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David Lloyd: A Conversation

by Andy Diggle

Andy Diggle: First off - why comics? What was it that initially drew you to the medium?

David Lloyd: I can’t pinpoint that one specific thing. If you’re an artist or writer or whatever and need to express yourself in some way as we all do, then we become lured by the various mediums of expression - or the one - which we encounter in our formative early years. Despite my enthusiasm for painting and writing, and all the attraction of cinema and TV, comics just took a hold of me. I started drawing and writing them from the age of 13. It may well be that because the craft of comics combines a lot of the elements of those other things I was into, it had the edge in dragging me to its heels more effectively than anything else. Anyway, that’s how I got here.

AD: What defines a good editor? What defines a bad one?

DL: Well, that depends entirely on whether he’s working for himself on an independent basis as editor/publisher; editor/publisher attached to a bigger publisher; editor in a big publishing house; or editor in a little publishing house. They’ve all got different kinds of demands on them, as you know.

But if your question is just about how they interact with creators, and, for the moment, you’re talking about editors in a big publishing house, I’d say they have to know what the people they hire are capable of and get the best out of them by using that knowledge. That’s reasonably easy if you’re hiring people you know of, and who you know to be reliable. More difficult if you’re in the position of giving someone a break. Good editors have to take chances on someone new or something new if they value themselves as creative forces in their own right. But they can be good if they’re just holding the fort, too. The important thing, though, is to know when to keep your hand off the tiller. If you hire good people to do the work, let em get on with it - and don’t stick your fingers in it during or afterwards unless something’s gone drastically wrong with what you expected them to come up with.

AD: How much of an influence was your work on Marvel UK’s Night Raven on V For Vendetta?

DL: A direct influence and an indirect one. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of V detailed in the collected edition, I’ll run over the initial circumstances of its birth...

Night Raven was drawn for Dez Skinn, when he was editing British comics for Marvel UK, and, laudably, commissioning original art and stories for them when previously only packaged reprints of US work had been published by them. Dez initiated a whole bunch of story types for these books - a fantasy thing, a science fiction thing, a masked vigilante thing and suchlike. Night-Raven (it had a hyphen once...) was the masked vigilante thing. When Dez left Marvel and later decided to set up his own comic magazine, Warrior, he wanted a similar range of story types in his book. So he hired a lot of the creators he’d worked with at Marvel to create these things for him. He asked me to do a masked vigilante thing along the lines of Night Raven, and invited me to write and draw it. Frankly, I was not attracted by the idea of writing it at the time, but Alan was on board Warrior already with his update of an old British comic character called Marvelman. I’d worked happily with Alan on stuff before, and he was a great guy - so I suggested Alan write it instead of me. Dez had no objections, so off we went and did it.

The indirect influence comes from the fact that, had it not been the case that I was fed up to the back teeth with having to get period detail correct in Night-Raven, which was set in Prohibition America, V - or whatever it might have ended up being called - could have been much more like Night Raven and nothing like V became.

AD: V For Vendetta was very much a product of its time - namely Thatcher’s Britain of the early 1980s. How well has it aged?

DL: I don’t think it’s aged at all. Its theme is universal. It sells all over the world - or over lots of it, at least. It’s about tyranny, the right of the individual to be individual, it’s about terrorism... I think the only thing that dates it in the way that you mention, is the fact that Alan’s introduction to the collection refers to that Thatcher period. I guess my foreword to the collection will date it eventually in a similar way, but not quite yet, because 15 years after I wrote it, British TV is still airing Porridge, EastEnders and A Question of Sport...

AD: What was it like working with Alan Moore? Were his scripts very prescriptive, or did they leave plenty of room for your own interpretation?

DL: Ah, this is the “legend of Alan’s scripts” question I am always asked, and you haven’t disappointed me, Andy...

I have no stories of excessively detailed scripts to report concerning my work with Alan, though I did see him start to embroider his descriptions as time went by. We joked about it. ‘Me, squire? Wordy?’ is a reasonable paraphrase of his response. I think what you have to remember is that myself and Alan hadn’t been in the business for very long before we began to work together. I’d become a full-time professional in ‘77, Alan about two years later, I think - and we created V in 1980. As a writer in a collaborative environment, he was still developing.

If it’s true that Alan has been writing lots of very detailed scripts for people, I think it’s partly because he was once an artist/writer and, consequently, must often see exactly what he believes will work best in his mind’s eye as he writes and is unable to stop himself describing it. Also, and I think as importantly, Alan is much more of a prose writer at heart than a kind of screenwriter-type as many people who write comics are. It’s probably much more difficult for him to restrict his directions because of that.

