May 10, 2014

Reclaiming History: David Lloyd on V for Vendetta

David Lloyd on V for Vendetta
by Duy

So I'm going through my list of articles that I've written for the last four years, right? And I realize I've never written anything substantial about V for Vendetta. So then I start thinking about what to write about, since, you know, just about everything you can write about V, both the comic and the movie, have already been written. And then I reread this old piece I did about the contributions of Dave Gibbons to Watchmen, and how I feel he's often undervalued despite the book not even existing without him (as in, it wouldn't have been made at all, not "wouldn't have been made the way it was").

I feel the same is true with David Lloyd on V for Vendetta. Look, Alan Moore is my favorite writer, and I love his work, and I'll give most of his stuff a shot if it doesn't involve Lovecraftian takeoffs published by Avatar, and I'll defend his controversial statements when I think he's in the right and look past his questionable statements, like his random railing against sports (I like basketball, and so should you) and it won't affect how I read his work (side note: how many creators have public personalities that actually affect how you see their work? I can name two off the top of my head, and no, Grant Morrison isn't one of them.). But the man doesn't walk on water and  every single one of his greatest works has been done in concert with a talented artist. Yes, in a lot of these cases, these artists achieved the greatest success with Moore, and they were rarely as good or as inspired afterwards, but Moore understood the medium was collaborative and made sure to always work closely with his artists to the extent that the artists were responsible for a good portion of the ideas and execution.

I want to clarify, because some Moore fans actually find it offensive when you say that he didn't turn water into wine or anything, this is not a knock against Moore. Being able to play to your artist's strengths and knowing when to step back when your artist is hitting all cylinders, is a strength. For all the talk that Stan Lee never didn't do more than hand his artists a basic plot, well, why would you have wanted him to? He had Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby; why would you want Stan to constrain them some more?

So, a lot of Lloyd's contributions were outlined by Moore in the back matter of V, in the essay "Behind the Painted Smile," but I think it's worth mentioning them here.

V started out when Lloyd was given a brief to create a 30's mystery strip. He suggested Moore as the writer and made clear his dislike of needing to do research, which is how Moore decided to set the strip in the near future instead of the recent past. After Moore went through a whole slew of ideas, including calling the main character "The Doll," Lloyd finally suggested having the main character wear a Guy Fawkes mask, and things flowed from there.

David Lloyd came up with this at one point.

Lloyd also was the one who suggested leaving out thought balloons and sound effects, giving the whole thing a more cinematic feel than it would have otherwise (although I still contend that thought balloons aren't really so different from first-person narrative captions), and letting Lloyd's artwork do the bulk of the storytelling.

Moore mentions in The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore that Lloyd's style, while maybe not as commercial in terms of its polish as that of other British superstars like Brian Bolland, had such a strong sense of storytelling to it and that the two of them shared a desire to experiment with the medium. Lloyd's strength, to me, is the sense of atmosphere and mood he can create. There's a texture to V that Moore's other "greatest" commercial work, Watchmen, doesn't quite achieve, and it's because of Lloyd's art style. The lack of sound effects and, even in some cases, outlines for speech bubbles, accentuates that.

But wait, Duy! you say, it's common comics knowledge among us Mooreniacs (I just made that up. I demand royalties if anyone uses it.) that Alan writes these superdetailed scripts! Wouldn't that mean David was being written for and Alan still deserves most of the credit?

Well, first of all, hypothetical Mooreniac I don't know, I have to ask why you absolutely need to give Moore most of the credit like it will improve your life any (yes, I'm aware of the irony of someone saying that while writing a column about proper credit), but it's likely you missed the part where Moore continually tells his artists to go ahead and do whatever they think is better. The detailed style of writing is to ensure a greater level of control because he came up at the time when he didn't know who was going to be drawing his strips, but later on he kept it because it was a way for his artists to have a starting point if they were feeling uninspired. But still, Moore recognizes the artist is the artist, and gives them the keys to the car if they feel like it:

I always in my scripts will give instructions saying: “Look, despite the fact that there's all this previous detail, if you've got a better way of doing this panel, then as long as you basically understand the effect I was going for here and can think of a better way to achieve it, then please do, I'm counting on you, if you've got a better idea than me to throw it in, because that'll make the story better”.

