“Incognegro”: Some books you find and there are others that find you. After saying some jokingly unkind words about my better half’s obsession with The Walking Dead and Jericho, I ended up getting a Previews book thrown at me. However, thanks to my Bruce Lee like reflexes it missed my face, but what caught my eye was the page it was open to on the floor. The title of the book, Icognegro in bold font, stood out along with the picture of a man standing in front of an immediately recognizable lynch mob. I read the synopsis, and was immediately reminded of Walter White who, while incognegro, investigated lynchings in the south.
The word “incognegro” is used to describe the Black men whose skin tone was light enough to “pass” for White, and there are those who would go undercover and use this to their advantage to gain information and opportunities that wouldn’t be accessible to them had they been of a darker complexion. In the early 1930s New York, reporter Zane uses this to his advantage to infiltrate the lynch mobs that were running rampant in the south and report on them for the paper he works for. The book opens with him telling the story of his latest incognegro adventure with friends of his. Explaining at times in graphic detail the process of the lynching, the festive atmosphere surrounding the event, and in the end his narrow escape when he was discovered. During the conversation Zane reveals that he knows his luck will soon run out and that he is tired of not being a known writer, so he is contemplating giving up the dangers of going incognegro. A decision that doesn’t sit too well with his boss, so he slides Zane an envelope and says that if he does this one last story, when he comes back he’ll get the recognition and will be able quit going incognegro. This assignment takes him to Mississippi to investigate the murder of a White woman by his twin brother (who is of darker complexion) whom he hasn’t seen in years. He doesn’t have that much time to figure out the truth, as his friend has decided to come along and only complicating matters is that the lynch mob is forming, and a high ranking Klansman on the trail of Incognegro has arrived in town hoping that this event will bring him out of hiding.
Without question Mat Johnson (Hellblazer) knocks this story out of the park! The pacing of the book is smooth, and I was impressed as Johnson referenced real world events and people like the Harlem Renaissance and writer George Schuyler, giving the story that much more of a foundation to stand on. Some of the revelations were obvious as the book progressed and took on a darker tone, but I was treated to an ending I didn’t expect, which is always a good thing. Warren Pleece (The Invisibles, Life Sucks) brings an overall great visual quality to the book. Clean lines and a very simple but effective style, though I had an issue with some of the night scenes being way too dark for my taste. But I feel that way about all black and white books that have a night scene, so it’s not a slight against Pleece’s abilities here. He and Johnson nailed the look and feel of the time period, and managed to tell a great story in the process.
Johnson states in the beginning of the book that he was inspired in part by Walter White (I knew it!), and that the birth of his twin sons helped further the story of Incognegro. This book is a noir mystery soaked in the ugliness of America’s past and humanity’s ongoing prejudice of race, sexuality, gender, and classicism. A definite good read.