FPI: Hi, David and thanks for taking some time to talk to us. It’s been something of a high-profile few months for you between the movie adaptation of V For Vendetta and your new graphic novel Kickback. When you started as a professional back in the late 70s did you ever suspect that you’d be getting invited to a preview of a major film based on some of your work?
DL: When I started as a professional my own real interest was keeping working as a professional. I was just glad about that. Higher aspirations and dreams were for later if at all.
FPI: From what I’ve read you seem to have quite a different take on the film adaptation from Alan Moore. While I respect Alan’s opinion I have to say as someone who has read and re-read V over the years I was pleased with the film; it seemed to have a lot of the spirit of the book. How did it feel as an artist to see your work coming to life in another medium and what did you think of the result?
DL: I think the movie is excellent. It has the central story, some key sequences and the core ideas. Larry and Andy [Wachowski] wanted to make their own additions to the mix of the story and I can’t blame them for wanting to do that – it was their prerogative as they’d bought the option. What they did was good though. Very good.
I was knocked out by some of the scenes in the film – and the sequence where Evey is released from the fake jail and the transformation after that is just like seeing a picture come to life for me. I’m glad to have supported it and been involved with promoting it.
FPI: I must admit I was worried how that scene would translate to the film; I think that scene and the letter which inspires her are the most emotionally powerful moments in the tale and I found to my relief that they remained so in the film version, so they obviously understood the power of those original scenes. Sticking with the movie, I heard you turned down a chance to do a brief cameo in the film – I can’t imagine Stan Lee doing that! Any particular reason you decided not to?
DL: Man, I don’t even like seeing photographs of myself – and I only do interviews for the sake of publicity, so the idea of being in a film is not something I relish. I’m not a showman, though my current experience of trying to get people to see my new book is telling me I really should be.
FPI: You were certainly pretty visible on the media front around the film’s launch – were you involved in any other way with the film, such as advising on the look?
DL: The only involvement I had in the film really was suggesting changes to the script – minor ones to simply improve it. One of which they used. They really didn’t need me for the visual look because their intention was to match the novel’s appearance as much as possible, which I think they succeeded in doing.
All cast and crew were given copies of the original also, so everyone knew where they were going and where they were coming from. I did the promotion because I wanted to support their work and back them up with whatever help I could offer.
FPI: V has been one of the works I have presented to people who make bland generalisations about comics being a medium for kids – it rarely fails to change their thinking a bit. When I was asked to talk about V for the BBC the reporter admitted she had expected a ‘comic book movie’, meaning superheroics and spandex; to her credit she admitted this and wanted to know more about the book and other comic-to-movie adaptations which are outside the usual summer blockbuster mould. Do you think that both the book and the movie have reached out beyond the traditional comics readership, opening up new opportunities perhaps for both creators and readers/audiences to explore more challenging material?
DL: The V book sold to people who came out of the cinema and wanted to read the original. Many of them hadn’t read a ‘comic’ before, I believe, and it’s good to think V changed their perceptions if their perceptions were guided by prejudice. I think Kickback can convert people too, but that’s only if people get to see it (and they should because it is damned good – Joe).
FPI: The Prometheus Award for libertarian fiction honoured you and Alan for V’s expression of resistance to oppression recently, adding it to their Hall of Fame – that must have felt pretty good to know that work is still so regarded years after you created it surely?
DL: Yes, but V is a great book and great books attract plaudits; happily V hasn’t many awards under its belt though – the (Best Foreign Comic Book) award from Angoulême many years (1990 according to the web – Joe) ago and a recent one in Sweden for the best translated album of the year – and now this.
FPI: Moving away from V you have been very busy with your new graphic novel from Dark Horse, Kickback, which has just been released in the UK and US – could you tell us a bit about it?
DL: Kickback is about a corrupt policeman in a corrupt police force and how and why he changes his life. But it’s more complex than ‘black hat becomes white hat’. He’s a regular guy doing what we all do too easily – go along with the crowd instead of standing up and being an individual with a real conscience.
We all do this – when there’s an election we’re easily seduced into voting for the guy who is going to put money in our pocket instead of the guy we know is better for society as a whole. We’re being practical, looking after our practical needs, but we are still essentially being corrupt and that corruptibility in us all is what leads our society to being less than it should be on a moral basis.
FPI: Although it has just been published in English I understand you actually released it in France previously. A theme that has recurred on discussions on the blog here in recent months is the way in which graphic novels – or albums – have so much more respect as an art form in Europe and especially France, with some brilliant comic work coming from the continent (one of the reasons we’ve been trying to add more European material to our site). Did this respect for the medium influence your decision to publish in France first or was it simply a business decision. How did you find it was received in France?
DL: When I wrote the rough script of Kickback, crime was not a good seller in the US. Sin City was about it. So I considered the French market for it then. And I have credit in France through V being successful there and I like France. So when I got time to initiate selling the project I just went to them because that’s what I’d originally intended. I ended up doing it with a small company who gave me the most creative freedom I’ve ever had in my life.
It was well-received by those who got to see it. Publicity is something that is as much a problem in France as it is in the US and UK. At least, it seems to be for me. I just don’t understand why booksellers can’t just look and say ‘hey, this is the guy who drew V, we’ve gotta have some of these!’. But maybe I’m just thinking too logically – and the world is not logical enough in the business I’m in.
