Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
In the meantime enjoy the show:
CBH’s Alex Grand interviews comic book writer, penciler and entertainment property creator, Larry Hama discussing his early years including his childhood comics, his time at Manhattan’s High School of Art and Design, learning how to draw from Bernard Krigstein, working with Larry Ivie and Bhob Stewart on Castle of Frankenstein, working with Ralph Reese as Wally Wood’s assistant for the Overseas Weekly, illustrating for Esquire and Rolling Stone, underground comics like Drool #1 and Gothic Blimp works, training under Neal Adams at Continuity Associates, penciling Iron First, working at Atlas/Seaboard, Big Apple Comix with Flo Steinberg, getting hired by Jenette Kahn at DC Comics, joining Marvel in 1978, creating Bucky O’Hare with Michael Golden, bringing Underground cartoonists into Marvel’s Crazy magazine, creating the characters for GI Joe: A Real American Hero, creating Spider-Ham, editing Savage Tales, Reading Kurtzman’s Two-Fisted Tales and editing The ‘NAM, overseeing antiheroes like Nth Man and Wolverine, and his advice on creating properties for the entertainment industry.
📜 Video Chapters
00:00 Welcoming Larry Hama
00:21 Childhood comics
01:19 Did you read any Marvel, DC, or EC Comics?
02:24 Getting into High School of Art and Design, Manhattan
04:10 Bernard Krigstein was a great teacher
05:56 Neal Adams
08:09 Castle of Frankenstein, 1966 | Larry Ivie, Calvin Thomas Beck
11:23 Bhob Stewart, Trina Robbins | Gothic Blimp Works
13:05 Wally Wood and Ralph Reese
14:26 How was working with Wally Wood? | Overseas Weekly, Cannon
16:55 Getting into Continuity, Working with Neal Adams
17:58 What do you feel is a legacy of Neal Adams?
19:49 How was the environment in DC in the early ’70s?
20:30 Working at Marvel | Howard Chaykin
22:02 Wulf the Barbarian | Atlas Comics
22:39 Acting career | Moby Dick, Kung Fu movies
25:13 Big Apple Comix 1975 | Flo Steinberg
26:01 As editor at DC | Jenette Kahn
26:46 Difference between DC and Marvel
30:22 Bucky O’Hare | Michael Golden, Neal Adams
32:40 Editing Crazy magazine, 1980
33:26 G.I. Joe – A Real American Hero!
35:17 G.I. Joe vs Cobra
36:56 Is there a Cobra analog to Baron Von Strucker, Cobra Commander
37:52 Creating female characters – Baroness
39:01 Stan Lee
40:52 Tunnel Rat character, 1987..modeled after you?
41:21 Co-creating Peter Porker | Tom DeFalco
42:42 Editing Savage Tales magazine
43:32 Editing The NAM comic series, 1986
45:40 Have you read any of the Harvey Kurtzman War comics before this point?
47:01 There’s a little bit of anti-hero flavor to the characters you’ve written | Captain America
48:11 Were there any limits in writing Wolverine? | X-Men retreats
49:33 Did you like the movies? – Hugh Jackman
50:10 21st Century: Would you have done anything differently?
50:36 What advice you would give to newbies in the entertainment industry?
54:28 Wrapping Up
©2022 Comic Book Historians, LLC
#GIJOE #LarryHama #Marvel #MarvelComics #DCComics #UnderGround #Chaykin #Atlas #NealAdams #MichaelGolden #Baroness #StanLee #TomDeFalco
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex: Welcome back to the Comic Book Historians. I’m Alex Grand. Today, we have a very special guest, who I’m happy to say I was in the same Stan Lee documentary as him. Larry Hama, creator of G.I. Joe, Real American Hero, writer for Wolverine, Antman, Electra. Larry, thank you so much for joining us today.
Hama: Thanks for having me.
Alex: You’re born in 1949, in New York City. Interesting background, you studied Japanese archery, Japanese swordsmanship. You have a really eclectic background and I’d always love hearing and learning more about you. Tell us a little bit about that and some of the early comics you were reading when you were a kid in the `50s and `60s.
Hama: I think that the most influential comic to me was Uncle Scrooge, Carl Barks’ stuff. Even as a kid, I could tell the difference between the good art and the good storyline. Stuff that wasn’t Carl Barks. [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah… Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Hama: I’ve always sort of considered myself a duck man anyway.
Alex: A duck man, yeah.
Hama: I wanted to get into comics because I wanted to do funny animals. The closest I got to that was doing Bucky O’Hare.
Alex: Yeah, that’s right, which I loved as a kid. I love Bucky O’Hare. Yeah, you made that with Michael Golden, right?
Hama: Michael Golden and Neal Adams.
Alex: And Neal Adams, yeah… Did you read any Marvel, DC or EC Comics?
Hama: I didn’t find EC Comics until I got into high school. I never… I don’t think I ever saw an EC Comic when I was a kid, in the `50s, I had, I’d say, Dells, Gold Keys, Uncle Scrooges, Walt Disney comics.
Alex: Oh, okay. So not really superhero stuff then.
