The Comic Creators Project at the Cartoon Museum in London has original artwork from one of the most iconic graphic novels of the 20th century: V of Vendetta. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Lloyd, with additional colours done by Steve Whitaker and Siobhan Dodds, it was originally serialised between 1982 and 1985 in Warrior, then reprinted in the USA by DC/Vertigo who picked it up in 1988 and published the series to completion. Currently, the last page is being displayed at the Comics Gallery in the Cartoon Museum. This graphic novel is also featured in the exhibition The Great British Graphic Novel (20th April – 24th July, 2016).
Whispers of a new comic magazine called Warrior started to appear around 1980, right after Dez Skinn, a British comic and magazine editor, left Marvel UK for his own company, Quality Communications. He then started and edited the above mentioned comics anthology, which ended up with 17 Eagle Awards. One of the first things that Dez did was to surround himself with artists and writers that he had worked with in the past and that he considered to to be the best in the business in Britain. He had several ideas for his new comics magazine among which was to revive Marvelman, later retitled Miracleman, with Alan Moore as the writer. He also commissioned artist David Lloyd to come up with a new thirties mystery strip. David accepted, but remarked that although he could work out the visuals, he would prefer for somebody else to come up with the characters and plot. (Moore 1983/2005, 269) David suggested Alan Moore as the writer, since they had already collaborated on several backup strips for Doctor Who Monthly and they worked well together. And so the partnership to create a comic strip with a thirties mystery theme began. Little did they know on those first months of long telephone conversations that they were embarking on a very different type of creative journey, one that was going to result on a work that still defies categorization.
Needless to say, the pulp comic strip set in the thirties was soon left behind. In their struggle to come up with a good story line that would have the type of exoticism and familiarity identified as characteristic of the near past , Alan suggested that they could achieve the same results in a setting of a near future. Dez and David liked the idea and so they moved on trying to figure out what the main character was going to look like and how the main story was going to be shaped According to Alan, “Since both Dave and I wanted to do something that would be uniquely British rather than emulate the vast amount of American material on the market, the setting was obviously going to be England. Furthermore, since Dave and myself share a similar brand of political pessimism, the future would be pretty grim, bleak and totalitarian, thus giving us a convenient antagonist to play our hero off against.” (Moore 1983/2005, 270) Alan then moved on to shape the world for their story, because not even then did they have a clear idea of who the hero was going to be, the main plot of the story nor the title for their comic. Alan and Dave had been playing around with various possibilities for the latter, but they did not ring right to their ears. That is, until Dez rang up and told them that his partner at Studio System, Graham Marsh, had come up with the perfect title for the comic: V for Vendetta. (Moore 1983/2005, 272) The funny thing was that Alan and David had already been playing around with the name Vendetta and by pure coincidence Dez had given them the perfect title that matched their own original idea in one of those brilliant moments of synchronicity. They took it as a sign.
Yet, they still struggled to pin down the character. Finally the breakthrough came by the hand of David who suggested “why don’t we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier mâchè masks, in a cape and 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!” (Moore 1983/2005, 274). They were already playing around with the idea of having a revolutionary as the main character, so after David mentioned this all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall into place. David also wanted to make sure that the story did not have thought balloons and sound effects, since he had already started to think about the layouts and style that he wanted to give to the comic. Alan became intrigued by the idea of having the entire story depend only on pictures and dialogue and he took it as a challenge to create something that would still have literary merit in the end, even if it meant giving up some ofthe tools that comic book writers had to work with (Moore 1983/2005, 275).
Even before David came up with the character of V, Alan had already been playing around with elements that he wanted to incorporate into the plot, such as “Orwell. Huxley. Thomas Disch. Judge Dredd. Harlan Ellison‘s “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, Catman and The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World by the same author. Vincent Price‘s Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. David Bowie. The Shadow. Night Raven. Batman. Fahrenheit 451. The writing of the New Worlds school of science fiction. Max Ernst‘s painting “Europe After the Rain“. Thomas Pynchon. The atmosphere of British Second World War films. The Prisoner. Robin Hood. Dick Turpin….” (Moore 1983/2005, 272). Interestingly enough, many of these elements resonate in the pages of V of Vendetta.