FPI: There are some deliciously Noir moments in Kickback, so it is probably quite appropriate that it debuted in France, the country which first described and named the genre. There are several scenes, such as the shoot-out towards the end on the staircase with wooden rails or the scenes on the rear of apartment’s fire escape stairs which are very iconic of the crime movie, especially the grittier end of the genre, making them almost a short hand for readers because they are so recognisable. Did film influence your art for Kickback and if so were there any particular movies you had in mind?
DL: Film is where I come from really, and TV. I’m really fed and influenced by that – though mostly earlier times rather than now. Prime Cut, Point Blank, Hustle, Bullit, Kiss Me Deadly, French movies of Jean-Pierre Melville – Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge. TV shows like Naked City in the sixties. Tarantino’s good now, despite the fact that his characters talk an awful lot, which is not something I’m usually attracted to. I like movies where no-one says more than they need to usually.
FPI: The corrupt cop is a staple character which comes up again and again in various forms, from gritty early 70s flicks like Busting and Serpico to modern work like LA Confidential or The Usual Suspects. Its obviously a character rich in the potential for dramatic conflict; what drew you to this genre and what makes Kickback a bit different from other entries in that field?
DL: Think I answered that earlier, but it’s more of a psychological thriller than a straight cop drama and about the central character’s past existence. And let me add this – even if it was a regular cop drama, its one that I’ve done! I’ve never short-changed an audience yet. It’s worth your money and cheap too: 96 page hardback for just thirteen dollars (£8.50 UK – actually a mere £6.12 at our generous rates for all graphic novels – Joe). Hope no-one’s being charged too much for it because they shouldn’t be (damned right, we want folks to read this – and it is a very good price for an original GN in hardback – Joe).
FPI: In Kickback, V For Vendetta and even going back to Espers there is something of a theme of corruption and a mis-use of powers, both personal and institutional. Obviously I am not trying to say this is a theme for all of your work, but it does seem to appear from time to time. Is it a concept you find attractive for creative purposes? And how important do you find it to explore the notion of characters facing up to those flaws, or at least attempting to take responsibility for their actions?
DL: Well, corruption is interesting because we’re all prone to it. But, actually, the theme that seems to carry through my work – and it was pointed out to me once – is that of the basically decent person corrupted by circumstances beyond their control, and that wrecking influence on our best intentions can come from inside us, our flawed genetic make-up. What Edgar Allan Poe called the ‘imp of the perverse’. I am more interested in ordinary people than basic heroic figures of any kind. ‘We’ are interesting. Hitchcock knew that.
FPI: Mentioning Espers (which is a series I enjoyed and still re-read my old issues from time to time) can I ask about the suave character who was addicted to Toblerones? It was a nice and unusual little touch of character but I’ve often wondered where that came from? And since I am asking that kind of question I really need to ask you about the airship in Kickback – could you tell us about that?
DL: You’ll have to ask Jim Hudnall about all the Espers material. I did that script as a straight commission because it was a good, basic thriller. I didn’t have a hand in the writing or story ideas. The airship in Kickback is a symbol of a better world waiting. A past world lost, as Joe’s grandfather would describe it; one that he hopes will return.
FPI: David, you’ve worked with some of the most respected folks in the business, from the early days with Alan Moore and Dez Skinn to Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and Jamie Delano to name a few. If you had your pick of projects is there anyone out there you haven’t worked with yet who you’d really love to?
DL: Any good writer is always good to work with, but there is nothing better than doing your own story in your own way, without having to consult. Unlimited freedom is always better than limited freedom, if you have enough ideas about things you want to say and you can find someone who wants to buy them from you.
FPI: You’re busy talking about Kickback right now, but can we ask what’s next for you?
DL: I am officially still working on Kickback, because I am of the opinion that telling people about my current work is as important as producing it in this business. I wish that I could just go back to the drawing board and start on something else that will entertain people, but I can’t just leave the fate of Kickback to the gods. They’re too fickle.
FPI: That’s a trend I’ve noticed in a lot of creators in comics and in the book trade; many are becoming more active in promoting their work, in person and often online – and on that score I know you yourself are building a mini-site for Kickback as we speak, which we’ll let readers know about once it goes live. Meantime, if we could just slip in a coupe of final questions – if you had someone who doesn’t normally read comics and graphic novels but had read V on the back of the movie and now wanted to explore the medium a bit more, but had no idea where to start, what titles would you recommend?
DL: Kickback (of course, and why not, it’s good – Joe). Ghost World. A great Jules Feiffer book called Tantrum. Some of the Rich Corben Den books. Kabuki. Check out the English translated European titles. Deogratias: a Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Philippe Stassen (one of the first wave of excellent graphic novels from First Second Books recently – Joe). Marlowe: the Graphic Novel. Have to include some Manga but people would just have to browse. A Sin City compilation – the best of them. Difficult question because it depends on age and taste, like any prose fiction list would have to depend on.
FPI: To be fair that has always been the worst question people ask me as a bookseller, to recommend a book – I have to ask, who for, what age, what do they like? Perhaps that’s why I enjoy asking writers and artists it for a change! Can I ask what books and comics have ended up on your bedside table at the moment?
DL: Wish I had the time, but I am resolved to make some.
FPI: David Lloyd, thank you very much for talking to FPI.
DL: You’re welcome. Please tell everyone about Kickback.
FPI: We’re always more than happy to tell readers about any good comics and graphic novels – and this is a damned good one. Kickback has just been released in hardback by Dark Horse and is available in our stores and on our website right now, so, folks, please go and have a look.