Here's the thing though. It's not true for V, because in V, Moore's scripts apparently were not that detailed. Lloyd recalled in 2005, prior to the release of the movie:
There's this legend that he writes this incredible detailed script.Alan did not have this detailed style, and as we got closer to the end, I used to joke it got kind of wordy. Alan wasn't writing that sort of stuff, and if he had been, I would not have wanted to work with him. If he can tell you exactly what to do, what the hell are you doing there? If you're working as a team, not just as an individual artist, you need to both have your creative freedom, it's very important. We both thought the same way, me and Alan. You need to have your creative territory.
He continues:
I do like to work on a Marvel method, so if I've got the opportunity, and the writer is happy to do it, I like to have a writer detail what happens on a page, but not saying what happens in every scene.

That kind of method works for Lloyd, and Moore's the type of writer who actually will accede to his artist's preferred method (his wife, Melinda Gebbie, apparently had trouble visualizing his scripts, so they worked by personally speaking to each other in person and him demonstrating what he had in mind). And this leads to serendipitous choices, one of which shows up in my personal favorite chapter in the book, "Valerie":
That whole Valerie Page sequence happened almost by accident. The scene in the cinema was something that wasn't written. The whole point that V would be anyone, and Alan said 'put him anywhere you like' and I suggested he could be in a private cinema, watching someone who had the same things done. I like that whole organic process.

Until recently, "Valerie" is the only comic book scene that had been able to make me cry (I'm old now, and I'll cry at anything. The first ten minutes of Up, the ending of Toy Story 3, a random episode of The Wonder Years, Superman destroying Metro--wait, no, not that one. You know that episode of Friends where Chandler refused to cry ever, but once he started, he just cried at everything because the floodgates have opened? That's me. And yes, I watched Friends. Go away now.). It just felt so heartfelt and full of passion and it just came together. And that's great.

In the end, Moore said it best:

V is something that happens at the point where my warped personality meets David's warped personality, and it is something that neither of us could do either by ourselves or working with another artist or writer. Despite the way that some of the series' admirers chose to view it, it isn't "Alan Moore's V" or  "David Lloyd's V." It's a joint effort in every sense of the word, because after trying the alternatives, that is the only way that comics can ever work.

Unfortunately, in my experience, it has been seen as Alan Moore's V. Even after Moore took his name off the movie credits and had David Lloyd get sole credit, people spoke about Moore and whether or not Warner Bros. was right to make the movie in the first place, whether or not they should respect Moore's wishes or do what's best for the company bottom line, everyone pretty much forgetting that David Lloyd gave the movie his approval.

David Lloyd deserves more credit for V. And I want that said for a simple reason: when I ask friends who only ever read the evergreen comics what their favorite comic is, the most frequent answer, by pretty much a wide margin, is V for Vendetta, and it should be known: it's not Alan Moore's V; it's Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V, and that's the way it should be remembered.

1 comment:

Unknown Yamaguchi said...

This isn't a comment about your main point, but about your public persona comment. And as bizarre as it is based on his stated desire not have a public persona, I think Steve Ditko's personal work can be read really differently if you know nothing about him.

For example, I lent AVENGING WORLD to a causal-comic-reading friend and afterward commented about its right-wing tendencies, which he didn't see. Ditko does attack hippies in it, but he makes blantant attacks on conventional Christians, too. And R. Crumb frequently mocked hippies, too, as did many underground comix artists.

Ditko is big on the free market and private ownership without always dealing with where money comes from (though generally mocking the children of the rich), but he also is for people having a right to do what they want (the circles doing 'X' always makes me think of homosexuality).

I'm not saying that Ditko isn't a right-winger, but I am saying his image as one deflects the reading of his work.

By the way, I would assume that I am the only person to think that Ditko was inspired by sixties underground comix to create his own version of them with AVENGING WORLD and such. Especially by R. Crumb comics where his comix stand-in just shares his thoughts on things. Yep, probably just me.

And then I also see him as a big influence on Scott McCloud both on the original color run of ZOT! and the structure and humor of UNDERSTANDING COMICS.

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