Blacksad: They All Fall Down Part 1

Private Detective John Blacksad considers it a good day when he can get home with peace of mind and his knuckles intact. Sadly, days like that are all too rare, particularly when Blacksad is more frequently employed as hired muscle than for his keen insight. Such is the case when Blacksad is hired by a union president with no confidence in the police to hunt the hitman he’s sure is after him. His paranoia proves well founded and Blacksad soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery that will take him from the depths of New York City’s underworld to the lofty heights enjoyed by real estate magnate Lewis Solomon.

Coincidentally, I had the Blacksad series recommended to me as a Film Noir fan just before I had a chance to preview Blacksad: They All Fall Down—Part One. Somehow, it had flown under my radar, despite the Blacksad books being critically acclaimed and published in translated editions in 39 countries. This is largely because the original English translation went out of print before Dark Horse comics picked up the American license. Throw in the complication that the series was originally written for the French comic market by two Spanish creators and it is small wonder Blacksad is still relatively obscure in the United States outside of a few niche fandoms.

It should be mentioned that the world of Blacksad is populated by anthropomorphic animals, but this is no children’s story. Like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, different species of animals are utilized as metaphors for racial and social strife, with John Blacksad himself facing suspicion both because of his mixed-race status as a tuxedo cat and his being a predator among prey animals. The effect is like a gritty version of Zootopia, aimed firmly at adults.

The English translation of Juan Diaz Canales’ script by Diana Schutz and Brandon Kander is excellent. The pater of a 1950s detective story is replicated perfectly, despite the original French text being translated literally. Thankfully, an afterword explains some of the linguistic oddities and literary allusions, such as Blacksad’s reference to the folly in sending a fox police officer to the henhouse, when the police break-up a Shakespeare in the Park production. (Henhouse is a slang term for the cheap seats in France.)

Thankfully, the artwork of Juanjo Guarnido transcends language. Beyond the sheer variety of colorful creatures he has created to populate this world, Guarnido is a master of expressive faces. The emotions of each character is clear, despite the delightfully alien nature of their features. Guarnido is also a master at working little details into every panel.

This volume is recommended for readers 18 and older. Having not read the earlier volumes of Blacksad, I can’t vouch for the series as a whole, but that seems a bit high for this particular chapter. There is bloodshed and murder, but nothing in excess for an Older Teen series. There is also some sexual content, with a perverted peeping tom spying on one of his neighbors and slapping a woman on the bottom, but no nudity. I would still advise keeping this series in the adult collection, however, given that the sensibilities and historical context of this series are more likely to appeal to older audiences.

Blacksad: They All Fall Down Part 1
By Juan Díaz Canales
Art by  Juanjo Guarnido
Dark Horse, 2022
ISBN: 9781506730578

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Spanish,  Character Representation: African-American,

Chivalry

Originally published in 1993 in Angels & Visitations, this short story was apparently written in one weekend and is one of Neil Gaiman’s most reprinted stories.[i] The story is charming with a medieval knight on a quest, a wise, delightful elderly woman, and, of course, The Holy Grail found in a second-hand store. Mrs. Whitaker spends a good deal of time checking for bargains at the store and this time she finds the perfect ornament for her fireplace mantel. She barely puts it into place when Galaad arrives hoping to purchase the Grail from her to complete his quest. But, you know, it is the perfect knickknack for that spot! He continues to visit her with additional items to trade for the Grail but to no avail. He does get served tea and cake however and to visit with the enchanting woman. Eventually she makes a worthy trade for two of the exotic items he offers her: the Philosopher’s Stone and Egg of the Phoenix.

The prose story is whimsical and romantic, filled with grace, loyalty, honour, and friendship. The collaboration with Colleen Doran’s illustrations moves it beyond the charm of the prose and into the realm of magic and alchemy. Doran, a long-time collaborator and friend of Gaiman’s, wears this story with pride and her own tenure. She has created a masterpiece, interweaving the ancient tales of the Arthurian knights with a more contemporary story of a widow surrounded by memories and a quiet lifestyle in a small British village while remaining faithful to Gaiman’s writing style and text. I particularly appreciated the sharing of stories between Galaad and Mrs. Whitaker, his about his mother Elaine and other members of the Arthurian circle, illustrated in three full pages each with a series of vignettes, while Mrs. Whitaker’s stories of her husband are accompanied by images and artifacts from World War II. Doran was responsible for adapting the short story, the illustrations, and the Illuminated Manuscript Lettering. Todd Klein did the rest of the lettering which also adds to the charm and whimsy of the tale being told.

