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Larry Hama Interview
Larry Hama
Interview by Dan Epstein, G.I. Journalist

Larry Hama Interview Larry Hama is like the surrogate father of GI Joe. He wrote all 155 issues of the Marvel series and is involved with the new mini-series as well.

Dan Epstein: What are you doing with the new series of GI Joe?

Larry Hama: It's going pretty well. I'm waiting for the first issue pencils to come in so I can do the dialogue.

DE: So you're using the Marvel method [which involves a writer providing rough guidelines of story to an artist, who would then handles layouts and art, whereupon the writer would return to the story to provide the dialogue]?

LH: Yes.

DE: It must be very exciting to work with Dan Jurgens [writer/artist on Superman and writer of Thor].

LH: Yes, it's fun. I've met him over the years and always liked him.

DE: What's it like co-plotting with Josh Blaylock [President and founder of Devil's Due. Josh is also is the writer and layout artist of the new GI Joe] Josh is a young guy.

LH: I don't know. I've never met him face to face [laughs]. He could be fifty for all I know. We've talked at length over the phone. He's in Chicago. I just met Josh and the whole Devil's Due crew down in Norfolk VA at the GI Joe convention, and they are a fun bunch. Josh is definitely not fifty.

DE: Did you have to take him to school on GI Joe at all?

LH: He knows GI Joe chapter and verse. Probably more than I do.

DE: Are you going to be following up your old storylines?

LH: That's basically what I'm doing. Josh's storyline is the present and I'm sort of tying up the loose ends on what happened with the previous continuity to make it match up with the present.

There's a core group of the Joe characters in the book, including Hawk, Snake Eyes, Scarlett and a few others. They are embarking on a secret mission.

DE: How happy are you that GI Joe is back?

Larry Hama InterviewLH: I worked on it for 14 years, and it's my favorite in that it's the only thing I ever worked on that they let me do whatever I wanted, instead of somebody telling me what to do or going into a meeting with six other writers. With GI Joe I got complete freedom; after a while even with Hasbro [who licensed GI Joe to Marvel]. They just came to realize that they didn't have anybody who knew more about it that could tell me what to do.

DE: Simon Furman [writer of the classic Transformers comics and a present series] said something very similar. He said that they think they realize that you guys are doing something better than what they do with their toys or cartoons.

LH: I think it has less to do with that than with the sheer volume of stuff. With both Joe and the Transformers, there were so many characters. The person who was the liaison between Hasbro and us is usually a 21-year-old right out of college and with his first job. They don't have a clue about the stuff. Then they are handed something with 150 characters and then within a year that person is promoted and it starts all over again. After a while, the word is passed along that I'm not too crazy and I won't do anything too bananas that would damage the property.

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Larry Hama InterviewDE: Well, when doing the Marvel GI Joe book, what would happen when Hasbro would make William "The Refrigerator" Perry a Joe character and he would have a spiked football?

LH: Yeah, but you also have to understand that it's a business. They make a deal and they think it's a good one. Everybody knows the Fridge. They're not putting on the other hat from my point of view as a guy who has to keep track of the universe and make the story make sense. If I could get away with ignoring it, I did. I knew that it didn't make a difference if he was in the story that much because the universes didn't overlapped. They could have their cake and eat it too.

Sometimes they would try to insist and I would say that it's suicide and that it would kill an important aspect of the universe.

The Dreadnoks were a good example of that. Originally, the plan was that the Dreadnoks were going to be these big furry teddy bears.

DE: What?

LH: They were going to be plush toys. I said "Why?" It was all because The Return of the Jedi was coming out and Ewok paranoia was going on. I said "Don't you understand you can't have the good guys shooting big, lovable teddy bears?" [Laughs]. It actually sunk in and, to their credit, we changed to guys on motorcycles.

Speaking realistically, there are all these other elements involved and everyone has their own sense of priorities.

DE: Speaking of realism, is GI Joe still relevant in this post 9/11 world?

LH: I think they are. We were at war briefly for a few times during the original run of GI Joe. Grenada, The Gulf War. I think there is a much different public attitude about it now, because this stuff has really come out now.

