Before he became the reporter that broke stories on lynchings in the south, Zane Pinchback from Tupelo, Mississippi was cutting his journalistic teeth covering parties of the Harlem Renaissance elite. Upon entering a party with his light-skinned friend each panel of the comic ‘Incognegro: Renaissance’ zooms onto famous African-Americans of the literary world. Zora Neale Hurston in her famous hat, Langston Hughes suited silhouette, they’re at a house party where whites and blacks mingle. And as some of the characters’ observe, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of whatever opportunity you can.
1920s Harlem was the place to be. Here is where Zane gets his education in what it takes and what he may have to compromise to make it in this new reality. Told in black, white and shades of grey, the setting for this narrative begins with the underbelly of how black writers, musicians, artists have not only their ideas, but culture stolen away from them and reshaped through a Caucasian lens. White writer Arna Van Horn is launching a new book. Riddled with alcoholism, he’s hasn’t done anything worth reading until now. The introduction of the book to the guests, followed by a heartbreaking scene only begins to hint at the broken promises made to the black people in that room. You get the sense that the true author isn’t the one with his name in the book. But you also get to see the small ways in which black people could fight back. It’s a dance where there’s a continuous danger of tripping and falling into the abyss.
Still, writer Mat Johnson creates light moments to ease the tension. Then when you think the story is going one way, it shifts and gets complicated. For someone he barely knows Zane has to make a conscious choice to betray a personal ethic. In order for him to be the black man he wants to be, he’s going to have to masquerade as part of the society that despises him. It’s dangerous, however, if Zane wasn’t a risk taker, he wouldn’t have left Mississippi.
Artist Warren Pleece gets together with Johnson again and together they create a vivid world filled with questionable people. Here, they begin to build the man created in the graphic novel ‘Incognegro’ ten years earlier. Seeing the making of country hick to self-assured black man is an interesting take on the hero’s journey. In this comic, there aren’t supermen as much as men trying to figure out how to navigate people who have prejudices against them based only on the color of their skin. This miniseries shows how prequels should be done, with an older writer having the ability to revisit a character years later. It’s an opportunity to show how Zane could be like any of us based on the choices he makes, or rather the one’s he faces.
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