Time to return to the tough but sensitive P.I. with Furry appeal, John Blacksad. I covered the first Blacksad release a few months ago, a three issue volume that told some stories about a fifties America populated by anthropomorphised animals rather than humans. Covering such hard hitting topics as gangsterism, racism and the Red Scare, it's all seen from the viewpoint of John Blacksad, a cat-headed, two fisted tough guy but also one with smarts and a heart. The whole book has a noir sensibility about it and Blacksad sees the very worst that his animal brethren can stoop to on an almost daily basis. Yet his struggles to discover the truth of the tangled webs of deceit he finds himself him mark him out as an unwilling perhaps but still a true hero, and now two more adventures have been released in the series, 2012's "A Silent Hell" and 2014's "Amarillo" in lovely hardback format. "A Silent Hell", the one I am covering today, takes him to New Orleans and he soon finds himself involved in sinister shenanigans against a backdrop of drugs, Jazz and Mardi Gras. "A Silent Hell" also contains a gorgeous art book called "The Watercolour Story" detailing the work that went into the visual design of the story, and some Blacksad shorts as well. But it's the main story I will be looking at, those are just nice, bonus extras to be kept in mind if you decide to buy it yourself (and you really should). Still on creative duties are Juanjo Guarnido on art and Juan Diaz Canales as writer, both bringing their Spanish and thus outsider perspectives to American culture as expressed through the quirky observer of life character Blacksad. Begin!
We're in New Orleans. We get a page of some mysterious hands grinding up strychnine tablets, then we see reflected in the bottle, someone putting on a red cloak and horse skull helmet. Then we cut to Blacksad and his friend, the small ferrety newspaper reporter "Weekly" who he teamed up with in the first collection. They are watching a strip show which Weekly is enjoying immensely.
|Weekly and Blacksad enjoy the sights.|
Junior Harper is a Rooster headed person playing a banjo, Faust says a lot of musicians on his record label end up in jail. Harper tells Weekly that Faust owns the local law enforcement authorities, then as a clearly ill Faust decides it's time to leave, Harper sneers that he should come back sometime "an' talk about the good ol'days."
|Weekly, Faust and Junior Harper.|
He's been missing for months and is a heroin addict. Faust worries that he has done something stupid. Faust says losing him would be like losing a son. After some back and forth, Blacksad agrees to take the case. Afterwards, Weekly questions his "tough guy bit."
Blacksad: "It's all marketing, Week. You've got to play the part. The hard-boiled P.I. It's what they expect."
They are then confronted by a large hippo gentleman who introduces himself as Ted Leeman. He was intitally hired to find Fletcher but Faust fired him. Because he asked for more money and tried to blackmail Faust say Weekly and Blacksad. "Lies" says Ted, knocking back some booze from a flask. He leaves them annoyed that they have taken Faust's "side".
|Ted Leeman, a real private dick.|
Later the same day a heavily pregnant dog woman called Hannah boards a tram. She is surprised by Sebastian. She says she never thought she'd see him again. He says he wants to come home and "start over." She tells him Faust has been looking for him and wants him to record a new album. This frightens and angers Sebastian. When she says how helpful he's been, Sebastian runs:
Sebastian: "All lies! If you're on his side, you just forget about me comin' home. I'd rather hit up a million times than work for that monster!"
|Sebastian and Hannah|
Another flashback, Blacksad is in a record shop, so is the goat headed man from Hannah's place. Blacksad hears some singing and playing coming from outside and goes to investigate. It is a one legged, horse headed man called Lenoir. He knows Sebastian, he rambles that he, Sebastian, Junior Harper and "poor Joachim" were all in a street band together. The war interrupted their progress as Joachim enlisted and it was never the same when he came back. But then he confesses he hasn't seen Sebastian in years, then he yells in some impenetrable dialect at some kids who have stolen stuff off his cart.
Thomas: "It's Gullah a southern dialect they speak in Caldonia. Lenoir was born there. Just like Joachim, Junior and Sebastian. And my father too."
The goat headed man who tells Blacksad this then intoduces himself as Thomas, Faust's son and he takes Blacksad to lunch. They have a pleasant chat. Thomas says Faust's illness has affected his mind, using voodoo to stave off death is ridiculous. Blacksad says his passing will be bad news for all like him who love Jazz.
|Thomas introduces himself.|
In the present, in a club called "The Wild Note", Sebastian is begging the owner to be allowed to perform his new song "Pizen Blues" that night. The owner is dubious due to Sebastian's drug habit affecting his performance in the past. Sebastian promises to stay clean for tonight and the owner relents.
|Not the best time for an interrogation.|
Blacksad: "Don't play the good Samaritan with me Thomas! This kid is about to be left without a father and you haven't lifted a finger to find him!"
Thomas: "One can live without a father."
Blacksad says that's the real Thomas speaking, "the jealous, abandoned son". Hannah says Sebastian came to see her earlier that day and said he'd come home tonight for good. She says she has some song lyrics he wrote some time ago that might have a clue in them, they're in the Galluh dialect and when she showed them to Faust he became very upset.