DE: If you have any say in it would the Joes do something about Osama Bin Laden?

LH: Well, I don't know if I would do that.

Larry Hama InterviewDE: Captain America used to go and punch Hitler in the face during World War II.

LH: Well, that was a very different time, and a very different perception of what these types of entertainments are. You really have to look at it from two viewpoints. What the comic stories satisfy and what they are aimed at is very different now than when GI Joe was coming. The demographic for the comics was even different than the demographic for the toys.

You are really playing with three different sets of fantasies, because toy soldiers have been around forever. They find them in Egyptian tombs. I think it was George Orwell that said, "Nobody ever made a single penny from selling little toy pacifists." Little boys want to act out certain types of aggression with toys. It's not just aggression as well; there's a very liberal viewpoint that the object of play has to do with fighting and with violence. I think that's true to a degree, but I think there are other elements there in the play structure. Like acting out the elements of loyalty, which are very strong. I think that is the underlying elements of the toys and comics. I never thought of the fighting stuff as very important. It's the drama and the interaction of the characters that I think is important and important to the readers.

Most of the feedback that I've gotten about it isn't like, "Hey, great fight." It's more like they love the characters. That's pretty telling.

DE: How close did you feel to the Joe characters after writing all 155 issues and probably dozens of annuals and specials? Did it hurt when it was cancelled?

LH: Sure. In order to write these characters, you have to walk around in their shoes and extrapolate how they are feeling and what's happening in their heads in order to make it ring right. To live with these people for such a long time, then it's gone...it's like leaving home.

Getting back into it recently felt, well, like you can go home [laughs].

DE: What did you think of GI Joe cartoon and the cartoon movie?

LH: Well, that's pretty subjective [laughs]. To tell you the truth, I've only seen one episode of the cartoon. They never asked me to write one, so why bother.

Larry Hama InterviewDE: What was it like when the action figure of you came in? [The character Tunnel Rat was based on Larry]

LH: That was a lot of fun. They actually sent the sculptor to take photos of me. He's the same guy that did a lot of the holograms for credit cards. He's a miniaturist sculptor. He did the dove for the VISA card. Once you sort of reduce a likeness to that size, a lot is lost. It was rather flattering.

DE: With so many characters, what was your filing system like?

LH: I kept tabs on the characters with those file cards [Larry wrote all the file cards that came with each action figure] and had dossiers on them. I originally wrote little psychological profiles on them, which turned into the file cards. I realized right away that I needed to keep track of this.

DE: What is the status of the Mort the Dead Teenager the movie?

LH: I have no idea. My involvement stopped after I wrote the comic.

DE: You don't own it?

LH: No. Marvel owns it. But I did get to write the screenplay for DreamWorks. It's been rewritten a couple of times.

DE: How did you come up with Mort the Dead Teenager?

LH: Basically, I was thinking about how many Marvel comic book characters had been optioned for film and TV. But not many movies were happening. I went in and came up with some new stuff that wasn't really a superhero, that somebody could do fairly cheap. A youth market-type thing. I came up with Mort the Dead Teenager, and all I had was the title. They said OK [laughs]. So I had to come up with a story to fill out the title.

DE: What was your experience like on Wolverine? I really enjoyed your run.

LH: I think I got Wolverine because it was in a real slump at the time and they didn't think I could hurt it anymore. For the first year or so, they just didn't care what I did. I had this weird amount of freedom, and I was having fun, then it started to get really popular. Then, I had to start with all these meetings that happened once or twice a year and sit down with all the other X-Men-related writers and come up with an agreement with what these characters were going to do for the rest of the year. It made things easier continuity-wise, but at the same time, sort of leveled everything out.

DE: Were you required to unravel everything Barry Windsor Smith did with Weapon X?

Larry Hama InterviewLH: It wasn't just that. There were a few other things as well. The problem with continuity is that, if you're writing a book for the long run, how beholden are you to a guy who only wrote one or two stories, especially if something really drastic happened? I really liked what Barry did. In fact, I wrote the introduction to the trade paperback of the Weapon X mini-series. I think it's a storytelling milestone and he just went wild with those ideas. Some of the story ideas he came up with don't quite fit in logically with everything that was established before, but I could live with that. If something is good, I would rather go with that than with the correct thing that is part of the continuity.

