Once again, it would seem that life is reflecting art. Anyone who has watched the news over the last two weeks will already be familiar with V For Vendetta- and perhaps not even know it. The Guy Fawkes masks that have become synonymous with the civil disobedience and political activism of the hacking group Anonymous, though made popular by the film version, have their origin in the comic book series that began in 1981 and was completed in 1988. It is a very apt image for Anonymous to hijack as the original character from the comic book is an anarchist (or freedom fighter - depending on your viewpoint). But to truly understand the significance of the Guy Fawkes masks that are popping up in news stories and internet articles across the globe, you need to go to the source and read V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.
The graphic novel edition of V For Vendetta is by far the best way to enjoy this comic book. Not only because of the satisfying, heavy, substantial feeling of holding the book in your hands but because of the excellent introduction and afterword by both Moore and Lloyd. For any aspiring comic book writer, Moore's afterword will offer rays of hope as he describes the despair he sometimes feels when battling writer's block whilst also providing a fascinating insight into the genesis of the comic book.. The anecdotal style of writing is witty and congenial in both the introductions and afterwords and add for surprisingly light hearted book-ends to the seriousness of the novel.
So now you know to buy the graphic novel – what can you expect from the actual story? Those of you that have seen the film may think that the comic book has little to offer- after all, they are both similar visual art forms. But you would be wrong. The comic book differs from the film in many crucial details. Due to the comic book form there is the opportunity for much more detail and characterisation – some characters that are only bit parts in the film are explored in detail in the comic book, some of the characters of the film are not in the book at all and vice versa. Whatever your feelings on comic-book or literary film adaptations, I urge you to read the comic book because it offers so much more than the film. It has so much depth and complexity that you will become immersed and lost in it only to return to the real world bleary eyed and energised 3 or 4 hours later.
Those of you who are unfamiliar with the film; read the comic book first! If you have read George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We or even seen the film Equilibrium - you will love this book. If you have not read or seen any of these, then you are in for a treat! Moore and Lloyd have created an awful and chilling vision of a fascistic extreme right-wing government-controlled near-future (actually past now, it was written in the 80s and set at the end of the 90s) where the media is state controlled and CCTV cameras are everywhere -sound familiar? The only hope in this fictional near-future is a concentration camp survivor with superhuman agility, strength and stamina that wears the now famous Guy Fawkes mask. He slinks from the shadows to save a young woman and calls himself “V.” This is all you need to know to get you started, I could write more but no spoilers here!
It is a totally engrossing and intelligent piece of comic book fiction which is infinitely enhanced by Lloyd's brilliant and stunning artwork. As you will read in Moore's afterword, it was Lloyd that employed the master-stroke of the Guy Fawkes imagery. But Lloyd's genius does not end there. The pages are so dark that it is almost as if Lloyd was drawing on black paper. The characters and the settings are always emerging from shadows, like darkness is the norm and light is a luxury. The result is oppressive and accurately reflects the despair and totalitarian, fascist nightmare of Moore's dystopian future. On top of this, you can't help but be amazed by Lloyd's ability to make a masked character seem to smile, laugh, cry and use all other facial expressions without even raising an eyebrow.
However, don't be fooled by this review, V for Vendetta is not pessimistic. The underlying message is one of hope and of the human desire and overwhelming need for freedom from oppression. The character of V is thoroughly delightful and witty and Moore's wordplay is simply astounding. There is a sense of playfulness as well of danger about V and the fact that he remains anonymous (pardon the pun) makes him an every-man. He could be you, me or anyone that has had enough of the ways things are and sees all that is wrong in the world in which we live. Of course, Moore and Lloyd's vision of England is more extreme than the real England, and therefore so is V, but the charm and unending appeal of this book is this desire for a better world. A desire which, let's face it, will never be satisfied today, tomorrow or in the near-future.