My name is Paul Register. I am a highly experienced school librarian. I also work freelance as the Bloke of Steel (www.blokeofsteel.co.uk) and am the founder and organiser of the Excelsior Award and Excelsior Award Junior. I am 46 years old. Why am I telling you this? Because I’m putting my teen years in historical context before I share with you what my favourite graphic novel of all time is.
I was at secondary school in Sheffield during the Thatcher years and I can vividly remember the damage caused to my city and to my education across those years. I can remember the miners’ strike and the Battle of Orgreave. I can remember being unemployed and ‘signing on’ for a year when I was only 19 years old. I can remember how the city centre became clogged up with noisy, smelly, ancient buses when public transport was deregulated. I can remember the negative impact of school funding cuts. I can remember being allowed to sign out a French text book for the year when I was in Year 7 and I can remember having to share one between two (and hand in to the teacher at the end of every lesson) by the time I’d reached Year 11. I remember a lot of bad stuff from my teens.
These sort of experiences fostered a rebellious and anti-establishment attitude in me during my (earliest) formative years. I didn’t understand the injustices of the world and I needed a way to ‘kick back’ against a system that was siphoning all the joy out of my city, my country, my family and my life. And then I stumbled across a graphic novel in my local comic book store that became one of my favourite books of all time. I actually couldn’t afford it at first. I had to save up my pennies like a good boy. Every week I went into that shop and hoped that that lonely, single copy of it was still there and hadn’t been bought by somebody else. The book was V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. For those of you who have never heard of this graphic novel, here’s the Wikipedia description: “The story depicts a dystopian and post-apocalyptic near-future history version of the United Kingdom in the 1990s, preceded by a nuclear war in the 1980s which had devastated most of the rest of the world. The fascist Norsefire party has exterminated its opponents in concentration camps and rules the country as a police state. The comics follow its title character and protagonist, V, an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, as he begins an elaborate and theatrical revolutionist campaign to kill his former captors, bring down the fascist state and convince the people to bring about democratic government, while inspiring a young woman, Evey Hammond, to be his protégé”. Sounds pretty exciting, eh?
V for Vendetta spoke to the disaffected youth that I was. It introduced me to the hidden political beliefs inside me. I don’t mean it guided me towards a particular political party – I mean it allowed me to start embracing and developing the political philosophies I already had but couldn’t fully identify. Its depiction of a totalitarian regime that didn’t seem too far removed from the 1980s version of Great Britain that Margaret Thatcher was presiding over was both shocking and gratifying. There were some specific images that stayed with me for years – Evey’s head-shaving, her imprisonment and the porcelain dolls melted in the furnace. Stark imagery that felt like a cold hand grabbing your heart too tightly.
Almost certainly the most memorable image from V for Vendetta is the David Lloyd-designed, Vaudeville-inspired Guy Fawkes mask. This mask has since become a worldwide symbol of protest, not just because of the relative simplicity of its design but because of the anarchy and freedom it stands for and because of the character of V, a seemingly-dispassionate freedom fighter carrying out a one man war against an elite that clearly echoes the centuries old class system that Britons would find all too familiar. When people think of protests and anti-establishment movements, they tend to imagine shouting faces of anger and rebellion. The smooth white mask of V offers a different face – a smiling face of calm and logic amidst a sea of madness.
And this is the power of comics, of graphic novels. It is a storytelling medium that is no less important than prose fiction, than poetry, than movies, than TV, than theatre. It’s not better than other media and it’s not worse. It’s just different and, as all students are different too, it deserves the sort of platform that other storytelling media take for granted.
Please see also the list (Graphic Novels: for the 8-16+ age range) that Paul has written for the School Library Association here.
This guest post was provided by Paul Register. The views do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.