by Gabrielle Price
[Update at end of post]
Last year on my birthday, my daughter bought me a copy of one of my favorite graphic novels. One that I had previously owned and lost somewhere along the way. If I loaned it out and it has passed hands, I don’t mind. One possession I rarely spend time worrying about is books, unless they are signed by the author, friends or family – in those instances, I am guilty of coveting. If someone is reading that old graphic novel now, they do so with my blessing. The impact of the powerful and dark story imparted in its pages should have the reader feeling rather uncomfortable in their easy chair.
Sometimes deja vu has the same effect.
|V – The graphic novel
V for Vendetta was a comic book series years before I was introduced to the graphic novel…and almost two decades before it was a movie. Unless you are an avid (or even passive) comic book reader, this information might seem trivial or uninteresting. If you have seen the movie, the history of the comic might not seem especially noteworthy. A lot of American movie-goers are inclined to miss the stories behind the stories on the big screen, specifically those based on books and comics (and especially foreign films with English subtitles). If you saw the film, V for Vendetta and found it prescient in 2005 or if it rattled your cage later on DVD, then I bid you welcome.
The series, written by Alan Moore with art by David Lloyd, V For Vendetta the graphic novel was published by DC/Vertigo Comics with several reprints. For those new to comic speak: basically, a graphic novel is a compilation of a run of a numbered comic series in book form. The first run of the comic in the U.S., series 1 through 10 in magazine form was published in 1988. (Yes, you read that right, 1988.) But hold on a minute…the original printing of books 1 and 2, “Vertigo” and “Vincent” were first published in the United Kingdom in 1982…
|Ad for the original series
Think about that for a minute. What was going on in the minds of the comic artists that was noteworthy in 1982, from a historical perspective, in light of events occurring today that makes this particular comic and film so prescient? Aren’t you curious? Good. First, check out the list of newsworthy events from that year. Second, come back and we’ll continue down the rabbit hole together. Humor me, Alice.
Keep in mind, in 1982 the Prime Minister of the UK was Margaret Thatcher. The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan. What I hope, Dear Reader is that you will get a sense of what qualified as ‘newsworthy’ between our two countries specifically then and other things going on in the world that involved one or the other militarily, socially and economically. Take time to peruse over them for a mental snapshot, if you will. I would list them but we’d be here another decade and I have to eat and sleep. Note any parallels in this timeline to anything going on currently…and what is different about those parallels now.
Still with me? Good. Welcome back. 1982 was a pretty busy year, wasn’t it?
Now, if you were alive and aware of something more than Saturday morning cartoons that year, do you remember what was going on in your world in 1982? This is what most people will remember about a specific year when asked – is what happened to them personally. This is what connects us to our history.
Me? I was shifting from my freshman to sophomore year in high school. I hadn’t reached literature as an elective course until the following year, before such a thing as ‘required reading’ existed in my world unless it was something collectively read aloud in turns. (Flashback: In the 6th grade, I was fortunate enough to have a great teacher who had us reading Tolkien aloud.) In 1982 I was aware of comic books like Spiderman, Superman, Batman, even Captain America as a consequence of walking to the local Ma and Pa drug store
(yes, they were there quite a long time) down the street from my grandparent’s house and seeing them in their spinning metal magazine rack. But I wasn’t introduced to the genre until well after it had changed and it’s writing had matured. Another thing I remember vividly about 1982 was learning about WWII in history class. It was the first I had heard of Adolf Hitler and the holocaust. It changed me. Initially, I was pissed off that no one had ever told me about such atrocities. I realized later, it was the catalyst for my love of research and…the bane of many adults’ existence…asking a lot of questions. How the hell was something that horrific allowed to happen? Thus, an already Gemini info junkie was turned truth hound in 1982. I couldn’t borrow or check out enough books.
Comics like V for Vendetta and Judge Dredd (also a UK release) caused controversy with many a parent, I’m sure. If memory serves me, I believe Judge Dredd was banned at some point because of it’s mature content. Over the course of several decades, and up to the last two years
there have been issues with banning comic art and books as the genres have grown and expanded into different cultures and markets. For example; Anime
I was a latecomer to comics in the mid 90’s, after I married and lived in England a few years. If I’d only known earlier, I’d have such a comic collection now! I have to thank my younger brother for my introduction to the genre
(among a cornucopia of books still coveted to this day). My daughter would thank him, too, as she is now a comic artist
. I send out more gratitude to them both for subsequent introductions to new comic works
over several decades. All of them gifts to this pop-culture nut and mom-turned-would-be writer. Since 1985 the issue of free speech has been paramount to me – because of what I learned about music industry censorship and the struggle against it. There is an organization called the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF
) founded in 1985 because of the need to fight censorship and they still fight on today. (Please show them some support.)
