Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery Written by: Mat Johnson; Illustrated by: Warren Pleece
Zane Pinchback - 1930s newspaper reporter, investigative journalist, light-skinned black. Pinchback has made his name traveling to the Deep South, documenting lynchings and murders of blacks by the KKK and other racist groups. Making sure he has the names of participants, Pinchback risks his life to bring these atrocities to light through his newspaper in New York City. Writing under the nom de plume "Incognegro", Pinchback is ready to retire - until one last story forces him back into the thick of the South in a desperate attempt to save his brother from a lynch mob. What follows is a harrowing mystery that pits Pinchback and his friend Carl in a race against the clock to save a possibly innocent man from gentrified hatred and institutional racism that was so prevalent in the 30s. This is a fascinating tale of the 1930s that, while fictional, has its roots in factual history. Johnson himself is a light skinned black man, and partially modeled Pinchback after Walter White, the Chief Executive of the NAACP, who was a light skinned black that would go undercover to investigate lynchings. Johnson's biggest push to write this story was the birth of his twins, one who was light skinned, and the other who was dark. Warren Pleece, who has had a long an storied career, does an exemplary job of taking a sensitive subject, and presenting it in such a way as to communicate the visceral ugliness and vile hatred of the time, without making it lurid or offensive. Now, I'm not going to say that the artwork is not controversial - the entire story is fraught with controversy and uncomfortable themes, but Johnson and Pleece handle it with a grace and dignity that in the hands of another writer/illustrator pair would come off as just offensive. This is a difficult title to read, but it is an important part of our nation's history. While there may not have been a real Zane Pinchback, the events outlined in this book (lynchings and such), are factual events that are often getting overlooked anymore. Teaching future generations about this horrible period in our history will help ensure it never happens again. Incognegro is a mature title for foul language, racist themes, nudity, and violence. Coincidentally, February is Black History Month, and I wanted to pay service to that with this review. In addition to that, this also marks the 10 year anniversary of the original publication of Incognegro. To celebrate that fact, Mat Johnson is now writing a prequel series to Incognegro, called Incognegro: Renaissance, detailing the rise of Pinchback as an undercover reporter.