La Guerre √Čternelle by Marvano
'La Guerre Éternelle 2' ('The Eternal War 2', 1989). 

Marvano is an innovative Flemish comic artist. He moved away from the humorous family comics tradition with his realistic and serious style and by working within the science fiction genre. Some of his work is directly based on renowned novelists like Larry Niven ('The Flight of the Horse', 1980) and Joe Haldeman ('The Eternal War', 1988-1989, 2002-2003, 'Dallas Barr, 1996-2001'), though he received enough creative freedom to do his own thing with it. Particularly 'The Eternal War' is often named Marvano's masterpiece. Both a critical as well as a commercial success, it was translated in several languages. Later in his career he also won acclaim with his historical series, such as the 'Berlin' trilogy (1994, 2007, 2008) and comics set during World War I and II. Between 1982 and 1986 he was chief editor of the Flemish edition of the comic magazine Tintin, namely Kuifje.

Early life
He was born in 1953 in Zolder, Belgium, as Mark van Oppen. Van Oppen was the son of a miner and predestined to follow in his father's footsteps. However, the economical crisis of the 1970s and subsequent closing of the mining industry a decade later made a career change necessary. He studied interior design at the Provinciaal Hoger Architectuur Instituut in Hasselt, graduated and worked for almost a decade in this profession. But Marvano was also a comic fan. As a child he already drew comics about his own teddy bears. He grew up with classic Flemish authors like Willy Vandersteen, Marc Sleen, Pom and Jef Nys, but also devoured the realistic and mature series in Tintin magazine. Especially Greg and William Vance's 'Bruno Brazil', Christian Godard's 'Martin Milan', Cosey's 'Jonathan', Derib's 'Buddy Longway', Hugo Pratt's 'Gli Scorpioni' and 'Corto Maltese' and Hermann and Greg's 'Comanche' and 'Bernard Prince' held his interest.

Science fiction illustrator
At age 16 Marvano applied for a job at Studio Vandersteen, but was rejected. At the time it was basically the only Flemish comics studio one could make a living at. Rather than give up, Van Oppen looked elsewhere. He sent his work to Berck, who instantly phoned him to become his assistant. Yet after thinking it over, Van Oppen decided he'd rather develop his own style. The young man was always a huge fan of sciencefiction, particularly 'Star Trek' and the novels of Isaac Asimov, Roger A. Zelazny and Clifford D. Simak. When 'Star Wars' (1977) became a worldwide success, there was suddenly more general interest for the genre and Van Oppen understood here was his golden chance. From 1978 on he drew hundreds of SF-fantasy illustrations which appeared in the Dutch science fiction magazine Orbit. This also marked the first time he signed his work with the pseudonym "Marvano", a contraction of the first letters of his full name. His first comic, 'De Vlucht Van Het Paard' (1980), was a collaboration with Kees van Toorn, chief editor of Orbit. The story was an adaptation of Larry Niven's sci-fi novel 'The Flight of the Horse'. As a token of appreciation Marvano made the entire album for free, then shared the profits with Van Toorn - who was often out of money. Soon he caught the attention of the Dutch publishing company Meulenhoff, who hired him as a book illustrator. He even found a regular client in the German science fiction publishing company Heyne.

Editor-in-chief of Tintin
Through this work, Marvano got noticed by Marc Legendre, at that time chief editor of the Dutch-language version of Tintin, Kuifje. In 1982 he succeeded him in that function, which enabled Marvano to quit his job as an interior architect. Van Oppen was quickly confronted with the fact the French-language magazine Tintin dictated the content, and his options to give Kuifje its own identity were limited. He attracted Bob van Laerhoven to write editorials and Ronald Grossey to do the pop music section, although the French lay-outs had to be respected at all costs. One of the few Flemish comics he managed to sneak in was Leo Fabri's 'De Grondels' (1983-1984). Van Oppen regularly clashed with Tintin's editor Jean-Luc Vernal and Lombard's publishers Raymond and Guy Leblanc over his socially conscious editorial tone and the choice of interview subjects, like a representative of Greenpeace.

De nar in de ridder by Marvano
'De Nar in de Ridder' (Robbedoes+ 4, 1982).

1980s comics
During his tenure as editor-in-chief, Marvano also remained active as an artist. With writer Bob van Laerhoven, he made short fantasy stories for Robbedoes Album + (the Dutch version of Spirou Album +), including early installments of their later collaboration 'Solitaire' (1982-1983) and sword & sorcery stories set in the Arthurian age. He also had stories published in Kuifje/Tintin and its specials in the period 1984-1985, and another one in 1988. In 1986 Marvano was asked to take over Hermann's succesful western series 'Comanche', but the plan was torpedoed when Tintin's publishing company Lombard received a new owner and 'Comanche' scriptwriter Greg refused to complete his script. As such Michel Rouge became Comanche's new artist, while Marvano had already left Kuifje.

