There is a genre of comics and animated cartoons called “funny animal”, referring to animal characters that have anthropomorphic characteristics. Even if the genre name is unfamiliar, some of the characters are among the best known, e.g. Mickey mouse and Bugs Bunny.
Much less familiar to the general public is a sub-genre, sometimes called “furry”, “furries” or “anthropromorphics”, in which the animal characters are anthropomorphised to a greater degree, often taking on basically a human form with an animal head, as well as human gender characteristics (the latter is sometimes emphasized, to put it politely).
I can’t say this is one of my favorite comics genres, as I often find the the concept silly to the point of detracting from the story.
However, there is a series of comics albums from Europe called Blacksad that have upended my take on the subject, simply by being so superbly done.
The creators, writer Juan Díaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido are Spanish, but the books are published in French by French publisher Dargaud for the extensive comics market in France and Belgium, where they have been tremendously popular, and later released in Spanish language and other editions.
Fortunately for those of us who speak English, Dark Horse Comics has collected an published in English translations the first three volumes of the series, in a hardcover edition simply titled Blacksad (Amazon link).
The story is essentially a film noir hard-boiled detective series, John Blacksad being the lead character in that role, who just happens to be portrayed as a black cat.
Other characters are portrayed as various animals, weasels, hippos, dogs, whatever the authors saw as appropriate for their character. The stories are adult in nature, not children’s fare.
What swayed me from my usual reluctance to read comics with this kind of characterization was Guarnido’s stunning comic art, wonderfully realized characters, animal heads or no, and beautifully rendered backgrounds and settings.
Fortunately, there are a number of sources for previewing the pages, both from the Dark Horse book and the European editions, so you can see for yourself what I mean.
Linked from the Dark Horse page for the book is a 4 page preview. You can also view a preview flip book that is a bit more extensive (though smaller and hampered by one of those annoyingly stupid page flippy widgets).
There is a Blacksad.com site, which may or may not be official, I don’t know, as well as fan site, Blacksadmania. Both are in French and feature sketches, preliminary art, pencilled pages and more. There is another fan site here, and some non-Blacksad work by Guarnido on The Drawing Board.
Spanish site Guía del cómic has a page about the newest Spanish language volume, Blacksad #4: El Infierno, El Silenco (French edition is titled Blacksad #4 L’enfer, le silence). They have a 9 page preview, the first three of which are posted larger than the other page previews.
Additional large pages from that volume have been posted, along with other pages and additional art, on a blog called Blacksad Gallery, another offshoot of the Character Design Blog and The Art Center that I wrote about recently.
[Suggestion courtesy of James Gurney]