Posts By: Jeremy Porath

Nancy Wake

1 I go into this in more detail throughout, but Nancy gave many interviews later in her life where subtle details don’t quite add up or fit. Where I’ve run into these, as opposed to directly portraying verbatim what she described, I portray a more verifiably-plausible version. I absolutely believe the crux of her stories — and given her extensive collection of war medals, so did many governments and militaries — but I also believe she inflated her tales somewhat, as many do.

2 Nancy was born in New Zealand, and was descended from broadly western European lineage, with the exception of her great-great-grandmother Pourewa, who was Maori. Her father left when she was very young and her strict religious mother raised her alone. She had four siblings, most of them much older.3 This incident, of her writing a fairly innocuous dirty rhyme and being excoriated by her mother, is recounted verbatim in the FitzSimmons book. For those who have trouble with the handwriting, it reads: “Isn’t it funny / to see a little bunny / waiting for her Mummy / to come and wipe her bummy?”4 This was far from the last time she engaged in bawdy wordplay. Another instance, several years later, had her making fun of an unfortunately-named teacher, Fanny Menlove, by transposing her surname and given name to make the most obvious possible joke.

5 Anne of Green Gables is a book (well, first of several) about a young girl who goes to live with another family and ends up on a lot of adventures. Nancy loved this book and Anne of the Island, and took them with her wherever she went.

6 Skipping over a LOT of her story here. She ran away at 16, stayed with one of her siblings, took on a different name (where the middle name was Anne, off of Anne of Green Gables), and started working as a nurse. One anecdote I’m gutted I couldn’t fit in had her and another young nurse getting shitfaced on wine to handle carting out a dead patient, only for them to slip in the mud, the corpse to slip out of their hands, and for them to realize he was enormously well-endowed.7 Her aunt Hinamoa, one of the black sheep of the family, gave her 200 pounds to go out and travel. She hit up Vancouver, New York, and London, where she went to school for journalism. Along the way, she got into a fight with a boxer over a game of cards and got hit on by a lesbian woman, at which point she decided, somewhat to her chagrin, that she was straight. She had a lot of stories.

8 This interview is basically verbatim lifted from her telling of it. Her hairstyle, the Eton Crop, was taken from her love of contemporary movie star Tallulah Bankhead.

9 Yes, she actually went to clubs with her dog, a wire terrier named Picon.

10 Henri was a wealthy industrialist and man about town. Nancy talked a fair bit about the nasty and frequent sex they would have.11 This scene actually happened at the end of the club night, as opposed to them ditching their dates in the middle of a dance, but I maintain that’s something they would have done.

12 If it isn’t obvious, these are Jewish refugees, whom she met at her favorite cafe in Paris, Luigi’s.13 I’m pretty proud of the background in panel one. I am trying to do more full-painted backgrounds and it came out well.

14 So here is a deviation from the story as she tells it. She recounts going to Berlin in 1935, seeing Jews tied to wheels and whipped, and Hitler giving a speech in front of Brandenberg Gate. I could find no mention anywhere of Nazis strapping people to wheels for public shaming, or for them using whips outside of concentration camps (and occasionally, by Hitler, for show). Hitler did speak in Berlin at Brandenberg Gate, but in 1936, for the Olympics. I’ve no doubt, however, that she saw some awful treatment of Jews, so I instead portrayed some incidents for which I could find photo evidence, and hit the same note in her life. The guy on the right is using a metal baton with a leather strap on the end of it, which is the closest thing to a “whip” I could find used by street patrols.15 The background of the top panel shows a window with the word “JUDE” (Jew) painted on it, and some actual flyers handed out that warned against racial mixing.16 As she describes it, this scene actually would have happened before she met Henri (in 1936), but it the story flowed better if it was slotted it in here.

17 Henri’s parents hated Nancy. And they did get them super drunk at their wedding.18 At this point, war is about to break out, and Henri has been drafted into the French army to defend against Germany. Partly their marriage was hurried up because it felt like they didn’t have much time to enjoy life before all hell broke loose.

19 I had to skip a couple interesting beats here for time. Henri got drafted into the French military, which fell to the Germans shortly thereafter. Nancy was briefly an ambulance driver on the front lines, using a truck she demanded Henri get for her. After France fell to the Nazis, they became (outwardly) socialites.

20 I’m doing a lot of time compression here. Nancy has, at this period in her life, been pulling a Bruce Wayne routine for the past three years — airhead party girl by day, deadly-serious resistance courier by night. She seemed to always be traveling for her glam lifestyle, but really she was a courier between resistance pockets, and used fake names on the road. Henri stayed at home, ran his business, and set her up with money.21 The details of how she joined the resistance aren’t that interesting; basically, she was a vocal malcontent (what? our Nancy? never!) and was eventually introduced to a British officer, who involves her in larger plans. She did a bit of radio operation in this period too, with a radio in her bag and an earpiece running up to her ear.22 The one thing I wish I could get across more about this period was the paranoid tenor of the times: she couldn’t trust that her neighbors wouldn’t rat her out to the Germans, and everyone suspected everyone else.[Here I’m combining two trips of the numerous ones she took. That’s her actual fake ID in the fourth panel, she went by Lucienne Carlier.]