Working in watercolours, the delicate illustrations have a soft and dreamy look, harking back to the ancient Medieval illuminated manuscripts that Doran employed as inspiration. The brilliant blues and reds that make a frequent appearance on the pages add to the enigmatic and tranquil spirit of the story. In the Notes section at the end of the book she clarifies that she used 18K gold for some of the illumination, while attempting to evoke the watercolors of one of her favorite artists—Peter Rabbit creator, Beatrix Potter. The two styles compliment each other and complete the fantastical experience for the reader. No one is surprised that a medieval knight wearing armor and riding a horse visits the neighbourhood or that he finds a grail of another sort at the same second-hand store. The varied panel layout moves the story at a measured pace—this is not an action tale, this is one where the reader takes time to savour the illustrations, the prose and, perhaps, too, the idea of another cup of tea. Expressive faces and body language add an additional dimension to the story being related, especially with the incidental but important story of Marie.

I highly recommend this exquisite graphic novel for the story and the illustrations, but even more so for the collaboration between the text and art.

For those interested, there is currently an exhibition of this work at the Cartoon Art Museum: The Cartoon Art Museum presents Chivalry: The Art of Colleen Doran, an exhibition of original artwork from the Dark Horse graphic novel Chivalry illustrated by Doran and written by Neil Gaiman. This exhibition features Doran’s beautiful cover painting and twenty original pages personally selected by the artist and is on display from April 23 through September 18, 2022.

[i] Wagner, Hank, Christopher Golden & Stephen R. Bissett. Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 2008, 381.

Chivalry
By Neil Gaiman
Art by Colleen Doran
Dark Horse, 2022
ISBN: 9781506719115

Related media:  Book to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: English

Everyone is Tulip

It’s difficult being a struggling actress in the age of social media. Fame feels so close yet still so far away, until the day you’re the one in the viral video. Everyone is Tulip, written by Dave Baker with art by Nicole Goux, follows one actress who finds herself in a dream situation of fame that might turn out to be more of a nightmare. 

Becca felt lost in her Arizona town. She worked in fast food, lived with her drunken father, and was in a relationship she’d completely checked out of. So far, life in Hollywood doesn’t seem to be that much better. Picking up acting gigs here and there doesn’t pay the bills, so Becca works at a café and spends her free time obsessively looking at her phone for job opportunities and checking out who’s liked her most recent posts. She’s ready to give up when she answers an ad for a gig that asks “Is art a verb or a noun?” and her life takes an unexpected turn. 

Paradox is a video artist who wants to evoke people through his works. Becca becomes his muse as they create a series of videos where Becca repeats the title phrase over and over, in elaborate ensembles and make-up, which instantly go viral. People recognize her on the street, she’s attending huge industry events, and she’s even being invited to audition for major roles. But fame isn’t all a dream and instead quickly turns into a nightmare. Her relationship with Paradox becomes physical, even though he only wants her to be Tulip. She doesn’t know who she can trust. No one can see her as anything beyond Tulip. Her life changed overnight, but was it for the better? 

Everyone is Tulip is a story about internet culture, what it means to follow your dreams, and the fleeting nature of virality. The book deals with the ethics of art and who owns an idea. Unfortunately, this is explored at the very end of the story, leaving the reader with an ambiguous ending. Included in the back matter is an essay by Baker on the creators’ inspiration and why they’ve told this story. The story of the perils of fame is a familiar one, but Baker puts a very timely, modern spin on it. 

