The GeeksverseLarry Hama: The Comixverse Interview

Larry Hama: The Comixverse Interview
Published on Sunday, August 19, 2012 by
Artist, writer, and editor Larry Hama has been involved in making comics for about four decades now. A recent recipient of an Inkpot Award, he is perhaps best known in the comic book community for writing and occasionally illustrating the 1980s G.I. Joe comic books published by Marvel Comics as well as his lengthy stint as Wolverine‘s writer. The Comixverse recently caught up with the versatile Mr. Hama to ask him about his views on the current state of the comics industry, his early experiences working with Wally Wood and Neal Adams, and the various titles and properties he’s worked on over the years.

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The Comixverse: During your career you’ve worked in almost all fields in the industry (editor, artist, writer), one of the few to do so. How have the roles changed over the years? Have they changed?

Larry Hama: It’s been over twenty years since I’ve worked as an editor, so I have no idea what that job has morphed into. My approach to editing comics was different than most, since I was looking at the stuff from the artist’s point of view, not the writer’s. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that artist/editors are just as thin on the ground as they were back then. I believe writing comics has changed drastically, since the “Marvel style” of writing plots first has given way to the writer-centric “full script.” I still write plots instead of full scripts since I believe that it’s important to give the artist some leeway in the storytelling.

hama_profile_1987

Larry Hama’s “Pro File,” featured in the Bullpen Bulletin pages of Marvel Comics cover-dated October, 1987

CV: How has the industry changed over the years? You’ve seen a lot of ups and downs and sideways. What was the biggest change? What changes surprised you? Disappointed you?

LH: The two big changes in the industry involved management giving up on girls, and then giving up on kids altogether. Through the ’50s and well into the ’60s, girls were fifty percent of the audience. Girls read romance comics, Harvey Comics, Little Lulu, Archie, Lois Lane, etc. When I was a kid, every girl I knew owned a stack of comics. They weren’t the same titles that boys owned, but they were comics. The industry abandoned that whole sector of the market. The first peal of the death-knell was the decision to aim the product at an older audience, but that was probably due to the drastic changes in distribution and in changes in the nature of the retail venues. To me, the big disappointment was when comics stopped being fun, and started being pretentious.

CV: The larger publishers, who in a way force the smaller guys to follow along, are moving towards “same day” models of digital and print delivery. Some publishers also release digital-only content. What are your feelings on the digital comics trend?

LH: I don’t see any way around it. Trying to stop it will be like trying to stop the shift in music recording mediums. But I don’t think the physical printed article will go away entirely. You don’t get pride of possession from digital. Too ephemeral.

CV: A big thing in the industry right now is the growing popularity of webcomics. Once the domain of “amateur” storytellers, in recent years, a number of high-profile comics artists and writers have started exploring self-publishing their work online and looking for alternative revenue streams that don’t wholly rely on direct comics sales. Have you considered producing a webcomic, either as a solo enterprise or as a collaborative project?

LH: That would require me having to be a businessman, and I’m not cut out for that. If I was going to get that far into sticking my hand into the blender, I would rather be making movies, or making music. I’m not an entrepreneur, I’m a hired gun.

CV: Earlier in your career, you did a lot of advertising storyboard work as a member of Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios. How is storyboarding similar to illustrating comics, and how are they different?

LH: Not much different at all. It’s all sort of like directing movies. Mark Andrews, who directed [Disney/Pixar animated film] Brave started out as a storyboard artist, and it shows.

CV: Speaking of Continuity Studios, many of the “Crusty Bunkers” were some of the most influential graphic storytellers of the 1970s and 1980s. What was it like to work in an environment with so many stridently creative and talented comics professionals? Was there a healthy sense of friendly competition driving you guys?

LH: It never felt like competition. At least among the guys who drew the stuff. It was a small and supportive community, sort of a mutual fandom. Guys who drew comics loved to see some new ass-kickingly good artist enter the fold. It seemed like the writers were always stabbing each other in the back. I remember overhearing writers gloating about other writers getting taken off books. With two or three exceptions, my actual friends in the business are the guys who draw the stuff.

