Book Club / a Way to Externalize That Feeling That You Just Don’t Fit

the forever warThe Forever War
Written by Joe Haldenman
Art by Marvano

Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Let me start with a confession: most of the books we’ve done for the Book Club are not really ones that I have strong feelings for. By and large most of the Book Club books are selected because they’re popular, or because they’re good representatives of a certain type of comic or a particular niche or because I think they’ll be good at starting interesting conversations. But the main reason I’ve picked The Forever War isn’t really for any of those reasons – instead it’s just because I love it and of all the thousands upon thousands of comics out there – it’s probably one of my most favourites and I kinda wanted to talk about it a bit and dig into some of the reasons why it hits such a sweet spot inside my brain.

(And if it tempts you to go and try it out – so much the better).

A little bit of history: I grew up surrounded my comics. My Dad had a few and he passed them down to me and I also had the extraordinary good luck to live next door to a Scottish comics collected named Chris who – if memory serves correctly – had an entire wall of his house dedicated to comic books. It was basically the best Library in the world and means that at an incredibly impressionable age I was exposed to Preacher, Sin City and all sorts of European comics goodness (Paul Gillon’s The Survivor made an *ahem* …particular impression).

I can’t be 100% sure but I think Chris was the reason that I was given several volumes of this amazing black-and-white anthology comic book from Dark Horse called Cheval Noir that basically translated all of the best European comics books out there into English – including François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters’ Cities of the Fantastic (Fever in Urbicand anyone?); Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane (as was quite a trip) and – ah yes here we go – The Forever War.

For those of you who don’t know: The Forever War is a classic science fiction non-graphic novel published in 1974 by American author Joe Haldeman. It’s basically the Vietnam War but transferred to outer space with lots of trippy time dilation thrown in.

The comic book adaptation was created in 1988 by a Belgian artist who goes by the marvellous name of “Marvano.” And yeah when I first read it as kid (and reading it again now as an adult) – I think that it’s one of the best comics ever maybe? There’s just something about it that feels so singular and delicious: that connects with something all the way at the back and deep within my brain that lights up all of the hair below my neck.

Below the neck.png

Firstly it feels really expansive in a way that few other comics ever get close to. Like most comics struggle to contain any real depth when you read them because most of the time the artist isn’t good enough and but also the story feels restricted in all sorts of ways (either with location or characters or plot or combination of all three). But because The Forever War is set in outer space and in different places at different times but also takes care to make sure that every panel is as intricately rendered as can be it makes other comics feel like reading a pond as opposed to the middle of the ocean. And every time I read it – it feels like I’m sinking into the beautiful thing.

Also (and I realise that this probably an acquired taste) but it does that beautiful thing of taking a far flung futuristic science-fiction premise and then making it seem really boring (which I think is probably my most favourite thing ever). Because basically (for this human at least) if you make your crazy science-fiction thing seem really boring and full of gritty quotidian detail so that you can see the dirt under every fingernail and hear the buzzing of every computer it makes the thing you’re experiencing seem so real that it’s less like reading a comic and almost like you’re plugged into somesort of virtual reality. Like I know everyone loves all of the Guardian-approved autobiographic comics about how the shopping bag has cancer or whatever – but the way Marvano depicts a bunch of future soldiers aimlessly walking through the grass on a distant planet feels more tangible and direct that any of that other shit.

Apparently Ridley Scott was going to make a movie based on it before he got distracted by all of those Alien sequels and yeah oh my god the thought of Ridley Scott making a film that actually had a decent script does make me salivate quite a lot (when he was talking it up he was saying that it was going to be his riposte to Avatar): but then every time I pick up this comic the movie plays in my head every shot and note perfect: so maybe we’re not missing much?

I’ve worked in a libraries for a really long time – so I don’t ever really feel the need to buy comics but back before Titan comics decided to reissue them in a handy little trade collection (at the end of 2017 – bastards). I actually spent proper expensive money buying the original 3 volumes (well actually the first one was a birthday present from someone who obviously knew me pretty well – but after that I just had to get the other two) and yeah you know what? I still think it was money well spent. Of all the comics I’ve read in my lifetime – I still think it’s one of the best.

