Duck Duck Book

56 – incognegro
10.6.2008, 12:03 am
Filed under: comix

Incognegro [comic book] / written by Mat Johnson ; art by Warren Pleece ; lettered by Clem Robins.
New York : Vertigo, DC Comics, c2008.
[MCL call number: GN JOHNSON; eight copies, no holds]

Over time, racism and white supremacy have given us many stories that white people like to forget, and people of color can’t help but remember. One very horrific example from the United States’s own history is the story of the lynching of thousands of people of color, mostly African-American men, mostly in the south, and nearly always with the tacit consent of law enforcement and the pillars of the local community.

Lynching was common as dirt in the 1920s, and perpetrators nearly always went free. The white press largely ignored news of lynchings, but Black newspapers often reported on it. Incognegro is set in this context: light-skinned Zane Pinchback, a writer for the New Holland Herald (an African American newspaper based in Harlem) uses his ability to pass for white to attend lynchings and report on them first-hand in his “Incognegro” column. As the comic opens, Pinchback is expressing intense frustration with his success that is not success. He wants to participate in the literary and artistic flowering he’s surrounded by every day in 1920’s Harlem — and although everyone who’s anyone (and lots of folks who are no one in particular) reads “Incognegro,” no one has heard of Zane Pinchback.

During a confrontation on this question with his editor, Pinchback learns that his brother has been arrested for the murder of a white woman in a small Mississippi town, and he agrees to go incognegro one more time to cover the story and try to save his brother’s life. And then the shit really hits the fan. Excellent detective/reporter skills, feats of stupid bravery, the brotherhood of man, happenstance, and straightforward luck help Pinchback to survive an intense couple of days, several plot twists, a bullet wound, and lots of chit chat with racists, Klansmen, and town fathers. Incognegro is a real page-turner, with beautifully expressive art and a completely human (though of course also ghastly) story.


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