Alan Moore on V for Vendetta Masks

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Tom Lamont of The Guardian interviews Alan Moore on the V for Vendetta masks that are all the rage with trendy protesters these days:

But Moore has been caught off-guard in recent years, and particularly in 2011, by the inescapable presence of a certain mask being worn at protests around the world. A sallow, smirking likeness of Guy Fawkes – created by Moore and the artist David Lloyd for their 1982 series V for Vendetta. It has a confused lineage, this mask: the plastic replica that thousands of demonstrators have been wearing is actually a bit of tie-in merchandise from the film version of V for Vendetta, a Joel Silver production made (quite badly) in 2006. Nevertheless, at the disparate Occupy sit-ins this year – in New York, Moscow, Rio, Rome and elsewhere – as well as the repeated anti-government actions in Athens and the gatherings outside G20 and G8 conferences in London and L’Aquila in 2009, the V for Vendetta mask has been a fixture. Julian Assange recently stepped out wearing one, and last week there was a sort of official embalmment of the mask as a symbol of popular feeling when Shepard Fairey altered his famous “Hope” image of Barack Obama to portray a protester wearing one.

It all comes back to Moore – a private man with knotty greying hair and a magnificent beard, who prefers to live without an internet connection and who has not had a working telly for months “on an obscure point of principle” about the digital signal in his hometown of Northampton. He has never yet properly commented on the Vendetta mask phenomenon, and speaking on the phone from his home, Moore seems variously baffled, tickled, roused and quite pleased that his creation has become such a prominent emblem of modern activism.

“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? 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.”

V for Vendetta tells of a future Britain (actually 1997, nearly two decades into the future when Moore wrote it) under the heel of a dictatorship. The population are depressed and doing little to help themselves. Enter Evey, an orphan, and V, a costumed vigilante who takes an interest in her. Over 38 chapters, each titled with a word beginning with “V”, we follow the brutal, loquacious antihero and his apprentice as they torment the ruling powers with acts of violent resistance. Throughout, V wears a mask that he never removes: bleached skin and rosy cheeks, pencil beard, eyes half shut above an inscrutable grin. You’ve probably come to know it well.

“That smile is so haunting,” says Moore. “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.” As well as the mask, Occupy protesters have taken up as a marrying slogan “We are the 99%”; a reference, originally, to American dissatisfaction with the richest 1% of the US population having such vast control over the country. “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.”

Moore first noticed the masks being worn by members of the Anonymous group, “bothering Scientologists halfway down Tottenham Court Road” in 2008. It was a demonstration by the online collective against alleged attempts to censor a YouTube video. “I could see the sense of wearing a mask when you were going up against a notoriously litigious outfit like the Church of Scientology.”

But with the mask’s growing popularity, Moore has come to see its appeal as about something more than identity-shielding. “It turns protests into performances. 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.”

At one point in V for Vendetta, V lectures Evey about the importance of melodrama in a resistance effort. Says Moore: “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.”

God Exists, and He’s Mormon

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

The Mormon-Galactica connection is well established — and intentional. The Mormon-Watchmen connection? Not so much:

Creation: According to Hopkins, the Mormon God is a creator in the same sense that I am the creator of this article or that Van Gogh is the creator of Starry Night. God may be an organizer, a planner, an architect, a genius, but he does not create things from nothing (“ex nihilo”). Likewise, Dr. Manhattan can manipulate matter on a grand scale, but he is only reorganizing what is already there.

Omniscience: Hopkins argues that there is “a vast difference between classical theism and Mormonism on the subject of how God knows the future” because “classical theism views God…as being outside of time and space. From this vantage, he can supposedly see any point in time he chooses.” Dr. Manhattan shares this in common with the God of Mormonism: Even though he can perceive time more fully than most humans, he is part of time. Manhattan calls himself a puppet who can see the strings, but he is much more than that.

Omnipresence: The Mormon God is not subject to the same limits that humans are but he is not everywhere at once. That’s also a pretty good description of Dr. Manhattan.

Change: Hopkins calls the idea held by “classical theists” that God is unchanging “demonstrably unbiblical” and definitely un-Mormon. Mormonism posits an ever-evolving God, not at all unlike Dr. Manhattan.

Corporeality: With the exception of the Incarnation, traditional Christianity insists that God is “spirit” only. Mormonism disagrees. Hopkins insists that if man is made in the image of God, then God must have a corporeal form. So far as I can tell, there’s nothing in the book of Mormon about God having blue skin and a symbol of hydrogen burned onto his forehead, but you never know.