23 This dialogue is recounted verbatim in the FitzSimmons book. The historical gendarme’s reaction was a bit different though — he let her through out of horny solidarity with other military men. She even went on dates with Germans occasionally in this period.

24 This is Madame Sainson, one of the chief collaborators on what they called the Pat O’Leary Line, an escape route for Jews and downed allies. You can see she’s got a ton holed up in her apartment. Many of the Jews came from Poland, and may have been sent along by previously-covered RP Irena Sendler.25 Also, yes, Madame Sainson is holding a grenade in her hand in the third panel. She really answered the door with a grenade.

26 Henri gave her the money that she smuggled in toothpaste tubes (hence him making sure she remembered her toothpaste when she left).

27 This is a severe compression of a very elaborate series of intrigues that I didn’t have time for. As previously mentioned, Nancy was part of the Pat O’Leary line, which smuggled POWs and Jews out of German-held regions. They’d been lain low by a double agent that Nancy had never trusted. She literally threw him out of his house the first time she met him. In her words: “I always think that’s how I never got arrested, because I didn’t like the way he came into my place, because he kicked the dog out of the chair and he drank my bloody whiskey.”28 The double-agent, Harold Cole (aka Paul) had gotten Lt. Ian Garrow, one of the higher-ups, arrested, and Nancy was part of the plot to get him out. She bribed a guard to give him a guard outfit (that she’d also obtained) and to unlock his cell at a certain point. This scene took place in Nov 1942. On Dec. 8, 1942, Garrow escaped.29 The quote in the last panel is verbatim from her telling, but it wasn’t delivered to the man she was bribing. She’d had the money wired to a local post office to give to the bribed guard, which prompted other Germans to question her as to why she had so much money. That was the response she gave.

30 Again, playing with time here. Hitler torched Marseille’s Vieux port (the source of much resistance to the Germans) in January 1943, whereas her trip to Meauzac to bribe a guard happened in November 1942.

31 This sequence didn’t actually happen as shown — but I wanted to get across how important Henri was to her, and the real sense of fear they lived with near the end of her time here. In reality, this cat-and-mouse game went on a fair bit longer. Germans tapped her phone, read her mail, and thought she might be a prostitute for a while. Some wanted to accuse her of blowing up a cinema in Toulouse, Inglorious Basterds-style, although she didn’t do that.

32 Yes, they made actual vows of infidelity. That’s almost verbatim what they said to each other. Henri hadn’t really been super faithful to that point anyway, but she had made her peace with it. She’d had her flirtations through their marriage, although she’d not acted on any.33 By this point, when she went into hiding, she had helped, it is thought, 1,037 people escape.

So I’m doing something a little different for this entry. Instead of doing this breezy info-comic style, I’m doing a full-on graphic novel-length comic on the life of Nancy Wake. I’ll be releasing it in installments, divided out into different chapters of her life, as I complete it.

As it stands, I plan for this to be the last RP entry I do, at least for a long while. I’ve been doing this for five years now – when I started, there was almost nobody else doing this sort of work. But now, if I stop for a bit, there will be others carrying the torch.

I don’t plan on just slinking off into the ether. There’s other projects I want to be doing, which I’ve been putting together (which explains the slow posting rate here). I’ll be announcing those near the completion of the Nancy Wake story.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll enjoy Nancy’s story. It’s truly incredible.

