FOUR years ago, Valerie D’Orazio was writing a story about a character who knows too much. Whom people want silenced. And who ultimately delivers all her files to the media, via email, so the whole world shall know these dark secrets. Little could D’Orazio have known then that this Marvel Comics story, titled Punisher MAX: Butterfly, was professional prologue to another big assignment: Writing about the life and exploits of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
The Brooklyn, New York-based D’Orazio, who has also worked for DC Comics, says some of her most notable writing has been “about people ‘leaking’ sensitive information”.
Drawn to such subject matter, D’Orazio approached the Vancouver, Washington-based publisher Bluewater Productions about launching a Beyond comic-book series. The first result of that successful pitch hit bookstores and virtual shelves this week, as readers can delve into the illustrated document that is Beyond: The Edward Snowden Story.
“Whether you find Edward Snowden to be Robin Hood or Dillinger, he reminded us about the precarious nature of information in a digital world,” says Darren Davis, the Bluewater publisher who bought D’Orazio’s idea.
As illustrated by Dan Lauer, this 22-page bio-comic depicts Snowden as a young fan of geek culture, from video games to anime, and follows his adult path from being a new NSA contract employee to his life on the lam in a Russian airport. The book cites the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of both the Guardian and The Washington Post; then-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald even emerges as a character in the comic — one who, D’Orazio says, is “just as important” as Snowden as a narrative presence.
D’Orazio talked about her inspiration and her motivations for the comic.
So, just how does one get inside the head of Edward Snowden?
I started the project doing basic research, watching the initial Snowden interview video, reading countless articles about what he was like, etc. But it was really all the subtle things, the quirky little details, that fleshed out his personality for me. This was a real person, with all the attendant contradictions, likes, loves, humour, disappointments. And it was important for me to show this side of him, because I think we need to see our heroes, public figures, etc., as these multi-dimensional individuals. To see things as just black-and-white heroes, villains, that’s not accurate. Not even our superhero comics do that anymore, so why would we apply it to our news coverage or political views?
What works proved most enlightening and helpful in constructing your narrative?
The most helpful material was not so much the official articles about Snowden, but the online primary sources like his Ars Technica postings, his profile info for the anime venture he was connected with, his girlfriend’s blog postings. The footprint we leave online via social media and other platforms often seems the most revealing, the most raw, the most unguarded. They seem, in total, to create a sort of [auto-]biography all on their own.
Do you think Snowden is a patriot or a traitor? What’s your opinion on his actions, and did you let them colour your storytelling at all, or were you aiming to tell this straight?
My initial goal with this book was to tell everything straight — no drama, no opinions, just the facts. A straight-up educational pamphlet. But it quickly became clear to me that this would be impossible. I really feel strongly about protecting our rights to online privacy. I just look at all the technological advances, the innovations in social media, wearable technology, and so on, and [I’m amazed but] really worried. I feel like we’ve allowed the technological infrastructure for a potential Big Brother/1984”scenario to be installed under our very noses. I feel like we don’t care as much about this as we should. And so in that sense, yes, I think what Snowden did — bringing these issues to our attention — was important.
But there are also unanswered questions, holes in this narrative, that I don’t think anybody has the full story of yet. And I address those in the comic as well. I don’t think Snowden was a Russian spy, but I do think that he has been in that country a long, long time, at a distinct disadvantage. Was he pumped for info by his hosts? Who knows? These are questions. The story and revelations are far from over, in my opinion.
—By arrangement with The Washington Post
Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2014