Legendary Comics Writer Alan Moore is a Bitter, Old Hippy

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Legendary comics writer Alan Moore is a bitter, old hippy:

But, like I say, it was the 1960s. Most of the comic fans I met at the time were 14- or 15-year-old proto-hippies, as was I. They were very interested in the progressive spirit of the time.

So, those were the agendas that we were following then. We thought it would be a great idea if comics could be recognized as the wonderful medium that we secretly knew them to be. And when I say “we,” I’m talking about the 50 actual people who turned up at those early conventions, which was pretty much the sum total of everybody in this country [England] who’d ever heard of American comics. But back then our agenda was this progressive notion that, wouldn’t it be terrific if people were to get involved with comics who could make them more adult, more grown up, to show the kind of themes they were capable of handling? So this was the agenda that, 20 years later, I was still following toward the end of my first DC run.

At the time I thought that a book like Watchmen would perhaps unlock a lot of potential creativity, that perhaps other writers and artists in the industry would see it and would think, “This is great, this shows what comics can do. We can now take our own ideas and thanks to the success of Watchmen we’ll have a better chance of editors giving us a shot at them.” I was hoping naively for a great rash of individual comic books that were exploring different storytelling ideas and trying to break new ground.

That isn’t really what happened. Instead it seemed that the existence of Watchmen had pretty much doomed the mainstream comic industry to about 20 years of very grim and often pretentious stories that seemed to be unable to get around the massive psychological stumbling block that Watchmen had turned out to be, although that had never been my intention with the work.

Watchmen as Sacred Text

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Comic geeks consider Watchmen a sacred text:

John Hodgman
Author, More Information Than You Require
“The movie can be good as long as it appreciates that it has no reason to exist. And yet I think Watchmen deserves an homage, and I’m hopeful because Zack Snyder is making it.”

Joss Whedon
Creator, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse
“It’s a comic book about pop culture as viewed through a comic book, so I didn’t see the point of making a movie. But I saw the trailer, and it looked phenomenal.”

Brian K. Vaughan
Creator, Y: The Last Man; Writer, Lost
“I’ll go see it if it doesn’t feel like a betrayal of what Alan Moore wants. But it’s like making a stage play of Citizen Kane. I guess it could be OK, but why? The medium is the message.”

Who will watch the Watchmen smoke?

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

With Watchmen coming out soon, and with the recent development of the electronic cigarette, I thought some enterprising entrepreneur would introduce a look-alike product mimicking the harmless cigarette developed by the superhuman Doctor Manhattan.

But it looks like the movie won’t be providing free advertising after all. Who will watch the Watchmen smoke?

It’s no secret that Zack Snyder paid insane attention to the detail in Watchmen. We’ve seen full pages of Tijuana bibles, and a to-scale Gunga Diner recreation. But Laurie’s smokes are noplace to be seen. So we asked the OCD director himself, while he was doing press for Watchmen, why Ms. Laurie Juspeczyk has kicked her habit.

Where were Laurie’s smokes, Zack?

“Yeah, Alan hates smoking. Alan Horn — the head of the studio — that’s his biggest, biggest thing. The Comedian can smoke, because he might be a bad guy, he’s the bad guy, but that’s it. That was the line that he drew.”

But aren’t those kind of a small plot device for the character to watch her go on and off the wagon?

“I was sad, but it was either that or… the movie wouldn’t have been made, literally.”

(Hat tip to Jacob Grier via Reason.)

Watchmen is Awesome?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Wil Wheaton has seen an early screening of Watchmen, and he declares it f—ing awesome — which, I must admit, surprised me. Director Zack Snyder had a couple interesting points to make in the Q&A:

He said that when he was in film school, he wanted to make movies out of everything, whether it was a pair of shoes, or a cup of coffee. When he read comics back then, he thought that it would be great to make some of them into movies. He singled out Dark Knight Returns and Sin City, but when he got to Watchmen, he said there was no way he would even attempt it.

Then the studio came to him after 300 and asked him to make the movie. He didn’t want to do it at first, partially because he was so afraid he’d screw it up, but also because the script was just horrible. It was set in the current day, it was about Doctor Manhattan going to Iraq, something about “The War on Terror” and was a PG-13 monstrosity that would be left open to a sequel. It was, in other words, exactly the kind of thing we’re so afraid the studios will do to things we love when they adapt them for film.

