A new visual media creation arrives that conjures up a vibrant, compellingly real and nuanced world made up of animals who mirror human society and whose crime stories delve into complex themes related to tolerance, racism, stereotypes, and honesty, among others, and then bursts onto its medium’s scene to great acclaim and success. Zootopia, right? If that’s what you answered, you might want to check out Blacksad (first published in 2003).
Blacksad, by writer Juan Díaz Canales and illustrator Juanjo Guarnido, is a series of adult-themed graphic novels (as opposed to the family-oriented Zootopia, a Disney production directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore and written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston) set in a world that resembles 1950’s America and featuring a film noir-style private detective named John Blacksad, a black cat. Naturally, the concept of anthropomorphic animals serving as models for human behavior and whose interactions provide illustrations of human values and social relations is not a new one (start with La Fontaine’s Fables), but the particular conceptualization of Zootopia is strikingly reminiscent of Blacksad.
This is not to take anything away from Zootopia, which is a resounding triumph and certainly deserving of its accolades. The comparison of these two creations in the related visual media of graphic novels and films provides interesting points of discussion between media platforms, tone and style in visual expression and storytelling, and treatment of thematic material through related settings or concepts.
And with Zootopia, it must be added those are definitely some Richard Scarry-inspired rabbits, which I loved. Busytown, indeed!
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