I’m going to stretch a bit outside of my safe zone and check out some comics to time that are not manga-related at all. It’s in keeping with the Japanese definition of manga at least (comics, right?), and if that explanation doesn’t gel then fine it’s my blog so I can write about whatever I fancy! ^_^
In terms of American comics I’ll be honest and say most mainstream superhero comics bore me. There have been shockingly few new significant characters introduced over the last couple of decades, and the old ones are so ingrained that no one dares change anything about them, which kind of kills any attempt at credibility in the drama as you know you’re pretty much guaranteed a predictable happy ending each time. Manga’s a bit more risky and suits my taste, but every so often I still get a little worn out with that too start to crave something… different. And so I turn my eyes to the mainland…
Known locally as bandes dessinées, or simply BD, the French and Belgian comic industry is well-established with comic volumes regularly selling in the hundreds of thousands. Not as big as Japan, but I’d hazard bigger than the US and certainly more so than in the pitiful UK. A standard volume is around 50-odd pages, A4-ish in size, hardback and therefore quite expensive. They’re premium goods with titles seemingly holding their value several years after their initial release. Aside from the anomalies such as Asterix and Tintin, most BDs are inexplicably ignored and unknown in English-language territories, but thankfully the walls are slowly bringing broken down.
John Blacksad is a private investigator cat who works in a world where corruption, sleaze and crime run rife throughout society. This is pulp territory of crime fiction with an animal twist. Mammals and reptiles mix as well as black horses and white wolves in this tense 50s-style world where prejudice only barely runs under the surface. The animal designs create archetypes that enhance characterisations rather than distracting from the plot or making it look silly. There’s a strong style to this substance, and the sublime watercolours brim every page with a finesse that is very rarely seen in comics of any sort.
Dark Horse released a volume that compiles the first three comics into one solid hardback. It’s lovely stuff and serves as a real showcase to the work. A fourth volume did come out in France last year, but as yet there’s no sign of a translated release and as years go by between individual releases, it might be quite a long while before a second triple-volume book is feasible (assuming it would even be considered). All the same Blacksad is an amazing comic, and well worth risking regardless of your normal taste in comics.