Incontrovertible Incognegro

 

Art isn’t always pleasant, not all stories have happy endings, and history isn’t without its bumps and bruises. Some folks are deterred from listening to such frank talk. Others embrace it. If you’re one of the latter crowd, then we strongly urge you to pick up Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro (OCT170018) from Dark Horse Comics. It’s a story set during the age of segregation, and in this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview writer Mat Johnson sets the record straight for the tenth anniversary edition of his acclaimed graphic novel.

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Vince Brusio: Unfortunately, there aren’t many graphic novels focused on the history of segregation regularly available in comic shops. Jon Lewis’ March is generally in stock (or in demand), but not many other titles can be found on the bookshelf. What makes Incognegro a book that you believe should have a place on the shelf? What makes it a contender?

Mat Johnson: Well, it’s a damn good read, first of all! Warren Pleece and I didn’t try to create the comic book equivalent of the salad you shove down your throat in misery just because it’s good for you. We wanted to create an engaging, powerful story, with a setting and conflict that’s rarely been seen in comics before.

Vince Brusio: Tell us about the passion you have for this book. Give us an idea about what went through your mind when you were creating this story. Did you work any personal anecdotes into the script?

Mat Johnson: I grew up a black kid who looked like a white kid, so this script really couldn’t be more personal. I also had twins right before the book was written, one with pink skin and one with brown skin, and I was struck by how different their opportunities in life would have been if they’d grown up a 100 years before. I like to base the emotional stakes in my work around something I can relate to just as intimately, and I want the reader to feel that on the page.

Vince Brusio: Why is Warren Pleece the right artist for this project?

Mat Johnson: We went through the portfolios of several artists before we found Warren, and I still feel so thankful we got that lucky. What I loved immediately about Warren’s style was that it reminded me of the more indie/memoir style comics that have been one of the art form’s strongest forces over the last decades, but it also had a mainstream American superhero hint to the work as well-straddling the exact line I wanted to walk in this book. This is a realist novel, a noir novel, but also a heroic action novel as well.

Vince Brusio: There’s a very poignant two-page preview for Incognegro in the October PREVIEWS catalog, but do you think there’s another scene in the book that would also be a good representation for the tone of the story? A scene that lets us peek into the psyche of Zane Pinchback?

Mat Johnson: The scene in this preview speaks to the character’s psyche, and I love that section, in the way it gives a direct internal voice to the character. But most of the book is his external journey. I think the best books, for me, are a combo of the internal emotions and the external actions. That the characters’ actions, what happens, should be an external manifestation of the character’s emotional journey. That’s what I tried to do here.

Vince Brusio: At the end of the day, what do you hope readers take away from this book? What do you personally take away from the book?

Mat Johnson: I hope the readers truly enjoy themselves, and walk away from the last page with something more than just a momentary distraction. For myself, I’m a lifelong comic book lover, with a Wednesday pull list reaching back decades—and this project still pushed the boundaries of what I realized could be done in the form. That it was possible to create something that was enjoyable in the traditional American superhero style, but that also carried the weight of history and personal narrative that we’ve come to expect from the best indie comics, too.

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Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.

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