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Incognegro

Updated on June 20, 2010

This comic is based loosely on the fascinating true story of Walter White, a black man born with pale enough skin that he was able to go "undercover" as a white man to report on lynchings in the Deep South. This story, written by Mat Johnson (himself a pale-skinned black man) fictionalizes that experience, combining it with a fascinating mystery to create a very interesting comic to read.

The main character is Zane Pinchbeck, a black man who, like White, was born with pale enough skin that he could pass as a white man and who uses this fact to report on lynchings. He also apparently was born with nerves of steel: in the opening scene he poses as an assistant to the photographer taking pictures of the lynching to make into commemorative postcards (a common occurrence at such things), in order to get the names and addresses of the men who actually performed the lynching. Later on in the story he pretends to be a high-ranking Klansman in order to get information and cooperation. He's certainly brave.

He's also tired of having to be anonymous. All of his columns are signed "Incognegro," as if he reveals his identity he could be easily caught by angry white racists. He wants to participate in the Harlem Renaissance going on around him, and publish under his own name. However, his editor persuades him to do one last job as Incognegro, by having him investigate a case involving Zane's own brother Alonzo, who's been accused of killing a white woman named Michaela Mathers in Mississippi. Accompanied by his friend Carl (who wants to make something of himself, and figures he can take over from Zane when he retires) Zane dives right into the mystery of who killed Michaela, dodging a high-level KKK officer who's hunting for him, half-crazy hillbillies, and the town sheriff, who has secrets of his own.

The mystery is fascinating, with many surprising twists and turns. I could guess what was going on slightly before Zane figured it out a few times, but aside from that it kept me going and always interested to see how things would end up. Also, although I was able to guess how a few things would end up, some twists did genuinely throw me for a loop.

The art by Warren Pleece is also well-done. It's in black and white, which underlines one of the major points of the story: Zane's disguise works so well because white people get hung up on skin color, and don't pay attention to other physical features to notice that Zane is himself not Caucasian. With everyone's skin color being the same, the audience can't do that, and so it's fairly easy to tell the difference between Zane and the white people he infiltrates. Pleece's style is very realistic and is minimally stylized: the people look like the kind of people one could encounter while walking down the street (which, given the horrific amount of racism they participate in, is a disturbing thought in and of itself), and this fits with a very down-to-earth story.

All in all, "Incognegro" is interesting without being a mere curiosity. It's enjoyable not only for its interesting premise, but for having a truly engaging story. Check it out if you run into it

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