How the V mask leapt from graphic novel pages to become the face of global anarchism
A new exhibition at London’s Cartoon Museum chooses a poignant moment to examine the visual history of a character who fought government corruption.
- Jenny Brewer
- 17 May 2021
- Reading Time
- 2 minute read
As a visual symbol, the V mask has seen an incomparable trajectory from the pages of a graphic novel to becoming a globally recognised symbol of anarchy and protest – via starring in the Wachowskis’ blockbuster film. This fascinating journey is subject of a new exhibition opening at London’s Cartoon Museum tomorrow (18 May), which not only displays original artwork charting the genesis of the character and story, but also examines its evolution and contemporary meaning via stories of real-world protestors.
V for Vendetta was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, and originally ran as a black-and-white strip in British comic anthology Warrior from 1982–1985. When Warrior was cancelled, the popular strip was picked up by DC Comics, publisher of Batman and Superman. There it grew to become one of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time, portraying a dystopian future Britain suffering from an almost apocalyptic nuclear destruction in a neo-fascist state. The stories followed V – who took on the persona of failed revolutionary Guy Fawkes – in their solo war against the government, later helped by Evey, a young woman who is victimised by the regime and decides to take action.
Outside the graphic novel’s success, wider audiences got to know V when the Wachowskis picked up the novel for their film adaptation, fresh from directing The Matrix trilogy; then in another unexpected way, when hacker activist group Anonymous used V’s iconic mask to shield their identities and draw attention to their cause. The show will feature original artwork and covers, costumes such as the mask Hugo Weaving wore for the role in the 2005 film, plus storyboards and a section that explores the idea of “self-expression through protest,” the press release says. Through displays voicing the perspectives of protestors in the real world donning V masks, the show asks: “Anyone can be V, so where does the line between anarchism and protest sit for the individual?”
The Cartoon Museum has chosen a poignant moment to examine the history of this visual symbol, prompting audiences to compare the character’s context with British society’s current battles, and see V in the light of recharged debates over rights, government control and citizenship.
Museum director Joe Sullivan says the exhibition will take visitors on a journey starting with the original artwork, to early 21st century interpretations, going on to look at the effect the comic still has on global culture. “V for Vendetta shows us a near-future world, that is borne out of fear and anger following a potential catastrophic event. That’s why it still speaks to us today and I look forward to welcoming the public back as we continue to celebrate the art, culture and comics that try and make sense of the world we live in.”
V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask opens 18 May – 31 October 2021 at The Cartoon Museum, London.
GalleryDavid Lloyd and Alan Moore: V for Vendetta (Copyright © DC, 2021)
David Lloyd and Alan Moore: V for Vendetta (Copyright © DC, 2021)