The Art of Reading Graphic Novel Book Club

The Art of Reading Book Club

Oct 05

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Posted on October 5, 2021 at 4:05 PM by Zach Berkley

V for Vendetta

"Remember, remember the fifth of November..."

A frightening and powerful tale of the loss of freedom and identity in a chillingly believable totalitarian world, V for Vendetta stands as one of the highest achievements of the comics medium and a defining work for creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

Set in an imagined future England that has given itself over to fascism, this groundbreaking story captures both the suffocating nature of life in an authoritarian police state and the redemptive power of the human spirit which rebels against it. Crafted with sterling clarity and intelligence, V for Vendetta brings an unequaled depth of characterization and verisimilitude to its unflinching account of oppression and resistance.


Why are we reading it?

This may be our first truly iconic graphic novel.

I know, I know. The other books we have read are all noteworthy, important and acclaimed, but this is something else.

Even if you have never read it or seen the film, even if you have never read any graphic novel, you’ll probably still recognize its iconic main character, or at least his “face.” The Guy Fawkes mask worn by V, an anarchist revolutionary and the protagonist of the story, has become recognizable around the world as a symbol of protest against oppressive and unjust governments and practices. Granted, a lot of the recognition is due to the 2005 film adaptation, but the mask and aesthetic used in the film is straight from David Lloyd’s art and Alan Moore’s writing.

Moore’s list of plot elements and inspirations to be incorporated include:

“Orwell. Huxley. Thomas Disch. Judge Dredd. Harlan Ellison's "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman, Catman and The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World by the same author. Vincent Price's Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. David Bowie. The Shadow. Night Raven. Batman. Fahrenheit 451. The writings of the New Worlds school of science fiction. Max Ernst's painting "Europe After the Rain". Thomas Pynchon. The atmosphere of British Second World War films. The Prisoner. Robin Hood. Dick Turpin”

I believe you can see all of those things in the graphic novel in some form or another (maybe after Googling some of them to make sure you know what he’s talking about), and it all meshes together wonderfully in the strange fascist London of the near future (now recent-ish past) where the story is set.

The story is ultimately about two conflicting political ideologies, anarchy versus fascism. It arose, at least in part, from Alan Moore’s feelings on the political situation in Britain in the early 1980s. Moore said in an interview that his protagonist, V, was purposefully enigmatic. Some of his actions can be seen as good, some bad, many morally ambiguous, especially in the larger context of the story. “I didn't want to tell people what to think," Moore said. He wanted them to consider the extreme events that have occurred and recurred throughout history and the changes that they have brought about in society.

The graphic novel, which many saw as a direct response to the turmoil of the Thatcher years, was well received when it first appeared in the 1980s and was considered a classic, like many of Alan Moore’s graphic novels, long before the film. After the film, it was more popular than ever. In recent years, with waves of political unrest and the upswing of nationalistic movements across the globe, it remains a very relevant book, even at nearly 40 years old.  

Hundreds of thousands of Guy Fawkes masks have been sold annually since the movie’s release in 2005. They have appeared at protests all around the world, from the US and UK to Egypt to Hong Kong. 

BBC News listed V for Vendetta 83rd on its list of the 100 Most Influential Novels in November 2019.

About the Authors

Alan Moore is an English writer most famous for his influential work in comics, including the acclaimed graphic novels Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. He has also written a novel, Voice of the Fire, and performs "workings" (one-off performance art/spoken word pieces) with The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, some of which have been released on CD.

As a comics writer, Moore is notable for being one of the first writers to apply literary and formalist sensibilities to the mainstream of the medium. As well as including challenging subject matter and adult themes, he brings a wide range of influences to his work, from the literary–authors such as William S. Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Anton Wilson and Iain Sinclair; New Wave science fiction writers such as Michael Moorcock; horror writers such as Clive Barker; to the cinematic–filmmakers such as Nicolas Roeg. Influences within comics include Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby and Bryan Talbot.

David Lloyd started working in comics in the late 1970s, drawing for Halls of Horror, TV Comic and a number of Marvel UK titles. Warrior magazine and asked Lloyd to create a new pulp character in 1982 and he and writer Alan Moore, who had previously collaborated on several Doctor Who stories at Marvel UK, created V for Vendetta, a dystopian adventure featuring a flamboyant, anarchist terrorist fighting against a future fascist government. He has also worked on several other comics for DC, WildStorm, Eclipse and Dark Horse Comics. In 2006 Lloyd created a graphic novel, Kickback, for the French publisher, Editions Carabas. In 2012 Lloyd established Aces Weekly, an online comics anthology featuring several different creators.

Sep 21

Saga, Volume 1: The Questions

Posted on September 21, 2021 at 5:00 PM by Zach Berkley

The word saga can be used to describe any sweeping drama that involves multiple, interacting people (often a family) over a long period of time, sometimes generations. It is also a Danish cheese and a type of cricket, among other things. This feels right. Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga is mostly the sweeping drama involving a large cast of characters over a long period of time. I say ‘mostly’ because, while it doesn’t specifically involve an anthropomorphic cricket-man with a penchant for blue cheese, it certainly could at any moment. The crazy randomness of this story fits nicely with the potential ambiguity of the word, and its stranger meanings in particular. The story and the art both manage to be bizarrely fantastic while being very real at the same time.

So…? What did you think?

I know that’s a big question, and that it works better for in person discussions, but I still think it is a good place to start. This is a big, crazy story, with a big cast, and it is easy to be swept along with it and not really think too much about why you are enjoying it (or not).


Whose side are you on?

One could argue that one of the marks of a more sophisticated brand of story is the lack of a dualistic outlook; trading in the black and white of the evil monster verses the flawless hero for the shades of grey that tend to more closely resemble reality. Whether it makes for a better story or not, it is something that Saga does well.