Den Gulden Engel
Fed up with the authoritarian mentality of Lombard, Marvano resigned as Tintin's chief editor in 1986. In March of that same year, he became head of the comics publishing label Den Gulden Engel, owned by the printing firm of Frans Smits in Wommelgem. Here he published works by Yann & Conrad, Malo Louarn, Marc Wasterlain and Erika Raven. Unfortunately the firm went bankrupt in the following year due to bad sales. Marvano saw it coming and resigned early. Without a job, he decided to take a risk and make a comic book of his own...

'Forever Free' #3.

The Forever War
While visiting a SF convention, Marvano had a conversation with American novelist Joe Haldeman. The men struck a friendship and Haldeman gave him permission to adapt his novel 'The Forever War' into a comic series. Dupuis showed interest and soon the stories were published as a trilogy in their prestigious and brand new 'Aire Libre' ('Free Air') collection. Marvano wrote everything in Dutch, while Thierry Martens retranslated everything to French for the francophone market. 'La Guerre Éternelle' (1988-1989, 'De Eeuwige Oorlog' in Dutch) is inspired by Haldeman's past as a Vietnam veteran. The plot takes place in the far future, where a military unit is told to prepare for war against the extraterrestrial race the Taurans, whom they otherwise know nothing about. One of the soldiers who gets caught up in this pointless interstellar war is Mandella. He notices numerous people die in combat as the result of old-fashioned and cold-hearted bureaucratic decisions. Mandella experiences the dehumanizing effects of his military training and notices his army undertakes many questionable actions to "wipe out" the enemy, not even bothering how many of their own troops die in the process. Further complicating matters is a new technology built around time travel, which is still experimental in this fase but gains more military importance as the never-ending war continues...

'The Forever War' was a huge success and spawned three volumes, followed by a sequel trilogy named 'Een Nieuw Begin'/'Libre à Jamais' ('Forever Free', 2002-2003), published by Dargaud. Bruno Marchand provided the coloring, and remained Marvano's regular colorist throughout the 1990s.The books were translated in English, German, Polish, Italian, Spanish and Czech. Bruno Marchand provided the coloring, and remained Marvano's regular colorist throughout the 1990s. Film director Ridley Scott has been planning a film adaptation of the series for quite some years. 

Red Knight - 'De Vuursteen'.

In 1990 Marvano created the definitive version of the post-apocalyptic comic book 'Solitair' ('Le Solitaire', 1990) for Lombard's 'Histoires et Légendes' collections. Early versions of the story had appeared in Robbedoes Album + in the early 1980s. Interestingly enough, the book's scriptwriter was Flemish novelist Bob van Laerhoven, who had also translated Haldeman's 'The Forever War' novel into Dutch. 'Solitair' is set in the future and revolves around a wheelchair patient and a girl who both survived the Plague.

Red Knight
Marvano followed this up with 'Red Knight' (1990), a modernized adaptation of Willy Vandersteen's classic medieval knight comic 'De Rode Rider', based on a script by Ronald Grossey. The idea was inspired by Frank Miller's more mature version of 'Batman', which became an unexpected success in the 1980s. Unfortunately Karel Biddeloo, the Studio Vandersteen artist who drew 'De Rode Ridder' at that point, didn't like 'Red Knight'. He ventilated his anger and frustration in readers' letters, which he sent to all comic magazines possible. Marvano had the impression Biddeloo was merely jealous, since most of his criticism attacked him personally rather than the work itself. Another factor which contributed to the comic book's bad sales was the fact that Standaard Uitgeverij didn't promote it enough. As such only one album was published. In 2010 Willem Ritstier and Minck Oosterveer considered continuing the 'Red Knight' idea, but the plan was eventually cancelled again. In hindsight Marvano's idea may have been too ahead of its time, seeing that various modernized adaptations of classic Vandersteen characters became a huge success in 2013, spearheaded by Charel Cambré and Marc Legendre's 'Amoras'. Now the time was right for a contemporary version of 'De Rode Ridder', which Lectrr and Stedho made under the title 'Red Rider' (2017).

Rourke by Marvano
'Rourke' #3.

By the early 1990s, the marketing team of Éditions Dupuis had decided to launch a collection with comic book adaptations of books by French novelist Paul-Loup Sulitzer. Marvano and scriptwriter Jean Annestay were assigned to adapt the novel series about the opportunistic journalist/adventurer 'Rourke' (1991-1994). Marvano later also claimed that he liked Annestay as a person, but felt that he was just not a good scriptwriter. Therefore he deviated more and more from the script, leading to Annestay backing out altogether after the first album. Marvano made the next three albums in cooperation with his friend Marcel Rouffa, in which they took a liberal approach with regard to Sulitzer's source material. 'Rourke' was planned as a seven-part series, but disappointing sales and lack of interest by the creators led to a premature halt after only four albums. Still, the comic book did receive praise from renowned comic writer Jean van Hamme.

Les 7 Nains by Marvano
'Les 7 Nains'.

