Q: When is a comic book not a comic book?
A: When it’s a graphic novel, apparently.
V For Vendetta is considered to be one of, if not the, finest graphic novel of all time by one if, of not the, greatest graphic novelist of all time, Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd.
For those who are, like myself, not overly familiar with graphic novels, you will probably be aware of some of the film adaptations of Moore’s work. Along with the V for Vendetta movie (starring Natalie Portman), there have been adaptations of From Hell (starring Johnny Depp), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (starring Sean Connery), Constantine (starring Keanu Reeves), and most recently Watchmen. Notably, Moore has disowned each and every one of these adaptations, going so far as to request his name be removed from the credits and apparently turning down millions of dollars he was owed.
V for Vendetta tells the story of V, a masked revolutionary looking to bring down the totalitarian government that controls Britain in the 1990s, whilst targeting certain individuals for assassination. Along the way, he rescues and recruits a young woman named Evey.
It is comprised of three books. The first introduces the setting and characters, before revealing V’s motives. The second focuses more on the internal politics and private struggles of the bad guys, making them more than mere two-dimensional Fascists to be hated. The third book ties everything together, resulting in the inevitable culmination.
The characters multi-layered with personal drives and ambitions that really bring them to life, whilst the images are beautifully drawn, yet bleak mixing the optimism of V with the harsh realities of the world.
The main theme is one of freedom. V is essentially an anarchist who believes people should be free to run their own lives and sees Guy Fawkes as a hero for trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
When preparing the book, Moore made a list of themes he wanted to include in the plot. The list is as follows:
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 writings 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…
That gives you some idea of what he was trying to achieve. There was also the influence of early 1980s British politics.
Having never read a graphic novel before, I was unsure what to expect. What I found was a beautifully crafted, complex work which was both captivating and asked some interesting questions. If you want to get into the world of the graphic novel this seems like an ideal place to start.