The Spy

September 17, 2010

Back with a new comic, ch-ch-check it out. I can’t goddamn tell if this one’s working anymore, so apologies if it’s just a big, er, smelly non-successful thing.

There’s a poster now available of the previous comic, if anyone missed that and was wondering, so find it in the store (oh this crazy, fast-paced world…). Also: looks like someone made a subnormality entry on wikipedia, which is kind of neat (no Mongo though? OH MY GOD HISSY FIT ETC), so have a look before it gets swiftly deleted for not being “notable” enough…



93 Responses to “The Spy”


    Great comic! About halfway through I was *sure* the spy was gonna be the waitress. I was wrong. This is the kind of plot twist I find in Hitchcock — good stuff.

  2. Katie Says:

    Aw, and here I thought the lady was the spy!

  3. ScottyDoE Says:

    you are always so poignant and poetic. I love all of your comics… Thank you.

  4. schtroumpf Says:

    Yeah, TV Tropes, *not* Wikipedia, is the go-to place for informational articles about webcomics now, and there’s been one up for Subnormality quite some time. And they only delete trope pages, not works pages (unless a page for a work is like two sentences or something).

  5. jg Says:

    Tell us about oddjob. That should be a Koran or Ruby on Rails manual he is reading.

  6. Danielle Says:

    Love it. Great comic, and I loved the twist at the end. That’s um…one sexy spy haha

  7. Michelle Says:

    That spy is a total failure. I took special notice of him in the first panel. How dare he be looking at the waitress with an eyebrow raised?

    Didn’t guess he was the spy, though. Nice twist.

  8. Ignazio Says:

    Great one, I never even noticed there was something in the background. Which is sort of the point, I guess 😀

  9. Ineluki Says:

    Innnteresting new style. Takes a bit getting used to, though.

  10. Zoe Brain Says:

    I’m Intersexed, but Transsexual is close enough.

    It’s a bit like being a Cylon. “We walk amongst you” and all that.

    “Out” transsexuals have 17 times the normal rate of being murdered. The majority of us live in “Full Stealth”. It’s safer that way.

    I imagine being a sleeper agent must be something like that. Or someone in a witness protection program.

    • Adam Says:

      seriously?? I feel a lot less safe now.. and mother tells me I shouldn’t be so afraid of using a pulic men’s bathroom, BAH! I really question whether I should even tell people I’m a transman.

      Love all the comics, espesially the sphinx character. However the suit guy who was talking seemed concieted.

    • Zoe Brain Says:

      Of course some of us – mainly Trans guys – look so, well, normal that no-one notices. Or believes it if they get told. People see what the expect to see.

      They’ve been conditioned to look for something out of the ordinary, and many of us are not. Well, apart from the unusual medical history.

  11. Buldwren Says:

    Nicely done, that ending twisted my brain!

    I’m not sure what to think about that close-up line art. It improves character detail, but kind of clashes with the shading.

    • I know what you’re saying for sure, it’s tough to kind of “match” coloring with line art, there’s certainly no handbook on it that i’ve seen. But it’s definitely apparent when the two clash (usually when gradients are involved, so i try to avoid those).

  12. Bart Massey Says:

    I liked the art style on this one a lot. Like some of the other posters, I expected the waitress to be the spy: I like your ending way better.

    Very nice.

  13. Adavistic Puma Says:

    Thought the waitress was a spy (or at least some kind of assassin?) cause of the sinking ice cubes… What IS with the ice cubes?

    Just spent most of the past 2 days reading the archives. Wow.
    Id love to see any kind of physical graphic novel … especially something like Estar (cause the computery colours don’t always do it fer me)

    • I fully admit to any accusations of poorly-drawn ice. And yeah, i’d love to see some graphic novels too. Time constraints though.. My vague overall plan is subnormality–> graphic novels, but who knows what the future will look like. Some day, hopefully…

      Interesting that you prefer the black&white. Any particular reason? I definitely used to feel that way, but now i’m slowly figuring out that color can sort of add more than just a fancy coat of paint (If a comic wouldn’t work if reduced to black & white then color has been used correctly, that kind of thing).

