The author of "V for Vendetta" shares with us his thoughts. Let's talk about graffiti, comics and revolution!
Imagine you’re walking through London, and suddenly you discover a huge character from « V » painted on a wall, spray can style. How would you react? Do you like the idea ?
I don't think there's enough revolutionary spirit amongst the English to make the sight likely here - but I've seen small paintings of such things in other countries, though only via photos emailed to me by friends. I certainly like the idea that people have adopted the image of V as a symbol to represent political or cultural protest against some perceived tyranny. Can't think of a better legacy for the book to leave - though, of course, there's no need for the book to leave a legacy because it's likely it'll always be in print everywhere.
Have you ever done spray can art ? Would you like to draw on a wall with spray can ? Or to test it at least once ?
No. I like communicating to big audiences en masse, not one at a time, as they happen to pass by...
What were your thoughts at the beginning of the 80's when you saw the first graffiti appear in England ?
There was graffiti in England before 1980, and my attitude towards it has always been the same - if it isn't good to look at and has no artistic value I don't think much of it. I understand the culture behind ' tagging ' and the needs of the people who do it to express themselves, in the same way as I understand the needs of those who create artistic graffiti, but I don't like it.
People who are painting on walls are doing that just for fun without expecting any glory or money in return (except for a few opportunists). Is it the same thing for you, before working on a comic book ? Don’t you first and foremost draw just because you like drawing and nothing else ?
Oh, yes, I miss drawing just for fun like I did when I was a teenager doing massive epics in sequential art that no-one paid me for but were fantastic for practice - and were a highly enjoyable way of entertaining myself. The downside of creating art as a professional is that you feel you always have to do something for a market, because that's how you earn your living and pay the bills. I have colleagues who still do art for fun and pleasure as well as profit, but I find it difficult to do that. My alternative is to make sure that I propose to publishers projects of my own invention that I can get great pleasure from working on as well as making money from. That was what Kickback was all about really.
Your work seems slightly melancholic, playing with black and white. How did you make your artistic choices ?
Not all my work is melancholic - or done in black and white. I'd suggest that you may not have seen more than a small amount of what I've done. There is truth in what you say, though - I do have a melancholic personality, which naturally is reflected in some of the art I produce. And reflected to good effect, I guess. Years ago, at the start of my career, I didn't have the luxury of choosing my projects - I just took what was offered. But as soon as I could, I decided I'd pick and choose what I did as much as I could so that I could maximise my enjoyment in a business that could be very hard work and plagued by short deadlines. In the main, I'd say I like to work on stories that mean something - that say something. I couldn't just spend my time drawing an endless series of meaningless adventure stories, though I respect those who can.
In « Kickback », published by Carabas for the French edition, the story is focused on a character who is trying to remember a trauma from his past.
Do you think that resolving problems hidden in our memories is a key for the future that we are just beginning to explore ?
Oh, yes. Basic psycho-analysis, which is commonly used by many Americans but few citizens of other nations. The Americans - who all seem very honest in expressing their feelings - are also honest in recognizing any emotional or psychological problems they have, and they seek a cure for them whenever they realize they have them, whereas the citizens of many other cultures, including the English, prefer to bury them, or mask them and just hope they'll get better. Maybe it's because we feel ashamed that we have these flaws. Or maybe we think we deserve to suffer from them - to be punished by them. Anyway, it's better, of course, to fix them, or, by luck, to experience a trauma that frees us of them by accident - as happens in Kickback.
Several of your books take place in destroyed worlds or dark worlds (Territory, V for Vendetta, Alien…).
Is it due to a publisher’s demand or is it natural choice ?
No, that's a co-incidence. I may be melancholic but I'm not pessimistic.
What did you think of the V movie ?
Good. A different version of V, but good in it's own right. It would have been better if it had been closer to the original, but I'm glad it was as good as it was despite the differences. It kept the central core message intact - the necessity of hanging onto your individuality at all costs - and it spread that message to a much wider audience than would not have heard it if the movie had not been made. And it introduced people to the original who might otherwise never have seen it or bought it. So its good effects have been better than any bad ones, I'd say.
« V for Vendetta » looks like a desperate act from Alan Moore and you. But this book, since his publication, created a lot of positive impulse all over the world. Don’t you think that, even if we live in a scary world, everything is worth it ?
Not sure the translation of this question is accurate. V portrayed a view of a bleak world, but telling the story of it had a positive effect on those who've read it. Yes. Because it's about triumph over adversity, which is always an uplifting theme to make a work from. But it puts the onus on us to be the heroes rather than V alone. I think that's one of the things that makes it unusual and memorable.
We live now in a world where we have an explosion of so called « underground culture », from Tolkien to Philip K.Dick, from Robert Crumb to Vaughn Bodé or even Alan Moore, and so many things on every possible cultural support we can imagine. Is that meaningful to you ?
Well, the sad thing for me is that most of that stuff is still ' underground '. And books like V are still seen as sub-culture or cultish. Not mainstream. No real changes of power structure or attitudes to life in this world will happen if the status-quo is not sufficiently impacted by the views of the unconventional as well as the mainstream. But most members of society living generally comfortable lives in what passes for a democracy aren't really concerned with exploring too much, so it's good that some of this ' underground ' material has made it to the shore of the conventional, and left its mark in the sand. Just hope some of it manages to climb to its feet and set up camp.
It seems that a part of mankind is trying to be honest, looking for its defaults, and seeking to improve itself, despite the rather more desperate “official tendency“ ?
Not sure about the translation here, either. Can the good champions of a better society triumph over the influence of the massive power structures that have tempted us to consume too much, too greedily and without sufficient conscience ? Only through a revolution in thinking and education that is not likely… Unless through a natural collapse of those power structures or the undermining of them through mass action. And as the masses are far too happy to take such action, we can only look to the possibility of a natural collapse, or some other thing I can't imagine right now. It would be a cruel cure for the ills of the world, though.
Interview : Vincent Pompetti
Illustrations : David Lloyd
You can read this interview in the november ParisTonkar magazine.
More about Paris-Tonkar:
Old school Graffiti & Urban Art ///// 1983-2011
Twenty years after the publication of ParisTonkar, the first book on french graffiti, became a reference in France and Europe, we decided to highlight a new edition of this book. This second edition is in preparation and will be revised and updated with new photographs and new writers. It will return to the early years of French graffiti but also its presence in the suburbs (1983-1995).
To accompany this new publication, we decided to launch a magazine with the team of International Hip Hop, with whom we worked in the newspaper 1Tox in 1992. ParisTonkar.com a website has been online since the release of the first issue.
It's time to talk about the early years of the graffiti movement with hindsight and fitness for the public to know the history of this particular moment of urban art, illegal and authentic, creative and vandal but still alive in 2011!