One of the more fantastic things regarding the creation of this graphic novel has been to witness the true collaborative nature between artist and writer. Alan himself mentions in The Painted Smile that “despite the way that some of the series’ admirers choose to view it, it isn’t “Alan Moore’s V” 0r “David Lloyd’s V.” It’s a joint effort in every sense of the word, because after trying the alternatives, that is the only way that comics can ever work.” (Moore 1983/2005, 278).
And so, the first episode of V for Vendetta was published in black and white in Warrior in 1983. Surprisingly, it was not a great hit from the very beginning. Dez Skinn stated “If I’d have given each character their own title, the failures would have certainly outweighed the successes, with the uncompromising “V for Vendetta” probably being an early casualty. But with five or six strips an issue, regular [readers] only needed two or three favourites to justify their buying the title.” (Harvey 2009, 71). What was even worse for V for Vendetta and every other strip in the comics magazine was that the publisher decided to cancel Warrior in 1985 with two complete unpublished issues left behind. Even though Alan and David were approached by several companies that wanted to pick up V for Vendetta, DC was the one that succeeded in attracting the creators’ attention in 1988. The Warrior episodes were coloured and reprinted, with new material appearing in issue number 7 till its conclusion in number 10. It is at this time that Steve Whitaker and Siobhan Doods joined David Lloyd as colourists. The whole series then appeared in a trade paperback graphic novel format with Moore’s essay “The Painted Smile” and two interludes outside the central story line by Vertigo in the US and by Titan Books in the UK.
In 1999 the Comics Journal decided to create a poll to identify the “Top 100 Comics of the Century” (in the English speaking world) and V for Vendetta made it to the 83rd place (Groth 1999, 44).
In 2006 the Wachowski Brothers adapted V for Vendetta for the big screen. The film was directed by James McTeigue and starred Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rhea and John Hurt. The movie popularised even further the ideology of the main character as well as the Guy Fawkes mask.
The influence of the graphic novel in popular culture has been far-reaching. The group Anonymous seems to have been influenced by V for Vendetta and they have adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as one of their symbols. Moreover, the mask has obtained a life of its own outside the pages of the graphic novel. It has been continuously adopted as a symbol of protest all around the world. When asked about the social impact that his mask has had, David Lloyd mentioned that “The great thing is it does represent a story-resistance to repression in all its forms. The mask has become an all-purpose symbol for that. It has no political baggage except being that representative symbol. It is used by Occupy, Anonymous, in protests in Egypt-all political demonstrations can use that mask. It’s great! We need that symbol of resistance to oppression. Everyone is using it for what they believe is good.” (Polianskaya 2016, 16).
V for Vendetta
There follows a detailed breakdown of the story’s plot and main story points. A ‘Cliff Notes’-style study aid, if you will.
In the not-too-distant future of 1997 (from the perspective of when it was first written in 1983), England has been spared from a nuclear holocaust due to its timely disarmament. Nevertheless, the country has been taken over by “Norsefire,” a fascist, racist regime that has restored peace at the cost of personal freedom, privacy, and the removal of what that regime considers to be “undesirables”. This government seems to have a hold over England through a combination of the “all-knowing” Fate computer, the secret police, and the complacency of the population.
The story is divided into three books: Europe After the Rain, This Vicious Cabaret, and The Land of Do-As-You-Please.