Throughout the book are multiple spreads of Becca in her various Tulip costumes, with pages of what are essentially screenshots of the video. The art shines on these pages, with lots of inspired fashion. The color scheme of the book, done by Goux and Ellie Hall, is a highlight. The flashbacks to Becca’s life in Arizona are done in a muted, earthy tone, while her current life is brighter, with lots of pastel colors. The fashion Becca dons as Tulip jumps off the page. 

While Everyone is Tulip is a book for adults, older teen readers may be drawn to this story of the dark side of influencers and internet fame. There is some nudity and sexual situations, as this is intended for an adult audience. Becca struggles with her body image, so that is discussed throughout the book, as well as brief mentions of disordered eating. 

Everyone is Tulip is recommended for public libraries, where it can live on the adult shelves but still be available for some younger readers to check out. Readers who enjoy celebrity culture, as well as criticism of it, and learning more about the darker side of YouTube and social media are likely to enjoy this graphic novel. 

Everyone is Tulip
By Dave Baker
Art by Nicole Goux, Ellie Hall
Dark Horse, 2021
ISBN: 9781506722290

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Raptor: A Sokol Graphic Novel

Raptor introduces the reader to two main characters who exist in parallel, but entwined universes; the mercenary Sokol, who lives and hunts mysterious beasts in a stark feudal landscape and Arthur, the author of supernatural tales who is a disturbed, grieving widower living in nineteenth century Wales. Arthur’s grief and interest in the supernatural leads him to an active interest in gothic spiritualism.

The character Sokol is a duality; both a human and a hawk, trapped between life and death, civilized life and animal instinct, and reality and fantasy. The resulting tale is a combination of monster-hunting adventures and historical fiction exploring the nature of grief, books, readers, and the intersection of boundaries. Sokol wears a hard mask throughout the novel, readers never see any facial engagement with him, especially as he finds an ancient coin which he quickly gives away and plays a large part in the overall action of the graphic novel. Arthur, on the other hand, is portrayed as a depressed young man, full of pain and despair with the loss of his young wife. Arthur’s brother attempts to help him by introducing him to a secret society filled with tarot cards and superstitions.

The two main personalities meet and interact through a manuscript written by Arthur about his apparently  invented character, Sokol. Written changes to the manuscript are manifested by both characters as they begin to communicate across the borders between their two realities. This interaction helps Arthur handle the devastation felt by the death of his wife and allows Sokol to become more engaged with his world as well.

McKean created his sophisticated and haunting illustrations in ink and pencil, augmented with several painted pages, before scanning them to be shaped digitally. Sokol and his world are illustrated with thick lines, a liberal use of black ink and elaborate details in the feathers of the birds and cloth worn by the humans. The monsters are enormous, the trees (my favorite) are twisted, gnarled, and grotesque, and the buildings of the town are, in turn, earthy and medieval. Arthur’s story is created with a softer line, offering an abstract dreaminess to the story line and the characters with several instances of splashes of color. Arthur’s dreams, on the other hand, are completely loaded with color and conceptual images that are as breathtaking as they are beautiful. The lettering throughout is small and fairly translucent ensuring that the reader slow down to appreciate the text and the illustrations that surround it. This is a book that calls to be read and re-read again and again. The two intersecting story lines are opaque enough that each reading gives an additional glimpse into the two worlds and the characters but leaves additional questions and wonderment.

Recommended for collections that house his previous works as well as the Sandman series. The story line is complex but also accessible for older teens who appreciate stories that are slower in pace, beautifully illustrated, and open ended.

Raptor: A Sokol Graphic Novel Vol.
By Dave McKean
Dark Horse, 2021
ISBN: 9781506720630

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  British,  Character Representation:  Depression

Lone Wolf and Cub

A samurai epic of staggering proportions, the acclaimed Lone Wolf and Cub begins its second life at Dark Horse Manga with new, larger editions of over 700 pages, value priced. The brilliant storytelling of series creator Kazuo Koike and the groundbreaking cinematic visuals of Goseki Kojima create a graphic-fiction masterpiece of beauty, fury, and thematic power.

(Publisher Description)

This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.


Lone Wolf and Cub
By Kazuo Koike
ISBN: 9781616551346
Dark Horse, 2013
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Volumes available: 12 (Series complete)