We then cut to a flashback of Hannah, slightly showing her pregnancy and Sebastian having a picnic in a park. He gives her the lyrics to his new song "Pizen Blues" and says it'll blow the minds of people. He also wants his baby to be called Joachim if it's a boy, after a friend of his who died a few years ago from tuberculosis.
In the present, Weekly reaches the hotel Blacksad sent him to at the start. Unfortunbately Junior Harper is dead, he's been thrown out of his hotel window and killed. Weekly phones Blacksad to tell him:
Weekly: "Bad news, John. Seems Harper tried to fly out the window, but forgot he had a bum pair of wings. Suicide? I'd say murder more likely..."
Blacksad tells him to go check every club where there is music tonight to try and find Sebastian, he's off to ask Faust about something.
|Harper becomes an ex-rooster.|
Back in the present, Blacksad arrives at Faust's and takes the offered bourbon. Faust is still being attended to by the voodoo priestess. Blacksad tells him someone is trying to kill Sebastian and it has to do with his new song. What does "Pizen Blues" mean? Faust says "Pizen" means "Poison". He thinks Sebastian is referring to heroin and it is a "farewell note" from a drug addict at death's door. Blacksad tells him Junior Harper is dead and Thomas wants him to drop the case, he then leaves while Faust frowns and looks angry.
Another flashback to a couple of days ago during Mardi Gras. Blacksad has been staking out the drug bar, "The Ebony Lounge" and sees a person in a horse skull mask and red cloak hand over the rat poison and some cash to one of the dealers. Blacksad then chases the cloaked figure but loses him in the main Mardi Gras parade.
|Just gorgeous artwork in this book.|
The hippo man, Ted Leeman confronts Blacksad and goes for his gun. Blacksad gets his first and shoots Ted three times in the gut. Ted headbutts Blacksad off the dock into the water and Blacksad sinks, having a vision that melts into one Sebastian is having. Then Sebastian is called on stage to perform his new song. Meanwhile Blacksad has been rescued by a buff and handsome ginger cat with mermaid tattoos who claims to have met Blacksad before maybe in one of his other nine lives, then walks off enigmatically.
We're then shown Lenoir the one-legged horse's run down bedroom. Someone is under the covers and the injured Ted Leeman comes in sweating and in pain from the gut wounds he sustained. He tells Lenoir that Faust has hired him to take care of the troublesome witnesses at twice the price he hired him before. Then he goes to strangle Lenoir who turns out to be Blacksad, they fight and Blacksad takes Leeman out. Then Blacksad calls in Lenoir and asks him to tell him all about the story behind "Pizen Blues" as he holds up a tatty leaflet for something called Dupre's "Life Everlasting" Tonic.
The story is told via a sad looking Sebastian sitting at the piano at The Wild Note telling it to the waiting audience, while Blacksad, having been told it already by Lenoir goes to confront Faust about it.
|Sebastian's tale of woe.|
Dupre also left Caldonia and changed his name to Faust Lachadelle, building up a very successful record label on that name. Sebastina, Lenoir, Joachim and Harper had stayed friends and formed a street band, but Joachim was drafted during the war and the band fell apart. Enter Faust, first he gave Harper a deal, but his records didn't sell well. The along came Sebastain:
Faust: "He had talent so bright it outshone the sun. After only two albums he became Lachadelle records' star and a household name in Jazz circles."
The trouble started when Joachim and Lenoir met up again. Joachim was dying of the delayed effects from the poisonous tonic. He knew who Faust really was, and knew it was the tonic that had caused all the troubles having got the truth of the story via another Caldonia native he met during the war. Lenoir knew that no one would believe the word of a "crippled black tramp", but two famous musicians might be listened too.
|The truth comes out via Lenoir.|
Sebastian: "...only to realise that you can put your conscience to sleep, but you can't kill it."
Then Sebastian sings his new song "Pizen (Poison) Blues". We don't hear him though, Blacksad instead talks to Faust asking how someone dying of cancer could treat others "so cheaply". Faust say he isn't dying of cancer, he has a rare genetic disorder "my blood is poisoned, rotten" and he's spent a fortune looking for a cure so his son Thomas won't suffer the same way. He wanted to keep the case of the Life Everlasting tonic closed and so was bumping off everyone who could speak of it to prevent himself being financially ruined because of lawsuits. He wants his name to continue, he wants grandchildren.
Blacksad: "A legacy handed down under a fake name and stained with innocent blood? I hope that Thomas has other plans for his future."
|Faust has plenty to feel guilty about.|
The story wraps up with Blacksad and Weekly discussing the case. Seems Blacksad got paid, but he handed the cash back to Thomas saying he'd need it more than Blacksad does and that Thomas' life is in danger. Weekly says that's funny coming from a guy who was nearly drowned, then strangled, it's like Blacksad has a guardian angel. This makes Blacksad smile and although it's not shown, you know he's thinking about the ginger catman who saved his life at the docks...
|Blacksad knows the score.|