When Dark Horse announced that ex-Vertigo editor and comics superstar Karen Berger was launching her very own publishing imprint under their banner, fans were ecstatic. As the first month of 2018 comes to an end, we’re starting to see our first proper glimpses at what Berger Books has in store since it was previewed at SDCC last year. One of the flagship titles is a prequel to Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Vertigo graphic novel, Incognegro, as well as a reprint of the original. The excellent 2008 book told the radical story of an African American man who passes for white, who goes undercover to investigate lynchings in Mississippi. Ahead of the prequel, we sat down with Mat and Warren to chat about returning to the world of the acclaimed Incognegro.
It’s pretty rare that a comic will find a home at multiple publishers, but Incognegro‘s landing at Dark Horse is simultaneously surprising and not. Warren Pleece points out that Karen has been a steward of the title for a long time. “Well, seeing as Karen was head at Vertigo then and is now leading Berger Books, it’s been a pretty seamless transition,” Pleece says. “We have Richard Bruning designing again, both the reprint of Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery and Incognegro: Renaissance, Mat and myself. So, it’s like the old team is back together.”
The original Incognegro story was loosely based on the life of Walter Francis White, the leader of the NAACP who used his racial ambiguity to go undercover and investigate lynchings. Johnson and Pleece’s latest entry nods similarly at momentous, too-often forgotten history. “Our new Renaissance storyline takes inspiration from several different historical moments,” Johnson explains. “The controversial publication of white author Carl Van Vechten’s N*gger Heaven; a story inspired by the death of a side character in the Harlem Renaissance classic Infants of the Spring by Wallace Thurman; and the hidden racial background of Broadway legend and actress Carol Channing—all these things went into the mix.”
For artist Warren Pleece, creating the prequel has been a welcome return to the world he co-created a decade ago. “Incognegro was one of my proudest moments, so, coming back to it has been a joy for me as an artist,” Pleece says. “I’m always self critical of my work after it’s done, so in some ways, it’s an opportunity to revisit and improve on what’s come before. I look forward to the next one!”
Comics are a homogeneous place, afraid of new stories or perspectives, sometimes for misguided reasons. But for writer Mat Johnson, he’s found a relatively warm environment and a diverse fanbase that openly engages with his work. “Well, I’ve never been a white American comic creator, so it’s hard to compare, but overall I’ve found the comic landscape to be welcoming to stories and perspectives that have been explored far less in the sequential form,” Johnson says. “Anytime you can bring new influences—in this case the writing and art and culture of the Harlem Renaissance—into a medium, it’s energizing.”
The pair think that the book might actually be more resonant for fans this time around. “I think they’ll see some things in a different light if they go back to the original after the prequel. The main driving themes in both books are still unfortunately relevant today. Maybe more so now than ten years ago?” Pleece ponders. “Agreed,” Johnson nods. “Unfortunately, the issues of xenophobia and injustice, and the importance of fighting back against both are probably more mainstream now than they were a decade ago.”
Are you ready to dive back into the historically charged world of Incognegro? Pumped for the upcoming Berger Books slate? Let us know in the comments! And check out more Incognegro:Renaissance pages in our gallery below.
Images: Berger Books, Dark Horse