Incognegro – Mat Johnson

There are some stories that are important and that need to be told. This wonderful book proves that you can do that in an entertaining and engaging manner.

The protagonist is a reporter in 1930’s America. Although an African-American his pale skin colour permits him to pass for white allowing him to go undercover to expose lynchings and injustice from within. It is partly inspired by the similar actions of civil rights activist Walter Francis White.

The covert reporter is a great tool to introduce the audience to the prejudice of the period, and as he may be exposed at any moment there is a dramatic tension throughout the whole book. If this were the entire story it would be good enough but our hero gets caught up in a murder mystery and by playing detective places his life in even greater jeopardy.

The mystery is a brilliant one that really has you guessing, and as well as enthralling you it also has a lot to contribute to the themes of the book. This isn’t just a “To Kill a Mockingbird” rehash, it is a lot more complex.

The dialogue and setting feels authentic. You learn by watching and reading and pretty soon become immersed in the past. Other than some shocking statistics at the beginning this isn’t a polemic or a wailing lament. The author is far too sophisticated to bludgeon his message into you. Often the small, unexpected details of the period prove most memorable.

The art is hard black and white with solid black inking. Without the tools of colour or shading the artist really shows his skill as a superb illustrator. The panels are mostly three, sometimes four, rows and always dead straight. There are a lot of full page spreads and even dramatic double pages at key moments.

The hardback version has a fine chocolate brown cover with plain embossing. It is a nice, almost square, size different to the traditional graphic novel. The dust jacket is made to look like a period newspaper with faded sepia tones and realistic layout. This is a quality labour in every aspect and a pleasure to read.

The last page is probably the most incredible reveal ever and for that sucker punch it must be a Double Thumbs Up!


Tomorrow: Video Clips – Gaetano Liberatore