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This essay examines the potential of the graphic novel as a vehicle to explore one of the most enduring tropes in American culture: racial passing. As what Hillary Chute and Marianne DeKoven term a “hybrid project,” graphic narrative has the potential to pose “a challenge to the structure of binary classification that opposes a set of terms, privileging one.” Since passing narratives are themselves devoted to unsettling binaries – racial binaries – this essay considers the marrying of the graphic novel and the passing narrative in Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece's Incognegro (2008). How, in other words, can what Scott McCloud terms “the art of the invisible” (comics) depict what Joel Williamson memorably calls “invisible blackness”?
The essay is particular interested in two aspects of Incognegro’s hybridity, one of which relates content, the other to form. First, in terms of content, the collaborators make several significant revisions to the comic book’s signature character, the superhero, amalgamating the conventions of the superhero story with those of passing narratives in order to destabilise some of both genres’ most telling assumptions. Second, in terms of formal devices, this essay examines the particular combination of visual and textual vocabularies deployed in Incognegro to portray the ambiguously-raced subject, comparing it to the ways in which such subjects have been racially-encoded in more conventional literary and cinematic narratives of passing. Ultimately, this essay considers whether Incognegro’s hybrid properties offer new political possibilities for the narrative of racial passing.