I picked this book up at one of my scouting sessions at the local library – intrigued by the title and the concept of the storyline – taking something historically true and making a comic book out of it is a pretty common theme lately.
Incognegro takes place in the 1930’s, back in the Southern heyday of lynching black people in their towns for fun and sport. The idea is that Northern light-skinned black people would infiltrate Klan rallies and report on them – making sure that these “secret” lynchings would be publicized and brought to the public attention.
The graphic novel is written by Mat Johnson, who is not primarily a comic book writer and illustrated by British artist Warren Pleece who works mostly for DC comics, and inks a few of their Vertigo titles.
The story of Zane Pinback is one of a truly brave and truly heroic person in a time where merely attempting to pass as a white person could get a man killed. Passing is a central theme in this graphic novel – and Johnson does well to illustrate the benefits and pitfalls of being able to pass as white in a white dominated society. It’s almost a philosophical look at race…
The book is an excellent blend of history, suspense, and revelation – as well as gut-wrenching frankness about the relationship between black and white people during this time period. There is a noir-ish mystery element added to it – and a focus on women’s own struggles with identity that I particularly appreciated, which almost mirrors the main characters “false identity.”
The novel is also incredibly sad and sobering – with imagery that is nearly impossible to burn from your mind (specifically the lynchings). The black and white format works perfectly for the theme of the story, as well as the noir-ish style with lots of shadows and dark blended in for added weight and depth. There wasn’t a lot of panel trickery either – it was all pretty standard and straight forward – and did not detract from the story itself.
A definite recommended read – it can easily be consumed in an evening and lends itself to a questioning and exploring of our history that is very important right now…when fear of other races and cultures is STILL so prevalent.
Final thought: This book should be supplemental or required reading in schools. It illustrates a perspective not often seen – the “other” perspective.
Much Love, Mindy C