It’s an image that is instantly recognisable, and yet far fewer people who don the Guy Fawkes mask have read the novel that inspired it. An exhibition at the Cartoon Museum seeks to shine a light on the origins of an icon that is now seen the world over as a symbol of rebellion against the system.

To a degree, there are two V’s in existence, the original novel and the later and vastly more successful film, which is only loosely based on the comic novel. This exhibition is mainly about the novel, although unsurprisingly the movie lurks here as an unavoidable miasma such is its influence.

Although first released in 1982, the comic novel is set in 1997, and the film came much later, in 2005.

The gallery has been lightly decorated with motifs that suit the story, of barbed wire and security cameras, and of course… that mask.

A prototype mask for use in the film sits in a glass case next to the comic novels that lead to its creation, Warrior Magazine, where the story was first serialised in 1982-85. V for Vendetta featured on three of the 26 front covers for the magazine.

We learn that the Violet Carson rose which is such an icon of the novel and the film was named after a Coronation Street actress. The disused tube station in the novel is Victoria, which certainly explains how the explosive-laden train gets to Westminster rather better than the film managed.

Another section looks at how the movie is planned, with each shot drawn as a storyboard, so in a way the comic is turned into a comic before being turned into the 2005 movie.

Dominating the exhibition though are pages from the original comic novel, drawn by David Lloyd to a story by Alan Moore. Due to the production method of putting the text in as an overlay over the images, it can be a struggle to read the comic novel as displayed here, but to read the novel is not really what the display is about, it’s to show off the artwork and the politics of the story that has inspired a thousand protest movements since.

Maybe the exhibition’s lesson about defying oppressive regimes will make people think twice before buying a Guy Fawkes mask made in a sweatshop in repressive China.

The exhibition, V for Vendetta: Behind The Mask is open at the Cartoon Museum until 21st October.

Booking is not needed before you visit. Entry to the museum and exhibition is £8.50 for adults.

Exhibition Rating

★★★★☆

18 Stafford Terrace
18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London
W8 7BH

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One comment
  1. James V_T says:

    Given how the inaugural events in both the graphic novel and the movie take place on Guy Fawkes Night, this exhibition seems to be missing a trick by finishing in October!

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