It wouldn't be the first time that iconography associated with Alan Moore has escaped into the wild. The blood splattered smiley face image, created by Moore and Dave Gibbons was used as advertising for the Watchmen comic by Forbidden Planet on the London Underground. Leading to on one occasion, image after image of a smiley face flashing past you as you rose on the moving staircases of Tottenham Court Road tube. This vaguely rhythmic psychedelic experience was grabbed by promoters of the acid house rave movement, specifically Bomb The Bass in the late eighties and early nineties.
But it's a previous image, created by Alan Moore and David Lloyd for V For Vendetta, that has come to the fore now. The Lloyd-designed Guy Fawkes mask, the face of choice for Anonymous and their anti-Scientology protests, then by Wikileaks and its proponents and now being used in the Occupy protests worldwide. Initially given away free by DC Comics, it is now sold by Warner Brothers for $10 a pop.
Lloyd has been quite vocal in his delight of the appropriation of the image. But now, in today's Observer newspaper, Alan Moore speaks out, talking to Tom Lamont.
"I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."
David Lloyd has spoken of the smile of the mask being an accidental byproduct of a half-remembered way the moustache worked on Guy Fawkes masks – there weren't any for sale in shops any more and he has to dredge his childhood memory.
"That smile is so haunting, I tried to use the cryptic nature of it to dramatic effect. We could show a picture of the character just standing there, silently, with an expression that could have been pleasant, breezy or more sinister…. and when you've got a sea of V masks, I suppose it makes the protesters appear to be almost a single organism – this "99%" we hear so much about. That in itself is formidable. I can see why the protesters have taken to it."
The sea of masks is something from the film, and never in the comic book – it does seem to fight against the anarchic aspect of the V character that the movie switched direction away from. The original comic saw Fascism Vs Anarchy as the only two choices available to any society, while the movie was more the ordinary man turned activist against a neoconservative government. But it's this moment that seems to have been inspiring to many.
"It turns protests into performances. The mask is very operatic; it creates a sense of romance and drama. I mean, protesting, protest marches, they can be very demanding, very gruelling. They can be quite dismal. They're things that have to be done, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're tremendously enjoyable – whereas actually, they should be… I think it's appropriate that this generation of protesters have made their rebellion into something the public at large can engage with more readily than with half-hearted chants, with that traditional, downtrodden sort of British protest. These people look like they're having a good time. And that sends out a tremendous message."
As to the corporate aspect of those mask sales, "I find it comical, watching Time Warner try to walk this precarious tightrope. It's a bit embarrassing to be a corporation that seems to be profiting from an anti-corporate protest. It's not really anything that they want to be associated with. And yet they really don't like turning down money – it goes against all of their instincts. I find it more funny than irksome."
"I don't have a copy of the book around the place, but with the mask everywhere it's made me think back to the work itself, try to figure out why this has lodged in the public imagination."
"The reason V's fictional crusade against the state is ultimately successful is that the state, in V for Vendetta, relies upon a centralised computer network which he has been able to hack. Not an obvious idea in 1981, but it struck me as the sort of thing that might be down the line. This was just something I made up because I thought it would make an interesting adventure story. Thirty years go by and you find yourself living it."
"I have no particular connection or claim to what they are doing, nor am I suggesting that these people are fans of mine, or of V for Vendetta… it's cool-looking. I'm not trying to make a proprietorial statement… At the moment, the demonstrators seem to me to be making clearly moral moves, protesting against the ridiculous state that our banks and corporations and political leaders have brought us to… It would be probably be better if the authorities accepted this is a new situation, that this is history happening. History is a thing that happens in waves. Generally it is best to go with these waves, not try to make them turn back – the Canute option. I'm hoping that the world's leaders will realise this."
He recalls Vox Populi as the title of the last chapter in V For Vendetta. "Voice of the people. And I think that if the mask stands for anything, in the current context, that is what it stands for. This is the people. That mysterious entity that is evoked so often – this is the people."
And this is the mask that Bob Wayne, now senior VP at DC was merrily handing out at the Bristol Comic Convention five years ago…