living up to their cartoonishly animal natures. In previous books, the characters felt like humans with animal heads. In this book, those characters feel more like animals who happen to act more human. It’s closer to “Zootopia,” that way.

Now, onto my favorite topic: Lettering!

I’m not sure if someone pointed out to him the same lettering issues I mentioned in my review of the last book, but Guarnido didn’t repeat any of them in this book. I didn’t trip over a single balloon in this book. They’re all ordered beautifully.

A lot of them stretch out across two panels, but that’s ok. They bring your eye to the next logical panel and don’t interrupt the reading order. There are no balloons popping up into the panel above in order to fit them in around the art.

Juan Guarnido makes good use of sound effects lettering to tell a story

There’s also a great use of sound effects on one page in particular in the home stretch of the book. It’s a car chase scene, complete with some gun fire. The long strings of letters forming the sound effects between and across panels remind you that this is a comic book you’re reading — in the best way possible — but also that sound effects can and do work, when used appropriately.

There’s also a fist fight later where all of the dialogue is just the oomphs and aahs of the characters exchanging blows. Those come in as word balloons, not sound effects, which makes sense. Yet, they still do feel a little like sound effects. They have the same impact.

Neal Adams: Blacksad Super Fan

The introduction to this book is written by comics legend Neal Adams, and it shows his great love for ellipses.

He also gets a co-credit on the translation work for the book, alongside Katie LaBarbera.

How much impact did his work have on the book? It’s impossible to tell. Sure, things feel different in this book than previous ones, but I just spent nearly 2000 words explaining all the reasons that is without getting into the dialogue being spoken.

It feels like the characters were quicker to curse this time, but was that just my imagination?

Recommended?

Blacksad v5 "Amarillo" cover by Juanjo Guarnido

Perhaps the least great of the five books, but yes. It’s still an interesting story that’s beautifully told. It’s a bit more disjointed than the other tales, but I also appreciate the lighter approach alongside Guarnido’s continued artistic growth.

The Blacksad Reviews

That brings us to the end of the books that have been published as of September 30, 2021. The next book in the series was released in France on October 1st. A digital English release of it is due later in the month (stay tuned!), with a print edition from Dark Horse in the summer of 2022.

So I’m all caught up — for a very brief while.

Here, then, are links to my reviews of the first four books:

Closeup on Blacksad's face the cover of volume 1, by Juanjo Guarnido
Blacksad v2 cover by Juanjo Guarnido ("Arctic Nation")
Blacksad v3 cover by Juanjo Guarnido
Blacksad v4 cover features Blacksad upside down under water

Bonus: Check out my review of the Blacksad Sketch Files, the history of Blacksad’s original English language publisher, and a HyperAnalysis of Guarnido’s opening to “Red Soul”.

I’ll be back at month’s end for a review of “Blacksad: They All Fall Down, Part 1“. The second part is due in 2023, which gives me plenty of time to prepare for it…

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