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Sci-fi superstar Joe Haldeman on Titan's new The Forever War graphic novel collection

Contributed by
Dec 4, 2017

Near the top of any serious list of groundbreaking, world-class science fiction novels is Joe Haldeman's stirring account of a millennium-long alien conflict, The Forever War. No debate required.

Originally published in 1974, it was an immediate sensation, winning the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for Best Novel and making a strong statement on the brutal nature of war and how society deals with its fighting forces returning from the dehumanizing heat of combat.

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It's a tale of the malleable human condition while mankind fights a 1,143-year conflict against a formidable alien foe called the Taurans. As each campaign ends, our interstellar soldier, William Mandella, returns to a very different Earth as social changes erupt with the passing decades, while he ages normally due to the relativistic aspects of time experienced passing in and out of "collapsar" wormholes traveling to the futuristic war zones.

A decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, Haldeman infused his sprawling story with many personal details from his time in The 'Nam and how he was received back into civilian life after being churned out of the machinery of modern warfare.

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In 1988, celebrated French artist Marvano collaborated with Haldeman to produce a spectacular graphic novel adaptation of The Forever War that was first printed in Dutch, then later translated into English, French, and German and finally reprinted in serialized form this year by London-based Titan Comics.

This brand-new edition of that provocative project gathers all three volumes of The Forever War into one deluxe TPB collection for the first time, complete with never-seen covers and bonus material.

 

SYFY WIRE had the pleasure of talking to Joe Haldeman and his wife, Gay (who assisted with English translation and story distillation), to learn about Titan's impressive new release, why The Forever War remains so prominent in people's hearts and minds, how this graphic novel adaptation first came about, and whether the novel will ever make it onto the silver screen.

After the interview, save some strength for our six-page preview in the gallery below. The Forever War attacks comic shops and bookstores on December 5.

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Can you tell us how the team-up with Marvano came about in the late '80s?

Joe Haldeman: Well, Marvano got in touch with me. We met up at a science fiction convention in the UK and he broached the idea with me and showed me some of his work. I said sure, go ahead with it. Over the course of the next year he sent me a bunch of drawings and we worked over the continuity and what to include and leave out. This was before computers, so we communicated by way of fax machines, and he sent me drawings. All those flimsy sheets of paper that would fade with time. I wrote the script, and then Marvano had input as we were doing the pictures. I was tremendously impressed.

Gay Haldeman: My input was to translate it after they appeared in Belgium in Dutch and French; then I translated the French back into English because Marvano had adapted it so it would fit his pictures.

Whose idea was it to collect all three original volumes into this new Titan edition?

JH: I'm not sure about the chronology. We'd always hoped there would be an English translation, and it was low on my priorities. Marvano finished all the French and Dutch versions, and then it first came out in English quite a bit after that. More than 10 years.

Why do you believe The Forever War endures, and do you consider its themes as relevant today as they were back in the '70s?

JH: Let me see, are we in a war now? (laughs) I think we are. That part of it doesn't seem to wear out. I think the specific analogs to Vietnam have faded, but there's so much resonance with the current wars that it hasn't faded very much.

Veterans' issues are very prevalent today, and this book has become a touchstone for veterans' affair. How do you feel being the author of a book that has remained so important and topical?

JH: Well, it's amazing. I would never have suspected that it would last as long as it has. It's something that gets rekindled with each war. They look back over the past wars and find whatever the most enduring pieces of fiction and drama were. A John Wayne movie is still a John Wayne movie, and the fact that the politics might be dated doesn't make it that much less useful in terms of talking about war in general.

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In what ways has The Forever War been helpful to survivors of war and military combat?

JH: I've gotten letters from people who've claimed that it has helped them. Largely in communicating to their own children and other relatives what they went through. Sometimes when guys are talking about the war to their own children or even their parents, they like to get an outside authority. I was sort of embarrassed or self-conscious talking about my own experiences in war. And it's so much easier to say it was very much like that movie The Deer Hunter. Or Platoon. Apocalypse Now was way too artsy and over-the-top, and the metaphors got crowded and the story got lost. That's why I liked Platoon. It was like somebody was carrying a hand-held camera and talking as things happened to him.

Were comic books a part of your life growing up?

JH: Oh, I read them a lot when I was a kid. My family drove from Washington D.C. up to Alaska, which was a long trip over dirt roads and gravel at the time. It was sort of a perilous journey, and an interesting journey for a kid. My mother would get us big boxes of comic books before we left. She went down to a bookstore in Washington D.C. which sold remaindered comics by the cardboard boxful. You could buy 50 of them at a time for like five dollars. She let us open a box every two weeks or so, and we'd read the ink off every one, my brother and I. When you're a child and trapped in a car for days and weeks at a time you could go batshit.

But we had these comics and we'd read them and pass them back and forth and talk about them, just me and my brother in the back of the car. When I got older, I grew up with the underground comics and just devoured them when I was in college and right after. The more extreme the better. I was never interested in writing or drawing them myself, just writing books. They were a big part of my life, but not part of my creative life.

Ridley Scott was attached to produce or direct a feature adaptation of The Forever War for years. Is he still attached to this project in some way?

JH: I don't know. I don't pay attention to that.

GH: No, he is not.

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Warner Bros. has now picked up the option on your novel. Why do you think it's taken so long for The Forever War to come to the big screen?

JH: It puzzles me too. I should have thought that it would have come out and been a big success 20 years ago, if there's any justice in the universe. I don't know, I guess the cards didn't fall that way. I'd never even met or talked to Ridley Scott. Producers and directors, they want the writer to be conveniently dead. I've sort of lasted too long and they put up with me still being around. But I'd really love to see it made into a movie.

What do you hope rubs off on a new generation of readers with this new graphic novel edition of The Forever War?

JH: There's always the hope that enough energy will be generated by each new edition that it will accumulate enough so that they'll have to make the movie. My big ambition for The Forever War is that it should be made before I die.