Friday, October 23, 2009

Incognegro

Researching an historical novel can take you many different places. Looking to expand my understanding of my young, light-skinned African American character, I searched my local library for books on multi-racial issues. One of the books which popped up was Incognegro, a graphic novel written by Mat Johnson and illustrated by Warren Pleece (DC Comics, 2008).

I am new to this genre, and admittedly brought a dose of skepticism to the book. I wondered if it would really be anything more than a glorified comic book. My embarrassment aside, I can now unequivocally say that yes, this illustrated novel is far different than the Archie comic books of my elementary school years.

Johnson tells the story of a light-skinned Harlem journalist, Zane Pinchback, who reports on lynchings. Zane can easily “pass” and publishes under his pseudonym, Incognegro . But he longs to “come out” and be a part of the Harlem Renaissance. Before he has a chance to do that, his boss asks him to investigate the arrest of a black man in Tupelo, Mississippi, accused of murdering a white woman. The black man is his dark-skinned brother Alonzo, and Zane has no choice but to go undercover again.

The short novel portrays the dangers he and his light-skinned friend Carl experience as they fool the “crackers” they meet in Mississippi. There are multiple twists and turns in this short 134-page book which surprise and confront the reader. Through realistic dialogue and vivid pictures, the time period is explicitly portrayed--including sub-plots depicting rural southern white prejudice.

Since Johnson did not hold back on time and race appropriate language or on his portrayal of violence and sexual liaisons, I would recommend this book for mature teens. My main issue with the book is that I found transitions between events difficult to follow; I had to reread sections to totally understand what was happening.

Incognegro’s portrayal of historical events will be an asset in the social studies and American history classrooms.

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4 comments:

Joyce said...

Good review. I don't really enjoy reading books this way but I know some people do and it's great to have good literature available in the graphic novel format.

I just bumped into this one somewhere else on the web.

writerlou said...

For a nonfiction resource on mixed race issues and challenges, see Sundee Frazier's CHECK ALL THAT APPLY.

Augusta Scattergood said...

I, too, was a newbie to graphic novels. Then I read Greg Neri's Yummy. (A Coretta Scott King honor book this year)
Bears no resemblance to the comic books of our youth! Such power in these books.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, Augusta, there is a lot more "meat" to these graphic novels!