Smash Pages Q&A: Joe Haldeman and Marvano

The author and artist discuss their comics adaptation of Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’ from Titan Comics.

Joe Haldeman is a name familiar to most science fiction readers. Best known for his novel The Forever War, the book remains more than forty years after it was published, a brilliant, landmark science fiction novel. Haldeman has been named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, and has received numerous Hugo and Nebula Awards, in addition to the World Fantasy Award and James Tiptree Jr. Award, for his novels, novellas and short stories including The Hemingway Hoax, Forever Peace, and Camouflage.

Haldeman is also the author of three comics series, collaborations with the Belgian creator Mark van Oppen, who publishes under the name Marvano. Marvano is best known as a creator for his many historical projects like Grand Prix, Berlin, Ver van leper, and La Brigade Juive. Their first collaboration, an adaptation of Haldeman’s The Forever War, is currently being published in English as a six issue miniseries by Titan Comics and the two spoke about their work, together and separately.

When did you first read The Forever War?

Marvano: Somewhere by the end of the 1970s, I guess. I don’t really remember. What I do remember is that I read it in Dutch for the first time, not in English. The translation was made by a friend of mine.

You wrote The Forever War in the early 70s and what was it like revisiting the work and adapting it years later for this comic series?

Haldeman: I think I saw it as a step on the way to adapting the novel to cinema.

What made you say yes to the idea of adapting the book into comics?

Haldeman: Marvano was very persuasive. It hadn’t actually occurred to me.

What made you interested in drawing the book?

Marvano: At that time I was contemplating to become a professional comic author. I felt I had the ability to construct a comic, or graphic novel if you want, but not (yet) the ability to write a good story or good dialogues. Having met Joe at a SciFi Convention in Ghent, and having passed some quality time with him drinking Belgian beer and partying, I thought about this wonderful war story of his that wasn’t really science fiction, and said to myself, why the hell not. So I made a couple of try-outs, showed them to Joe and got his blessing. And the rest is history, as they say.

How did you adapt the book, did you write it like a movie script or how did you approach it?

Haldeman: I broke the story into scenes and then wrote it as a screenplay. Then I added notes for a comic strip version.

What did Joe Haldeman give you and was your working relationship with him similar to how you worked with other writers?

Marvano: At that moment, I had never worked with anybody else. (Come to think of it, I hardly worked with anyone else since, either…) What did Joe give me? One of the most powerful stories ever told. Top rate dialogue. Lots of encouragement and friendship.

When you were crafting a vision of the future for the book, obviously you were going off what was described in the book but was there an artist or something that was a big influence on your work?

Marvano: Yes, there is. The great, the very great Hermann Huppen. As a kid, I copied his drawings, which appeared in the magazine Tintin, in a (failed) attempt to discover HOW exactly he put this humongous amount of light in his drawings, using only a Rotring number 2.

I ask because you’ve done a lot of historical comics and was science fiction a genre you liked as a reader or as an artist?

Marvano: Both. It’s a fun genre with lots of possibilities. I don’t really follow the new generations anymore – give me Simak, Anderson, Dick and Zelazny anytime – but I do read Joe’s novels and I remain an avid Whovian.

You returned to the series and to these ideas back in the 1990’s with Forever Free and then Forever Peace, which isn’t a sequel. But I am curious how you think these ideas have aged?

Haldeman: I was more optimistic then. Optimism hasn’t aged well. The US government hadn’t experienced Obama or Trump. They both quite influenced what we might now expect – for good or bad – of American governance in the future.

How have you reacted to what’s been happening with returning soldiers and veterans from the Afghan and Iraq wars. Do you feel as though there has been a shift in the culture from when you were young?

Haldeman: The culture seems much friendlier to returning soldiers, only partly because the civilian populace was more sympathetic to war and suffered less from its depredations.

Military science fiction has become a big force in science fiction. Obviously the technology and the vision of technology and the future has changed, but do you see this as something new and different? Something that has nothing to do with you?

Haldeman: I’m not happy about entertainment being used to make militarism more palatable to civilians, especially children. Military science fiction does have something to do with me, since I apparently had something to do with “reinventing” it.

Do you pay much attention to comics? If so, what or whose work do you like and follow?

Haldeman: I don’t follow comics passionately or consistently.  I occasionally go into a store and pick up a bunch, especially if I’m going on a trip and need entertainment.  I love the genre at its best, but not all of it is interesting to an old fart like me.

Do you have a favorite book of yours? I ask because I’m sure you get asked about The Forever War constantly for decades now, but I know that the books authors love are not necessarily the ones that connect with fans. Is there one you love to talk about which you never get asked about?

Haldeman: The Worlds trilogy.

Now besides The Forever War, I have only read two comics of yours, so I’m going to ask about those two if that’s okay. One is Grand Prix, which is a recent series that you wrote and drew.

Marvano: It’s a trilogy about Grand Prix racing in the 1930s, when the Nazi regime lavishly sponsored the teams of Auto Union (what was to become Audi) and Mercedes, and in the process using the racing technology on powerful engines and streamlining to circumvent the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. Fascinating stuff. Fascinating characters. You can’t help but love Bernd Rosemeyer!

The other is Ver van leper, about Ypres. Which I hope has gotten some more attention during the centennial of the First World War, but I wonder if you could talk about the book which was a collaboration between you and Marcel Rouffa.

Marvano: Marcel and I have children of the same age. At a given moment we were surprised, and shocked, to see how little they learned in school about this First World War, which thundered like a devastating storm over our region, Flanders. So we set out to make a book together, a book aimed at (young) teenagers, explaining a bit the world at the beginning of the 20th century, an era when people – miraculously! – did not yet have cellphones for instance, and when orders at the front were often delivered by homing pigeons. So Marcel and I both wrote a number of short essays and illustrated them.

In recent years you’ve made a number of historical comics. Besides Grand Prix, you’ve made Berlin and La Brigade Juive.

Marvano: Never in history has there been a more defining period than World War II. My father was a soldier in the Belgian Campaign in May 1940. When the Battle of the Bulge started, my mother took my newborn sister and fled (again) to the west. My father, a miner, and his mates went down in the mine and sabotaged the lifts…

The war (“The War”…) was still very present when I was a kid. And is still very present in the world of today. A vast majority of the problems this world faces in the 21st century, find their origin in the Second World War and in the Cold War that followed it.

The two of you went on to work on some other comics projects together. Do you want to say a little about Dallas Barr and A New Beginning, the adaptation of Forever Free?

Haldeman: I think the Dallas Barr stories are good adventure stories, a little more thoughtful than some. I don’t think I have seen A New Beginning under that name.

Marvano: Dallas Barr is intelligent entertainment. The adaptation to graphic novel of Forever Free was in fact my publisher’s idea. Yves Schlirf is a guy with a vision, a very capable publisher.

Will we see those comics published in new editions soon like The Forever War?

Haldeman: I do hope so!

What are you working on now? What’s your next project?

Haldeman: Working on Phobos Means Fear, a novel unrelated to any comics project.

Marvano: Let that remain a surprise, for the time being.

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