DE: Would a book like The 'Nam [a comic chronicling the Vietnam war which Larry edited] work today?

LH: I think it was at the right time for a lot of different things. We got a lot of publicity for it, because it was a book that our PR people could send to a real newspaper, and the person there could read that issue and understand exactly what was going on. Any X-book you give to a civilian, they will go, "What the hell was this?"

DE: There was the X-Men Annual years ago with the Impossible Man smashing through the Marvel office and everyone was freaking out except for you and Michael Golden. What did that mean?

LH: Michael drew that. We're sitting there with our feet up on the desk and that's what we used to do.

DE: Were both of you just not shocked by anything that happened?

LH: We were both in our own universes. All the times I was at Marvel, I was in my own separate universe. I started out doing Crazy magazine and then, I edited Conan. Then I did The 'Nam, GI Joe and Savage Tales, stuff that was outside the Marvel Universe.

DE: Michael Golden is a brilliant artist, but he has quite the reputation. What is he like to work with?

LH: He's fine, and a good buddy of mine. My old adage is that anything good comes with ugly luggage [laughs]. I have my own ugly luggage. I've known him a long time. I was probably the first guy he worked for in comics. I gave him a Mister Miracle at DC Comics. I got him Russ Heath as an inker then Al Milgrom gave him Bat-Mite. He's also an artist that keeps growing. Also, he's weirdly underrated, he's an artist's artist. Every artist I know that's any good refers to Golden. I look at most people's artwork, most of the time I could figure out how they did it. I look at Golden's stuff, and I can't fathom how he did it.

Wizard magazine or one of these fanzines did a story on the 100 most influential people ever in the comic book business. They left out both Michael Golden and Neal Adams. I was amazed. Fifty percent of the artists they mentioned swiped their stuff from both those guys. Between those two guys and Jack Kirby, that's everything that exists.

DE: Why did you leave Batman?

LH: Talk about hampering. When you sit own to write a Batman book, they hand you this 200-page bible, and its all stuff you can't do [laughs]. Then they want you to do some original groundbreaking stuff. You go, "What?!" I wanted to do some neat bizarre thing with the Bat-copter, like a stealth Apache, and they said that he doesn't have that. Everything that I liked about Batman was gone.

DE: How do you feel about your place in the industry right now?

Larry Hama InterviewLH: I don't have a place right now [laughs]. The industry is totally different right now. The market is completely different. When I was doing very popular books, the demographic was much younger. I would do a signing and there would be hundreds of 10 and 11 year olds. They lost track of the original mass market as an audience and got very specialized. I don't know how to write comics for the brand new market. It doesn't seem to be quite adult stuff, and doesn't seem to be kid's stuff, either. I never really thought of myself as writing to a 10 year old. Maybe that's why it had legs. I was writing it to please myself. I truly believe that Carl Barks [the genius behind the creation of Scrooge McDuck] didn't write any of those Uncle Scrooge comics for nine-year-old kids. I think he was writing them to please himself. That's what you have to do. I was trying to write what I thought were interesting stories.

DE: What else are you doing?

LH: I've been developing stuff for Curious Pictures. They worked on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and they do animation and special effects. Last year I wrote and storyboarded Wolverine's Revenge [featuring the voices of Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart] for Playstation 2 and X-Box. That was a lot of fun, and it took quite a while. I storyboarded The Seventh Stream [starring Scott Glenn and Saffron Burrows] for CBS last year. I'm working on a few movies and novels.

DE: Larry, thank you very much.

LH: Thanks.

See more stills from Larry's carrer

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Dan Epstein lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. He is a contributor to such websites as Gadflyonline.com, SlushFactory.com, 3ammagazine.com, Hybridmagazine.com, Ifanboy.com and DavidFincher.net. He is also a former producer for MetroTV, where he worked on such shows as The Daily Beat, Studio Y and New York Eats, and has worked on such feature films as Tromeo & Juliet by the Troma studios and Dinner and Driving. He loves referring to himself in the third person.


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