J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Time Warner’s V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, began to appear in the British comics magazine Warrior in 1982. Like other British comics magazines, in each issue Warrior published short installments of several different ongoing stories, and V for Vendetta became one of the most popular.

Moore and Lloyd had agreed on what was then a radically new style of comics storytelling: no thought balloons, no explanatory captions, no sound effects. V for Vendetta also had an unmistakable political edge, though set in a future, post-apocalyptic Britain.

Without the backing of a big established firm, Warrior was never a solid financial success, and it ran into legal disputes as well. The magazine stopped publishing in 1985, leaving V for Vendetta only 80% complete.

By that time the American publisher DC Comics had hired Moore to write scripts for some of its famous characters, starting with Swamp Thing and moving on to Superman (“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”), Batman (The Killing Joke), Robin (“For the Man Who Has Everything”), and the Green Lanterns (“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize”). His 1986-87 series with Dave Gibbons, Watchmen, would help to push superhero comics to a new level of sophistication.

DC put in the best bid to finish up publishing V for Vendetta. Its art was originally black and white, but Lloyd added color for the American market. The entire story appeared in ten comic books in 1988-89, and then in a collected volume that’s still in print. That very British, anti-authoritarian story with a Guy Fawkes mask as its iconic image thus became one of the assets of DC’s parent corporation, Time Warner.

In 2006 Warner Bros., another division of the same corporation, released a movie version of V for Vendetta. As in the comics, the character V wore a Guy Fawkes mask in every scene. Production designer Owen Paterson, art director Stephan Gessler, and director James McTeigue created that mask based on Lloyd’s drawings. The result was another corporate asset.

The mask actually proved to be a problem. The first actor cast as V quit because he couldn’t stand wearing it all day. Furthermore, while the unchanging face looks neat on the printed page, we expect movies to, well, move. The filmmakers struggled to record some emotion for that character through Hugo Weaving’s line readings, sound, lighting, and other visual effects.

Warner Bros. sent out Guy Fawkes masks to promote V for Vendetta, and licensed Halloween costumes and other products based on its character design. The movie was a moderate success. Moore and the book’s strongest fans saw plenty to complain about, of course; among their issues was how Hollywood had watered down the comics’ anarchist political message. Still, a movie about a heroic terrorist in 2006 had to carry a whiff of subversion.

TOMORROW: A return to politics through the web.


Charles Bahne said...

When I first read this piece, I was a bit befuddled by the mention of Time Warner. It took a quick bit of research elsewhere for me to realize that DC Comics is a subsidiary of Time Warner. I wasn't aware of that.

Given the huge number of "Anonymous" and "Occupy" people who are wearing these "Guy Fawkes" masks as part of their protests, it positively boggles my mind that the design of the mask is producing royalties for a billion-dollar Fortune 100 corporation.

Great piece of research, John!

J. L. Bell said...

I wasn’t the only one to recognize the irony of using a Time Warner trademark this way; even the New York Times has remarked on it. That irony doesn’t seem to bother the protesters, though.

Daud said...

Frankly the proceeds from the mask, even though it is Warner's best selling these days, are probably pretty darn small potatoes in the scheme of things.

As for the principle of the matter however, it falls right in line with the argument that the protesters tweet corporate-made phones, sleep in corporate-made tents and wear corporate-made clothing.

To defend Occupods somewhat, I would point out that most protesters are not protesting the existence of large corperations, but the undue influence they are allowed to have over politics.

Now, this in itself makes me think of an object in the Bostonian Society collection: The alleged "Liberty Tree Flag". (I'd link the posts about this if I could).

In short the flag's authenticity has been called into question, but if it is, in fact, an 18th century flag, the fabric shows that it would have been imported from Britain. So, it would be protesting British policies with taxed British cloth!

J. L. Bell said...

Here’s the start of my series about the “Liberty Tree Flag.”