What do you think?

Lofi Space

There was a colour version?! Now I feel cheated, I only have access to the Chevel Noir mono version! That does explain the black/white balance, the mono colourwork looks ‘unfinished’ rather than deliberate. Compare this to your image and it’s so flat:
Below the neck b&w
There’s sections where the lack of colour really hurts, like this sequence:

heads up
I’m hella jealous of your fancy version, I love that super-gritty 80s moebius style, and it’s even better with colour – more pics please!

I’ve read the book (and started-but-didn’t-finish the sequel), and I really like it as a metaphor for vietnam – I don’t think the trippy time dilation is ‘thrown in’, I think it’s a very deliberate metaphor for finishing your tour and coming home to find the ‘normal’ world changed so much you don’t feel comfortable there, there’s hippies and race riots and students protesting, and all that’s left to do is go round again.

It’s interesting that the draft in the comic is of the elite rather than starting at the bottom and working up like the real draft. Does it make a difference? Why was it done that way?

The sexuality-stuff is… weird. I guess it’s representing the sexual revolution, but I think that metaphor falls a bit flatter. Maybe it’s just because I see ‘now everyone’s gay‘ and I just expect it to be awful, to be about the Sinister Homosexual Agenda or something. It’s really not handled badly at all in the comic, but the expectation is enough to put me on edge. I wonder how differently it would have read at the time it was written?

I think the thing it does best is to be a war story that doesn’t glorify the fighting or even focus on it much, it’s a very focused story, just about the effects of the war machine on it’s soldier-components.

What it doesn’t do well… Another comic that does this… The pictures aren’t used to tell the story! You could strip the pics out and still follow the story completely, which seems like wasting their potential. I normally accuse these comics of being written before any of the art is done, which I guess we know for a fact happened here. Still, I think the art could have done more than just be pretty.

Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth
I’m sure that this isn’t going to be that surprising – but I’m actually kinda a fan of the black and white version / artwork. I mean yeah: it’s probably the nostalgia thing of course because that’s how I first encountered it back when I was a teenager (and just looking at the panels Rat sent I can feel that lovely furry tickle of nostalgia in my belly).I think black and white is actually a really choice for sci-fi space stuff. Small white bodies against the blackness just leaves loads of room for your mind to extend itself out into the infinite. The background isn’t black because the artist can’t be bothered to draw anything but because that’s all that’s out there you know? Infinite cold infinite black.I do get what you’re saying about how bits of it look ‘unfinished’ tho. That is true. And I realise that maybe I sound like a hopelessly besotted lover but – that’s part of the charm for me. All the things you can’t quite see are where my imagination rushes in…

Also wait – I have to ask: that second picture you sent – is it really that bad? (It doesn’t even look inked). I had a brief search online and managed to find much better quality versions of other parts of it (altho the one below isn’t in English).



Still looks fucking cool tho (the underside of that asteroid in particular is very yummy).

Another point of disagreement = “The sexuality-stuff” is fucking great (!) I thought. Like yeah I’ll admit that when it first starts I thought that same kinda apprehension (proper “uh oh” feeling of – is this going to get all homophobic now? Booo) – but it’s very obvious that the book doesn’t care. It’s just like yeah – a way to externalize that feeling that you just don’t fit. I just thought it was cool.

And yeah as for “the pictures aren’t used to tell the story” thing: I’m not quite sure how much I think that’s true. Like I read comic back when I was a teenager and then read the non-graphic novel novel about ten years or so later and have got to say that I just love the comic so much more. Like I can agree that maybe the words are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in telling you what’s going on – but there’s a poetry in the pictures that I go beyond the words and tell me so much that I can’t even articulate. Like not just in terms of what things look like – but in how looking at those things makes me feel…

and so on


That bottom left panel? With Mandella sitting in that strange mechanical thing? I can’t even put that into words – but just looking at it makes me feel – I don’t know? Cool. Strange. Impressed. Obviously I have somekind of technology fetish but whatever. There’s so much non-verbal communication going on in every panel that no matter how slowly I read it – I still feel like I’m going too quickly…

But maybe that just means it’s pretty? 🙂

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