Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Spanish are Coming!

Some of the really great 'British' comic artists were from all over Europe. After Spanish illustrator Jesus Blasco stopped drawing The Valiant's Steel Claw strip, the Rosi Studio in Rome took over the job with Giorgio Cambiotti pencilling the work, Sergio Rosi inking and Massimo Belardinelli drawing backgrounds. While Britain did have a thriving comics industry, Fleetway/IPC employed some of the world's finest illustrators to work for a range of titles from Mandy to 2000AD.

I often wondered, when I was working for IPC, why so many European artists, particularly Spanish ones, sent their work over here and I suppose, with hindsight it was because our comics industry was so unique, with our anthology titles allowing cartoonists to draw one page every weekly issue, or a dozen pages, depending on the job at hand.

These days our comics industry in about on its knees, with very, very, few surviving titles and the Beano turning up on a recent 'loathed by kids' list. And whilst the comics industry across wider Europe has always been a little bit of a non-starter, they have always had a history of producing graphic novels, particularly France where Tintin, Asterix and Gaston Le Gaffe, et al have always had an eager audience. Today, in Italy and France in particular, graphic novels are doing good business, on the back of the surge in popularity of manga.

One French title, that is actually drawn and written by two Spanish artists, Juanjo Guarnido, and his old college friend, Juan Diaz Canales; Blacksad, is a perticular favourite of mine. The story is all comic-noir, detailing the cases of Private Eye John Blacksad - a black cat, and the other characters are all anthropomorphic animals too, which may not be to everybody's taste, but I don't think this masterly work should be enjoyed only by furries - it's way, way to good to be enjoyed by only a genre market.

Full of action and intrigue, Blacksad's cases involve corruption, murder, blackmail, racial tension and suicide:

Blacksad is lush, the stories are intricate and involved and the artwork is up there with all the great European and Spanish artists that graced the pages of the British comics scene over the past few decades. To be honest, to me, it's a 'wish I'd thought of that' title because while the artwork looks demanding, and shows the animation background of both these artists, it looks like the sort of work a cartoonist would be happy to do and proud to have done.

I have to admit I was a bit wary of Blacksad at first, but the drawing won me over instantly and the story carried me through. I think a good word to describe Blacksad is beguiling; yes, that'll do.

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