You may have bought Becky Cloonan’s self-published comics from us before: Wolves, The Mire, or the latest installment in the trilogy, Demeter.
Now Becky is collecting her Wolves Trilogy into one superb hard cover graphic novel, By Chance Or Providence, out through Lounak Studios (who have plenty of lovely stuff on their website). We’ll be launching it here, in London, at Gosh!, with a good ol’…
Because you probably don’t need another one. Though I will say I enjoyed the film a lot, and Ed (Brubaker) was amazing! I waved at him and felt super proud.
But this is not a review of that film.
Before the film, as is customary, we watched trailers (Omg how good does guardians of the galaxy…
Hey, all. This is a comic I started on 24 Hour Comic Day, but I only managed to complete 12 pages on that day. That makes it a technical failure, but I decided it was worth finishing regardless of that.
weaponizedboredom said: I, like you, have a life-long love of espionage. This past weekend, I went to see the Spies: Hidden World of Espionage exhibit at the Franklin Museum in Philly and saw some really amazing artifacts (the pickaxe that killed Trotsky, etc.). Then, the creeping realization fully dawned on me that this stuff was real and most of it damn near fascistic. Top that all off with the NSA spying. How can I reconcile the love of the world of spies with the scary real-world implications that come along?
They’re two very different things, obviously. Fiction has the ability to shine light on reality, to illuminate those things we’ve ignored or missed or take for granted. Le Carré and MacIntosh are excellent examples of taking the fiction of espionage, dramatizing it, and using it to both entertain and to explicate, and that’s for the best. Bond, you know, not so much - Bond (even modern Bond) has always been far more about escapist fantasy than real-world implications and events.
Part of the nature of espionage in the “real world” is that it is, in large part I think, cynicism hidden behind a veil of pragmatism. There’s a line from The Sandbaggers that puts it pretty well, where Burnside says, “It’s the old rule, Sam. Do unto the other guy, but do it first.”
The better version of the same philosophy is presented by Le Carré in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
"We have to live without sympathy, don’t we? That’s impossible of course. We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren’t like that really. I mean… one can’t be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold…d’you see what I mean?"
Leamas saw. He saw the long road outside Rotterdam, the long straight road beside the dunes, and the stream of refugees moving along it; saw the little aeroplane miles away, the procession stop and look towards it; and the plane coming in, neatly over the dunes; saw the chaos, the meaningless hell, as the bombs hit the road.
"I can’t talk like this, Control," Leamas said at last. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to stay out in the cold a little longer." Leamas said nothing, so Control went on: "The ethic of our work, as I understand it, is based on a single assumption. That is, we are never going to be aggressors. Do you think that’s fair?"
Leamas nodded. Anything to avoid talking.
"Thus we do disagreeable things, be we are defensive. That, I think, is still fair. We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and elsewhere can sleep safely in their beds at night. Is that too romantic? Of course, we occasionally do very wicked things”; he grinned like a schoolboy. “And in weighing up the moralities, we rather go in for dishonest comparisons; after all, you can’t compare the ideals of one side with the methods of the other, can you, now?”
Leamas was lost. He’d heard the man talked a lot of drivel before getting the knife in, but he’d never heard anything like this before.
"I mean, you’ve got to compare method with method, and ideal with ideal. I would say that since the war, our methods—ours and those of the opposition—have become much the same. I mean you can’t be less ruthless than the opposition simply because your government’s policy is benevolent, can you now?” He laughed quietly to himself: “That would never do,” he said.
One can argue - pretty persuasively, I think - that this is the Le Carré thesis; or more precisely, that his thesis is that such arguments are inherently false. That there is no real justification for the depths of betrayal and mendacity inherent in espionage.
We’ve seen lot of screaming and gnashing of teeth about Snowden and the NSA revelations; in particular the inappropriateness of “spying on our allies,” as well as with sharing intelligence with our allies. My own… fatalism, I suppose (I don’t think of myself as a cynic, so I want to avoid that word, though it might be the best one for it) is such that I’m vaguely annoyed at the shrill cries from other governments; as if their suits are that much whiter; as if they’re surprised to find that everyone else is doing the same thing.
Which is precisely what Le Carré is railing against, mind you. The idealism of fiction desires a better world; the reality is that it’s ugly, sordid business.
The end of the Cold War saw a redirection of espionage towards economic concerns (justified, perhaps, as another means of “national security”), and I’m positive there isn’t a government in the world who didn’t turn their spying apparatus towards a capitalist goal. (Again, I point you to Le Carré, this time The Secret Pilgrim, a collection of essentially short stories, and one of his more underrated books, I think). Espionage became about making money; I would argue that the current culture of wealth that exists in US politics is certainly part and parcel of that, too, though which came first, I’m not sure. With GWOT, that economic drive didn’t dissipate; in fact, it may have become even more acute, existing in conjunction (or even cooperation) with the War on Terror.
I’m somewhat rambling here, I realize, as I’m prone to do. The fact is, real world espionage is always always always politically driven, and politics is ultimately about one thing at the end of the day: self-perpetuation. The government wants to remain in power. The government will do everything it can to achieve that end. Espionage is simply another tool to achieve that goal. In that calculus, ideals like freedom of speech and privacy and so on all fall on the altar of survival.
This isn’t a defense. I stand far closer to Le Carré in my feelings on the matter than with General Keith Alexander.
Appallingly long answer to your question. Here’s the take away - we reconcile the fact and the fiction precisely because it is fact and it is fiction. We acknowledge the fantasy that the fiction provides, in all its varying forms, from the grim and dirty lie-that-tells-the-truth of Le Carré to the fantasy of Fleming. Acknowledging that the fantasy is a fantasy is, perhaps, the most important thing. And knowing how to read the truth in the fantasy is what gives the fantasy some of its worth, outside of pure entertainment.