Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson

details
Title: Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery.
Writer(s): Mat Johnson.
Illustrator(s): Warren Pleece.
Publisher: Berger Books.
Format: Hardcover.
Release Date: February 6th 2018 (First published February 6th 2008).
Pages: 136.
Genre(s): Comics, Historical Fiction, Mystery.
ISBN13: 9781506705644.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.

thoughts

The deep-rooted presence of racism within American soil is a tough-to-eradicate plague that has yet to leave the people in peace today. While white supremacists have greatly lowered in numbers over the past centuries, the role that racism plays in segregation continues to strive, even if it isn’t always explicit and tangible. In the early 20th century, lynching was a common practice throughout the American South. The act of hanging African-Americans and making a public show out of it was not frown upon by those assisting but rather served as a cathartic experience to alleviate all the racial tension garnered within certain White Folks. While many died from the experience, others were simply never found, leaving many to wonder how much terror actually took place in America during these darker times.

Incognegro is Mat Johnson’s and Warren Pleece’s almost-true-story based on Walter White, the former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who went undercover to investigate lynchings. Although he’s Afro-American, the fact that his skin was as pale as White Folks offered him the unique opportunity to “pass” as one of them and shed some light on the scandalous events that took place just about everywhere in the south.

In Incognegro, the story follows journalist Zane Pinchback, a pale Afro-American journalist who writes columns under the pseudonym of “Incognegro” for the New York-based New Holland Herald. With the ability to blend into the mass of White Folks thanks to his pale skin colour, Zane Pinchback is able to point fingers at all the individuals who participate in lynchings by writing stories for his journal. Following a disastrous mission where he escapes alive from a lynching, he is given a new lead that turns out to be much more personal, involving his own brother, but also derails into a whole mystery revolving around the murder of a white woman in Mississippi.

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Although short, Mat Johnson has written a very revealing story on the state of white supremacy in America through a murder mystery fueled in themes of racism and identity. Sparingly using humour to alleviate the black and white tone of this story, the events that take place, as well as the assimilated culture of lynching that has become such an ordinary thing for many, reveal the rotten climate of an era that struggled to exit the grasp of racism and all of the stereotypes that come with it. While the story in itself is simple and easy to follow, it is the overall message and how it is delivered that truly establishes this graphic novel as a prime example of great story-telling. Unafraid to tackle these sensitive subjects, the story reminds us of the terror that permeated throughout America once upon a time, but also the remnants of that era that still exists today.

Warren Pleece’s artwork is also magnificent and conveys the right gravity to Mat Johnson’s story without ever faltering. Split in three chapters, the black and white artwork is consistent and is easy to follow without ever leaving its readers to second-guess what is going on. An issue that I however ran into is the difficulty to distinguish White Folks from Afro-Americans. While it was often easy to tell the difference, other times it was a pretty big challenge. This issue led me to wonder what Mat Johnson’s and Warren Pleece’s intentions were to neglecting the skin colour and made me filter it down to a desire to have readers determine the true skin colour of an individual uniquely based on their action and their words. This humble idea led me to realize how easy some people are able to fool others by their actions and words, making skin colours completely impertinent within society. However, today’s society leans more towards acknowledging the existence of the difference in skin colour in hopes of moving forward as a society. It sure does make you wonder what exactly would be the best path to take if we want a racism-free world.

Incognegro is a short, entertaining and thought-provoking story on the ideas of race and identity within America, with solid artwork to complement the story.


EXHIBITA

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada and Berger Books for sending me a copy for review!

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25 thoughts on “Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson

  1. Sounds very powerful! It sounds like it deals with complex issues in a really good way. I do think that’s an interesting idea to make races indistinguishable from each other, even if it’s not necessarily in line with what a lot of people think nowadays. Brilliant review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! I do love stories that deal with deep, dark or complex issues. There’s so much more to gain from them.

      Yep, the idea is intriguing. It’s honestly a warning for those who feel like it isn’t hahaha

      Oh boy, got to thank you for spending an hour or two blitzing through a month-full of reviews/posts! 😮 I don’t know how you didn’t get tired of my writing after 3 posts too hahahah Honestly, thanks for stopping by. I personally thought I was the only one who binges posts from others, but it’s more due to a question of time (impossible for me to blog hop every day), but seeing someone else do it is truly stunning hahaha Thank you again for taking the time to do! 😉 Stay awesome as always!

      Like

  2. This sounds certainly more up my alley than Batman 😀
    This is noted and saved on The List. I like how it also focuses on issues we see every day, not only just mystery.
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds very interesting! I guess racism is still an issue in our society and it’s great to see books and comic books still covering the subject 😊
    As for a racism-free world, I think we still have a lot of work to do but I dare hope we’ll reach it one day. Great review! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely. Lynching might not be as predominant throughout modernized civilizations, but hate crimes and racial behaviours are still omnipresent, whether we like it or not. At least with how easy it is to expose such acts today and how easy it is to gather people together for a cause, we should be able to put shame into people who act with those kinds of mentality. Thank you so much for reading, Caroline! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely agree in racism being addressed and people to continue working on better understanding that racism is destructive in every way. However, reading stories with that theme bored me because I can’t get past the stupidity of the whole concept. I cannot accept or see why or how anyone can consider their race superior because the fact that someone would even think do makes me automatically think that person is unevolved because it is such an unintelligent premise with the basis being simply the skin pigment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. Better understanding of it and knowing that it is not a dying issue, even if it’s a lot less prominent than in the 1900s, is very important. I don’t read that many stories with the racism concept, but I appreciate that they showcase the issue in all their colours (ha! see what I did there?) and remind us of what mankind is capable of (treating people differently based on skin pigment). Some stories do an incredible job in showing how serious the issue is, even if we all know how insanely irrational it is.

      Liked by 1 person

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