He said that the more he thought about it, though, the more he felt a responsibility to make it. He said something like, “If I made it, I had a chance to not screw it up. If I did screw it up, at least it was me who screwed it up. But if I let them take the script they showed me to someone else to screw up, it would have been my fault. So I had to make it.”

He also talked about how the studio kept trying to turn it into what he called a “PG-13 Superhero movie” and how he just refused to let that happen. He said that it was going to be rated R, there wouldn’t be this ending that they wanted which would make you go for f—’s sake, are you serious with that bullshit? It would be set in 1985, and it would be faithful to the book.

The merchandising machinery is already rolling, by the way, with figures and busts of the characters aimed at the comic-collecting geek crowd, but what caught my eye was the Watchmen lunch box with the Minutemen on the lid. Cute.

I have to wonder how mainstream audiences will receive a left-anarchist 80s period piece.

Giving the Watchmen Motion

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

A new Watchmen movie is coming out, but that’s not the only new version of the story audiences can expect. Dave Gibbons, the original artist, discusses giving the Watchmen motion in what’s called a motion comic:

One of the attractions for me of having Watchmen made into the first Motion Comic was just that — it was breaking new ground. It was pretty good candidate for Motion Comics as the line style was very clear as I had drawn it years ago and therefore very easy to animate. John Higgins used a very flat, interesting color palate which made the technical aspect of animating easy. Also the story is a complete story — you know a beginning, middle and an end. The person who happens upon the Watchmen Motion Comics does not need to have any previous knowledge of continuity. So I suppose it’s another way to look at the material.

When I first looked at the samples of the Motion Comics, I thought they were quite well done but there are a few things that need tweaking, some things and that could be improved quite easily. One of the problems with the Watchmen material is that I’m so familiar with it and it’s hard to get an unbiased view on it. So I showed it to some friends and family who are in the business of games and animation. Of course we discussed the technicalities of it, but everyone remarked how well it was done. The “civilians” that I showed it to, particularly my two teenage stepdaughters, just thought it was great. They thought it was so exciting. They wanted to learn more and see what happened next in the story. So I think that really convinced me that this was a way of getting the material out to people who might not be aware of the comic, who might not pick up the comic and get some great entertainment value out of it.

Perhaps this will drive people to the original graphic novel.

The Strident Hermit King of Comics

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

In reviewing Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger — about the artist-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange — Geoff Boucher declares Steve Ditko the strident hermit king of comics:

For students of comics history, there are few names that strike the ear and the imagination quite like Ditko’s. In a field defined by brilliant oddballs, embittered journeymen, penniless geniuses and colorful hacks, Ditko is the strident hermit king. He gave the world Spider-Man but then more or less bugged out, deciding in 1969 to stop doing interviews and making public appearances. Now 80, Ditko lives in New York City, and although you can track down his studio, nobody I know who’s done so has gotten past the front step. It’s not that Ditko is unfriendly — he’s willing to talk, apparently (in one case, for more than an hour), but only while standing in his doorway, blocking any view into his home and his life.

If you’re a journalist, however, it’s a different story. Last year, the BBC aired a documentary, “In Search of Steve Ditko,” in which reporter Jonathan Ross, accompanied by Neil Gaiman, sought an audience with Ditko. He refused to speak on camera, which only reinforces the idea of him as the J.D. Salinger of super-hero comics. This, I suppose, makes Peter Parker a wall-crawling Holden Caulfield.

When Ditko drew Peter Parker, he drew him as a nerd — a proto-nerd, I suppose — which made perfect sense for the character, but later artists drew him as just another idealized male. Boucher gives this description of Ditko’s style:

Although Ditko grew up loving the art of Jerry Robinson and Will Eisner, for much of his career, he had a spindly and off-kilter style that rubbed the heroic off the page and replaced it with an odd, anxious ballet of the surreal and the grotesque.

The recent Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme DVD played down Ditko’s “anxious ballet of the surreal and the grotesque” as well as Stan Lee’s impressive-sounding mystic mumbo-jumbo, which always alluded to otherworldly things you assumed someone understood.

Ditko is also famous for creating the Question — and infamous for creating Mr. A — which both inspired Alan Moore‘s Rorschach, from The Watchmen.

Gladiator

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Before he devoted an entire work to obscure proto-superhero references, Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, which includes one important proto-superhero reference.

