Interview with Larry Hama 03/16/2007
In December 1997, Larry Hama graciously allowed us to interview him and ask him a few questions about his involvement with G.I.Joe. Ten years later, Mr. Hama has offered us new insights into his newest Project G.I.Joe: Storm Shadow from Devil's Due Publishing.
Larry Hama Interview by Justin Bell – 3/16/2007
Justin Bell: What can you tell me about this new Storm Shadow series?
Larry Hama: Tommy A. takes off the gloves and kicks gluteus maximus. Darker, more mystery. Ninjas as more James Bond commandos rather than medieval guys with swords. New characters, and an interesting mix of old ones.
JB: How did this project come to pass? Did you pitch it to Devil's Due, or did they approach you with it?
LH: Devil's Due asked me to do it.
JB: Whose decision was it to focus the book on Storm Shadow?
JB: Does the focus on Storm Shadow allow you to broaden the scope of the stories you can tell, since you're not so tied to a U.S. Military organization?
LH: Absolutely. I can also go all over the world. And I am. With real places, real locations, etc. They will be mostly places I am familiar with personally. Each issue of the first 4 issue arc will take place in a different city. They will be Chicago, Moscow, Tokyo and New York, in that order. Cities to come will London, Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Edmunton, and Toronto.
JB: Is it safe to assume that we'll see some guest-stars in the Storm Shadow book?
JB: Were you ever in discussions with Devil's Due to work on the main title? Was that ever on the table?
LH: Never came up. I'm probably considered way too old school.
JB: Have you read any of America's Elite over the past 2 years as a point of research for the stories you want to tell?
LH: Not a lot. I don't read a lot of comics, and I never have. I had never read any of the Wolverine material when I was asked to write that title. I asked the editor to sift through the chaff and just give me what were the essentials, so it was a short stack. Mostly Claremont, Miller and Barry Smith. I figured they were the best, so treated their stories as the canon and pretty much ignored the rest. That's how I work with Devil's Due. I say, "send me over the stuff that counts." What's the point of sticking to continuity if part of the continuity doesn't cut it? Sometimes I would write a Wolverine story and the editor (or one of X-Boys in the office) would point out that some writer so-and-so had written a story in the Giant Man-Thing Annual that contradicted my plot line, and I would go look up the story, and if it was totally ass-kicking, I'd change mine, but if it totally bit it, I would say, "but it is major sucky! Let's lose this office copy and pretend it never happened!" Characters get better if creative juices are let to flow freely. Stick to the canon but sweep the mistakes out the door.
JB: How does it feel to be back working on a regular monthly G.I. Joe title after all of these years?
LH: Not much different. It's a job, like it always was. Now, if it was
about Type VII U-Boots, that would be a different story! At least I
got to work in a type XII u-boot (U-505) into the first Storm Shadow
story, even if it is a static museum piece.
JB: You say that you may be considered too "old school" for the ongoing title.
What makes the Storm Shadow series different that allows for a more "old
LH: Who said I was doing it old school? I guess it is old school in some
ways- I am sort of proud that an editor at Marvel, (fifteen years
ago!) told me my stuff was "old fashioned" because I wrote stories
that "actually made sense and were about likeable characters." I think
what I do changes all the time. I'm not out to preserve old stuff.
I'm trying to do new things all the time.
JB: Was there a "re-learning" curve to get back into the G.I. Joe "universe" or
was it like riding a bike?
LH: It's always been a complete mystery to me. I dreaded sitting down to
write the first GI JOE story, because I had no idea how to do it, or
what the story was going to be about, or how it was going to end. By
the time I got to the middle of the story, I sort of knew what it was
about, but still did not know HOW to go about doing it, or how it was
going to end. That continues to this day. I don't have a formula or
template for stories, nor do I know how they are going to end until I
get to the end. I am now up to page seventeen of the second issue of
Storm Shadow, and I have no idea how it is going to end. What I do is
put the characters on their feet and knead them and nudge them and get
them to do my work for me. I think it always helps to have it always
be about the characters and NOT the mechanical chess moves of a plot.
That's why it BUGS ME NO END when people ask me what the story is!
JB: How do you come up with the ideas behind the stories you tell?
LH: I don't. I come up with the characters. (see previous question)
JB: Did you have to think in different terms for inspiration when it came to the Storm Shadow book?
LH: Just reread Bulgokov.
JB: Bulgokov? Is that what you meant by "Old School"? It will be interesting
to see how you tie in early 20th Century Russian literature with a modern
tale about ninja warriors.