Footnotes

1 I go into this in more detail throughout, but Nancy gave many interviews later in her life where subtle details don’t quite add up or fit. Where I’ve run into these, as opposed to directly portraying verbatim what she described, I portray a more verifiably-plausible version. I absolutely believe the crux of her stories — and given her extensive collection of war medals, so did many governments and militaries — but I also believe she inflated her tales somewhat, as many do.
2 Nancy was born in New Zealand, and was descended from broadly western European lineage, with the exception of her great-great-grandmother Pourewa, who was Maori. Her father left when she was very young and her strict religious mother raised her alone. She had four siblings, most of them much older.
3 This incident, of her writing a fairly innocuous dirty rhyme and being excoriated by her mother, is recounted verbatim in the FitzSimmons book. For those who have trouble with the handwriting, it reads: “Isn’t it funny / to see a little bunny / waiting for her Mummy / to come and wipe her bummy?”
4 This was far from the last time she engaged in bawdy wordplay. Another instance, several years later, had her making fun of an unfortunately-named teacher, Fanny Menlove, by transposing her surname and given name to make the most obvious possible joke.
5 Anne of Green Gables is a book (well, first of several) about a young girl who goes to live with another family and ends up on a lot of adventures. Nancy loved this book and Anne of the Island, and took them with her wherever she went.
6 Skipping over a LOT of her story here. She ran away at 16, stayed with one of her siblings, took on a different name (where the middle name was Anne, off of Anne of Green Gables), and started working as a nurse. One anecdote I’m gutted I couldn’t fit in had her and another young nurse getting shitfaced on wine to handle carting out a dead patient, only for them to slip in the mud, the corpse to slip out of their hands, and for them to realize he was enormously well-endowed.
7 Her aunt Hinamoa, one of the black sheep of the family, gave her 200 pounds to go out and travel. She hit up Vancouver, New York, and London, where she went to school for journalism. Along the way, she got into a fight with a boxer over a game of cards and got hit on by a lesbian woman, at which point she decided, somewhat to her chagrin, that she was straight. She had a lot of stories.
8 This interview is basically verbatim lifted from her telling of it. Her hairstyle, the Eton Crop, was taken from her love of contemporary movie star Tallulah Bankhead.
9 Yes, she actually went to clubs with her dog, a wire terrier named Picon.
10 Henri was a wealthy industrialist and man about town. Nancy talked a fair bit about the nasty and frequent sex they would have.
11 This scene actually happened at the end of the club night, as opposed to them ditching their dates in the middle of a dance, but I maintain that’s something they would have done.
12 If it isn’t obvious, these are Jewish refugees, whom she met at her favorite cafe in Paris, Luigi’s.
13 I’m pretty proud of the background in panel one. I am trying to do more full-painted backgrounds and it came out well.
14 So here is a deviation from the story as she tells it. She recounts going to Berlin in 1935, seeing Jews tied to wheels and whipped, and Hitler giving a speech in front of Brandenberg Gate. I could find no mention anywhere of Nazis strapping people to wheels for public shaming, or for them using whips outside of concentration camps (and occasionally, by Hitler, for show). Hitler did speak in Berlin at Brandenberg Gate, but in 1936, for the Olympics. I’ve no doubt, however, that she saw some awful treatment of Jews, so I instead portrayed some incidents for which I could find photo evidence, and hit the same note in her life. The guy on the right is using a metal baton with a leather strap on the end of it, which is the closest thing to a “whip” I could find used by street patrols.
15 The background of the top panel shows a window with the word “JUDE” (Jew) painted on it, and some actual flyers handed out that warned against racial mixing.
16 As she describes it, this scene actually would have happened before she met Henri (in 1936), but it the story flowed better if it was slotted it in here.
17 Henri’s parents hated Nancy. And they did get them super drunk at their wedding.
18 At this point, war is about to break out, and Henri has been drafted into the French army to defend against Germany. Partly their marriage was hurried up because it felt like they didn’t have much time to enjoy life before all hell broke loose.
19 I had to skip a couple interesting beats here for time. Henri got drafted into the French military, which fell to the Germans shortly thereafter. Nancy was briefly an ambulance driver on the front lines, using a truck she demanded Henri get for her. After France fell to the Nazis, they became (outwardly) socialites.
20 I’m doing a lot of time compression here. Nancy has, at this period in her life, been pulling a Bruce Wayne routine for the past three years — airhead party girl by day, deadly-serious resistance courier by night. She seemed to always be traveling for her glam lifestyle, but really she was a courier between resistance pockets, and used fake names on the road. Henri stayed at home, ran his business, and set her up with money.
21 The details of how she joined the resistance aren’t that interesting; basically, she was a vocal malcontent (what? our Nancy? never!) and was eventually introduced to a British officer, who involves her in larger plans. She did a bit of radio operation in this period too, with a radio in her bag and an earpiece running up to her ear.
22 The one thing I wish I could get across more about this period was the paranoid tenor of the times: she couldn’t trust that her neighbors wouldn’t rat her out to the Germans, and everyone suspected everyone else.
23 This dialogue is recounted verbatim in the FitzSimmons book. The historical gendarme’s reaction was a bit different though — he let her through out of horny solidarity with other military men. She even went on dates with Germans occasionally in this period.
24 This is Madame Sainson, one of the chief collaborators on what they called the Pat O’Leary Line, an escape route for Jews and downed allies. You can see she’s got a ton holed up in her apartment. Many of the Jews came from Poland, and may have been sent along by previously-covered RP Irena Sendler.
25 Also, yes, Madame Sainson is holding a grenade in her hand in the third panel. She really answered the door with a grenade.
26 Henri gave her the money that she smuggled in toothpaste tubes (hence him making sure she remembered her toothpaste when she left).
27 This is a severe compression of a very elaborate series of intrigues that I didn’t have time for. As previously mentioned, Nancy was part of the Pat O’Leary line, which smuggled POWs and Jews out of German-held regions. They’d been lain low by a double agent that Nancy had never trusted. She literally threw him out of his house the first time she met him. In her words: “I always think that’s how I never got arrested, because I didn’t like the way he came into my place, because he kicked the dog out of the chair and he drank my bloody whiskey.”
28 The double-agent, Harold Cole (aka Paul) had gotten Lt. Ian Garrow, one of the higher-ups, arrested, and Nancy was part of the plot to get him out. She bribed a guard to give him a guard outfit (that she’d also obtained) and to unlock his cell at a certain point. This scene took place in Nov 1942. On Dec. 8, 1942, Garrow escaped.
29 The quote in the last panel is verbatim from her telling, but it wasn’t delivered to the man she was bribing. She’d had the money wired to a local post office to give to the bribed guard, which prompted other Germans to question her as to why she had so much money. That was the response she gave.
30 Again, playing with time here. Hitler torched Marseille’s Vieux port (the source of much resistance to the Germans) in January 1943, whereas her trip to Meauzac to bribe a guard happened in November 1942.
31 This sequence didn’t actually happen as shown — but I wanted to get across how important Henri was to her, and the real sense of fear they lived with near the end of her time here. In reality, this cat-and-mouse game went on a fair bit longer. Germans tapped her phone, read her mail, and thought she might be a prostitute for a while. Some wanted to accuse her of blowing up a cinema in Toulouse, Inglorious Basterds-style, although she didn’t do that.
32 Yes, they made actual vows of infidelity. That’s almost verbatim what they said to each other. Henri hadn’t really been super faithful to that point anyway, but she had made her peace with it. She’d had her flirtations through their marriage, although she’d not acted on any.
33 By this point, when she went into hiding, she had helped, it is thought, 1,037 people escape.