On the shelf of Hollis Mason — the original Nite Owl, turned car mechanic — are three books: his memoirs, Under the Hood; Automobile Maintenance; and Philip Wylie’s 1930 novel, Gladiator , which many argue is the original inspiration for Superman.

I didn’t catch the Gladiator reference in my first, pre-Google reading of Watchmen, decades ago, but my recent re-reading spurred me to move my copy of Gladiator to the front of my reading queue.

Reading Gladiator now, as someone who takes Superman for granted, is an almost disorienting experience; it’s almost as if Siegel and Shuster took Wylie’s work and surgically removed, even inverted, all of its dark, lost generation irony.

In Gladiator, the protagonist, Hugo Danner, is born in a small town in the Midwest — Indian Creek, Colorado — but his parents are a hen-pecked local college biology professor and an obsessively religious shrew of a woman — more backward and small-minded than salt of the earth.

Danner leaps across a river, jumps fifty feet straight up, lifts a cannon overhead with one arm, kills a shark by ripping its jaws apart, fells a charging bull with a fist between the eyes, and lifts a car by its bumper and turns it around in the road. “All of these were, in 1930, fresh and new and very exciting to read about,” Wylie’s biographer notes — but even though Superman goes on to do all of these things, the tone of Wylie’s novel couldn’t be further from a four-color comic book. When Danner joins the French Foreign Legion at the start of the Great War — which certainly sounds romantic, doesn’t it? — he ends up killing German soldiers. Many, many German soldiers. When his friend dies in an artillery barrage that he survives, he goes into a berserk rage and tears apart his enemies with his bare hands. It feels like digging his hands into warm cow manure.

Wylie’s original introduction to the Book League Monthly edition, from March 1930, makes it clear that Danner’s powers aren’t going to save the day:

A temperamental consciouness of material force brought Hugo Danner into being. The frustration of my own muscles by things, and the alarming superiority of machinery started the notion of a man who would be invincible. I gave him a name and planned random deeds for him. I let him tear down Brooklyn Bridge and lift a locomotive. Then I began to speculate about his future and it seemed to me that a human being thus equipped would be foredoomed to vulgar fame or to a life of fruitless destruction. He would share the isolation of geniuses and with them would learn the inflexibility of man’s slow evolution. To that extent Hugo became symbolic and Gladiator a satire. The rest was adventure and perhaps more of the book derives from the unliterary excitement of imagining such a life than from a studious juxtaposition of incidents to a theme.

Previous to the appearance of Gladiator, although not before its conception, I wrote Heavy Laden and Babes and Sucklings. Both ware realistic stories of people and places which I had known. The brief I held for realism convinces me less and less. Space is wide. Man is small. That he exists is romantic. The novelist now usurps the chair of the educator, the pulpit of the preacher, the columns of the journalist. Yet his original purpose of entertaining may have been his highest purpose.

Philip Wylie is a fascinating writer, who didn’t restrict himself to science fiction, but whose science fiction works were highly influential. In addition to Gladiator, which likely inspired Superman, he wrote The Savage Gentleman, which likely inspired Doc Savage, and When Worlds Collide, with Edwin Balmer, which inspired Alex Raymond’s comic strip, Flash Gordon.

No Capes!

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Edna Mode declared No Capes!, but years before The Incredibles, Alan Moore made a similar point in Watchmen:

Dollar Bill was one of the nicest and most straightforward men I have ever met, and the fact that he died so tragically young is something that still upsets me whenever I think about it. While attempting to stop a raid upon one of his employer’s banks, his cloak became entangled in the bank’s revolving door and he was shot dead at point-blank range before he could free it. Designers employed by the bank had designed his costume for maximum publicity appeal. If he’d designed it himself he might have left out that damned stupid cloak and still be alive today.

Under the Hood, Hollis Mason

Who Will Watch the Watchmen on DVD?

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Domestic DVD sales fell 3.2 percent last year to $15.9 billion, the first such drop in the medium’s history, and this is a big deal, because DVDs can account for 70 percent of the revenue for a new movie.

So Warner is going to try a new tactic to revive it DVD sales. After Watchmen — based on Alan Moore‘s graphic novel — hits theaters in March, 2009, Warner will then release Tales of the Black Freighter — which is based on a comic within the Watchmen comic — five days later as a separate direct-to-DVD piece.

