In Conversation with David Lloyd

Meet David Lloyd, Prominent Graphic Novelist, and illustrator of "V for Vendetta".

How did you get interested in writing and sketching?
Well, I suppose, if you’re naturally creative, you just want to write and draw- if you have the ability to. As far as drawing is concerned - everybody draws. All kids draw- it’s a natural instinct for them. Some kids stop drawing because somebody tells them, “The tree doesn’t look like that”, or they get put off, or get interested in other things- but all kids naturally draw, and the kids who really enjoy drawing and find out they draw well, they carry on, and as a kid, that’s what happened to me.

So, I just kept drawing and was influenced mostly by the newspaper cartoons (when I was a kid). That was the thing that fascinated me the most - and then, because I grew up in a house that had whole pages of newspaper strips, I was attracted to those. And then my interest in painting was sparked by a little book I got, when I was a kid, called the ‘The Observer’s Book of Painting’, which had all the great works of the old masters, which you could see in the big galleries of London. So that was a natural, progressive interest, in art and drawing.

As far as writing is concerned, I found that I could write, and I liked to write stories, and I wrote short thrillers in some of my English essays in school. I just liked writing. But I didn’t really combine writing with drawing until I was about thirteen - when I started creating my own comic strips, and so, that was where I started connecting writing with art.

So, you mentioned that you combined writing and art, first when you were thirteen. What was the first product of this combination?
The first thing (I think) was an adaptation of a short story by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. He was a fiction author; and he wrote this short story called ‘Security Check’ (which was in a book of short stories) and I thought that that would make a really good strip. So I adapted that into a very short comic story. It might have been the second thing I did. But the other thing I did, which got me into a bit of a trouble (really) - I was fascinated by horror comics at the time; And I did this.. page, of a comic strip, based on Vampires - and my art teacher, who was very supportive- (well, the strip was kind of gruesome) He thought it was great, and he said, “Put it up in your school corridor.” And I said, “That’s terrific!” So we put it up on the notice board in the school, alongside all the other nice paintings that kids put up there, and I was quite proud of that. Later on in the day, I was called to the Headmaster’s office- and I was a very well-behaved kid, so I was kind of shocked and puzzled by that, and when I went to see the headmaster, he was congratulating me for this page of art. [Laughs]. But he said, “But, Lloyd, but it’s not really what we want hanging in the corridor!” It had obviously made an impression, and everybody liked it, and my art teacher recognized how good it was. So, I think that might have been the first thing I did.

What according to you makes an artist, or a writer, stand out from the rest?
Well, you know, it’s not just craftsmanship. I mean, sometimes you can have art that doesn’t have great standards of craftsmanship but it stands out because of its magic. As a matter of fact, I met somebody in Italy, who does a kind of primitive work- which, when you first look at it, doesn’t have any spark. But when you see the rest of it, when you see the whole, it’s got magic. It’s got a kind of heart, a kind of structure. I think it’s some particular magic. You can’t define it. It’s impossible to quantify in any other way.

If you had to choose between sketching and writing, what would it be?
Well, I haven’t done a lot of writing, so I think it will be drawing. But the idea is to tell the story using drawing and words. That is the art of a great comic strip- you know, the great sequential art is the perfect blend of word and picture. Of course it can be just picture alone, but the ideal form of a great comic strip is a balance between word and picture.

The thing is this, you see, I make my money, and my career from drawing.

My first attempt at doing that was to create a newspaper strip. That was my first idea of what to do professionally with my strip work. I submitted some newspaper strip characters and stories to a syndication agency, which sold strips to newspapers in various areas. And so that was what I wanted to do. But to actually make a living, you can’t just say, “I want to draw and write and I want to take money just for that.” You can’t do that unless you have the financial freedom to. So, when I began my career, I was working mostly on other people’s scripts. Most of the time I’ve worked on those, because that’s what I was paid to do. And later on, when I got a chance to write my own stuff, I wrote short stories.

They were easy to fit in to the other work. But with a graphic novel-size thing you have to take a step back, because you have to take a lot of time out to do it. It’s not something you can just knock off or do while you’re drawing something else. It was really a shortage of time and money that stopped me continuing writing and drawing as an occupation.

When I was a teenager, and when I was young, I practiced and practiced and practiced and wrote stories filled with pages and pages and I’d write these huge epics. So, you know, my natural desire, always was, and would be, drawing and writing- together. It’s a preference but it was not practically possible for me for most of my career.