China Machado

Ms. Machado was the first nonwhite supermodel, and it’s a legacy the fashion industry has to wrestle with.

“She was the first to put in front of the audience the idea of the otherness, bringing out memories of different cultures and fragments of other imagery. She always did it with irony, without posing, modeling or vogueing. Somehow she showed it all while dancing.”

(thanks to Samantha for sending this in!)

Seen Not Heard

Was delighted to be interviewed by the students at BAYCAT for their video on the portrayal of women in the media – it came out great, y’all!

Martha Matilda Harper

She pioneered retail franchising and created the American hair salon industry.

“She designed the first reclining chair so they could have their hair washed without getting shampoo in their eyes, and had a half circle cut out of her sink (with running water) for ladies to rest their heads. The emphasis was on customer service, long before the term was coined.”

See also: Madam CJ Walker (previously covered here), a black woman who became America’s first female millionaire via her empire of beauty and hair products.

Dorothy Levitt

Levitt’s story is proof that women were in auto racing almost from the start, and she has some ideas for other drivers

“She didn’t just drive automobiles—she also raced boats, rode horses and even learned how to fly planes… She also taught other women how to drive… including Queen Alexandra and her three daughters.”

(thanks to BM Mathews for sending this in!)

RP on Biography.com!

Author and illustrator Jason Porath brings to light a courageous collection of unsung heroines in his popular blog and book, Rejected Princesses. Here he introduces us to seven fearlessly fierce females that history should not forget.

Got to write a guest piece for Biography.com today! Super jazzed they asked. :)

Ilhan Omar

Several people on Twitter celebrated the Minnesota lawmaker after she took her oath on Tuesday.

“My election win offers a counter-narrative to the bigotry in the world,” said Ilhan Omar, who’d fled a war zone and endured homelessness before immigrating and eventually taking elected office. “This is a land of immigrants, and most come here for opportunity, a second chance. It’s our time to fight for the America we know we can have.”

Paige Sullivan

After Paige Sullivan, 9, had heart surgery, her mother made her a superhero cape to honor her bravery. Now Paige and her mother make the capes for children at Duke University Medical Center and other hospitals.

When she delivers the capes she makes to other kids in the hospital, 9-year-old Paige Sullivan tells them, “Embrace the cape. Embrace your superhero.”

RP on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls!

“Well-behaved women seldom make history. Ill-behaved women seldom make musicals.”

So awesome to be on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls! :D

RP on Ask Me Another!

Author James Porath talks rebellious, unapologetic, and brave women in “Rejected Princesses.” Then Project Runway’s Tim Gunn helps us “make it work” in a game that rewrites his famous catchphrase.

I got to be on the fabulous NPR’s Ask Me Another game show! This was super fun. And I got to meet Tim Gunn and Jonathan Coulton! Ahhh!

The above link is to the full show, I come on for a segment around 15 minutes in, worth checking out. You can also listen to just my section here: