Larry Hama is best known as the man who turned G.I. Joe from a flagging toy line into a multi-faceted juggernaut, but he’s done more in comics than those Real American Heroes – much more. The 64 year old Army veteran has worked in comics in many capacities – assistant to Wally Wood, artist of Iron Fist, editor for both DC and Marvel, and of course a long run as a writer. In his 42 years in the business, he’s worked on some of the industry’s biggest characters like Wolverine, Batman, the Punisher, the X-Men and the Avengers, but today we talk about the comic characters he’s created: Hama’s Heroes.
In this expansive chat, the New York-based writer/artist talks about his days as a Marvel editor when the concept for The ‘Nam came about, as well as his work for the 1970s upstart publisher Atlas. We also talk about the original hero he created for Marvel, Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja, along with the ahead of its time creation of Bucky O’Hare. Hama tells stories, including the time he went about creating his “answer to Watchmen,” as well as the unreleased graphic novel he and Michael Golden created that’s been sitting in a cabinet for two decades.
Newsarama: Larry, the first series I wanted to talk about is The ‘Nam. You didn’t write or draw it, but you were the editor who developed it and worked with the creators. It’s a military comic which debuted four years after the G.I. Joe comic, but obviously very very different. Can you talk about developing that at Marvel as an editor while you were writing G.I. Joe for them?
Larry Hama: Jim Shooter, then Editor-In-Chief of Marvel, came into my office with a cover he had had mocked-up in the bullpen. In fact, it was a G.I. Joe cover, the one depicting Stalker in cammo peering between jungle leaves. Jim had The ‘Nam logo designed and pasted up on the cover, and he said he wanted me to take a whack at putting together the comic. All he really had was the cover. I called up Doug Murray and Michael Golden and got them involved. The only two things I told Doug Murray was that he should keep it real, and that it should be in real time. That was the entire editorial creative process right up to handing it over to Murray and Golden.
Nrama: The series ran for 84 issues, and even outsold Uncanny X-Men on one occasion. What was it like on the inside, doing a more realistic military comic inside the offices of a company mostly known for superheroes?
Hama: Business as usual. My office was sort of outside the Marvel universe to begin with, so there was no discernable difference.
Nrama: You left in the title’s third year, but The ‘Nam continued on to run seven years – even getting Don Lomax on at one point as a writer. Why do you think it petered out?
Hama: I have no idea, and never formed an opinion on that. If I had an opinion, I wouldn’t bandy it about.
Nrama: As an editor/writer/artist, could you see The ‘Nam working in some fashion now in comics?
Nrama: Understood -- jumping back a decade or so, one of the earliest series you created, wrote – and drew! – was Wulf the Barbarian for Atlas. I chased down this title in the back issue bins awhile back, and was delighted with it – and seeing Klaus Janson ink your art was eye-opening. I know it’s been a long tie, but can you tell about your ideas when creating Wulf?
Hama: I wanted to do a barbarian character. I didn’t have what you would call story ideas. I’m not a plot person. I tried to nail down the characters, and then I tried to visualize the world they inhabit, and come up with neat stuff to draw. I actually went over to Atlas because I couldn’t get a raise at Marvel. I was making $25.00 a page for finished pencils, and Jeff Rovin at Atlas offered to double my rate.
Nrama: Martin Goodman was said to have offered creators ownership over their books, at least to the top names at the time like Neal Adams and Steve Ditko – do you, or did you, own Wulf the Barbarian?
Nrama: So how do you look at that series now?
Hama: I haven’t read it in thirty or forty years. I’d probably be embarrassed. I find stuff I did last year embarrassing.
Nrama: Another Atlas book you worked on is Planet of the Vampires, with Pat Broderick. I have read scansof that but never have found the original issues – but it seemed like a gestalt of Planet of the Apes with I Am Legend. You left that series after the first issue though – what was the story on that?
Hama: I didn’t create or co-create that. I was brought on as a writer after the fact. Forgot the details. Maybe Pat plotted it? I don’t think I left the title over bad blood. I was going through a bad time and needed to be doing something else, like acting, or playing music.
Nrama: One thing I know you created and hold close to this day is Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja. You really stretched beyond what people thought of you from G.I. Joe, and reads like a novel – and I mean that in a good way. Where did this come from?
Hama: I think it was my answer to Watchmen. I just started with the premise of there actually being somebody with vast telekinetic powers, and thought about what if that person was a geeky kid? It was meant to be a 24 issue limited series, that was, in fact a novel. But it got canceled and I had to compress the whole ending.
Nrama: You really took in diverse elements – basing it in military fiction and ninja, but then going into superpowers with Alfie and branching out from there to that great Mobius loop of an ending. What were your ambitions with that series during the writing of it?
Hama: I was just having fun. Very sketchy idea of where it was all going. I knew it all folded back on itself in the rinse cycle, but didn’t know exactly how until I got there. I never knew how any issue was going to end until I got to the last page. But this has been true of every comic I’ve ever written except for a four issue G.I. Joe thing I did for Devil’s Due where they insisted I submit an overview. That was the worst thing I’ve ever written. It was like writing with one of those wheel locks on my legs.
Nrama: How do you feel about Nth Man now?
Hama: It probably still stands up. A lot of that is because Ron Wagner did such a smashing job on it, and really made the characters come alive. Dale Keown did the single fill-in issue, and he aced it as well. I sign a surprising number of them at cons.
Nrama: I’m eternally surprised Marvel hasn’t brought back Nth Man, or at least reprinted those issues. Are you aware of why they haven’t?
Hama: Marvel owns it outright, but they aren’t aware they have it. They seem to have forgotten about all the incredible black and white stuff they have, also.
Nrama: And I can’t go without asking about Bucky O’Hare; that series was a real major deal when I was reading it, and it went on to have some success in animation and video games. I read it all started as a tribute to Wally Wood – is that right?
Hama: I really loved Woody’s cute stuff, and wanted to do an all-out funky space-opera with funny animals blasting away at each other with lasers. That’s all it was. That’s how I got Neal Adams and Michael Golden interested in it. Boys just wanna have fun.
Nrama: Did it seem like it was going to be a big deal back then when you three were dreaming it all up?
Hama: We preplanned all the iterations in advance. That’s why the characters have 3mm holes in the bottoms of their feet. The characters were specifically designed so they could be injected molded as toys and not lose their visual integrity. The head to body proportions are perfect for video game characters. We were a little to ahead of our time, though.
Nrama: I read that a second Bucky O’Hare series was written, and Michael even drew a portion of it. What happened that prevented that from ever being finished and published?
Hama: Volume II of the graphic novel is all penciled and written, and sitting in a drawer at Continuity. It’s been there since Continuity Publishing went belly up.
Nrama: Last question, Larry -- Neal Adams talks from time to time about bringing Bucky O’Hare back – are you involved in that at all?