Behind the Mask

Voilà! How V for Vendetta sparked a real-life revolution

“Vi veri veniversum vivus vici.”

Since it first appeared in the Warrior anthology in 1982, V for Vendetta has become more than just a beloved comic.

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It’s grown into a symbol of resistance and revolt, a fixture at protests worldwide, and proof of the power of comics as a medium.

Alexander Williams

Now, the legacy of V for Vendetta is being examined in an exhibition at The Cartoon Museum in London.

V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask features original artwork loaned to the museum by illustrator David Lloyd...

and costume designs by Sammy Sheldon Differ, from the 2005 movie adaptation.

Also on display are prototypes of V’s iconic mask and the actual mask worn by Hugo Weaving in the movie.

The exhibition tells the personal story of main characters V and Evey, and charts V for Vendetta’s evolution from comic strip to symbol of revolution.

“We’re taking visitors through the characters’ experience from being victims of the fascist regime through learning to stand up what they believe in, find their voice, and come together with other people.”

— Emma Stirling-Middleton

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As in V for Vendetta, V’s mask has become synonymous with protest and uprising in the real world, particularly during the worldwide Occupy protests of 2011.

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As curator Emma Stirling-Middleton tells Inverse, the anonymity provided by the masks and the grassroots nature of protests make it impossible to tell who was the first to connect V for Vendetta to real-world uprisings.

“For [illustrator David Lloyd], I think it’s quite surreal how huge it has become. He’s humble about his role. The life art takes on after it’s been created, he’s detached from it and sees it as something beyond him.”

— Emma Stirling-Middleton

But there were other masks that protestors could have chosen, and other stories about revolution to latch onto. Why has V for Vendetta endured?

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The comic’s success owes much to the relationship between writer Alan Moore (pictured) and illustrator David Lloyd, who spent hours on the phone developing the world of V for Vendetta, Stirling-Middleton tells Inverse.

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“They took in so much inspiration from pop culture, from art history, from politics, but also from the social context of 1980s Britain.

This is the era that Margaret Thatcher was in power and there was a great deal of social unrest.”

— Emma Stirling-Middleton

V for Vendetta’s grounding in real-world issues and the talents of its creators resulted in the “alchemy” that made it so special — and keeps it relevant today.

Erik Mclean

Before V for Vendetta left its mark on real-world protests, it was part of a wave of comics that helped transform the medium in the public eye.

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Until the ‘80s, comics were largely seen as “something for children, not of any great quality — low art that would never be looked at as part of literature or art,” Stirling-Middleton tells Inverse.

“When things like V for Vendetta came out, it made people realize that graphic novels were incredibly powerful works of art and literature. That led to an entirely reshaped industry. It’s perceived and consumed differently, and the things that people are making have expanded exponentially.”

— Emma Stirling-Middleton

Tracing the path from indie comic strip to Hollywood film and symbol of protest, V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask runs until Sunday, October 31 at The Cartoon Museum in London.

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