- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

NEW YORK — A freedom fighter on the rampage in an Orwellian England sets the stage for “V for Vendetta,” brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski’s film adaptation — opening today — of one of sequential art’s most important works.

The comic book series was almost never completed, as it went through an eight-year odyssey through multiple format changes and two publishers.

Begun in 1981 as a collaboration between writer Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd, the series — centered around the exploits of V, a shadowy, anti-totalitarian terrorist-cum-freedom fighter — helped set a standard for mature storytelling in comics by blending politics, action and intelligent skepticism toward government.

Hoping to reach people who never read comic books, the creators knew from the beginning that they needed a hero with more depth than the medium’s typical costumed vigilante.

“We started out with V being an urban guerrilla fighting a dictatorship, basically one man against the state, a classical concept that has been used many times,” Mr. Lloyd said during a recent press conference for the movie.

The V that eventually emerged is based on a treasonous conspirator taken from 17th-century British history, Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the Parliament building in 1605.

Escaped from a government concentration camp and wearing a white, grinning, papier-mache mask, black cloak, coned hat and flowing black wig, V challenges the fascist takeover of a post-holocaust Britain. This dystopian nightmare was fueled by one of the creators’ fears of the 1980s conservative domination of his country’s politics.

“The politics blended into it much more as time went by because Margaret Thatcher had just gotten into power in 1979 and hadn’t reached her full stride,” Mr. Lloyd says. “The political element really came from Alan, but neither of us were supporters of conservatism.”

The series was packaged in six- to eight-page black and white episodes in the monthly British comics anthology Warrior, a format that worked perfectly for the collaborators.

In a flexible creative process that fostered mutual influence upon each other, Mr. Moore would write a strip synopsis, and then both would critique it. In a 1983 interview Mr. Moore described it as “surfing on a tidal wave” of creativity.

“I would get a script and I would do the artwork for the script, and he would see the artwork for the script before he did the next part,” explains Mr. Lloyd.

Mr. Moore’s writings tapped themes ranging from Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” to John Wagner’s Judge Dredd and Thomas Pynchon’s novel “V.”

Unfortunately, Warrior closed down in 1985 after 26 issues, and V was silenced — temporarily.

“For two years nothing happened, it just sat around,” Mr. Lloyd says. “There was still one more chapter that had been completed and was sitting on my drawing board waiting for someone to publish it. ”

In 1988, DC Comics was riding the success of one of Mr. Moore’s most recognized works, the superhero opus Watchmen, and got the creative team to revive and complete the V for Vendetta series.

All of the Warrior episodes were colored and re-released, and the creative team put together three more issues’ worth of story as part of a 10 issue mini-series in 1988. That series was then packaged as a 265-page trade paperback epic.

“We had no idea how successful it would be,” says Mr. Lloyd, who cites the series’ principled individualism as one reason for its continuing popularity and relevance. “It caught the public’s imagination and comic book fans. When DC Comics collected it as a graphic novel, its popularity just kept growing.”

Giving his full blessing to the new film starring Hugo Weaving as V and Natalie Portman as his sympathizer Evey, Mr. Lloyd views the Wachowski brothers’ screenplay as faithful to the original story in both spirit and themes.

“In the adaptation, they have had to use much broader sweeps than we did,” he says, likening the film’s compression to a newspaper editorial cartoon. “In the graphic novel we had lots of space to tell the story … It’s not a perfect translation, but it is very imaginative.”

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