These days, whenver we hear from the legendary comic book writer Alan Moore, it's because someone got him to comment derisively on the mediocre attempts to translate his brilliant sequential artworks into films, or how surly he is about the state of the comic industry. This weekend, however, The Guardian got the generally reclusive and significantly Luddite author to share his reaction to the fact that an iconic image he created has become a symbol for the Occupy movement that has taken solid hold throughout the world.
Moore's story V For Vendetta, which started with black and white art from David Lloyd in 1982 as part of the British anthology series Warrior, ran until Warrior's 1985 cancellation and then was published in color and in a completed form in 1988. It centered around V, a mysterious vigilante in the dystopian future of 1997 who sported the pale, smiling visage of Guy Fawkes as the only face we ever see during his crusade to topple the fascist government of England. Now, those masks are appearing at protest movements from Wall Street to Athens to Zurich aimed at toppling the egalitarian rule of wealth in our real world today.
Guy Fawkes, for the uninitiated, is known for his participation in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which was an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the House of Lords in order to kill the kings of both England and Scotland.
"I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact?" Moore said. "So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."
Regardless of how you feel about James McTeigue's 2006 film adaptation of V For Vendetta (Moore himself called it "a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country" and "a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives"), it has to be given some credit for raising the profile of Moore's work. Most notably, the film version's climactic scenes include a massive faceless army of Fawkes-masked revolutionaries rising up to follow the example set by V, whereas in Moore's story, it's simply his young confidant Evey Hammond who takes up the mantle.
The movie's release prompted the development of an internet meme based on the mask, which then came into real-world use when the online group Anonymous went to war with Scientology. "I could see the sense of wearing a mask when you were going up against a notoriously litigious outfit like the Church of Scientology," Moore noted.
It also makes some sense that a group of computer savvy hacker types would incorporate the V symbology. "The reason V's fictional crusade against the state is ultimately successful is that the state, in V for Vendetta, relies upon a centralised computer network which he has been able to hack," Moore explained. "Not an obvious idea in 1981, but it struck me as the sort of thing that might be down the line. This was just something I made up because I thought it would make an interesting adventure story. Thirty years go by and you find yourself living it."
"That smile is so haunting," he said of V's signature mask. "I tried to use the cryptic nature of it to dramatic effect. We could show a picture of the character just standing there, silently, with an expression that could have been pleasant, breezy or more sinister. And when you've got a sea of V masks, I suppose it makes the protesters appear to be almost a single organism – this "99%" we hear so much about. That in itself is formidable. I can see why the protesters have taken to it."
"It turns protests into performances," he continued. "The mask is very operatic; it creates a sense of romance and drama. I mean, protesting, protest marches, they can be very demanding, very gruelling. They can be quite dismal. They're things that have to be done, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're tremendously enjoyable – whereas actually, they should be. I think it's appropriate that this generation of protesters have made their rebellion into something the public at large can engage with more readily than with half-hearted chants, with that traditional, downtrodden sort of British protest. These people look like they're having a good time. And that sends out a tremendous message."
"At the moment, the demonstrators seem to me to be making clearly moral moves, protesting against the ridiculous state that our banks and corporations and political leaders have brought us to," Moore explained. "It would be probably be better if the authorities accepted this is a new situation, that this is history happening. History is a thing that happens in waves. Generally it is best to go with these waves, not try to make them turn back – the Canute option. I'm hoping that the world's leaders will realise this."