David Lloyd is a British comics artist best known as the illustrator of the story V for Vendetta. He was one of the artists on the graphic horror anthology Wasteland for DC Comics with writers John Ostrander and Del Close. Lloyd has also worked on Espers, with writer James D. Hudnall, for Eclipse Comics; Hellblazer, with writers Grant Morrison and Jamie Delano, and War Story, with Garth Ennis, for DC; and Global Frequency, with Warren Ellis, for Wildstorm. Currently, he's working on a project, Aces Weekly, which is an entirely online comic art magazine.
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- that’s the great thing about drawing- everybody draws. All kids draw- it’s a natural instinct for them. Some kids stop drawing because somebody tells them that, “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.
What got you into sketching cartoons?
That's hard to say. I've always drawn cartoons for as long as I can remember. I started drawing my first comic when I was seven. The artwork hasn't improved much since then.
What have your influences been?
I just kept drawing and was influenced--- I was just mostly interested in cartoons when I was a kid. That was the thing that fascinated me the most- sort of like the ones you saw in the newspaper—and then because I grew up in a house that had… a newspaper 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 and Graphic Art’, 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 and as far as writing is concerned, I found that I could write, and I liked to write stories, and I wrote short thrillers as 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 composing 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- he’s authored ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. 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 horror movies, too. 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 by that, and I thought, ‘What have I done?...I can’t have done anything bad..’. And when I went to see the headmaster, he was congratulating me for this.. page of art. [Laughs]. But he said, “Well, Lloyd, but it’s not really what we want hanging in the corridor!” So, I got into trouble with that. 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?
I think it’s some particular magic. You can’t define it. It’s impossible to quantify in any other way. You know it’s not just craftsmanship. I mean sometimes you can have which 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.
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 and so to achieve the best you have to blend those two, I think, if you’re interested in achieving something memorable or remarkable. The thing is this, you see, I make my money, and my career from drawing. If I had a chance- my idea was to create a newspaper strip. That was my first idea to do to what I do. I submitted some newspaper strip characters and stories, to an agency, which sold scripts to newspapers in various areas. And so that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to do the whole thing. But to actually make a living, you cant just say, “I want to draw and I want to take money just for that.” You can’t do that. 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- and to do that, you have to take a step back, because you have to take a lot of time out. It’s not something you can just knock off or do while you’re drawing something else. It was really, the shortage of time because of which I couldn’t continue 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.. epics. So, you know, my natural desire, always was, and would be, drawing and writing- together. It’s not a preference. You talk to any artist, anywhere and they’d tell you that the best form of art is the one, which has complete freedom of expression, and you can only get that from writing and drawing your own work.
Even though the smile was a mistake, wouldn’t you agree that it does come to hold a lot of meaning for people?
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. 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 of Guy Fawkes to look like. Just the base of the story was- when we created V for Vendetta, we had a basic character. It was an urban guerilla fighting a fascist dictatorship in future England. We didn’t know what he looked like, we didn’t know of his motivations, how he was going to dress, we didn’t understand. We just had this basic character, and Alan and I thought of what we can 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- because Guy 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 the tyranny… And we celebrate- ever since that time- we have this National tradition - on November 5th, on which 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 with fireworks and celebration- and that holiday was a long running tradition and around November 5th, you could buy these masks in the store, which are made of paper maché, that you could put on these dummies, that made it look like Guy Fawkes. These were very simple masks. 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 the 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 kind of one of those happy, creative accidents. 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 a happy accident. You know, the smile has all kinds of resonances- you know, smile while your heart is aching, smile in the face of a tiger, smile in the face of an 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 there’s any real 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. I worked on that character only about three times.
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’s got a mission and he’s trying to succeed. I think, you kind of 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 is used by the Democratic Government to describe any kind of betrayal of their laws, and the only justification I would find in attacking a government, would be if it was non-democratic. In a 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 portray comic art on screen instead of paper and allowing us to do 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 can be distributed very quickly, without ridiculous costs. So, that’s the reason I wanted to do it in the beginning, because it was an easier way of publishing- which I was interested in- putting together a bunch of people who tell their stories, make an anthology of it, and put it on the Internet, and sell it. And that’s what we’re doing. Every week, you have a series of stories, which run in episodes or you have the short pieces- and after seven weeks, some of those stories finish, and some of them carry on into other volumes. And each week comes out to be a pound a week, and we can do it with that money, because we don’t have printing costs. We don’t need paper. We just need a computer screen, and Aces Weekly is tailored for iPads, PCs, phones- everything. And now, we’re going to be available on Comixology- which is an online, digital comic store, and you can buy entire volumes of Aces Weekly. Basically, this is a way of getting great comic art out of the printers’ hands, out of unnecessary shipping and warehousing, and directly onto the computer screen, where it looks beautiful! Our aim is just putting great art up, available to a wider distribution network, and 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.
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 would 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 the corrupt police force who decided to change the way he’s living, and in a sense, he’s similar to V, because V was about a society which becomes corrupt and he tries to free himself from corruption, and this is really 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 mean, if you’re going to do something like that, you need to step back from other work. I managed to write the rough draft of that in a quiet summer without the jobs, and eventually I managed to put time aside, to sell the idea, and then do it. It was published by a French company first, because when I initially wrote it, it was not a crime comic- not a good market, in America. So, I thought I’ll sell it in France- France is one of those markets that loves comics, and has lots of subjects. 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 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, and 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 there. I mean 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] 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 new work to finish, as always, more promotion to be done, because despite the fact that we are on our tenth volume, we are not on a 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 of with a basic idea, but we didn’t know how it was going to end in the beginning, and it kind of grew. I mean we had time to experiment and talk about it, so V grew kind of organically. So, whatever you’re creating, you can’t just put it in handcuffs. I mean, a lot of creativity is just accidental anyway. In essence, I think you have to have some sort of structure, but there’s nothing wrong with allowing it to grow. I mean there’s nothing wrong with improvising anything. I think a lot of what you have to do in creating sequential art, comes through the need of the industry, or the work itself. But when you’re working for yourself, there’s no reason you can’t improvise. The stories that I’ve had published- those stories that I might want to do at some point out of pleasure, or just, to fill in gaps in Aces Weekly, or for backup strips- those ideas had been largely ones that I’d probably improvise. I’d start off a story, and I know what the first page is going to be like, but not what happens after, or at least I have an idea about how it could grow, I don’t actually have a sequence- so I have space for improvisation.
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 b/w 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 b/w version. But when they tell me it was meant for b/w, I always say, it wasn’t. We only did b/w because that’s what the publisher could afford. He couldn’t afford to pay for the colored printing, but if we had the option, I would have done it in appropriate color. Because any story, has needs from the point of view of style, and the color choices. So I don’t prefer any one over the other. I think you can do any story in color or b/w, depending upon what 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!