My first thought was Cool!, because I would have enjoyed, say, a “scouring of the Shire” bonus feature, so we could get the real ending of The Return of the King.

My second thought was Wait, this doesn’t make any sense, because Moore’s comic-within-a-comic exists purely to play with the comic medium. It provides a separate, parallel line of narration to events in the main storyline — it exists to provide subtext.

At least that’s what I remembered from two decades ago. So I decided to re-read Moore’s magnum opus and see it through fresh eyes — and I found that it’s very much a product of its time. More accurately, it’s very much a product of a progressive — well, left-anarchist, in Moore’s case — view of the Reagan-Thatcher years, with the following features:

  • A sense of malaise, and a sense that we deserve this terrible situation — not because we’ve turned away from traditional virtues, but because we’ve devoted ourselves to violence, rather than caring for the poor, the old, etc.
  • Sex as violence, with characters emotionally scarred by rape, child abuse, and uncaring lovers. Violent images in the media, within the comic, are closely tied to sexuality, and vice versa.
  • Criminal gangs composed of white men and women with silly “punk” haircuts and outrageous sunglasses — and an occasional swastika. Crime is a right-wing phenomenon.
  • A fear of all things nuclear and a clear distrust of all things military. Nuclear power exists to destroy the world.

In a video interview, Moore makes it clear that no one before him had applied a political or sexual interpretation to the genre, and his work on superheroes is a meditation on power.

How all this will translate to the movie — or movies — is an open question, but Moore and his fans have seen his previous works dumbed down terribly. Moore no longer wants anything to do with Hollywood:

I don’t see how adapting it [Lost Girls, another graphic novel of his] to another medium makes any sense at all. But that’s me. [...] My position is, I don’t want my name on it and I don’t want the money. [...] But I really doubt that any of my comics can be [successfully] made into films, because that’s not how I write them.
[...]
I met Terry Gilliam, and he asked me, “How would you make a film of ‘Watchmen’?” And I said, “Don’t.” I think he eventually came to agree with me that it was a film better unmade. In Hollywood you’re going to have the producers and the backers putting in their … well, I don’t want to dignify them by calling them ideas, but … having their input, shall we say.
[...]
I don’t have any interest in directing films of my work. If something worked perfectly in one genre, why is there any reason to assume it’s going to work as well or better in another genre that it wasn’t designed for?

Judging from the early preview images, Hollywood didn’t “get” some key elements of what Moore was going for. Nite Owl, for instance, is supposed to be middle-aged, retired from crime-fighting, and decidedly chubby.

Interview with Alan Moore

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

This Interview with Alan Moore is about “how radicalism informs his work” — although I find “inform” a peculiar word to use in this context:

It furthermore occurred to me that, basically, anarchy is in fact the only political position that is actually possible. I believe that all other political states are in fact variations or outgrowths of a basic state of anarchy; after all, when you mention the idea of anarchy to most people they will tell you what a bad idea it is because the biggest gang would just take over. Which is pretty much how I see contemporary society. We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation — that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice. All it means, the word, is no leaders. An-archon. No leaders.

So “a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over” is still anarchy?

Interview with Douglas Wolk

Friday, August 17th, 2007

In this Interview with Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics, he discusses which comics to recommend to non-fans:

I was talking with some friends recently about the common mistake of recommending Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, as great as it is, as a starting point for superhero comics as one of them put it, that’s like recommending The Seventh Seal as someone’s first movie! For pure, unencumbered superhero joycore, I love Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman — if you’ve heard of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, you know everything you need to know to enjoy it, and it deepens with repeated reading. Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s cruelly witty Alias, about a self-loathing ex-superheroine-turned-P.I., has lots of Easter eggs for the continuity-obsessed, but it probably works even better as a stand-alone story. And if you’re at all into Victorian literature and/or want to sample Moore’s work, the two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (drawn by Kevin O’Neill) are hugely fun on their own, and also illustrate by analogy the way a lot of the best superhero comics and other pulp art work: providing metaphors to illuminate the central concerns of their moment.

If Stan Lee wrote Watchmen

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006


Cory Doctorow points to Stan Lee’s Watchmen, which “remixes the classic Dave Gibbons/Alan Moore comic in the hyperbolic, alliterative style of Stan Lee.” Quite amusing — if your geek-fu is strong.

V is for Read the Book Instead

Friday, March 24th, 2006

I still haven’t seen V for Vendetta. Iain Murray says, V is for Read the Book Instead.