What would you say, is your greatest achievement so far?
Well, it has to be ‘V for Vendetta’. That’s made such an impression on people. It’s gone so far and it’s moved people and it’s changed their views on life in some cases. That’s not as much down to me as it is to Alan, but I just managed to bring it to life and make it real, so that has to be the greatest thing I’ve done.

How did the Guy Fawkes mask come into being?
Well, simply because it was a stylized representation of what we know Guy Fawkes looked like. When we created V for Vendetta, we had a basic character. It was an urban guerilla fighting a fascist dictatorship in a future England. We didn’t know what he looked like, we didn’t know enough of his motivations, or how he was going to dress. We just had this basic character, and Alan and I couldn’t think of exactly what to do with it - and then in one quiet moment, I thought it would be a great idea to bring him back as a resurrection of Guy Fawkes.

Fawkes was a great historical revolutionary who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. He was an honorable man who failed in his mission to destroy a tyranny. And ever since that time, we celebrate his execution - we have this National tradition - on November 5th, we burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes, as this terrible terrorist who dared to destroy the monarchy. We burn the effigy of him on a bonfire, and let off fireworks and celebrate - and around November 5th, you can buy these masks in the store, which are made of paper maché, that you could put on these dummies, that made them look like Guy Fawkes.

The original plan was to use one of those masks for the character. But we created V in the middle of summer and I couldn’t get a Guy Fawkes mask anywhere! So, I had to create my own mask, which is simply a stylized representation of what you could buy in the stores, but it turned into something different. The smile was actually a kind of mistaken impression of what the usual mask was like - but it was a happy accident. The rest of it- the costume that V wore was simply the authentic costume of the period (of 1605).

Even though the smile was a mistake, wouldn’t you agree that it does come to hold a lot of meaning for people?
Absolutely!

It was one of those happy, creative accidents. The smile has all kinds of resonances- smile while your heart is aching, smile in the face of a tiger, smile in the face of adversity- all that stuff is there, and of course, is relevant to the character of V himself. He’s a very sad character- a sad, and tortured man, who is doing his best to smile, and that’s part of the charm, what makes him what he is, and what makes him attractive.

You’ve also worked on The Constantine, in the Hellblazer series. How similar or different, would you say, V and Constantine were?
I don’t think there’s any connection between them at all. Constantine is a nihilist. He doesn’t really have anything to fight for. He’s a very interesting character because of his complete cynicism, and that’s kind of attractive in itself. But I don’t think there’s any particular connection between them. I mean, Constantine doesn’t have any kind of a mission. But then I saw him on a very surface level in comparison to Jamie Delano, its writer, who knows him inside out.

The character V stands for personal morality being greater than the concept of the greater good. Would you say that you empathize with him?
Oh yeah, absolutely. This is a character who has got a mission and he’s trying to succeed. I think you have to empathize with somebody like that. He’s kind of misunderstood, and trying to do the best for himself. Yeah, so I do empathize with him a great deal.

“Remember, Remember. The fifth of November, the gun powder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gun powder treason, should ever be forgot.”
What would justify ‘treason’, according to you?

Well, treason is a word that can be used by a democratic Government to describe any kind of betrayal of the country and its citizens, and the only justification I would find in attacking a government, would be if it was a non-democratic one. In a true democracy, there are very few grounds in which treason would be justified.

What is Aces Weekly all about?
Aces Weekly is an entirely online comic art magazine. Basically, we put great comic art on screen instead of paper - and that means that it’s easier to publish; you don’t have unnecessary costs to deal with. We are living in the 21st century, so we do not need a printing press anymore. Now we have the internet, which means all those images and ideas we needed a printing press for can be distributed very quickly, without ridiculous costs. But the reason I wanted to do it in the beginning was just to put together a bunch of people to tell their stories, make an anthology of it, put it on the Internet, and sell it; And that’s what we’re doing.

Every week you have a series of six separate stories running in episodic form at 3-4 pages a week - and we have short pieces too - just like you might have in any printed weekly comic, and (after seven weeks) some of those stories complete, and others continue into other volumes.