    • alex Says:

      This is her first day, and that’s what he got when he ordered a bourbon “on the rocks”.

  14. Rosa Says:

    Nice one, Winston 🙂

  15. GerryB Says:

    For some reason, panel 3 reminds me of some of the early Deadline stuff (unhelpfully I don’t have them anymore so can’t elaborate)but I do think it suits the up-’til-then serious subject matter: a visual change of tone-of-voice to suit. Very glad to be wrong in thinking it was the waitress by the uppercut punchline, nice one.

    Have your uppercase letters always had Special Capitals, or am I being too microscopic?

  16. Eth-Zee Says:

    Is that…

    …is that Lynch?

  17. Leon Says:

    Adavistic Puma, ice is lighter than water but still substantially heavier than alcohol. If I calculated it correctly, any drink with 38 v% alcohol or more should see the cubes slowly sinking to the bottom of the glass. (faster as alcohol content increases)

    Anyway, halfway through I started suspecting the waitress, then right before the end, the other people in the background. The actual person thinking was the only one I didn’t expect. Nice! (and also very true to life)

  18. Innominate Says:

    I thought for a moment that the waitress was going to end up being a spy. In my mind, she still is.

  19. Joe Turner Says:

    Listen. I work for the CIA. I am not a spy. I just read books! We read everything that’s published in the world. And we… we feed the plots – dirty tricks, codes – into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, I look for new ideas… We read adventures and novels and journals. I… I… Who’d invent a job like that?

    • Zoe Brain Says:


      For my sins, I’ve worked on secure diplomatic communications. I think you can imagine the kind of stuff that goes through there, everything from newsclippings to organised crime intel.

      And… that’s about all I can say about it. Bummer.

      I did once get a recruitment attempt from your mob (I’m not American). An offer of well-paid “consultancy work”, just gathering unclass data from papers etc. and doing some local analysis. That’s how it starts….

      I said I’d have to clear it through our Counter-Intel first, and naturally they’d see all product. And contacted them immediately.

      The interest… waned. Rapidly.

      We’re Allies – but our interests aren’t (quite) identical.

      Best regards to all at Langley and elsewhere. I’m glad you’re on our side. Mostly.

      Now you’re going to have to write a report, aren’t you?

    • Tamfang Says:

      The movie Three Days of the Condor is mostly about people with that job.

  20. TheBrummell Says:

    Good stuff. Thanks for this.

  21. S.A. Ravenheart Says:

    Another great twist by Winston Rowentree. I love how you keep us guessing until the end.

  22. Tom Says:

    It totally worked on me.

  23. Joe Turner Says:

    Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?

  24. Dave Says:

    Really dug the style of the shot with the “spy” and waitress after the monologue started. Would make a nifty print

  25. Chamale Says:

    I didn’t see that twist coming at all. Nice comic.

    @Joe Turner: Who are you talking to?

  26. Meghana K Says:

    I loved the artwork in the fourth panel!… And the twist in the end! I too was expecting the waitress to be the spy!

  27. Leo W. Says:

    I was sure it would be the waitress.

    Damn fine comic though. James Bond is pretty silly, but you’ve gotta love it.

  28. Bernard Osterman Says:

    The truth is just a lie that hasn’t been found out.

  29. Adnan Y. Says:

    Harry Palmer’s grown a beard?

  30. William Says:

    Man, I was positive that it was going to be the waitress. You sure got me there.

    Also, I absolutely lobe the close-up line art on the tuxedo guy and waitress.

  31. Ben Says:

    “The people who get things done are the ones who slip past while everyone is staring at a cliche” is now one of the favorite quotations on my facebook page.

  32. Kalil Says:

    Reminds me very strongly of Smiley from John LeCarre’s ‘Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy’, and ‘Smiley’s People’. He was described as completely non-descript; a slightly pudgy middle-class Englishman.