CV: You spent some time as Wally Wood‘s assistant. What was it like to learn comics craft from one of the medium’s legends?

LH: Working for Woody was wonderful, uplifting, horrifying and depressing all at the same time. He was very demanding, but he was an open book, in that you definitely knew where you stood with him, and that put him on a higher level in my book. Too many smiling weasels out there in the real world giving you the glad hand while thinking up the next way to screw you.

CV: You’re more known for your very lengthy run on G.I. Joe (including G.I. Joe: Special Missions and the G.I. Joe Yearbooks), but you’ve written comics featuring a number of the most popular superheroes, characters like Wolverine, the Avengers and Batman. Superhero comics feature what can be rightly termed as vigilantes working outside the law, while the protagonists in G.I. Joe have a legal mandate to employ potentially lethal force. How important is this distinction to you as a writer of “heroic” fiction?

LH: I’ve always felt more comfortable with the legal mandate. There’s something vaguely (or not-so-vaguely) fascistic about vigilantism. I’m okay with mutants, since they aren’t into actively being crime-fighters.

CV: It’s been mentioned many times in interviews that you don’t plan far ahead when writing and this has led some issues on other titles, notably Wolverine. Your run on that title (with artists Marc Silvestri and Adam Kubert) is an all-time fan-favorite and many readers were disappointed when you left the title. Because of the way the run ended, were there any storylines that you didn’t get to finish up or explore?

LH: After a while, I really didn’t have any control of the storyline in Wolverine since it was dependent on the overall overlapping arcs of all the X-Men titles. All the writers of the X-books would have to go on a retreat every year and spend three days in some secluded hotel or spa, hammering out the continuity for the coming year so that everything meshed together. It was akin to what I suspect it’s like putting together a bill in Congress.

CV: You created the firm of Landau, Luckman, and Lake which disappeared from the Wolverine title and Joe Kelly picked up for use in Deadpool. As the creators of the firm, how did you feel about the usage in Deadpool and if given the chance, what would you have done with the firm and characters? What was the ultimate end point of that storyline?

LH: I didn’t create LL&L. I’m pretty sure that was [Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine writer Chris] Claremont. I picked it up because it was a pretty good device for retconning, and I liked the paranoid conspiracy flavor of it.

5 Responses
    • I hope in part 2 you ask him about Kitty Pryde Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. or his work with the Amalgam comics project.

      Nice interview!

      It is refreshing to hear a creator describe themselves as a hired gun and not a entrepreneur. It is important to know theyself, strengths and weaknesses. Many new creators seem to want to be entrepreneurs which works for some. Others are happy churning out product for paycheck and stability. It is nice to know where you fall. Unfortunately I’ve seen a few good hired guns that stunk as self-starters.

      • Credit has to go to Troy (Osgood) for setting up the interview and coming up with many of the questions. Our current set-up doesn’t allow for dual bylines (for now), so I had to settle for giving him “tag” credit for the article.

        Larry’s addressed the much-maligned “Kitty Pryde Agent of SHIELD” before, in a JoeGuide interview from over a decade ago, IIRC. I think I might still have the interview saved somewhere or it could be on Web.Archive.org… lemmesee… ah, here it is:

        Rod Hannah: What has been the worst project you have ever undertaken?

        Larry Hama: Kitty Pryde Agent of SHIELD. The artist completely ignored my plot, pacing and characterization. He was a very good draftsman, but a poor story-teller and he did bad acting. I will take story-telling and acting over draftsmanship any day.”

        • I’ve always wanted to read the plotted script for Kitty Pryde and see how Hama described it. It was fun in the end if not slightly less than memorable.

    • […] INTERVIEW | Larry Hama […]

    • […] Larry Hama (who has also worked as a storyboard artist for advertisements and video games) remarked in a 2012 interview that storyboards and comics illustration are “not much different at […]

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