The music industry could have done with an org like CBLDF that when former Second Lady, Tipper Gore and the PMRC were rabid for censoring artists like Ice T and the Dead Kennedy’s, Jello Biafra – both of whom spoke out tenaciously for first amendment rights here in the U.S, as well as artists like Dee Snider and Frank Zappa. To my knowledge, no current artist is pushing boundaries in the music industry since it’s about as vanilla as it can get. I think that’s a damn shame and truly independent music artists suffer for it. So do American ears because the bar is set so low. I can’t even bring myself to turn the radio on anymore, so I thank heavens for the Internet music buffet, or we’d have had to listen to music the Palin-wannabes below want want us all to listen to. Is it any wonder Gore didn’t get far with young people? (Yet another blog in and of itself.)
|PMRC – Parents Music Resource Center
the org that brought you the Parental Advisory Sticker
The kind of censorship we are dealing with now is far more aggressive with the growth of the Internet and it’s freedoms, parallel to the rise of the Religious Right and Homeland Security in our post 9/11, ‘fear of everything different’ than status quo, Ozzie and Harriet Redux world. What it boils down to is control of what you see, hear or read. Corporate media isn’t telling you anything you really need to know
that will help you or your family during these trying times. Corporate radio keeps you entertained but uninspired
. Wikileaks is simply an inoculation against Corporate Media and American Empire, one sorely needed right now if we give a damn about the freedoms we’ve taken for granted for far too long. We’ve become accustomed to it as much as American Idol…to our own detriment. When I think of all I learned about free speech and free press since 1982, and how absolutely vital it is to our democracy – our government’s response to much needed transparency is akin to having Dick Cheney telling us to ‘Fuck off’ again. It is a prime example of how far down the fascist rabbit hole we’ve allowed ourselves to fall. We can’t be concerned if the Rabbit made the Tea Party on time, if Lindsay Lohan sobers up, if Michael Vick wants another dog, if Ted Nugent suddenly says something at all relevant on Anderson Cooper…it’s WAY past time for a different kind of curious, Alice. The Jabberwocky is right behind us…and it’s hungry.
|…and getting bigger with every merger…
(click to full view the scope)
One of my journalistic heroes, Edward R. Murrow
once said, “If what I say is responsible, I alone am responsible for the saying of it.” These are days when I feel a responsible urgency to write and share what I have learned about journalism and free speech – a history that has now become an ‘alternative’ to mainstream media as ‘alternative’ became another label to hang on a vast slew of artists once new
to the music industry. But journalism is NOT entertainment; journalism is a patriotic duty. It isn’t as fun as it looks – and stepping into this forum at this moment in history sure doesn’t keep me or my fellow writers in cosmos and shrimp cocktail – but I tell you what’s better than that for me personally – I sleep better at night. For would-be writers I offer this nugget of wisdom I heard before I took a leap into writing, “If something is missing from what you are reading and if you feel there is a voice missing from the conversation – it’s yours. Write what’s missing.”
In closing, here are the two introductions promised, written by both artists as a preface to the graphic novel, V For Vendetta.
I hope Alan and David will forgive me for using their words here but they are very important – it’s what inspired me to write this and it ties this all together. These are two snapshots in time from brilliant artists that brought a story to life…the collective work I personally consider an achievement worthy of being a generation’s required reading as much as ‘1984’ and ‘Farenheit 451’ was for my own. They may balk at such a comparison but this graphic novel was as much part of my culture as those books were to many at the time they were published. I had the distinct pleasure to hear Ray Bradbury and Will Eisner give speeches during my lifetime of reading their works. Both of them equally important – both of them vitamins for an ill society. Pop culture is still culture. Yes, that includes comic books.
V for Vendetta graphic novel introduction by artist David Lloyd:
A few nights ago, I walked into a pub on my way home and ordered a Guinness.
I didn’t look at my watch, but I knew it was before eight o’clock. It was Tuesday and I could hear the television in the background still running the latest episode of EastEnders – a soap opera about the day-to-day life of cheeky, cheery working-class people in a decaying, mythical part of London.
I sat in a booth and picked up a copy of a free newspaper someone had left on the
seat beside me. I’d read it before. There wasn’t much news in it. I put down the paper and decided to sit at the bar.
It wasn’t a busy night. I could hear the murmuring of the distant TV above the chatter of
the people at the bar and the clack-clack of colliding snooker balls.