AD: How much input did you have into the story itself?

DL: Well, basically, I used to just say what I didn’t think worked. Alan would write a synopsis of what was roughly going to happen in the story, section by section, which would cover a number of episodes. We’d agree, and then Alan would send in a script for one episode. We’d talk about that, agree on any changes and frame breakdowns and then I’d draw it, and send the completed episode in photocopy form to him at the same time it was sent to the magazine. We were doing it for a monthly, one chapter at a time of about 6-8 pages in length, and Alan wouldn’t write the script for the next chapter until he got the art for the last one, so it was like a kind of growing thing, step by step. I’d get a great script every month, then he’d get some great (excuse me) art the next month. It was kind of organic... and always subject to little, and sometimes, big changes in form. Because it took shape so slowly, I think it gave Alan lots of room to think as it developed. Unfortunately, this system of creativity ceased when Warrior folded, and the last part of V - the final three issues of the DC series - were all drawn from three complete scripts that Alan had written in one chunk. At the time, it would probably have been impossible for him to have completed V in the circumstances of its earlier making because he was very busy with lots of other work, but I always feel kind of sad that we couldn’t have done it again that way.

AD: The comic features a security state where ethnic, racial and political “deviants” are arrested without charge and held without trial in “internment camps”. Is the story more relevant now than ever...?

DL: No. Like I said earlier, I don’t think it ages.

AD: Would you say your original V is a hero, an anti-hero, a villain, or what…?

DL: He’s a symbol for all of us - an everyman - so he’s like all of us, and as capable of anything as each of us can be, given the justifying circumstances that would enable us to do whatever that thing was.

AD: Is he a terrorist or a freedom-fighter? Is it possible to be both?

DL: Those are both terms used by the opposing sides in a conflict to describe the same person from differing points of view, so you can be both, but you are not necessarily both.

AD: You’ve seen the V For Vendetta movie. What’s your reaction?

DL: It’s a terrific film. The most extraordinary thing about it for me was seeing scenes that I’d worked on and crafted for maximum effect in the book translated to film with the same degree of care and effect. The “transformation” scene between Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving is just great. If you happen to be one of those people who admires the original so much that changes to it will automatically turn you off, then you may dislike the film - but if you enjoyed the original and can accept an adaptation that is different to its source material but equally as powerful, then you’ll be as impressed as I was with it.

AD: How faithful to the comic is it?

DL: About 80%.

AD: No movie can ever be 100% faithful to its original source material; nor should it try to be. Do you feel the changes were valid?

DL: There was nothing stopping Larry and Andy making a more faithful version of Vendetta than they made - indeed they wrote a script that was closer to the original version eight years ago. But I have no argument with what they’ve done now with V, as I had no argument with the smaller changes they made to it back then, because the movie rights were sold to DC by myself and Alan way back in 1985, and we were both intelligent enough to know that we were not signing those rights over to a board of trustees whose duty was to look after our creative property as if it were the Dead Sea Scrolls. My attitude was always that I’d be happy to see V made into a movie if it was a good movie. It has been made into a good movie. In fact, I think that Larry and Andy, James McTeigue, Grant Hill, Adrian Biddle, and Joel Silver have made an excellent movie of it with an excellent cast. And I’m pleased to support what they’ve done.

Are the changes they’ve made to it valid? Well, there are those who value the original so completely that no changes to the story would be seen by them as valid, and I wouldn’t want to be in the position of trying to convince anyone that any changes that have been made to it were valid because I’m not responsible for them being made. I really want everyone to make up their own mind about it when they see it, and accept or reject them then. I feel sad about the antagonism towards the film that’s been stimulated by Alan’s view of the script and other matters, because it seems to have caused a lot of people to pre-judge the film - and that’s bad.

AD: Does the movie offer us a black-and-white morality, with V as a heroic freedom-fighter battling a villainous regime, or does it embrace the moral ambiguity of the comic?

DL: If you’re talking about the moral ambiguity of the characters who figure in the story, there’s a much smaller cast to demonstrate that with in the film, so a level of complexity in the treatment of the denizens of V’s world is missing - but there’s little missing in the rounded portrayal of V and his battle against the state.

The only other thing I’d add by way of reply to that question is that the Leader character in the film isn’t painted with any of those brush strokes of sympathy he was given in the original. Considering the crimes he’d committed, I guess no-one could stomach the idea of giving him any.