Europe After the Rain
In the first book we meet Evey Hammond, a teenage girl who saw her father taken away by the authorities in her youth, as she desperately tries to sell herself to earn some money. Unfortunately, she chooses the wrong client, a member of the state secret police called “The Finger”. Assisted by two of his colleagues, he tries to rape Evey with the intention of murdering her afterwards. Yet, she is rescued by a mysterious man in a cloak, a pointed hat and a Guy Fawkes mask. In no time, the man dispatches the Fingerman and his colleagues, proceeds to blow up Parliament, and takes Evey away to his underground hideout, the “Shadow Gallery.” Speaking largely in iambic pentameter rhyme, quotation, and lyric, he introduces himself only as “V” and shows Evey his large collection of banned and suppressed books, music, movies, and art.
At the same time, Eric Finch, a detective of the regular police called “The Nose,” starts to investigate V’s terrorist activities. He is usually in touch with other intelligence departments associated to the Norsefire regime, such as the head of the secret police, “The Finger”, led by Derek Almond, and the man in charge of “The Head,” Adam Susan-the reclusive leader that obsesses over the regime’s Fate computer. The plot thickens when through the course of the story, V manages to destroy the mental health of the man in charge of “The Voice,” the State’s propaganda broadcaster, Lewis Prothero; he induces the suicide of the paedophile archbishop , Arthur Lilliman, assisted by Evey; and murders Dr. Delia Surridge, a medical researcher. Finch then discovers that what these three people had in common was that they all worked in a former Norsefire resettlement camp at Larkhill. Finch discovers Durridge’s diary where she discusses what she used to do at Larkhill and the fact that one of the inmates on whom she had performed experiments was able to destroy the camp and escape. Finch believes that V is the inmate and that he is destroying those that tortured him and were aware of his true identity. Finch lets Susan know of V’s vendetta (Italian for “revenge”) and the latter starts to wonder if in reality V’s agenda is more sinister and poses a larger threat to the State.
There is a brief musical prelude in which we are introduced to Rose Almond, the wife of Derek Almond, head of “the Finger,” who has recently passed away, while V plays the piano.
This Vicious Cabaret
At the beginning of book 2 in the Shadow Gallery, Evey expresses her desire to stand up against the world, but she feels like she doesn’t have the courage to do so. She also grows to love the masked revolutionary, at which point V decides to abandon her in the middle of the street with no means of finding her way back to the Gallery.
Four months later V breaks into Norsefire’s propaganda department, “the Mouth,” in order to broadcast a fiery speech that calls for the people to stand up against the oppressive regime. The head of the department, Roger Dascombe, is killed due to V’s theatrical antics escaping the “Mouth.” This has terrible consequences for Rose Almond who, after losing her husband, started an affair with Roger. With both of her lovers gone, Rose finds herself destitute and alone. She is forced to find a job as a burlesque performer to support herself, which leads her to start blaming the unsupportive government for her desperate situation.
Detective Finch continues his investigation into the activities of V. At the beginning of this book, he is forced to take a vacation due to the fact that after meeting Derek Almond’s replacement, Peter Creedy, as the head of “the Finger,” he punched him. Peter Creedy is a crook.
Evey has moved on. She is now emotionally attached to a gangster by the name of Gordon. She unknowingly crosses paths with Rose at the burlesque show while going out for a drink with Gordon. Later on, Gordon is killed by a Scottish gangster called Ally Harper, and Evey decides to take revenge. She finds him making a deal with the corrupt Creedy who is rallying support for a coup d’etat. Right when she is about to shoot, Evey is abducted and then held captive at what appears to be a resettlement camp. She is interrogated and repeatedly tortured. While in her cell, she finds a hidden letter from a previous inmate, Valerie Page, who was imprisoned and executed for being a lesbian. Evey finds strength in the content of the letter and when her captor gives her a choice between collaborating or dying, Evey chooses death. Expecting to be executed, she is surprised to find out that she is being set free. Moreover, all her ordeal had been nothing but a mind game that V was playing on her in order to make her go through the same things that he went through at Larkhill. He does tell her that Valerie and the letter were real. Valerie was in the cell next to V’s in the camp. All these was done in order to set Evey’s mind free from the hold of life, of society. He is allowing her to discover her own individuality away from the masks imposed on her during her life.