  33. parsec Says:

    What a twist! Shyamalan can eat it, this was brilliant.

  34. ForestFire0 Says:

    I also thought I had figured out the twist half-way through and guessed it was the waitress.

  35. Vole Says:

    When you said “Oddjob” for a moment I thought “Odlaw” and was like waaat?

    Also, google “famous spies” for a good laugh.

  36. gridsleep Says:

    It’s a good thing you aren’t a pitcher. No hitters are boring (as the man said.) But, you are just perfect for this strip. Every time. Every time, man. I keep coming back here to be surprised, and, no surprise, that’s always what I get.

  37. zebideedoodah Says:

    Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. I’d like to tell you how true this is, but then I’d have to kill you.

  38. DaveB Says:

    Ha! Nice job of misdirection to set up the twisty ending. Your art is always a pleasure for me to study. Your use of line density and color is most appealing. Dude, I don’t want to go all “off the rails” here, but really, I think you could consider an actual career in art if you stick with it for a few more years…

  39. valy Says:

    if you weren’t drawing comics i guess you would be a monk on the top of some mountain in the middle of nowhere, teaching life lessons to the ones who could reach you xD

    seems sometyhing so simple, your comics, but so full of truth…and funny!!!

  40. valy Says:

    oh…and kudos for the wikipedia entry ^_^

  41. Gary Watson Says:

    Hey, WR, is it not possible to make *every* comic available as a poster? Does TopatoCo enforce some kind of limit or minimum print run or somesuch? I ask because I think you’d sell at least a few posters of every comic if all were avaialable. And of course we need a (Formerly-Formerly) Pink Hair Girl poster at some point. Nice job on this one; another donation coming your way on Friday.

    • Jeff P Says:

      If that happened, it would kill a weekend. I would, of course, have to get one, but I would have to pick. That would be hell.

    • Cheers, man. And i’d love to do a formerly formerly pink haired girl poster, but no concept has leapt to mind as of yet. And yeah, it’s certainly possible to make most or all of the comix available as posters, but the demand hasn’t really been there, plus i’m kind of leery of the dangers of Too Much Selection. I expect i’ll cave in at some point, but for now we’ll see how the present selection sells.

      [/sinister marketing techniques]

  42. Roadtoad Says:

    Perfectly done, Winston. You hoodwinked us all.

  43. benS. Says:

    How on earth do spies in spe get their jobs? Being nearly invisible/dork-looking, I suppose even talent-scouts/psychologists must spend helluva time before even spotting one (sic/sic, no-sic and sic/sic).

    Could I get the job?
    YesS I Can.

  44. Lawrence Fassett Says:

    Think of them as fleas on a dog hit by a car driven by a drunken teenager whose girlfriend just gave him the clap. It will help you sense of perspective.

    • jbg Says:

      Suppose I was to tell you that our enemies are capable of impairing rational thought, of dismantling our willingness to defend ourself, of dissociating whole societies from their value systems!

      You mean they use FaceBook?

  45. Mauraa Says:

    Thanks! ❤

  46. Juli Says:


  47. Richter Says:

    I feel wierd about this comic. It’s strange, it’s not laugh out-loud funny, not overly wall-of-texty, neither joyful nor sad… and yet I absolutely love it. Time after time the comic is amazing. I don’t look at art just to be entertained but also disturbed sometimes. This one is definately disturbing, in a quiet, low-key, very satisfying way.

    PS : the fine line drawing on the big close-up is something I’ve rarely seen around here. The comic has usually more “fat” lines. Why this technique for this one panel?

    • Cheers for the kind words, it means a lot to me. As for why the use of fine lines in the close-up panel, it’s just something i wanted to experiment with. Too often i use thick lines to hide mistakes, so i want to kind of see if i can do without them sometimes. Whatever i need to do to avoid stagnation, basically.

  48. El Commento Says:

    Great comic. Blacktie man has some terrifyingly hairy hands.

  49. No Hablo Ingles Says:

    Dear Winston,
    No Hablo here again.

    I have an idea for you.

