Although best known for his work on G.I. Joe, Larry Hama’s career in comics spreads outside the confines of “Real American Heroes”. He broke into the comics industry as a writer an artist, later becoming an editor at both DC & Marvel. Besides writing G.I. Joe, he had an extensive run on Wolverine and also created Bucky O’Hare for comics, toys and an animated series.
Newsarama sat down with Hama to talk about his work – skipping over G.I. Joe to discuss things like Bucky O’Hare, studying under Bernard Krigstein, and the camaraderie of the NYC comics scene.
Newsarama: Let’s start with an easy one – what are you working on today, Larry?
Larry Hama: Everything I am currently working on is covered by a non-disclosure agreement. What I can say, is that all the projects are actually a lot of fun.
Nrama: You’ve become known as one of the keys, if not “the” key, writer behind the G.I. Joe franchise. For some people – that’s what they remember you most for. How do you feel about that, and the G.I. Joe franchise?
Hama: G.I. Joe has been very good to me, but I would rather have been doing ducks. I'm more of a funny-animal person. Carl Barks was the man, as far as I am concerned.
Nrama: One of my favorites of yours was your editing The Nam and your writing of The Nth Man. Do those stick out to you at all, and if so, what sticks out in your mind most about those projects?
Hama: My main contribution to The Nam was assembling the creative team, letting them do it the way they thought was right, and running interference for them with the usual suspects. I always thought that the editor's main job was in choosing the right people in the first place, and then getting out of the way. Doug Murray wrote humanistic, matter-of-fact stories that brought the very believable characters to full life. You couldn't ask for a better roster of artists either- Michael Golden, John Severin, Wayne Van Sant, and Pepe Moreno. I never had to send those guys any reference! By the way, in all the years I worked at Marvel, I only ever got two personal notes of praise from Stan Lee- one was for the Nam, and the other was for Mort The Dead Teenager!
I think that Nth Man was the best thing I ever wrote at Marvel. It was meant to wrap up in 24 issues and be a complete graphic novel, but I had to cut is short and condense the ending because of cancellation. Ron Wagner is a terrific artist and woefully under-appreciated. Even it truncated form, it still holds up as a GN.
Nrama: Getting away from military comics for a second, you created Bucky O’Hare way back when. Not quite ducks, but he was super popular in its time – and people still remember him fondly.
Hama: It was popular? It sure got cancelled as a toy line and animated show right quick-- Bucky was like my tribute to Wally Wood. I wanted to do a slam-bang sci-fi adventure story, but with really cool funny animals. Everything had to look CUTE, but cool at the same time. Originally, I was going to write and pencil, and Neal Adams was going to ink- but then Michael Golden showed up, and everything seemed to fall in place. Bucky was one of those things where everybody even remotely involved GOT it, right away. The toys looked exactly like the comic characters. Neal kept a tight rein on all the licensing art. A lot seemed to have been lost in the translation to TV animation, but the basic concept still came across.
Nrama: Who owns Bucky O’Hare currently, and have you heard of any plans to bring him back?
Hama: Neal Adams holds the copyright, but Golden and I own a piece of the pie. Neal has apparently never stopped working on keeping Bucky going.
Nrama: Reading your Marvel work in the 80s it always stuck to me that in addition to writing you were credited at doing breakdowns. Upon further research, I find a whole litany of early work as a artist. Was the decision to focus more on writing something you did, or just the market and what they wanted?
Hama: Well my script rate was not much different from my pencil rate. I could write a 22 page story in one day, but it took me weeks (normally) to do full pencils of a story. So, you do the math! I could also do breakdowns fairly fast, (about 3 or four days for a 22 page story) and I was right there in the office, so some editors knew that if they were in danger of missing shipping, there were teams right there who could get a complete book out the door in a week. I did a lot of drawing that I didn't ever get credit for. Hundreds of cover sketches. Again, I was right there in the office (this was before faxing and email) and I could bat out two or three cover sketches during lunch. I did the cover sketches for every comic that went out of my editorial office as well, but I couldn't get paid for them. Also did pretty much all the G.I. Joe cover sketches.
Nrama: I read in another interview that during your younger years you had aspirations to be a fashion designer. Can you tell us about that, and what attracted you to that field?
: Nice looking ladies. I had a subscription to Vogue in the sixth grade. I also had a subscription to Punch, a now-defunct British weekly that had great cartoons.
Nrama: Do you still draw?
Hama: I draw all the time. I do storyboard work as well. I did storyboards for the Wolverine's Revenge game, but I haven't been able to see the final results since I was never able to beat the Sabretooth Boss at the end of the third level.
Nrama: Writing, drawing... do you have any other creative outlets?
Hama: I keep my Stratocaster next to my desk so I can noodle between writing and drawing.
Nrama: Looking back into the 70s and 80s, you seem to be mixing with a lot of greats in comics. Krigstein, Wally Wood – and a favorite of mine, Ralph Reese. How would you describe those times in New York working in the comics industry?
Hama: That would be a whole book! Bernard Krigstein was my illustration teacher at the High School of Art & Design in New York City. Both Ralph Reese and Frank Brunner were in my graduating class. Art Spiegelman was one year ahead. Krigstein was a brilliant teacher. He never showed us how to draw a specific thing, but rather, he showed us how to open our minds to make our own interpretations and to reject procrastination. When he asked me why I only had one new drawing in my sketchbook one week, I told him I had been working on it all week. He shook his head and said "you have to do a hundred thousand sucky drawings before you do your first half-decent one, so if I were you, I'd get those first hundred thousand out of the way as soon as possible."