How important is the truth to you? In the new graphic biography, SNOWDEN, published by Seven Stories Press, Ted Rall presents to us not only the story of a whistleblower but an American intelligence system gone haywire. In Orwellian fashion, your laptop, home computer, smartphone, or television screen are being used as monitoring devices. As Rall states, “The National Security Agency’s goal is to gather every fact, every communication, about everybody on Earth.” And despite the best efforts of Edward Snowden to expose the abuse of power, the NSA continues to pretty much do as it pleases. Unlike the media’s personality-driven story, this story is only partly about a whistleblower.
Ted Rall is known for his provocative political cartoons. For this book, he aims for clarity and a step-by-step approach. He does not draw horns and a tail on each of the bad guys. He tones it down for the sake of better conveying the facts. It’s a delicate balancing act as he goes about describing the enormity of the abuse, impressing upon the reader the large number of people who knew about it but remained quiet, and attempting to paint a portrait of the ideal personality to blow the whistle.
Given the number of key facts that need to be presented in an organized, and accessible fashion, Rall does a supreme job of giving the reader a primer on how their privacy is being violated and why a young man named Edward Snowden deserves to be given a chance to make his case.
The pace of the narrative is just right. It amounts to a panel per page. You feel a serious urgency tempered by a steady hand. It seems like each page has boiled down what it has to say to a very compelling level. Many pages can easily act as memes. One excellent example focuses on the duplicitous testimony before Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He makes the ridiculous distinction that it’s alright to store an innocent person’s data as long as it’s not read.
Ted Rall has never drawn a convincing portrait of anyone. His depictions don’t really resemble Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or George W. Bush as much as look like a bunch of generic meat puppets. That helps create enough of a distance when dealing with these political fixtures. Maybe this story was a little different as it sees a former boy scout and defender of country turn into the most wanted man on the planet. Rall seems to have been moved by that fact.
We mostly see Snowden depicted pretty much like any other Rall character but, at times, there is a less rushed, more careful, depiction. And, without a doubt, there is a certain specificity, and even warmth, for his cover art portrait of Edward Snowden. I think that was essential and will help draw readers into a most compelling read.