In a parallel story, V has been playing mind games with Adam Susan by hacking into the Fate computer system and making Susan believe that it was in love with him. Susan had already started to develop a sick relationship with the computer. Consequently, Susan starts to spiral down into madness.
The Land of Do-as-You-Please
V continues to destabilize the regime by blowing up the Post Office Tower and the Jordan Tower, and by doing so neutralizes the headquarters of “the Ear” and “the Eye” along with “the Mouth.” Susan continues his delirious relationship with the Fate computer, who has announced that for four days the people will be able to do as they please without being spied upon by the regime. This brings chaos into the streets, partially suppressed by Creedy and the cronies lent by Harper. Creedy is still making a play for the position of Leader.
V tells Evey that the chaos in the street is just an interim period called the Land of Take-What-You-Want, but that his ultimate goal is to create a functional anarchistic society that he calls the Land of Do-as-You-Please.
While Finch is away, his assistant Dominic Stone finally realises that V has hacked the Fate computer and that he has been manipulating events for a long time. Meanwhile, Finch has decided to travel to Larkhill and take LSD in order to try and place his mind in the same situation as V. Finch is looking for insights on how to track V and put a stop to his terrorist activities. On his way back to London, he realises where V’s hideout is located and goes there by himself. V meets Finch and both of them start to struggle. Finch shoots V and V stabs Finch. V tells Finch that he will never be able to kill him because he is only an idea and ideas live forever. With that V leaves, but he is mortally wounded. Evey finds him bleeding on the floor, but he is still breathing. V then gives her directions to take over the fight for him and asks her to give him a viking funeral in a blocked train station. Then V dies in Evey’s arms. She considers unmasking him, but instead she puts on a spare Guy Fawkes mask and cloak.
At the same time, Creedy is still determined to go on with his coup and so convinces Susan to make a public appearance with the hopes of exposing him to a violent attack. And so, Susan jumps into his car and parades with an entourage. At one point he decides to leave his car to greet the people. As chance would have it, he tries to shake hands with Rose who pulls a gun and shoots him in the head in revenge for the death of her husband and for all the horrible things that she had to do to survive afterwards. Rose is then arrested and Creedy assumes emergency leadership of Norsefire. Concurrently, Finch emerges from V’s hideout proclaiming his death.
In the power struggle that ensues for the definitive leadership of the country, all the contestants end up dead, including Creedy. Finch decides to leave the Nose following his LSD excursion. Meanwhile, after Evey sheds her identity and assumes V’s, she makes a moving speech to the crowds talking about individuality, freedom, and anarchy. Her words finally click with the people who rise against the fascist government in a glorious revolution. Then Evey takes V’s body and gives him the Viking funeral that he had asked for, blowing up in the process 10 Downing Street. The comic ends with Finch leaving the city along a motorway where the lights have gone out.
Boudreaux, Madelyn (1994, revised in 2004). An Annotation of Literary, Historic, and Artistic References in Alan Moore’s Graphic Novel, V For Vendetta. Retrieved on April 2, 2016.
Groth, Gary, ed. (1999). The Comics Journal: The Magazine of Comics, News and Criticism 210. London: Fantagraphics Books.
Harvey, Allan (2009). “Blood and Sapphires: The Rise and Demise of Marvelman.” Back Issue! 34: 69-76.
Moore, Alan (1983). “Behind the Painted Smile.” Warrior #17. Reprinted in Moore, Alan and David Lloyd (2005). V for Vendetta. New York: Vertigo.
Moore, Alan and David Lloyd (2005). V for Vendetta. New York: Vertigo.
Polianskaya, Alina. (April 7, 2016) “V for very pleased: Artist’s delight at mask becoming ‘all-purpose protest symbol’.” Camden New Journal: 16.
“V for Vendetta“. Wikipedia. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
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