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Incognegro Hardcover – February 6, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The brows are furrowed and teeth mightily clenched in Pleece's noirish artwork for Johnson's pulpy tale of a black journalist who goes undercover in the 1930s South to investigate a possible trumped-up murder charge against his brother—a charge that could lead to a lynching. Zane Pinchback, who is so light-skinned he can pass for white with a little cosmetic help, writes the Incognegro column for a Harlem newspaper, and his beat (like that of many a brave black journalist at the time) is the bloody circus of lynchings still claiming lives in horrendous numbers. Johnson's tale is a smart and fast-paced one, particularly when dealing with Pinchback's reluctance to return to Mississippi (wisely preferring his comparatively sheltered Harlem life). Once he's back down South, the twists and turns of the story come fast and thick, goosed by the not particularly trustworthy explanations being given by Zane's moonshine-distilling brother, and the attention-drawing antics of Zane's playboy friend Carl, who invited himself along on a lark. Johnson and Pleece have done a mostly commendable job, though the plot gets too knotted for its own good long before the conclusion, but they give a cracking Chester Himes kick to what could have been a sub–Walter Mosley imitation. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

As a light-skinned African American growing up in a predominantly dark-skinned neighborhood, Johnson was electrified when he learned about the early exploits of Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, 1931–55. In 1919, White used his own pale skin to pass for a white and investigate lynchings in the deep South. Inspired by White’s experiences, Johnson tells the similar story of Harlem journalist Zane Pinchback, whose own eyewitness reports of lynchings are regularly written up in a New York periodical under the byline Incognegro. Pinchback is on the verge of abandoning his undercover work for an editor’s job when he discovers his own brother is in jail and days away from lynching for apparently murdering a white woman. How Pinchback tracks down the real killer, saves his brother’s life, and narrowly escapes an angry mob form the plot of a riveting meditation on racism and self-reliance. The beautiful chiaroscuro pen-and-ink illustrations provided by veteran artist Pleece bring to vivid life one of the darkest chapters in America’s racial history. --Carl Hays

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Vertigo; 1St Edition edition (February 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140121097X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401210977
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I've been waiting to read this ever since I first saw it on the solicits. And often when you are waiting for something for a while, most of the time, you find yourself disappointed by the final product. This is not so in this case.

Incognegro is an exploration of racial identity and tension set in the 1930's. The main character is Zen Pinchback, a journalist who has a syndicated weekly column. Zen is also a Black man who is "light-skinned" enough to pass as White and does investigative reportings on lynchings in the deep South that usually went unreported.

The main plot is that Zen's brother, Alonzo has been accused of murdering a White girl and according to Southern justice, he's all set to be lynched. Now, it is up to Zen to try and save him.

I am not going to reveal the ending of the story. The story is well-paced and is layered with twists and turns. The author Mat Johnson, based this story somewhat on his own experience. He stated in the intro of the book that he too has the physical similarities that Zen possesses and growing up in a mainly Black neighborhood, he felt out of place. So, he used to invent and "incognegro" identity for himself and pretend he was a spy in the war against White Supremacists. The story is also inspired by former head of the NAACP, Walter White who also did his own "incognegro" investigations.

Johnson doesn't restrict his story to dealing with racial identities but instead deals with identities as a whole. It is a very well-crafted story and will stay with you long after you have finished reading the book. Warren Fleece's art is done entirely in black & white (what else?) and suites the story well. It's not grandoise in any scale but complements the story perfectly well. He is also adapt at capturing the different facial expressions that too many of today's artists seem to sacrifice in the favor of style.

A great read and highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought this was a powerful read. While it doesn't have the visual and narrative complexity of some of the more full-fledged graphic "novels," it works very well as a more straightforward comic book that still has an important story to tell. Some of the content is graphic in another sense, as in, shockingly violent. But it's actually less violent than such things as superhero comics. The shock comes because the events depicted here really happened. Lynchings and horrific abuse of black people were just as bad, and often far worse, than the ways they're depicted here. And people really did keep and trade photos and postcards of these hellish "picnics."

The story is fast-paced and gripping--I kept reading to find out what would happen next. However, in this war between blacks and whites, the white people are a little too uniformly evil. I thought there was some hope for one in particular, but he turned out to be almost as much of a sicko as the rest of the Southern "crackers." A white character with some depth and humanity would have made the story less starkly . . . well, black and white.

I was led by this reading to learn more about Walter White, a real-life investigator who did even more dramatically heroic undercover work against murderous racism than this book's fictional hero performs. The recovered history in this book, and its invitation to remember more of it, is the most valuable part for me. Thank you Mr. Johnson and Mr. Pleece for infusing a format aimed at young people with such serious and relevant, yet also engaging, content.
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Format: Hardcover
The term "incognegro", a play on the word "incognito" was coined to describe a Black person trying to maintain a low profile or who is racially ambiguous; who could pass for White. The Black man that usually comes to mind is Walter White, one of the founders of the NAACP who went undercover in the South to investigate lynching of Negroes. Thus, in Mat Johnson's latest literary offering, a graphic novel, Incognegro, has Zane Pinchback, a journalist going to Mississippi to prevent a lynching---that of his own twin brother, Alonzo.

There were 2,522 lynchings of Negroes between 1889 and 1918. A great majority of these lynchings occurred in the South for the smallest infractions, real or imagined. A great many of the allegations were bogus accusations of Negro men assaulting White women. Zane decides he will hang up his investigative shoes as it becomes increasingly dangerous as his undercover status is compromised. He wants to become an editor and turn his attention to personal writing. But his brother is being held in a Mississippi jail for killing a White woman; he knows he has to go back. His co-worker, Carl, also fair-skinned and able to pass for white talks his way into going with him but Zane is worried because he is young and hot-headed. When they arrive in the small town, he uses a guise to get into the jail and see his brother, who though they are twins, is obviously Negro. Meanwhile as Zane works on getting his brother freed, incognegro, of course, Carl assimilates into the community doing his own investigation but soon finds himself in a dangerous situation when his lies start running together. Zane's investigation takes him to the hills and backwoods where he stumbles upon a mystery and realizes he must work fast to free his brother.
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