Reviews of _Life Sucks_ and _Incognegro_
Jessica Abel’s Life Sucks, a story about a convenience store night clerk who eschews his vampire nature until forced to make a choice between his often compromised-by-necessity lifestyle choices and his desire to see a young woman freed from similar bonds, is a fun, light read. If Twilight hasn’t already covered the same ground, I can see teen girls liking this one. It has a nice blend of slice-of-life mixed with 1990s and 21st century soft counter culture. And it has vampires. Vampires are cool. Even ones who could star in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, as could the aforementioned store employee.
Mat Johnson’s Incognegro, with art by Warren Pleece, is another story about passing, but while Life Sucks is a fun romp into adolescent malaise, blood sucking, and puppy love, Johnson’s story has much greater resonance and relevance.
"Incognegro" is the pen name of a famous black journalist, an octoroon who passes for white in the American South of the 1920s and 30s. He goes undercover to investigate lynchings, gathering as much personal information as he can about each one’s participants – including photographs of them – on the scene. His journalism is nationally syndicated in black-owned and predominantly white-staffed papers, so his work is important in showing the nation its true colors even as he, a man of color, passes as one “without.”
But Incognegro, whose home base is in Harlem, NY, longs for recognition of his skills under his real name, wishing to enjoy his part of the burgeoning Harlem Renaissance. He is just about to give up his successful beat when news comes that his brother is being held for murder in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Reluctantly taking along with him a friend who can also pass, the reporter, with some intervention from a duplicitous white woman, unravels a murder mystery at the eleventh hour. There are many twists and multiple manners of passing in the novel, and how passing becomes intertwined with agency in race and also beyond it is quite fascinating, startling, and, at times, even a little satisfying.
I won’t give away any more than that. I will say, however, if I was still teaching my “Contemporary Trends and Issues in Graphic Novels” course at the university in Hattiesburg, Mississippi (about 4 hours from Tupelo), this graphic novel would be on the reading list for oh-so-many reasons.
Take or leave Life Sucks, which is fun but not ambitious, nor seemingly trying to come off as such. But I strongly suggest reading Incognegro, which is skillfully written and, though a work of fiction based in multiple truths and realities, as telling as it is playful.