Incognegro: graphic novel mystery about lynching and the jazz age

Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece's graphic novel Incognegro is an alternately comic and gruesome mystery comic about Zane Pinchback, a reporter for the jazz-age New York New Holland Herald. Pinchback uses his light skin as a disguise, travelling to the deep south to report on lynchings that the local media won't cover, publishing pseudonymously as "Incognegro" to avoid reprisals from the Klan and their allies.

But he's had one too many narrow escapes and now he wants to quit the beat, stay in Harlem and write under his own name again. His wily editor convinces him to take on one more assignment: the threatened lynching of his twin brother, who is dark-skinned and cannot pass.

The mystery of Pinchback's brother's supposed crime takes the action on a tour of the problems and beauty of the early 20th century south, and deftly weaves issues of race, identity, gender, authority, integrity and love into a pulpy, tense murder story that illuminates the grisly atrocity of lynching without exploiting it for cheap shocks.

Author Mat Johnson is himself a very light-skinned black man, and he writes in his introduction of facing the reverse of his character's problem when he was a boy, during the 1970s heyday of the black power movement, when he would face disdain from people who mistook him for white. When his own twin sons were born one dark-skinned and African in appearance and the other light and European in appearance, he was moved to write this very fine story that tied it all together. As with many works of art, the intensely personal feeling here shines through, making this a true standout. Incognegro