Marko and Alana (and Hazel) are our protagonists of course, and we are all rooting for them, but they are far from perfect people. In fact, we aren’t told much in this first volume but what we are told doesn’t seem to paint them as the best people. Most of it comes from the enemy and snatches of conversation but we are left to think that Alana is a screw-up and a shirker and that Marko, recently made (and broken) vow of pacifism aside, is a vicious, almost feral, killer. Then they have a kid and decide that they want to do better for her sake. They don’t really have any idea what it is they are doing, but they are trying so hard against such insurmountable odds that you love them for it.

Then there is The Will and Lying Cat. Sure Lying Cat is a bit unsettling (and a big fan-favorite) and The Will is a cold-blooded bounty hunter/contract killer, but they are loyal to each other and The Will clearly cares for others beyond just himself, even if he is rather selective about it (and expresses it mostly through insults, brutal murder and threats in this volume). Even the arrogant and ruthless Prince Robot IV is also a decorated war veteran with PTSD that just wants to finish this last mission and go home to start a family. As the books continue and these characters are explored more and new characters are introduced you will see and learn more about many of them then you perhaps would want to know. The “heroes” suck at times and the “villains” have people they love and are loved in return. Yes, they have horns and wings and TVs for heads but in many ways that count, these are very real characters.   


Storytelling with the aid of narration?

This is Brian K. Vaughan’s first use of narration in his graphic novels. Does it work for you? For the story? Hazel’s voice as a narrator is wry but affectionate. She pulls no punches when talking about her parents (or pretty much anything else) but her irreverence is tempered by a clearly stated understanding that these were people that were doing the best they could in often horrible circumstances.

Her somewhat mundane relating of events is often humorously juxtaposed with the normally dramatic or adventurous happenings on the page. Aside from being funny, these moments also serve to ground the crazy sword and planet, epic space opera shenanigans in a way that makes us remember that it isn’t really about blue, lie-detecting cats and spider-women (at least not entirely) – it’s about life, more specifically family life, and all the crap that comes along with it.


There is something else as well. Hazel couldn’t be narrating the story if she hadn’t made it. To some this may be tantamount to a huge spoiler, but I think it is a nice balm for some of the harsher moments. No matter how bad it gets – and it can get pretty bad – you know that Hazel at least has made it through.


Graphic graphic novels – Too much?

This book doesn’t shy away from much of anything. As someone that has read on I can tell you that it continues as it begins. If anything, it might get more graphic as it goes. The graphic depictions of sex and violence can be too much for some. I get it. It can be a bit intense at times. Still, I think it makes sense. I have already written about how this story presents its characters, not as two-dimensional caricatures or archetypes of good and evil, but as people. It follows that it would depict events and life in general in the same way; sometimes good, sometimes bad, often in between somewhere, occasionally ecstatically or horrifically skewed to one extreme or another. In other words, as if it were real (or at least semi-real, it is still fiction and conflict and drama need to be focused on if not flat out inflated for the sake of keeping the readers interested). It only makes sense that this approach would be reflected in the art as well. The good with the bad, the base with the sublime, the gross with the beautiful. Childbirth is a miracle. It is also, for many people, pretty gross. The art reflects both those things because they are both true. The violence is gory and horrible because violence is gory and horrible. Makes sense to me.

Ultimately, it won’t be for everyone (and will probably be at least a little unsettling even to those that can handle it) but it is how this story is best told.    



Have a response or a question? Just want to say something (preferably something related to Saga)? Please, comment below. I will try to respond to all of your comments. 

Sep 02

Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Posted on September 2, 2021 at 12:57 PM by Zach Berkley

Saga, Volume 1 - The Art of Reading September Read

Saga, Volume 1 - Cover

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.


Why are we reading it?

The short answer is because it’s popular… But it’s popular because it is so good!

It’s Star Wars and Romeo and Juliet and The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones all sort of mashed together around two new parents just trying to do the best they can for their new baby girl. It is also as graphic, violent and profane as it can be beautiful, sweet and hopeful and manages to be very real in a very unreal setting with a lot of bizarre characters. 

All of that seems to resonate with readers, since it is one of the most lauded comics in print today. In 2013, the year it was first collected as a trade paperback (the single issues began printing in March of 2012), Saga, Volume 1 won three Eisner Awards for Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer. That same year, it also won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story, the British Fantasy Award for Best Comic/Graphic Novel, and six of the seven Harvey Awards it was nominated for, including: Best Writer, Best Artist and Best New Series. That was just the first year! Subsequent volumes have gone on to win several other awards in the following years, including seven more Eisner Awards and eleven more Harvey Awards!

And it is still going, sort of. So there should be more for everyone to enjoy… eventually. The creative team decided to take a break when the series reached its half-way point (54 of a planned 108 issues). In the fall of 2018. Still, they are working on it. So you have plenty of time to catch up and familiarize yourself with the story and then, if you like it, more to look forward to as well. It’s a great situation (if you look at it just right and squint a little). 

About the Authors

Brian K. Vaughan is the writer and co-creator of comic-book series including Saga, Paper Girls, Y the Last Man, Runaways, and most recently, Barrier, a digital comic with artist Marcos Martin about immigration, available from their pay-what-you-want site Vaughan’s work has been recognized at the Eisner, Harvey, Hugo, Shuster, Eagle, and British Fantasy Awards. He also sometimes writes for film and television.

Fiona Staples is a Canadian comic book artist known for her work on books such as North 40, DV8: Gods and Monsters, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Saga. She has won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. In 2015, Staples was voted the #1 female comic book artist of all-time by readers of Comic Book Resources.