Basically, this is a way of getting great comic art out of the printers' hands, out of unnecessary shipping, warehousing, and restrictive distribution, and putting it directly onto the computer screen, where it looks beautiful! Our aim is just putting great art on any device, available to the widest possible distribution network, and to do it at a reasonable cost. Currently, it’s only in English, but we hope that eventually we’ll be able to convert it into different languages and spread it as much as we can.

It’s tailored for iPads, PCs, desktops - phones in its Comixology form, where you can buy entire volumes of Aces Weekly, starting with Volume One and with other full volumes following on every month.

Kickback is the first work you’ve written as well as drawn. How was this experience?
Well, I can honestly say that that’s the best thing I’ve ever done- the most enjoyable thing I’ve done so far, because any artist would tell you that what they really prefer, most of the time, is the complete freedom to express themselves, and writing and drawing a full-scale graphic novel gave me a lot of opportunity to do just that.

It’s a crime thriller about a corrupt policeman in a corrupt police force, who decides to change the way he’s living. In a sense it’s similar to V, because V is about a society which becomes corrupt and how it tries to free itself from corruption, whereas Kickback is about one man, and how he manages to do that. I always wanted to do a crime graphic novel- I’m a big fan of crime movies, and I wanted to do something like that, and when I got the opportunity to do it- I took it. I managed to write the rough draft of it in a quiet summer without too many jobs on, and eventually I managed to put time aside to sell the idea some time later. It was published by a French company at first, because when I initially wrote it, crime was not a good seller subject for comics in America. So, I thought I’ll sell it in France.

France is one of those markets that loves comics; it has lots of varying story subjects including a great market for crime stuff. So I sold it to France first, and then had it republished in America, by Dark Horse- and that’s where it went wrong- Dark Horse really let me down. That book came out in the same year as the movie of V for Vendetta and it was actually released in the same month that the DVD of V was released. And Dark Horse did nothing- they did no promotion on that book at all, and so hardly anybody even knew it existed- and that was unbelievable to me. That’s why very few people know about Kickback even now, which is a shame, because I was very proud of that book. It just didn’t find its audience, because Dark Horse completely destroyed it, by missing that one moment when it could have been really promoted, and big.

What do you think you’d be working on, next?
I’m not thinking of working on anything next! I mean there’s no next involved, with Aces Weekly on my plate. It’s a 24*7 job. There’s no time to do anything else. We’re on our tenth volume now [interviewed on 5th May, 2014] and every week, there is more material to put online, and then, after 7 weeks, there’s another volume to do. And there are always new artists to talk to, always work to finish- more promotion to be done - because despite the fact that we are on our tenth volume, we are not in the position where I want us to be. We really need a lot more subscribers, and until we reach a better position, I can’t even dream of doing anything else. This is my job now, as publisher of Aces Weekly, and I’m not going to be doing anything else for the foreseeable future.

Do you prefer writing a script beforehand or making up the drawing as you go?
Well, that’s not an either/or situation. I did a rough draft of Kickback, because you have to have a construction, you have to know where you’re going, most of the time; But, you know, there should always be room for maneuver, because sometimes things happen and whatever you’ve done in an initial rough draft, you may need to change, or you may have a better idea. So, you should never hold yourself to a rigid position.

In fact one of the reasons why V is so good is that we started off with a basic idea, but we didn’t know how it was going to end in the beginning, and it kind of grew. So, whatever you’re creating, you can’t just put it in handcuffs. I mean, a lot of creativity is just accidental anyway.

What would you say, is more important- the idea of the story, or the way it’s presented?
The idea dictates the style- one can’t be more important than the other because they both support each other.

Do you prefer color, or black and white, while working?
I don’t prefer either, to be honest. I mean a lot of people preferred V for Vendetta in black and white because it originally appeared as such, and they were very nostalgic about how it looked then; And I did it in color for the American reprinting, because I knew color would reach more people, and I was certain that we could do it with integrity in color. Lots of people loved the black and white version. But when they assume it was meant for black and white, I always say it wasn’t. We only did it in black and white because that’s what the publisher could afford. He couldn’t afford to pay for color printing - but if we’d have had the option, I would have done it in color (but, of course, in appropriate colors). Because any story, has needs from the point of view of style, and the color choices that are made for it.

So I don’t prefer one over the other. I think you can do any story in color or black and white, depending upon what the requirements are, and what you’ve got to work with.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Optimistic. Pessimistic. Cynical.

What would the last line of your autobiography say?
“Always hoping for the best!”

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