After EastEnders came Porridge – a rerun of a situation comedy series about a cheeky,
cheery prisoner in a comfortably unoppressive, decaying, Victorian prison.
Almost imperceptibly, spirits leaked from the optics of upturned bottles behind the bar.
Droplets of whiskey and vodka formed and fell soundlessly as I watched.
I finished my drink. I looked up and the barman caught my eye. “Guinness?“ he asked,
already reaching for a fresh glass. I nodded.
The barman’s wife arrived and began to help with the trickle of customers’ orders.
At 8:30, following Porridge, came A Question of Sport – a simple panel quiz game featuring cheeky, cheery sports celebrities answering questions about other sports celebrities, many of whom were as cheeky and cheery as themselves.
“I’ll tell the barman about the optics,” I thought.
The Nine O’Clock News followed A Question of Sport. Or, at least for 30 seconds it did,
before the television was switched off and cheeky, cheery pop music took it’s place.
I looked over at the barman, “Just half this time,” I said.
As he filled the glass, I solemnly asked him why he’d switched off the news. “Don’t ask
me – that was the wife,“ he replied, in a cheeky, cheery manner, as the subject of his playful targeting bustled in a corner of the bar.
The leaking optics had ceased to have any importance for me.
I finished my drink and left, almost certain the TV would be silent for the rest of the evening. For after the Nine O’Clock News would have come The Boys from Brazil, a film with few cheeky, cheery characters in it, which is all about a bunch of Nazis creating 94 clones of Adolf Hitler.
There aren’t many cheeky, cheery characters in V For Vendetta either; and it’s for people who don’t switch off the news.
~ David Lloyd – January 14, 1990
V for Vendetta graphic novel introduction by writer Alan Moore:
I began V For Vendetta in the summer of 1981, during a working holiday upon the Isle of Wight.
My youngest daughter, Amber, was a few months old. I finished it in the late winter of 1988, after a gap in publishing of nearly five years from discontinuation of England’s Warrior magazine, its initial home. Amber is now seven. I don’t know why I mentioned that. It’s just one of those unremarkable facts that strike you suddenly, with unexpected force, so that you have to go and sit down.
Along with Marvelman (now Miracleman), V For Vendetta represents my first attempt at a continuing series, begun at the outset of my career. For this reason, amongst others, there are things that ring oddly in earlier episodes when judged in the light of the strip’s later development. I trust you’ll bear with us during any initial clumsiness, and share our opinion that it was for the best to show the early episodes unrevised, warts and all, rather than go back and eradicate all trace of youthful creative inexperience.
There is also a certain amount of political inexperience upon my part evident in these early episodes. Back in 1981 the term “nuclear winter” had not passed into common currency, and although my guess about climatic upheaval came pretty close to the eventual truth of the situation, the fact remains that the story to hand suggests that a nuclear war, even a limited one, might be survivable. To the best of my current knowledge, this is not the case.
Naivete can also be detected in my supposition that it would take something as melodramatic as a near-miss nuclear conflict to nudge England toward fascism. Although in fairness to myself and David, there were no better or more accurate predictions of our country’s future available in comic form at that time. The simple fact that much of the historical background of the story proceeds from a predicted Conservative defeat in the 1982 General Election should tell you how reliable we were in our role as Cassandras.
It’s 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against. I’m thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It’s cold and it’s mean-spirited and I don’t like it here anymore.
Goodnight England. Goodnight Home Services and V for Victory.
Hello the voice of Fate (London) and V For Vendetta.
~ Alan Moore – Northampton, March 1988
So…I ask America…do we live with deja vu…or will we ‘remember, remember’ the first amendment?
V said: “Words are a means to meaning.” Indeed, we can learn a lot about the world, ourselves and our society through words, lyrics, poetry – they are vehicles of a people’s history, not textbook myths which change now as often as politicians keep promises. It is words used wisely that are building blocks of truth and should be the foundation of democracy. There is a damn good reason the Founding Fathers made it the First Amendment. We The People need to keep it a priority.
COMIC NEWS UPDATE
Thursday, January 20th, 2011
Today on their blog, DC Comics co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee announced that DC Comics would no longer submit their books to The Comics Code Authority for approval. They will instead use their own ratings system for each book. The changes go into effect in April.
The Comics Code Authority came about in 1954 and is a relic from the era of Wertham-inspired fear, when comic books were thought to cause deviant behanvior in young boys. In order for the comic book industry to survive they had to submit themselves to oversight from the The Comics Code Authority who had a list of what could and could not be portrayed in the pages of a comic book.
Over the years the guidelines were updated and changed with the times and occasionally both DC and Marvel Comics would publish an issue without Comics Code Authority Approval.