Larry Hama is best known in the comic book medium as the godfather of G.I. Joe, penning the comic based on the popular Hasbro toy-line that was also made into a popular cartoon that was prevalent in the 1980s. Debuting in 1982 and published by Marvel Comics, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero ran for 155 issues (it had a few mini-series and a G.I. Joe Special Missions spin-off series that ran for 28 issues), ending in 1994.
In 2001, Devil’s Due relaunched the series, picking up where the Marvel series left off. While Hama didn’t write the monthly series, he did several special projects for Devil’s Due, including the short-lived Storm Shadow monthly series in 2007.
Today, IDW Publishing now has the rights to publish G.I. Joe with Hama at the helm. Further, the live action movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, featuring Dennis Quaid and Joseph Gordon Levitt, is debuting in August.
Besides G.I. Joe, Hama also wrote Marvel’s Wolverine for 8 years in the 1990s. He wrote Elektra, Avengers, and Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja, also for Marvel. He created Bucky O’Hare, a character that was featured in a comic book, toy-line, video game, and cartoon series. Other little known facts about Hama is that he appeared on the hit TV series M*A*S*H, as well as Saturday Night Live.
Recently, Hama spoke to Mania.com about his long career in the comics medium.
Mania: Originally, G.I. Joe was supposed to be Fury Force, featuring the son of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, this idea got scuttled. Why?
Hama: It didn’t get scuttled as much as made irrelevant. I had been developing Fury Force and working it up conceptually when G.I. Joe came along. I had drawings of the characters and all sorts of equipment, but never wrote a script.
Mania: When Hasbro was looking to reinvent G.I. Joe, you tweaked the Fury Force concept somewhat, correct? Please explain.
Hama: Hasbro had already reinvented G.I. Joe completely as 3¾-inch action figures. My job was to write a comic book based on the figures. All I had were black and white drawings of the figures and job titles, like “infantry,” “mortar-man,” etc. I had to figure out names and personalities for them, but I also knew that there was going to be many more figures down the pike, so I needed a way to keep track of them all. That’s why I created the file cards, which I originally called “dossiers.” When the guys at Hasbro saw these first dossiers, they said, “These would be cool on the back of the blister pack!”
Mania: Is it difficult to flesh out the personalities of these characters because you have more than 200, even though you have to focus on the popular regulars like Hawk, Duke, Cobra Commander, Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, et al.?
Hama: Pretty much I always based the characters on real people. That way, there was a yardstick to fall back on. I’m pretty sure that was the way (Charles) Dickens did it. You really had a feeling that he knew all those people. I could never do it like Dickens, but using his tricks helped a lot.
Mania: Why was G.I. Joe cancelled by Marvel in 1994 after 155 issues? Was it because the toys were no longer a driving force and the cartoon was off the air for a long time?
Hama: It reached the end of its half-life. Until G.I. Joe and Transformers, toy books had a life expectancy of 1-2 years – 3 years was considered a long time. Hasbro didn’t expect the toy-line to have that much life in it. Also, the market had changed completely. When I first started doing store signings, there were lines around the block and it was all 10-year-old boys. The last time I did a story signing in New York City, everybody was over 30, and two of the guys who showed up were mailmen who had skipped off their routes to get their books signed.
Mania: Loaded question: Is there a stigma attached to G.I. Joe because it’s a “toy” comic? Why is that?
Hama: That’s just it. It was a toy book. Very uncool to the fan-boys at the time. It never got reviewed in the fan press. Totally ignored. The kids who bought G.I. Joe were a totally new crowd who were coming into the comic shops for the first time because they had the toys and they saw the commercials. Many of them started to buy other comics while they were there.
Mania: G.I. Joe was the first comic book series to be advertised on TV, right?
Hama: I believe so. If somebody else was first, they have not stepped forward.
Mania: I know you can't reveal details about the G.I. Joe movie, but what is your involvement? You're an executive producer? Consulting producer?
Hama: Consultant. Also did a cameo as a NATO General. Hopefully, I’ll survive the final cut, but I never count on stuff like that.
Mania: Regarding the new IDW comic series, how did that come about? Did Devil's Due choose not to renew the license to G.I. Joe?
Hama: I know nothing about the business end of things. I’m just a guy who makes stuff up for a living.
Mania: How did you get involved in the new G.I. Joe series from IDW?
Hama: They called and asked me to do it.
Mania: Why start it over?
Hama: Why not?
Mania: Was it because Devil's Due pretty much gave the Marvel stories you wrote that they later continued after a hiatus a proper ending? Cobra Commander was captured, et al?
Hama: Don’t know, never read any of that stuff.
Mania: No plans on going back to that continuity?
Hama: Nope. That continuity is dead as far as the people who own the copyright are concerned.
Mania: What's so different about the new continuity?
Hama: Pretty much everything.
Mania: In the new series by IDW, General Hawk isn't crippled and has black hair (to probably distinguish him from Duke), and is a little older. Why make him so Machiavellian (if that’s correct)?
Hama: Hawk was never crippled in my universe. It isn’t a general’s job to be a nice guy. Any general who isn’t Machiavellian is violating one of Sun Tsu’s primary precepts.
Mania: Are the Joes’ origins pretty much the same as they were in the prior continuity,
such as Snake-Eyes’ connection to Storm Shadow?
Hama: Nope, completely different. I had originally wanted to fly with the concept that it was all the old characters but actually taking place in the real world. That scared the pants off everybody. What finally got into print is my THIRD crack at it all.
Mania: When Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow debuted and it was revealed that they had a history together, did you expect these characters to have such a strong following?
Hama: No way. Total surprise.
Mania: What gives these two their staying power?
Hama: Mystery, camaraderie, betrayal, redemption, loyalty, compassion, honor… and being two cool guys with Uzis and swords doesn’t hurt either.
Mania: Who would win if Storm Shadow fought Wolverine, a character you’ve left your mark on?
Mania: How did you get the Wolverine assignment?
Hama: The book was in the dumps and nobody else wanted to do it. It was making negative royalties at the time. So they left me alone for a couple of years…
Mania: Why did you leave the book?
Hama: I was fired. I have to admit I didn’t have a lot of mojo left for the character after editorial took away (Wolverine’s) Adamantium (skeleton) and Jubilee. He might as well just have been Potato-Salad Man after that.
Mania: Have you seen X-Men Origins: Wolverine?
Hama: I liked it. Liev Schreiber is a kick-ass Sabretooth. I wouldn’t pay to watch Hugh Jackman sing and dance, but I definitely like him as the Canucklehead.
Mania: Loaded question: Do you feel like you’ve been typecast in the comics medium as being the writer of a “toy” comic?
Hama: Absolutely. I couldn’t even kick the stigma by writing Wolverine for eight years. Still could not get an editor to take me seriously.
Mania: Favorite stories that you did on G.I. Joe and Wolverine?
Hama: “Silent Interlude” (which occurred in G.I. Joe #21, the famous silent issue that introduced Storm Shadow) for (G.I. Joe), and the Wolverine story that mostly takes place in the Blackbird as they’re bringing him home after he got the Adamantium ripped out of him by Magneto – whatever number that was [Editor’s Note: 1993’s Wolverine (Vol. 2) #75].