It's Brief Exchange time again! This is the exhibition that my lovely friend Noeleen has organised over the past few years, and entails a bunch of designer types each writing a brief for a poster, which then all get switched around and assigned at random. This year, the brief I got was short, sweet, and left me wondering how the hell I was going to do it.
I spy with my little eye...
So I thought, "Alright then! Spies it is!" While trying to figure out where to go from there, the Bear was helpfully suggesting subjects like Edward Snowden or the Cambridge Spy Ring, which led to me declaring "I don't care about dudes! It's going to be about LADY SPIES!" Having decided that much, (who am I kidding, of course it was going to be about lady spies. The lads always get the epic historical biopics and tales of derring-do.) I then remembered reading an incredible obituary a few years ago, of a woman who was known as The White Mouse during the Second World War, and set about reading up as much as I could about her. Because historical bad girls are my jam. (That, and strawberry.)
Her name was Nancy Wake and she was not to be fucked with.
Born in New Zealand, married to a French dude and with a reputation for being a party girl, Nancy wasted no time getting stuck in when Germany kicked off, working as a nurse and driving an ambulance during the invasion of Belgium. When France had fallen, she worked as a courier for the Resistance, set up a safehouse and smuggled hundreds of Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain, so the Nazis couldn't get their hands on them. When she got word that the Gestapo were closing in on her she escaped across the mountains, but not before a failed attempt that involved her jumping from a moving train with German bullets whizzing past her as she legged it through a vineyard. By then, she was the top of the Gestapo's Most Wanted list, with a five million franc bounty on her head and cool nickname to boot. The White Mouse, because she always managed to escape the Nazi's traps for her. She reached London and was trained by the Special Operations Executive (which was excellently nicknamed the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare) in espionage, combat and guerilla tactics.
Nancy was then parachuted into occupied France as a field agent, led and organised local resistance groups and co-ordinated successful attacks on German bases. When she landed, her parachute became tangled in a tree and the resistance agent that was meeting her made some sleazebag remark about how he wished that all trees "bore such beautiful fruit", to which she replied "Don't give me that French shit." You could say that she was exactly my kind of broad. Apparently she went nowhere without her Chanel lipstick and made a point of looking good during the war, so she wouldn't look like a hunted woman. Her brazen confidence had her winking at German checkpoint guards while she'd saunter past, flirting her way out of danger, but she's also a woman who killed a Nazi guard with her bare hands before he could raise the alarm during one of her raids. She was quoted after the war as saying; "In my opinion, the only good German was a dead German, and the deader,
the better. I killed a lot of Germans, and I am only sorry I didn't kill
more." She was basically a real life Agent Carter, but more murdery.
So, armed with amazing details like all of that, I went about putting my image together, which involved an afternoon spent carefully drawing the outlines of WWII machine guns, Enfield revolvers, Sten guns and grenades, because, seriously, you didn't mess with Nancy. I decided to make the shape of a mouse, illustrated using bits and pieces from her frankly astounding time spent fucking things up for the Gestapo, as well as stuff she liked, such as her drink of choice (double gin and tonic), cigars and heels, as well as her many service medals. The mouse's tail is Morse code, repeating the text underneath and the silhouette in the second A of her name is actually based on a shot of Peggy Carter, as it sort of seemed apt. There was TV movie based on her life made in 1987, which she hated, because it depicted her making breakfast for the lads and having an affair with a soldier. “For goodness sake, did the allies parachute me into France to fry eggs
and bacon for the men? There wasn’t an egg to be had for
love nor money, and even if there had been, why would I be frying it
when I had men to do that sort of thing?” Top notch saltiness.
The whole exhibition is online on the Brief Exchange site and there's a heap of brilliant design going on over there, so do check it out!