Graphic Novel Review: Incognegro
Collecting: Original graphic novel, Incognegro
Original Release Date: 2008
Publisher: Vertigo (DC) Comics
Character: Zach Pinchback, the Incognegro
Writer: Mat Johnson
Art: Warren Pleece
SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):Storyline – 8 Art – 8 Captivity and Length – 8 Identity – 9 Use of Medium – 7 Depth – 8 Fluidity – 9 Intrigue/Originality – 8 The Little Things – 7 Overall awesomeness – 7
I won’t lie – Incognegro has been sitting on my shelf for years now, purchased solely off the amazing pseudonym given to the main character. It wasn’t until we started #AllBlackEverything that I knew this book had to be reviewed for Hush Comics. Growing up, I found myself enthralled with the book Black Like Me – I actually wrote a book report on it for every year of High School. Black Like Me, written by John Howard Griffin in the 1960s, documented the experience of a white man who disguised himself as a black man in Texas. Incognegro is the exact opposite approach – a very light-skinned black journalist disguises himself as a white man and documents lynchings that go on in the south. Mind you, this book is set only thirty-forty years prior to Black Like Me.
The idea of being a light-skinned reporter infiltrating lynchings in the South is down-right terrifying, and it hooks readers right in. Incognegro follows a very linear story. Zane Pinchback is a syndicated journalist in New York who writes under the name “Incognegro.” His column is quite popular, and he has agreed to go on one last excursion before his promotion – to save his own brother from being lynched. His friend Carl has decided to tag along with him. Together, they must infiltrate the South and rescue Zane’s brother, Pinchy, from certain death. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, and tells a complete story.
Incognegro can be humorous at times, but most of this book is brutal and fast-paced. It reads like a movie plays, and the story is benefited by the entertainment factor. The graphic images speak volumes for the mistreatment and cruelty that black people endured. However, as Incognegro, Pinchback details his strategy for hiding among the lynchings, it seems as though it’s turned into a game of not getting caught. It breaks the tension at times where the shock of the photos can be hard to swallow. Mat Johnson has a lot to invest in the story, too; he is a very light-skinned black man and a self-described scholar of African-American literature. He’s actually the man on the cover of the book.
I can’t help but feel that Incognegro was written with a huge chip on the its shoulder. Every white man in the book is vilified and the dialog is a flurry of racial slurs and stereotypes. For being a book set to these times, I feel that the guilt was laid on a bit too thick. The degree of black and white extremes of race relations in Incognegro is challenged only by its artwork. I especially enjoy how the art reflects the transition from day to night. In the end, this was a well-written piece, but I feel as though the uninformed would take away more negatives about whites than focusing on the heroics of the main characters. There are definitely lessons to be learned, and I would recommend this to not only those who like a good story, but those interested in learning more about the heroics of undercover journalists in the 1930’s.
All media credited to Vertigo/DC Comics
Written by Sherif Elkhatib