Every month Newsarama gives its readers a debriefing on what’s coming next in the world of G.I. Joe, and this month we go to the mountaintop and talk with the forefather of all-things Joe, Larry Hama. In 1982 he brought a toy line to life, and today he continues on that epic story in IDW’s G.I. Joe: Real American Hero. In March, Hama’s series will celebrate its 200th issue and Newsarama has reached out to Hama to talk about the current events of the series and his plans for the big 200. Along the way we find out some surprises such as the origin of the Arashikage Clan tattoo, his fascination with a certain spouse of a well-known Joe, as well as the G.I. Joe story he’s never been allowed to tell.
Newsarama: First question, Larry --- after 31 years of doing this, what keeps you going writing G.I. Joe?
Larry Hama: The main reason is that somebody or the other keeps asking me to do it. I actually do make it up as I go along, but since I based most of the characters on people I know, it's not that hard to fall back into it. Robert Frost was wrong, you can go home again, and I've done it.
Nrama: Currently you’re on point doing the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series at IDW, which carries on the run you started with the Marvel series. For those that haven’t been reading, can you brief us on the current situation?
Hama: That's a file that takes up 2 GB on my hard drive. A lot has happened, and I'm in the middle of an arc that is almost as complicated and character-heavy as the Battle of Cobra Island. Besides, I can never remember plots. What matters me to me is the characters.
Nrama: The series recently returned to the fictional South American country of Sierra Gordo. That country has a long history inside G.I. Joe history, so can you give us your perspective on it?
Hama: Everything about Sierra Gordo is made up or retconned as I go along. There's an international airport in the capital city of Rio Lindo, and two or three small military airfields. A bunch of scattered and abandoned Terror Dromesåå. There are mountains in the central highlands, and a big river. The countryside is agricultural with slash-and-burn farming, and intensive deforestation. Mining is on the decline. There is a huge underclass, but there is still enough of a middle class to keep things running. Suburbs are encroaching into the jungle. There are now luxury malls in Rio Lindo, good cell coverage from the city center out to the airport and decent highways.
Nrama: Who is the team exactly going into Sierra Gordo?
Here’s my notes from #195 where it all started:
RAH#195 notes: Version 6.5 July 9, 2013 Larry Hama
ALPHA TEAM: (in C-130)Roadblock, Rock & Roll, Zap, Gung-Ho, Torpedo, Lady Jaye, Flint, Dial-Tone, Shockwave, Mutt & Junkyard. Duke is mission commander, and Wild Bill and Payload are pilot and co-pilot. Shipwreck is crewchief.
BRAVO TEAM: (in Tomahawk) Leatherneck, Beach-Head, Lowlight, Downtown, Bazooka and Life-Line. Lift Ticket and Slip-Stream will man the cockpit. Stalker is crew chief and team commander.
PIT COMMAND CENTER will be manned by Lt. Falcon, Psych-Out, Mainframe and CHUCKLES (Chuckles will join the mess hall team in #195)
AIR SUPPORT is the Skystriker in the Tiger RAT , the Mud-Fighter with dogfight driving and the Stealth Fighter piloted by Ghost Rider (he who cannot be named)
OLD G.I. Joe team members: Clutch, Alpine, Cross Country, Spirit, Lightfoot, Charbroil, Hit and Run, Wildcard (MEAN DOG driver,) and Ace
In the BAR in Rio Lindo: Haydn Strawhacker (CIA,) Fitz (NA Banana,) Cheng (All China Herbal,) Osenko (Trans-Ural Petroleum, and Dinah Lum newscaster
TERROR DROME: Rebels/bats, Ernesto (reb leader,) Julio (reb enforcer) Grunt (Robt. W. Graves,) Pres. Sofia Velez, Amb. Huntley Pierce-Bryson, Lnc Cpl Cooper USMC.
GRUNT in Terror Drome
Alpha Team assaulting through jungle.
Bravo Team standing by in support.
Pit Command center supporting.
Jinx and Pale Peony.
Cobra Commander and Dr. Mindbender.
Underused G.I. Joe team members in mess hall.
Nrama: You’re bringing back a fan-favorite Joe who retired, Grunt. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he’s been the only G.I. Joe team member to leave on his own accord. So what brings him back to the book?
Hama: It was Lola I really wanted to bring back, and bringing back her husband was the most logical way to do that.
Nrama: The readers first met Lola when Grunt left the G.I. Joe team and went back to school at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Lola’s no civilian though, she served four years in the Army as a helicopter mechanic. What made you want to bring her back after all this time – I think the last time we saw her was in the witch hunts by Gen. Malthus back in 1988.
The helicopter mechanic MOS was cover for something else entirely. After I brought Grunt back, I was looking for where that thread could go and there she was.
Nrama: Also coming into this is Revanche, a robotics company that you’ve introduced that has some strong ties inside the G.I. Joe universe. What can you tell us about that corporation, and did you have any real life counterparts you’re basing them off of?
Hama: I'm not sure where Revanche is heading. No, they are not based on a real company. Really. Not.
Nrama: That being said, how would you describe Revanche as a company?
Hama: I haven't figured out Revanche completely yet. They started out as robotic ninja pret-a-porter, but there is something else more insidious going on. It probably involves something more in the Trojan or malware realm than marching legions of malevolent androids. Something closer to the revolt of the automatic home espresso machines.
Nrama: Pulling back for a bigger picture, one of the overlooked parts of your work with G.I. Joe is your artistic contributions to the book – you did some covers, drew a couple issues, and provided layouts for numerous other artists. Can you talk about that part of your tenure with the Joes?
Hama: I like drawing better than I like writing, but I have arthritis, so it's not possible for me to draw twelve hours a day like I used to. Trying to explain drawing in words is like trying to explain music in Braille.
Nrama: Coming up in March will be the milestone 200th issue of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. What do you have planned for that?
Hama: Some big wrap up to the arc. I have no idea what it's going to be. I have a vague notion of what direction everything is going in, but it's like wrangling cats. All the characters have minds of their own and keep wandering off and doing unexpected things. Keeps me on my feet. I've pretty much never known what's on the last page of the story until I get to it. When I was doing G.I. Joe #21, “Silent Interlude,” I got to a page where Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow are fighting and both of them get their sleeves ripped, and I had the idea to give them both the same tattoo. I had no idea what the tattoo meant, or the back story that went along with it. I had to make that up in G.I. Joe #26.
Nrama: Re-reading your recent issues I noticed how, despite this being about an American fighting force, they aren’t much for patriotism in a jingoistic fashion but more about doing the job and taking care of the people fighting beside them. Can you talk about that?
Hama: That's not the way soldiers are. Nothing is abstract in the field. The reality is the five guys in your fire team, and the ten guys in your squad. Soldiers throw themselves on grenades and run through intersecting fields of fire for their buddies, not for a flag or a concept.
Nrama: After all these years doing G.I. Joe in one form or another is there a story or a character you’re still waiting to tell?
Hama: A million.
Nrama: You say you have a million stories and characters you still want to tell for G.I. Joe, but can you maybe pick out a more lesser-known one and tell us a little bit about what you want to do without spoiling it?
Hama: Everybody is always asking about a whole new take on G.I. Joe, but every time I propose my idea for it, people are aghast. It all starts at run-down strip mall in North Carolina, in a storefront named "The Snake-Eyes Institute of Mystic Martial Arts, Aerobics and Modern Dance." (additional parking in rear.)