    Instead of stressing yourself out getting these things out on a deadline

    you should post them

    whenever the fuck you feel like it.

    Thank me later

    With love,

    Non-english speaker.

  50. Kathryn Says:

    Just found your comics and I feel like we’re fraternal braintwins. You have better metaphors though.

  51. Liam Proven Says:

    As ever, a real work of art. Like it a lot, even though this time I did spot the punchline coming.

    But one small thing… Not a criticism of the art, or the writing, but the physics.

    Ice-cubes float. :¬)

  52. GerryB Says:

    @Liam – you may have stumbled upon the method used to kill the spy’s target: radioactive heavy water ice cubes:

  53. Creamy Says:

    just wanted to let you know this comic is freaking brilliant
    also, diggin the new logo

  54. Nick Says:

    i had to read it a second time to actually notice all of the bubbles connecting to the guy at the bottom. At first I thought it was just describing how that guy would be good for the job. Again sir, brilliant.

  55. Menschenjaeger Says:

    Long time reader, first time caller. You totally snagged me with this one. And, dammit, I wanted to be the first to comment on the ice: “He HAS to be the spy because he has special MI6 sinking ice cubes!” 😀

    Winston, now that I’ve popped my own commenting cherry, my (sort of) weekly dose of Subnormality is one of the most significant parts of my intellectual life. Thanks for consistently producing such great work.

  56. Bill Says:

    I was convinced the spy was the server….

  57. Steve Says:

    Yeah, one more for “thought it was the waitress” over here 😀 Nice work Winston.

  58. Tom Says:

    My god. PLEASE keep making these. You’re an artist and a philosopher in every sense of the word.

  59. Max Says:

    I would like to comment, but I am too stupid to flatter your intelligence.

  60. greg Says:

    I read all of these in two days. Have you heard of kahlil gibran? He was a poet, also: please make a book.

  61. Dan Says:

    Normally I don’t dig on your stuff too much, but this one was fantastic. I have a CIA spook on sabbatical as an instructor right now, and this comic is pretty much spot-on with what he’s told us. Great job.

  62. Sabrina Pandora Says:

    You are a freaking genius, and I love your work. I’ll be supporting you with purchases as soon as the fortune to accompany my fame rolls in.

    And I wanna grow up to be the Sphynx in 3457 years. Thank you for giving me a long-term role model.

  63. LightHorseman Says:


    I thought the twisst was that it was going to be the waitress who was the spy.

  64. lulzfish Says:

    Ze Spy has already breached our defenses!

    But I thought it was going to be the waitress… the Spy fooled me.

  65. Grot Says:

    The best spy in all of comic-dom

  66. LT Says:

    brilliantly written, friend

  67. suoidet Says:

    the ice would sink in high content alcohol? (yes but as the ice melted it would change the % and start to float,perhaps ?) the ice is heavy water?(kind of iffy there as it would take greater than 25% replacement of body water with heavy water) tritium water would be a more likely candidate for eliminating a target as it’s decay time would let the target get far enough away to lessen the chances for a back trace to the place that the killing blow was delivered although tritium water has a lower chance of timely death before the target has a chance to complete the next 5 to 10 years of his/her life….. OR the “ice” could simply be chilled rocks so the customer doesn’t have to dodge ice cubes while sipping …

  68. hyphae Says:

    Chaser (Not required)

    On a cold day- or with a pre-chilled glass that’s been in the freezer (works everytime if there’s just a bit of moisture, but also works with dry glass): Put ice in glass, fill with booze (and maybe chaser).

    The ice will be stuck to the bottom of the glass.

    Ice on the bottom is cool with me. But if you can get the ice un-stuck, the tops of the cubes will stick out of the drink, leaving more room for more booze. More experiments are warrented. Must repeat to ensure repeatability….

  69. Alarashi Says:

    The whole time I did think the “handsome” guy was the spy, until I read the last line. lol

  70. Tamfang Says:

    Who says it’s ice? Maybe it’s glass, stored in a freezer.

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