V for Vendetta: written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd.

The Cartoon Museum in Wells Street has re-opened with an exhibition examining the cultural impact of the most ground-breaking series of comics ever to be published — V for Vendetta.

Behind the Mask charts the rise from seminal graphic novel, to hit film and now a global phenomenon as a symbol of protests.

V for Vendetta was written by Alan Moore, author of Watchmen whose CV includes: occultist, ceremonial magician, and anarchist, and long time collaborator, illustrator David Lloyd. The central character of the masked and mysterious Guy Fawkes lookalike ‘V’ became an iconic symbol of comics, cinema and the hacker group Anonymous.

David Lloyd explains: “I don’t know why I thought of Guy Fawkes, because it was during the summer. I thought that would be great if he looked like Guy Fawkes, kind of theatrical. I just suggested it to Alan, and he said, ‘that sounds like a good idea.’ It gave us everything, the costume and everything. During the summer, I couldn’t get any of these masks. These masks that you could get in every shop had a smile built into them. So I created this Guy Fawkes mask with a kind of smile. It was an ideal costume for this future anarchist persona.”

The exhibition explores this cultural impact of V for Vendetta, spanning nearly 40 years, through 36 original artworks by David Lloyd, including black and white and colour paintings. Also on display is the original mask worn by Hugo Weaving in Warner Brothers’ blockbuster 2005 film adaptation, one of only three that were used during production, as well as costume designs and storyboards.

The original drawings are quite exquisite in their detail, and much more painterly than the flat version to be seen in the comics. Evidence of pencil sketching, rubbings out, rethinks and the liberal use of tippex are everywhere. Each page is like looking at up to a dozen individual little paintings.

The stylised Guy Fawkes mask that Lloyd created for V for Vendetta has transcended the story and made its way into the real world, frequently being used by protesters demonstrating against the injustices of governments, cults, financial institutions and other powerful organisations. The recent international success of the Netflix / Spanish TV series Money Heist and the subsequent adoption of the Salvador Dali mask by demonstrators against the system worldwide, would probably not have happened without the example set by V for Vendetta.

The timing of this exhibition is very appropriate, as the fears and anxieties of the UK population have been fuelled by over a year of pandemic restrictions that have recharged debates over rights, government control and citizenship.

V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask, at The Cartoon Museum, 63 Wells Street, Fitzrovia, London W1A 3AE, until 31 October 2021.