AD: The home-grown British fascists of the comic have been replaced in the film by German Nazis having won World War II. But might this miss the point that fascism, totalitarianism, loss of freedom can happen anywhere - even here... ?

DL: Now that question is based on believing a rumor to be true. Because I know info gets around the web very quickly, I figured that once someone had read the script of V - which apparently many now have - all old rumors would be squashed. Obviously not. The point has been kept.

AD: Is the V of the movie a proponent of Anarchism?

DL: The V of the original creates chaos with the personal hope, almost a dream, of it leading to a state of true anarchy, but he doesn’t set any wheels in motion to provide such a state with a solid foundation because he can’t. In one sense, you could say he’d be unable to, because to do that would be to lead, and the essence of anarchy is that it exists without leaders. At the end of his achievements, he has only given the people the freedom to choose how they want to live. V in the film demonstrates no desire to preach a particular way of life to the people he’s encouraging to freedom, so you could call him less of a dreamer and more of a pragmatist.

AD: Alan Moore’s negative reaction to the screenplay, and subsequent squabbles with producer Joel Silver, are well documented. Do you share Alan’s point of view to any degree, or has it all been blown out of proportion?

DL: As I said above, I regret all that. Alan is entitled to his point of view, and I have my own.

AD: Do you feel you’ve been treated fairly?

DL: Well, I signed a contract with DC in 1985, selling V For Vendetta to them under certain terms and conditions. They’ve abided by that contract to the letter. I get all that I’m due from it.

Nothing in their contract obliges DC or Warner Bros to send me or to show me any scripts for a V movie, or to pass comment on them, but from the very first script that was written for one - written over ten years ago by someone whose name I shall not grace with a mention, and which I would not have supported in the way I support the present one - they always have.

AD: Moving on, I’ve heard you’re working on your own graphic novel, a detective thriller called Kickback. Can you tell us a little about it?

DL: Sure. First, it’s from a rough script I put together about 7 years ago and kept in a side draw due to never being able to grab the time to try to get it sold. If you’re lucky enough to be a reasonably popular artist in this business, finding the time and space to even write something is hard enough without getting the time to sell it as well. It’s a story about a corrupt policeman in a corrupt force and how and why he gets to change the direction of his life, and I enjoyed doing it more than anything else I’ve done in years.

AD: Is this for the French market? Any chance of an English edition?

DL: I sold it to France - in ‘03, eventually - because at the time I wrote it, that was the market I considered would be ideal for it. At that time, crime comics were not exactly a favorite subject amongst US publishers. Apart from Sin City, there was nothing making much money in that area. The French market had lots of detective books and generally a lot of time for crime. On top of that, I’d always wanted to do something for the European market with its very particular qualities. Having something in hardback with some kind of reasonable shelf life was also an attraction at the time because I was always sick of the sheer volume of product you had to bump shoulders with in the US market every month to get anything you’d done seen by anyone for longer than two seconds before it became a back issue.

Kickback’s in two 46-page volumes, both on sale now in France. Spain is currently also publishing it, and Dark Horse are publishing it in one hardback comic-sized volume in Summer this year.

AD: Does it concern you that there isn’t more of a market for this kind of project in the English-speaking comics world?

DL: Well, in days gone by before spinner racks of Manga hit every Barnes and Noble store in the US, I always bemoaned the inability of the Anglo/American comics industry to recognize the power of its own potential, and took whatever opportunities that afforded themselves to suggest that expanding the market beyond the core - or what has been made the core - readership would be not only be a good idea but essential to survival. Publishers were ready to accept the fact that many people who don’t generally read comics can actually warm to them if they’re presented to them in very specific ways tailored to their tastes, but this knowledge was never followed up with any large-scale attempts to benefit from it. Somehow, the industry seemed frozen into immobility by the weight of its own mass, waiting for the next big superhero movie to come along and inject some life into it again, even though it had been proved that screen success of a superhero didn’t always mean bigger sales, or any, of the character in the comics.

Then, along came Manga and grabbed all the girls. A lot of other folks, too. It grabbed all the bookstores - the coveted golden ground. It’s impossible to compete with it now, too. Cheap, black and white reprint from a trillion-page backlog of stuff of all kinds, sold at low prices but in nice packages. And now - goddammit - they’re forcing our kids to read like Japs! (Little joke, there... no offense meant...)

Yes, I’m concerned. Hope lots of publishers are. How much good it’ll do them depends on their willingness to mount serious expeditions into unknown territory.

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