Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Review of "Incognegro Renaissance," by Matt Johnson and Warren Pleece

 Review of

Incognegro Renaissance, by Matt Johnson and Warren Pleece, ISBN  9781506705637

Five out of five stars

Great historical mystery

Much has been written about the Harlem Renaissance, where an area of New York City that had formerly been white became a dynamic black neighborhood. Such ethnic changes were part of what is known as the great migration, where blacks fled the segregated south in search of jobs and more economic opportunity. Many of the more talented ended up in Harlem and there began a flowering of what became black pride, a separate artistic thread as well as some intermingling of artistic and cultural works.

 One of the milestones was a party for the 1924 novel by Jessie Redmon Fauset called “There Is Confusion,” a party attended by some of the most powerful white publishing executives. After this party where rising black writers and editors attended, works by black writers began appearing in mainstream magazines.

 A party similar to that forms the opening scene of this graphic novel. Zane, a low-level reporter for a black newspaper, and Carl are attending a party for writer Arna Van Horn, celebrating his latest work. Zane is very light skinned black man that can pass for white and when there, they meet Xavier, a very exuberant black man that is also a writer. There is reasonable mingling of the races until Xavier is found dead in the bathtub, his wrists cut.

 The police show no interest in considering the death of Xavier as being anything other than a suicide, their concern is more with cleaning up the social mess. Yet, Zane is convinced that it was a murder, and his main lead was an actress that was at the party. He follows the leads and on occasion passes for white when the situation is advantageous. Hence, the word “incognegro” in the title.

 The storyline involves many instances of how the members of the black culture use their knowledge to come to the aid of Zane when he gets into difficulties. It is a very revealing look back into the days when blacks were relegated to secondary roles and doors were opened for the light skinned that simply would not have existed otherwise.

 The murder/exploitation crimes are eventually solved by Zane and his allies. That solution is almost a subplot to what is more interesting, how smart blacks navigated the borders between the white and black cultures as they existed in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. You conclude that there is a great deal of truth in this rendition.

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