Een webarchief van stripjournalist Gert Meesters

Joe Haldeman talks about his contribution to the comic book Dallas Barr

photograph Joe HaldemanHow did you start writing stories for Dallas Barr?

Mark (Marvano, the artist) and I enjoyed working together on THE FOREVER WAR. We thought about which of my other books would be an interesting novel project, and one of us suggested THE LONG HABIT OF LIVING (BUYING TIME in the U.S.). Mark came up with the idea of doing it as a series.

Do you enjoy writing for a comics series? Is it much different from writing novels?

Writing for a comic is fun, sort of like doing a screenplay with no restraints as to budget or special effects. It's slow work, though, collaborating via fax. Mark, of course, wants input into the story line, so there's a lot of what we call in the States "backing and filling." (Literally, what you do when you're trying to park your car in a small space parallel to the kerb.)
It's very much different from writing a novel, because literary style is relatively unimportant -- my main job is to craft a good story line that Mark can fit into exactly 46 pages. Also, I would never collaborate on a novel (did that once, and once was enough), but it's natural to collaborate on Dallas.

From what I have read in the introduction to The Forever War (comic version), your input in the making of that comic was much more limited. Is it true to say that your input there was restricted to 'I love the art'-messages?

In THE FOREVER WAR, Mark and I did talk a little on what to use and what to leave out. Unlike the Dallas Barr series, though, the story already existed, so of course I didn't have to do a lot of first-draft writing.

A student of the Literature section of my university compared the book to the comic as a final dissertation (graduate level). If I remember things well, only some sex scenes were really left out, and some other things were slightly altered: the shape of some extraterrestrials, the position in the story of some elements. Is that what you decided on together?

Actually, I gave Mark carte blanche on rearranging the story -- that is, I did have approval at the story-board level, but I didn't object to any of his rearrangements. They _are_ different storytelling forms, after all, and Mark is the graphic-novel expert.
(A lot of the novel is actually presented as first-person rumination by Mandella. Mark was able to use a lot more of that than I would have thought practical.)
The teddy bear aliens are quite different from my description, but for good reason. I queried Mark on it and he pointed out that if you draw a [telepathic] creature that has no eyes, the reader can't tell what direction it's looking.

Back to Dallas: do you feel you can go on with this comic series "forever"? There certainly was (too) much to tell in the first book.

The series will continue as long as the readers and publisher and Mark and I are interested. There seems to be plenty of material for dozens of stories. If I were to become too tied up with other projects, our contract provides for Mark to write the continuity with less input from me.

Could you describe how a Dallas comic is made, from the first idea to the book?

1. Mark and I bat around ideas until we settle on a tentative story.
2. I write some of it.
3. Mark comments on what I've written, and I rewrite.
4. Mark draws, and sometimes the story changes as he draws.
5. Go back to #2 until the end.

Tell me Joe: what is the gorgeous thing about science fiction?

"Gorgeous" isn't a word I would apply to science fiction, since it is often most effective when it's least beautiful. There is a special kind of splendor to it, when it deals with huge themes and high aspirations -- the "sense of wonder" -- that you rarely get from other kinds of reading.

Do you ever read comics?

I could just reply "yes," but I suppose you want more than that. I read and collect underground comics; have been doing so for more than twenty years. Will admit to a taste for elegant pornography, like Milo Manara, but I like all kinds of stuff, as long as it's either funny or intriguing.

Could you give me some (3-4) names of authors whose new work you still buy?

I buy more or less by impulse, but will pick up Manara, Neil Gaiman, and Moebius.

Do you have to approve of, or reject Mark's graphic approach (e.g. visualisation of new characters, working out of certain scenes, ...), or do you make suggestions as well, or is all this none of your business?

I suppose I could mess with Mark's visualisations, but it hasn't occurred to me. I trust his judgment.

Isn't it frustrating for a writer to advance that slowly with the story? Or does your "backing and filling" approach on the contrary lead to better stories?

We're still ironing this out. There has to be an easier way.

Has Mark's and your common science-fiction background proved to be an essential element of your being able to (successfully) collaborate?

Yes, of course.

Does your regular readership know about your work in the comics field? Does it approve of it, or consider it to be some treason (the puristic point of view)?

I doubt that one out of a hundred of my readers knows of the comics. Those who do know, I assume approve of it, since they're aficionados.

Once a novelist, always a novelist? (Mark still considers you to be one, rather than a comics writer)

Yes, the comics are an amusing sideline.

Which to you are the essential components of a good story? Are they the same whatever the medium?

This question requires a book-length answer, unfortunately. The short answer is "yes and no."
A "story," whatever that is, has to be "interesting," whatever that means. Beyond that useless generalization, you have to start working on the expectations the audience brings to the specific medium and genre, and that audience's tolerance for deviations from those expectations.
Is it more (or less) difficult to work on a series rather than on a 'one-shot' (be it divided over more volumes)? Is it more fun (or not comparable at all?)?

A series is more difficult from my point of view. I'm used to dealing with things that have a beginning, middle, and end.

In the States, there are plenty of talented new (mostly young) artists, but only a few interesting/renewing story- writers. Aren't you tempted/requested to write (more) for the medium (i.e. not necessarily for Mark)?

No. I can barely spare enough time for the collaboration with Mark, so I'm not tempted to add another artist to my life!

I adore your idea of this black pope in Dallas Barr 2, but I don't see how his holyness could possibly fit into your stratagem. I mean, how can someone who doesn't personally possess anything, pay for (at least, as far as we can know) 2 Stileman Treatments?

There have been times in the past when the pope was one of the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet. I assume it could happen in the future.

Isn't the world in the Stileman area running the big risk of becoming a very static, invariable world (particularly its political and economical top levels)? Especially in a business, capitalist environment it is very well possible to device a situation of certainty. Thanks to your hierarchical position in a company, you can be virtually certain of making (at least) another million in the upcoming decade...


What makes Stileman so pretentious as to device the rules to be abided by by anybody wanting immortality? Hubris? (It's a God-like image, comparable to a human playing with a nest of ants...)

Stileman's invariable rules are an attempt to mitigate the problem of combining extreme wealth with immortality.

I don't think a society with two classes of people - 'immortals' and others - to be viable, as the others just won't accept it. Indeed, it goes much further than a 'simple' division between rich and less rich, the stakes being more fundamental.
Moreover, Stileman would have to be surrounded by an important team of immortals to eliminate as much as possible the risks he's running during his own Stileman Treatments (i.e. 8 weeks of absolute passivity and vulnerability).
By the way, if I were somebody powerful that's on Stileman's black list, I might tend to get suicidal (following the motto: 'If I don't get immortality, nobody will anymore') and try to eliminate Stileman.

We've actually talked about all of these problems, and incorporated some of them into episodes, or discussions of future episodes. (In fact, I just suggested your "suicide" one, and Mark rejected it.)

Gert Meesters (first series of questions)
Michel Kempeneers (second series of questions)

This interview took place by e-mail during the first months of 1997. It was shortened and translated for Teek Magazine (May 1997).

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