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Review: Incognegro Renaissance #1

You’ll know all about Zane Pinchblack if you have read Incognegro, the masterful 2008 Vertigo graphic novel by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece. Even if you haven’t  (and you totally should) you should still find Incognegro: Renaissance, published this week under the banner of Dark Horse‘s Berger Books imprint, one hundred percent approachable.

Johnson and Pleece both return for a prequel, an origin story of that explains how Zane, a young African American reporter covering the arts scene New York  during the Harlem Renaissance, became The Incognegro: an undercover journalist exposing the fetid underbelly of racism at the beginning of the American Century. When a black man is found dead at a party full of wealthy white literati the police are only too happy to label it a suicide. Zane decides to use the fact that he is light skinned enough to pass for white to investigate the truth.

Comparisons between the two series are inevitable but also bit premature. The original Incognegro is a complete piece of work, conceived of and published as a true graphic novel. Renaissance is a serial story being told in monthly chunks. While it has a good beginning it’s hard to say how it will end. Based on what I’ve seen so far however, it is shaping up to be at least as good as its predecessor if not as groundbreaking.

As a James Baldwin Fellow whose first novel was a Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Selection, Johnson has a much more literary pedigree than other traditional novelists who have found success in comics but he clearly understands the medium just as well. His dialog is pithy and to the point, capable of shifting between divergent points of view so that every character has a distinctive voice. He also knows when to have the characters stop talking and let the art carry the load.

Speaking of the art Pleece is just as good as he was ten years ago. His style is understated but distinctive, capable of capturing a range of emotions in the characters while simultaneously evoking them in the reader. There is just enough abstraction to allow for the greatest possible identification between the reader and the characters but not so much that it descends to the level of a cartoon. Everything moves at a good clip despite the fact that there is no real action to speak of and you’re never left wondering which way to move your eyes. Clem Robbins lettering is smooth and easy to follow as well.

In a day and age when too many creators feel like interchangeable cogs in a corporate machine and too many comics feel like they are mass produced to appeal to the majority of hypothetical readers a book like Incognegro Renaissance is refreshing because it is unique. This is a book that only Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece could have made and one of the best things I’ve read this year in any format.  

Story: Mat Johnson Art: Warren Pleece Lettering: Clem Robbins
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy.

Dark Horse Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.