It was Dickens who said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but by the time it rolled ’round to Alan Moore and David Lloyd, it was worse: nuclear holocaust, fascist dictatorships, concentration camps for the disenfranchised. And who is disenfranchised? Just about anyone who doesn’t toe the party line. It’s not a pretty sight this England imagined by Moore and Lloyd in their 10 month comic series from two decades ago.
V for Vendetta is now a major motion picture reviewed by Green Man Review elsewhere, and it is also available as a graphic novel all gathered together in one volume, but it began life even earlier than this DC version. Writer Alan Moore describes it this way:
I began V for Vendetta in the summer of 1981, during a working holiday upon the Isle of wight. My youngest daughter, Amber, was a few months old. I finished it in the late winter of 1988 after a gap in publishing of nearly five years from the discontinuation of England’s Warrior Magazine, its initial home…[it] represents my first attempt at a continuing series, begun at the outset of my career. . . .
He goes on to talk about the clumsiness of the early chapters, the “youthful creative inexperience” displayed there, and some naivete shown in the series’ depiction of nuclear war.
All that may be true, but still Moore and Lloyd created a stunning and convincing world from that naivete, one which still fascinates and intrigues today.
Moore has removed his name from the film; he is dissatisfied with the approach to his work the film-makers have taken. He has been burned before by Hollywood. (Anyone ever see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?) But the graphic novel (and the 10 comic series) is all his work — and, of course, that of the artist David Lloyd — and it shows him as a creative and thoughtful writer.
The set begins in black and white, as it originated in the pages of Warrior, with the opening introductory paragraphs quoted above (by Alan Moore) right on the inside front cover. Every inch of the book is given to the art and story of V; there are no ads, or editorial pages. The image from this introductory page is then reproduced on page one, with the addition of a grey wash. Colour is added to the tale gently and carefully. I can recall being surprised at the subtleties of colour (added by Lloyd and Siobhan Dodd) when I first opened the book eighteen years ago. This was not a standard newsprint comic book.
The story is told in almost poetic prose, combined with the terseness of classic comic writing. The images illuminate and propel the tale. It begins with the rescue of a young girl by a masked man who spouts poetry and carries explosives. He is “the king of the 20th century . . . the bogeyman. The villain . . .the black sheep of the family,” he tells his ward just before he reminds her of the rhyme, “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!” at which moment the Houses of Parliament explode! It’s the fulfillment of Guy Fawkes’s plan from 1605!
This is an England of Big Brother rule, fascist armies, phone surveillance, resettlement camps, and mystery. It’s an England that Moore fears is all too close, all too real. He writes,
It’s 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against. I’m thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It’s cold and it’s mean-spirited and I don’t like it here anymore.
And that’s all in the first few pages!
The story is a dark one, and yet it offers hope. By the time we reach the final volume, we have been shocked, and confused, and mystified, and totally drawn into this terrifying world. It’s the world of V for Vendetta, but it’s also a world that Moore saw around himself when he began to write. The stranglehold of the Conservatives was finally broken in 1997 with the election of Tony Blair’s Labour Party. Alan Moore still lives in the UK. His work is dark, challenging, and fascinating. You must view the film of the same title as a separate entity. But whatever you do, you should read the David Lloyd and Alan Moore original V for Vendetta.
(DC Comics, 1988)