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SPX 2015: Why Ted Rall felt compelled to tell ‘Snowden’s’ cartoon tale

(images courtesy of Ted Rall / Seven Stories Press 2015)

WHETHER HE’S tramping through Afghanistan or railing against large institutions, Ted Rall identifies with the role of vocal outsider. And so, in some ways, he seems a natural to render the life of Edward Snowden in graphic-novel form.

“Two things in particular make the Snowden story interesting from a biographer’s point of view,” Rall, author of the new paperback “Snowden” (Seven Stories Press), tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. First, “He underwent a substantial political transformation, from nationalist libertarian to someone who is literally willing to go on the run from his own government and is now living in exile in Russia. That came as a result of what he observed while working for the CIA and NSA.” (The Post and the Guardian, of course, shared the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for reporting revelations about the NSA’s secret surveillance, including Snowden’s role and leaked documents.)

“As he says, there’s no single event that caused this political maturation,” Rall continues. “It’s a series of realizations that brought him to a new place culturally and politically.”

Rall, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and RFK Journalism Award winner for his editorial cartooning, was also drawn to what he calls Snowden’s “existential dilemma.”

“He made two promises, both of which he took seriously, [and they] turned out to be mutually incompatible,” says Rall, who will be a special guest this weekend at Small Press Expo in suburban Washington, in illuminating the narrative attraction for him. “One was to keep government secrets secret. The other one was to defend the Constitution. Once he learned that the U.S. government was violating federal and international law on a grand scale, he couldn’t keep one promise without violating the other one. He had to decide which one was more important.”

So the obvious inquiry here, then, is whether Rall considers Snowden’s actions to be laudatory or treasonous?

“In my view, there’s no question: Edward Snowden is a hero,” says Rall, who will appear Saturday on the SPX panel, “Drawing the News: Comics Journalism.” “Unlike an issue like climate change, those who are on the other side have a perfectly reasonable argument. That’s what makes him so interesting and a subject of fascination.

“To me, there’s no comparison between the U.S. government, which was behaving completely out of control by intercepting every communication on earth, and Edward Snowden — he was trying to stop them,”” continues Rall (who will return to Washington next month to speak at Busboys & Poets). “He broke a relatively minor agreement in order to draw attention to a scale of lawbreaking that even today is nearly impossible to process.”

RELATED: SPX 2015: Hark! Kate Beaton steers an artfully smart new book, ‘Step Aside Pops’

NOTE: The Post’s Comic Riffs will moderate Saturday’s animation panel at Small Press Expo;