Lifestyle | 10 September 2015The Making of V for Vendetta Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Alan Moore, British comic and graphic novelist, grew up fascinated by superheroes and was destined to change them. He began his career writing for counterculture fanzines in the 70s before working on the characters and plot lines that he is known for today (The Swamp Thing, Watchmen and V for Vendetta). Moore’s work is distinctly his own, and has done much to improve respectability for the profession while inspiring the next generation of comic artists to push the genre (and its characters) to greater complexity. Interested in the prospect of dispensing anarchist and unpopular political ideas to the masses in a format that is accessible and entertaining, Moore has found a lucrative outlet in the world of comics. In Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore, Lance Parkin chronicles the life and career of a mysterious character of a man who resists the autobiographical in his work. What follows here is a recap of the seven-year process behind one of Moore’s most revered works: V for Vendetta. The graphic novel was a collaborative effort between Alan Moore (script) and David Lloyd (art) that involved innovations to both script and art (and the interaction of the two), radical ideas about character development and moral ambiguity, and generally a more interactive or reader-dependent composition. The Making of V for Vendetta In 1981, when Moore wrote a ‘behind the scenes’ feature about the origins of V for Vendetta, he admitted that when he and David Lloyd were asked where they got their ideas from, ‘we don’t really remember’. Once Dez Skinn set them to work, however, they quickly had numerous telephone conversations and ‘voluminous correspondence’; both were clearly on the same wavelength and throwing a lot of ideas around. It was a true collaboration, with the artist working on some of the key story points and the writer putting a lot of thought into the visual style. ‘“Alan and I were like Laurel and Hardy when we worked on that,” Mr. Lloyd said. “We clicked”. Lloyd had recently been approached by Serge Boissevain, a French editor who was preparing his own lavish adult comic for the English market, pssst! and Lloyd had come up with a single page for a proposed strip called Falconbridge. ‘The editor was crazy, he was this Frenchman and it was great he wanted to recruit people, but he had this rebellious attitude, and he would say “heroes are dead, so we’re not having heroes in my magazine” . . . So Evelina Falconbridge I just imagined would be an urban guerilla fighting these future fascists . . . It was just that one page. I sent it in as a sample, I did it in a kind of French style, used a shading technique on it that was a bit sub-Moebius. Falconbridge, 1981, Script and Art: David Lloyd, © 2013 David Lloyd Moore and Lloyd agreed that, like Falconbridge, the series would be set in the 1990s, in a future totalitarian state. The writer, artist and editor were all keen to have a British setting, rather than an Americanized one. The initial idea ‘had robots, uniformed riot police of the kneepads and helmets variety’. Moore soon came up with a detailed backstory for the series, directly grounded in contemporary politics. A few months later, he would explain his working method to fellow artist and writer Bryan Talbot: ‘A sort of experiment I’m trying is to try and build the story from the characters upwards. This means that before I start on the actual script, I have to know who all the characters are and have a more or less complete life history for each one firmly established in my head.’ He would later tell the fanzine Hellfire, ‘what I did first was sit down and work out the entire world, all the stuff I’m never going to use in the strip, that you never need to know . . . once I’ve worked out the politics of the situation, how the government works and all the details like that, I can start thinking about the actual plot lines for individual episodes.’ The decision that the title for the mystery strip would be V for Vendetta concentrated Moore and Lloyd’s minds. The main question became a simple one: what was the motivation for the character’s ‘vendetta’? Moore now decided that their hero was an escapee from a concentration camp out for revenge. But there remained the issue of what their protagonist looked like. Moore credits Lloyd for finding the solution: ‘The big breakthrough was Dave’s, much as it sickens me to admit it . . . this was the best idea I’d ever heard in my entire life.’ This was that Vendetta should be a ‘resurrected Guy Fawkes’. Lloyd included a sketch that’s identical to the final V, but with a pointy hat (though he also suggested, ‘let’s scrub V for Vendetta. Call the strip Good Guy.’) Lloyd’s notes also have the prescient comment that ‘we shouldn’t burn the chap every Nov 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament . . . we’d be actually shaping public consciousness in a way in which some Conservative politicians might regard as subversive.’ Things moved rapidly from this point. V’s mannerisms now took on a more overtly theatrical, Jacobean flavor to match his Guy Fawkes appearance. Moore was able to make this more than a gimmick. In the first chapter, the mentality of the two sides in the battle is efficiently contrasted when a policeman concludes from the odd way V speaks that he ‘must be some kinda retard got out of a hospital’, failing to recognize that his opponent is quoting from Macbeth. Moore and Lloyd had started out with a series about a vigilante fighting generic totalitarian forces, but the 1997 setting was not very far in the future and Moore had got there by extrapolating current headlines. While most British comics were set in imaginary places like Melchester, Northpool or Bunkerton, V for Vendetta was rooted in a Britain with real place names and even some real people. As Moore began drawing up a list of the fascist supporting characters, the various authority figures V was pursuing and the investigators sent after him, it made him look at the situation from their point of view. Whereas the ‘hero’ of the piece was a masked killer out for personal vengeance, the ‘bad guys’ were simply ordinary people doing what they believed was best for the country: I didn’t want to just come into this as a self-confessed anarchist and say ‘right, here’s this anarchist: he’s the good guy; here are all those bad fascists: they’re the bad guys’. That’s trivial and insulting to the reader. I wanted to present some of the fascists as being ordinary, and in some instances even likable, human beings. They weren’t just Nazi cartoons with monocles and University of Heidelberg dueling scars. They were people who’ d made their choices for a reason. Sometimes that reason was cowardice, sometimes that reason was wanting to get on, sometimes it was a genuine belief in those principles. All this could be read as a simple critique of the usual logic that there had to be goodies and baddies, and everyone was on one side or the other – an idea as prevalent in political discussion as in comic books. However, as Lloyd began interpreting Moore’s first few scripts and the finished product started to appear, they both came to realize they were creating something more sophisticated than they had planned. Much of the credit can be put down to Lloyd. His most recent work had included painted wash effects and elaborate grey tones. On V for Vendetta, he chose an approach that was a visual joke: ‘David Lloyd was using this stark chiaroscuro style where you’d got no bordering outlines on the characters, you’ve got hard black up against hard white in the artwork. Whereas in the story, in the text, there was nothing but shades of grey in moral terms.’ The way characters merge into the shadows, the repeated panel compositions, use of close-ups, the intercutting with flashback scenes . . . all these make the reader work to see what is going on, encourage them to go back and re-read and reinterpret. Some panels almost resemble optical illusions that take a second or two to snap into place. An iconic early example occurs in the second chapter: there’s a panel of V standing on a railway bridge, his cloak flapping. Another character glances up and, like the reader, can’t quite work out what he’s looking at. This panel was later reproduced on house ads, badges and other promotional material. V for Vendetta, 1982, Art: David Lloyd © DC Comics It is in V for Vendetta that we see Moore’s first systematic use of what would become a trademark technique, exploiting one of the key strengths of the medium: the artistic effect to be gained by combining a picture and text. A progression in comic art is evident here. In an unsophisticated early comic, the words would simply support or describe the picture: we might see an image of Superman with red lines coming out of his eyes that connect with a blob in the hand of a gangster and a caption saying ‘Superman melts the crook’s gun with his incredible heat vision!’ The Marvel comics of the sixties concentrated more on the inner life of their characters, revealing them to be troubled. Now we might see a picture of Spider-Man fighting Doctor Octopus, but a thought bubble saying something like ‘I hope I won’t be late for my date with Mary Jane’. Comic art was now going beyond that, beginning to explore the far greater poetic effect to be had by using an image and text that seem to contradict each other or to have no obvious connection. It forces the reader to work out what link the creators might be implying. Moore was not the first comics creator to understand that this could add layers of meaning, as well as a degree of ambiguity, but his use of the technique has always been unusually sustained and sophisticated. Moore called it ‘ironic counterpoint’ in his first V for Vendetta script, and there is a good example on the second page of the first chapter. The text is an announcement of ‘the Queen’s first public appearance since her sixteenth birthday’ where she wore a ‘suit of peach silk created specially for the occasion by the Royal Couturier’, while the picture is of a very young woman in a bedsit awkwardly putting on a dress. That contrast is obvious, but it’s the next page before we learn that this woman, like Queen Zara, is only sixteen years old. (It will be the third chapter before we learn the girl’s name is Evey Hammond and find out how her situation became so desperate.) The next panel juxtaposes that image of Evey in a dress that’s too small even for her slight frame with a close-up of V snapping on a glove. We’ll learn that both V and Evey are getting dressed to go out onto the London streets at night. Desperation has driven Evey to an ill-thought-through attempt to earn some money prostituting herself, whereas V will orchestrate an elaborate plan to destroy the Houses of Parliament. What Moore has understood is that the act of contrasting the words and images in one panel, then contrasting that panel with the next, creates patterns. The story can say two things, but mean a third, and the narrative can have a highly elaborate, allusive structure. V for Vendetta, 1982, Script: Alan Moore, Art: David Lloyd, © DC Comics Without