Joe Haldeman on Adapting a Classic Novel into a Graphic Novel

Upon its publication in 1974, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War instantly became an iconic piece of science fiction allegory. The novel tells the story of William Mandella, a soldier who witnesses the entirety of a future war that ought never to have happened, and who, through the tricks of time dilation and relativity, returns home to find his world impossibly changed.

The echoes of Vietnam were hardly subtle, especially given Haldeman’s own experiences as a soldier wounded during that conflict. The novel was just as vital, and just as timely, in 1988, when Haldeman collaborated with legendary Belgian artist Mark van Oppen (better known as Marvano) in order to create a graphic novel adaptation of the story that became a much-admired work in its own right. In the present, war hasn’t gotten any less complicated and we’re not much better at helping our soldiers adapt to life after conflict. Titan Comics has a new edition of the groundbreaking graphic novel alongside a variety of bonus materials, and Joe Haldeman was kind enough to have a quick chat with us about the graphic novel and its themes.

Can you talk a little bit about working with Marvano? I’m curious about how the two of you came together to work on this.
Mark sought me out at a Worldcon, I think in England, and showed me some of his work.  He asked whether he could do a comic of The Forever War, and I said Sure!

Was it something that you’d ever envisioned as a graphic novel previously? Any background or interest of your own in comics?
When I was a kid I drew comics, even adventure stories dozens of pages long.  My father threw them out, unfortunately, when he cleaned out my room when I left for college.

I’m fascinated by process, especially for a book like this where two big names in their respective fields come together. How did the two of you collaborate?
We used various methods over the years.  This was before easy email, so we often faxed drawings and letters back and forth.  Unfortunately, the faxes turned brown and disintegrated  with time.

I didn’t read the two side-by-side, but the GN parallels the original novel pretty closely. Was there any temptation to update or change anything?
I don’t recall any temptation.

I’m thinking of a couple of big themes of the book (in my mind, anyway): the willingness to go to war so easily over willful misunderstandings being a big one. That was a potent warning in the ’70s, and again in the ’80s with the graphic novel. How has that evolved, do you think? Are we better or worse off than we were 20 or 30 years ago?
I think we’re in a safer place now, actually.  But that can change with the whim of one leader.

The troubling experience of Mandella upon returning home is another evergreen topic. We talk about PTSD more, but have we learned anything?
Clinically speaking, we’ve learned a lot, especially about the clinical aspects of the disease.  As a society, our attitude toward PTSD seems more sympathetic, largely because of education.

The depiction of homosexuality in the novel was groundbreaking, even if it wasn’t a major theme in and of itself. The graphic novel carries much of that over, and I’m curious if there was blowback about a GN with the same not-negative depiction of a gay society?
A very few crackpot letters.  Commonplace now, of course.

The Forever War graphic novel is available tomorrow. Here’s a trailer to get you ready to launch.

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