It’s the Fifth of November, aka Guy Fawkes Day, and so we’re taking a look at Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta. V is Moore’s other 80s masterpiece, the stickier, more complicated one that doesn’t get talked about as much. It’s an enthusiastic, if cautionary, argument for anarchy, built around the iconography of England’s best-remembered homegrown terrorist and his Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament.
Originally a celebration of the Gunpowder Plot’s failure, November 5th eventually degenerated into a celebration of disorder, with England’s poor simultaneously burning Guy Fawkes in effigy and emulating his anarchic deeds (albeit more through simple hooliganism than violent political upset). Important point here: the Guy Fawkes mask wasn’t originally worn by people. It was placed on dummies that they set on fire. That didn’t stop David Lloyd from suggesting they use the Fawkes mask as V’s signature look, however. In a note to Alan Moore, he wrote,
Why don’t we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier-mâché masks, in a cape and a conical hat? He’d look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he’s deserved all these years. We shouldn’t burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!
So we have Lloyd to thank for one of the most visually striking characters in modern comics. But we should thank him for some very striking funnybooks in general. V for Vendetta is a beautiful comic, from Lloyd’s painted wrap-around cover for the first issue of the American release of the series…
…to the stylish set-pieces in V’s lair, illustrating his attempts to preserve art in a world that’s left it behind…
…and even the grimy grey landscapes of the book’s “fascist Britain.”
I love that last image, especially. If I remember correctly, it’s a scene of V playing conductor over the society he’s in the process of destroying. But taken out of context, he also looks like a wizard waving his wand, an image that also works for the story, as well as for Alan Moore himself. Just from a technique perspective, though, it encapsulates everything Lloyd did to make this book so visually unique. Rather than drawing in hard lines, for instance, he lets color and shadow define shape wherever possible (something that’s doubly impressive considering that much of it was originally intended for black and white printing). This gives much of the art a chiaroscuro effect appropriate for a story given to such a stark morality. But Lloyd also makes nice use of pencil shading (seen most prominently here on V’s cape), layering in shades of grey in much the same way the reader has to view V’s more black and white worldview.
But now I’m over-thinking things. Ultimately, it’s just really striking artwork, as a look at any full page can tell you:
Considering the book’s politics, of course, it’s ironic that it’s become mired in a rights conflict between Moore and American publisher DC Comics similar to the row over Watchmen. They went and made a movie out of it against Moore’s wishes, too, though it was a better attempt than what Watchmen got. Still, it commodified a work of art that was inherently opposed to such exploitation, and lead to unholy things like this coming into existence:
On the other hand, however… Though the film recast the conflict as liberalism vs conservatism rather than anarchy vs fascism (and though I’ve still got problems with that “I am Spartacus!” ending), it did bring the story’s subversive message to millions. And it inspired a new generation of protesters and interweb anarchists, as the stylized Guy Fawkes mask David Lloyd designed for the comic has become a symbol of the Occupy movement, and for the “hacktivist” group Anonymous.
And that’s something V’s creators are pretty happy about. Alan Moore has just released a single (“The Decline of English Murder”) to help fund the Occupy movement, for example. But David Lloyd has perhaps said it most plainly: “The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny, and I’m happy with people using it.”
Of course, Warner Brothers (DC’s monolithic parent corporation) now owns the copyright on Lloyd’s design, and so gets a cut every time one of those guys buys a mask to protest corporate profiteering. But I don’t think V would be too upset about that. After all…