thought balloons giving convenient access to eloquent inner monologues of the characters, the dialogue Moore wrote and the faces Lloyd drew had to become more subtle and expressive. It was not only V who wore a mask – readers of V for Vendetta have to imagine what all the characters are thinking, and can never be certain what they really understand about those characters’ situations. A fascist government with bold slogans and fancy uniforms and equipment, the population under constant CCTV surveillance, individuals like Evey Hammond dolling themselves up – all of them are ‘putting on a brave face’. There was yet another twist to standard conventions. While comics are full of masked figures, their masks are usually disguises. The readers are in on the secret identity of, say, Batman or Spider-Man. In a similar vein, the early installments of V for Vendetta encourage the idea that we will eventually see the mask come off and learn that V has been one of the other characters all along – that there will be, in Moore’s words, ‘a satisfactory revelation’. This was a deliberate deception, and Lloyd says ‘we never had any intention of doing that’. The people who wrote letters to Warrior quickly came to a consensus that V would turn out to be Evey’s father, who she had not seen since he was dragged away by the authorities years before – few readers will have noticed that her father resembles Steve Moore, and like him, lived on Shooter’s Hill. When the series began in those early issues of Warrior, it was essential to keep the man under the mask an entirely mysterious figure, to the point that we can’t be entirely sure of V’s gender (while V is referred to as ‘the man in Room V’, some of the inmates were treated with hormones and changed sex). Instead of pinning down who V is and what he really believes, the story is about piecing those things together. The other characters in the story are trying to, the reader has to. Because the narrative can’t look at V directly, we have to see him through the eyes of others. The story was presented in short chapters, and each had to remind the reader of where the story stood – but Moore and Lloyd had banned the use of lengthy captions, so they had to find a less direct way of recapping. By an alchemical combination of design, accident, genre expectation, form and the unintended consequences of storytelling choices, the result is that Moore and Lloyd tell the story as a series of vignettes. We are shown V’s world, often the same event or the consequences of that event, from a variety of viewpoints. While V for Vendetta was grounded in the Britain of the early eighties, Moore and Lloyd started to realize as the story developed that ‘the strip was turning out all of these possibilities for things that hadn’t been there in the initial conception, but which we could then explore and exploit . . . it could be a love story, it could be a political drama, it could be, to some degree, a metaphysical tale. It could be all these things and still be a kind of pulp adventure, a kind of superhero strip, a kind of science fiction strip. And I think that we were just interested in letting it grow and seeing what it turned into without trying to trap it into any preconceived categories. Moore started V for Vendetta in 1981 as a young writer fresh from the dole queue trying to prove himself. He completed it in 1988 as a wealthy celebrity in a polyamorous relationship who was assembling a benefit comic by roping in his showbiz pals. The Alan Moore of the twenty-first century is an older man, one who has increasingly drawn the distinction between the comics medium, ‘a grand tradition rooted in its healthy skepticism with regard to rulers, gods or institutions; a genuine art form of the people, unrestricted by prevailing notions of acceptability’, and the comics mainstream, ‘a critically-accepted and occasionally lucrative component of the entertainment industry’. He’s an author who’s used his work to challenge the imposition of US corporate values on the world. Magic Words The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore Author: Lance Parkin Format: Paperback / softback, 432 Pages ISBN: 9781781312841 Publisher: Aurum Press Buy from an Online Retailer In North America: In The UK: $19.99 / £12.99 “In Magic Words Lance Parkin has crafted a biography that is insightful, scrupulously fair-minded and often very funny, a considerable achievement given its unrelentingly grim, unreasonable and annoying subject. Belongs on the bookshelf of any halfway decent criminal profiler.” — ALAN MOORE For over three decades comics fans and creators have regarded Alan Moore as a titan of the form. With works such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen and From Hell, he has repeatedly staked out new territory, attracting literary plaudits and a mainstream audience far removed from his underground origins. His place in popular culture is now such that major Hollywood players vie to adapt his books for cinema. Yet Moore’s journey from the hippie Arts Labs of the 1970s to the bestseller lists was far from preordained. A principled eccentric, who has lived his whole life in one English town, he has been embroiled in fierce feuds with some of the entertainment industry’s biggest corporations. And just when he could have made millions ploughing a golden rut he turned instead to performance art, writing erotica, and the occult. Now, as Alan Moore hits sixty, it’s time to go in search of this extraordinary gentleman, and follow the peculiar path taken by a writer quite unlike any other. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.