LH: I actually had dinner at the old Soviet Writer's Union Club when I was
in Moscow. It is widely held that it is the real "Mossolit" that is
the scene of much of Master and Margarita. Also had lunch at the
Lubyanka- another whole story there.
JB: What kind of research does it take when you work on your typical issue of a
comic? How much visual reference do you supply to the artists?
LH: I supply lots of reference. I used to mail out big bundles of books,
but they had a habit of disappearing into the libraries of the
artists. Now, I scan or download pics, compress them and send the out
in emails. I spend a lot of time Googling. I also do maps, sketches
and diagrams. I did a whole bunch of "Graphic History" books for
Osprey last year, that were about famous battles of the ACW or WWII.
I started out not knowing more than the bare bones about Shiloh, or
Guadalcanal, so I had to do TONS of research. I reread all of Bruce
Catton and Fletcher Pratt to bring myself up to speed for the Civil
War, and that was just the background. Waded through tons of soldiers
diaries and battle reports and illustrated gazettes from the period.
Osprey sent me forty pounds of books.
JB: Is there more research required for your typical "real world" military book
compared to a super hero book like Wolverine or Batman?
LH: Tons more.
JB: You've done some great artwork in the past to go along with the stories
you've told…do you find that experience helpful when laying out the book and
going over it with the artist(s) working on it?
LH: It depends on the artist. For the most part I have to explain
everything and explain what everything is. The reason I always loved
to work with Michael Golden or Ron Wagner was that I never had to
explain what anything was. I could just say Ma-Deuce, or Immelman,
Kabar, or BTR and they'd draw the darn thing.
JB: Writing a military based book in this day and age can be especially
challenging…how did you approach that when you worked on G.I. Joe:
Declassified? Do you take the current global climate into account while
writing, even though it was a story told in the past?
LH: Absolutely. The moral core of the story is about very current issues.
JB: Is that part of it at all different with a more "adventure" type book like
Storm Shadow than it may be with a more traditional military book?
LH: No. The world situation always impinges. In RAH, there was Borovia
and Trucial Abysmia. It's pretty obvious where those stories were
taking place. In Storm Shadow, I am using real locations.
JB: Do you ever include any subtexts within the scripts you write? Are there
any stories "under the surface" that you like to tell?
LH: The fun is in finding them. There is ALWAYS a story under the
surface. Also, in who the characters really are. In Nth Man, many of
the characters were based on people I knew in the comics biz. The
Russian bomber pilots were the Kubert Brothers, the American Colonel
in #1 was Gray Morrow, etc.
JB:What do you find most enjoyable or interesting about writing?
LH: Getting that check in the mail. I would rather be drawing or playing guitar.
JB: What do you find most onerous about telling these tales? What are you not
looking forward to the most when you sit down at the computer?
LH: Writing in general gives me a big pain. I would rather slam my thumb
with a ball peen hammer.
JB: So it sounds like writing doesn't bring you much joy. Do you find it a bit frustrating that you have such a talent for something that you don't wholly
LH: Who said it isn't joy? When it goes well, it is joyous. GETTING
there is onerous. When the writing is working, it's White Light. Sort
of like those last few reps in a long series at the gym, or the last
few meters in a long run.
JB: What did you find to be the most fulfilling part of your job history,
creating backgrounds and histories for the toys themselves, or writing the
comics (or other media) that went along with them?
LH: Playing live music in small clubs, or acting in front of a live
audience is the absolutely most fulfilling. Sitting in a room by
myself and putting fantasies down on computer memory is kind of a drag
in comparison, but at the same time, I am immensely grateful that I
can make a living (sort of) doing this rather than some REALLY onerous
stuff I have had to do in the past.
JB: Speaking of playing live music, are you currently performing with anyone? What
style of music do you normally play? Any CD's out there?
LH: I don't play out anymore. I played in blues-based rock bands.
Arthritis and trigger fingers are cramping my style these days, but I
keep my old Guitarman plexi-Strat by the computer to take a break
JB: Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of that you have
LH: I used to think it was Nth Man, but now, I think it's DR DETH!!
JB: Why Dr. Deth?
LH: Ten year old chain-smoking kid who rides around a post-apocalyptic world in a motorcycle with two killer babes, blowing away evil mutants with a .45 Ingram SMG? WHY???
JB: It's tough to go wrong with big guns, beautiful women, and post-apocalyptic mutants!
JB: Larry, thanks very much for your time and insight! Best of luck on the Storm Shadow ongoing series, I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say it will be very exciting seeing your name attached to an ongoing G.I. Joe themed comic again.