Berlin trilogy
Marvano won further acclaim with his so-called "Berlin trilogy", which consist of three albums all set in Berlin during a watershed moment of its turbulent history. The initial spark came when Marvano watched a BBC documentary about the history of bombing planes and heard a war veteran say the following: "I was too young too drive a car, too young too vote, too young to drink liquor in the pub but I was allowed to fly a plane of 35 kilo to Berlin to bomb the city. Apparently I wasn't too young to die." This quote made a huge impression on Marvano and started studying the time period in order to make a comic book about it. The first volume 'De Zeven Dwergen'/'Les 7 Nains' ('The Seven Dwarfs', Dupuis, 1994), is set before and after World War II. The second part, 'Reinhard de Vos'/'Reinhard le Goupil' (Dargaud, 2007) takes place during the war, while 'Twee Koningskinderen'/'Deux Enfants de Roi' (Dargaud, 2008) happens during the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The books were notable as Marvano's first comics not based on anyone else's work, but purely his own imagination.

Dallar Barr by Marvano
'Dallas Barr' #4.

Dallar Barr
Marvano and Haldeman joined forces again for 'Dallas Barr' (1996-2005), a dystopian series based on Haldeman's novel 'Buying Time' (1989). The story is set in the 21st century, where people can undergo a miracle cure which makes them young again. Unfortunately the expenses are so high that they are forced to pay their entire fortune. Completely broke, they have ten years to build their fortune again for their next treatment. Dallas Barr questions whether it's all worth it? The stories have a very philosophical tone, with references to the AIDS virus. After a while Haldeman granted Marvano permission to write stories of his own based on the concepts he launched. The first five albums were published by Dupuis, but Marvano felt they weren't really supportive. He eventually looked for a more dedicated company and found one in Lombard.

With Marcel Rouffa, Marvano made 'Ver Van Ieper' (Clavis, 2000), a children's book about the Belgian town Ieper, which was largely destructed during World War One. He also wrote the one-shot graphic novel 'Les Petits Adieux' for artist Magda in 2009. 

Grand Prix #3 - 'Adieu'.

World War II trilogies
Marvano's next major projects were the World War II trilogies 'Grand Prix' (2010-2015) and 'La Brigade Juive' ('The Jewish Brigade', 2013-2015). 'Grand Prix' was inspired by the life of auto car racer Rudolf Caracciola, who lived during the 1920s and 1930s. The series is set during the interbellum and deals both with automobile races, as well as Hitler's car industrialization to secretly fund his military plans. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) prohibited Germany of rebuilding their aeroplane and powerful engine industry, but mentioned nothing about racing cars or rocket technology. 'La Brigade Juive' is set in 1945, after World War II has ended. It follows Leslie Toliver, a character from Marvano's previous series 'Grand Prix', who travels to Poland as part of the Jewish Brigade to find his lost mother and girlfriend.

'La Brigade Juive' #2 - TTG.

Race cars were again the subject of Marvano's next project, the diptych 'Bonneville' (Dargaud, 2018). The story is set during behind the Land Speed Records held at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah during the 1950s and 1960s. The author however chose an unusual narrative technique. 'Bonneville' is presented as an adaptation of the fictious manuscript for an autobiographical book by the Mormon girl Zeldine Johnson.

Retirement from comics
Over the course of thirty years, Marvano has established himself as a unique and allround comic author, who is praised for his well developed characters, meticulous documentation and effective page lay-outs. Nevertheless, he announced his retirement from the traditional comic book industry in August 2018. Always very outspoken in his criticism, Van Oppen named the spineless publishing politics one of the main reasons in a statement posted on Facebook on 18 August: "I'm sick of the prevailing mentality in the publishing world. Everyone seems to find it perfectly normal that in that world everyone can earn a good living, except the authors." The self-proclaimed "lone wolf" also opened fire at eager debutants and comic authors who work with government grants, and therefore settle with less financial compensation from the publishers: "The amateurs have fucked up the market for the professionals". In an extensive interview, published in Stripgids #4 of December 2018, Marvano expressed the desire to return to science fiction illustration. He writes articles for Formule 1 Magazine, and still has plans for a new comic called 'De Terugkeer van Captain John Brown', a science fiction story in an alternate reality.

Graphic contributions
In 1985 Marvano was one of several graphic artists to contribute to the anthology book, 'Tegenaanval' (De Lijn, 1985), initiated by Patty Klein. The book protested against the conviction of comic artist Wim Stevenhagen who refused to fulfill his military service. In 2010 he was one of many artists to make a graphic contribution to the album 'Jommekes bij de Vleet' (2010), a homage to 'Jommeke' artist Jef Nys

In 1994, Marvano was awarded the Honorary Prize for his 'Berlin' comic at the Milky Way Comic Festival in Middelkerke, Belgium. In 2001 Marvano won the Bronzen Adhemar, the official Flemish Community Cultural Prize for Comics. He received the Stripvos for Best Dutch-language Album (2008) for the third part of his 'Berlin' cycle: 'Twee Koningskinderen'. 


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