Hama: No. Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, all that stuff. I wasn’t all that interested in superheroes; I mean, I had Supermans and Batmans. And the earliest Marvel stuff that I can remember is this Journey into Mystery, specifically, the stories that Steve Ditko did. Those horror and mystery books.
Alex: Oh, yeah, for sure. Like the pre-superhero kind of stuff.
Alex: So then, now, you also went to the Manhattan’s High School of Art Design. You were there with Frank Brunner, Ralph Reese… Were you kind of an artist as a kid, and tell us about how you got into that school?
Hama: I always liked drawing. I was an only child. Drawing was a way to entertain myself. And I was fairly good at it. During high school, I had a teacher whose name was Ann Leibovitz. She was very encouraging… I went to junior high school with Bobby London.
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Hama: He’s one year younger than me. But we had the same art teacher, Ann Leibovitz. And she encouraged me to take the test to apply to High School of Art Design. I take the test… New York City had, at the time, a bunch of specialized high schools. There was Art and Design, Music and Art, the School of Performing Arts. I think they merged Music and Arts and Performing Arts, and now, it’s LaGuardia.
Alex: And Neal Adams went to School of Industrial Arts.
Hama: SIA became Art and Design… The list of alumni of that school is like two thirds of the comic book industry in the `50s and `60s. Gil Kane went there. Alex Toth went there. Neal, Joe Jusko…
Alex: And also Frank Brunner and Ralph Reese, right?
Hama: Right. Frank Brunner and Ralph Reese were in my class. And then, you had Bernie Krigstein was teaching there.
Alex: And he was your teacher for a while?
Hama: He was my illustration teacher for two years.
Alex: For two years. Did you learn a lot from him?
Hama: Oh, yeah. He was a great teacher. He was a person that taught not by saying, “Ah, this is how you do it.” He taught by showing you how to open your eyes, the eyes of perception. How to get over the procrastination thing.
Alex: Oh, I see.
Hama: He required every student to hand in a sketchbook every Friday. One Friday, I handed in the sketchbook and I had one sketch in it. He said, “Hama, there’s only one sketch in the sketchbook.” And I said, “Well, I spent all week on it.” [chuckles]
Hama: He said, “You spent all week on it. Well, it still sucks.” [laughs] And then he said, “You know, before you do your first really good drawing, you have to do about 100,000 really sucky ones. And if I were you, I’d get that first 100,000 out of the way as fast as I could.”
Alex: Oh, wow.
Hama: Basically, he was telling me that at that stage, your stuff isn’t precious. And I’d seen this syndrome with people… They noodle on a drawing, and try to fix it. Something’s going wrong and they just can’t… It consumes them. They’ll spend two weeks on something like that, and then, it’s no better than when they started, or the day they pitched it out.
Alex: Get the bad stuff out of your system, first.
Hama: Yeah. The other important thing that I learned was from Neal Adams, actually. I had the drawing table next to his, like a continuity, which was not a place everybody want to sit at. [chuckle] Because of the constant you’re under the glare and he was very harsh critic, to put it mildly. One day, I was working on a commercial job in the studio, and he was looking over my shoulder. He’s like standing behind me, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a Linzer tart and he says, “I guess you’re still settling. You should stop settling.” I said, “Well, what do you mean? What’s settling?” He says, “Well, I could tell that you could tell that thing you want to draw… The scene in your head is 10 times better than what you’re drawing here. But what you told yourself is, “Aah, that’s a really hard thing to pull off and here’s what I already know how to draw. I’ve got these templates. I know three eyes, maybe four noses, and one ear. “ [chuckle] And you just keep repeating these over and over again.” And he said, “Because it’s a lot easier to draw this… Than it is to draw…”
Alex: [chuckle] Uh-huh.
Hama: But he said, “But if you do the easiest thing and use that template, it’s like going to the gym and doing one pushup…, But every time you push the envelope and try to do that really difficult gesture, or that expression, or whatever, or the lighting… The first time, it’s going to suck. Maybe the next 50 times you do it, it’s going to suck just as bad. But the magic happens on the day that it stops sucking.”
Alex: I see.
Hama: “But you don’t get to that magical day, unless you cause yourself all that pain.”
Alex: There you go. Yeah. And so you’re kind of adding Neal Adams’ instruction on top of Bernard Krigstein’s instructions, and kind of finding your path.
Hama: I think those are the two most important things anybody ever told me.
Alex: Now, when you were in high school were you also like a fanzine collector? I know that you got, your first work was Castle of Frankenstein 1966. How did you get involved in submitting something there?
Hama: My first day at school, I didn’t know anybody. I was sitting in the cafeteria, and a tall black kid goes up to my table, total stranger. [chuckle] … I didn’t know who this person is. And he says, “Hey, do you like comic books?” I said, “No.” [chuckles]
Hama: And he was just persistent. He was so positive and confident. He said, “Well, I know some real cartoonists… And blah blah blah, blah, blah… And I know this guy named Larry Ivie, he puts out Castle of Frankenstein and he’s friends with Wally Wood, and Al Williamson, Angelo Torres and all these guys.” I only knew half of the names that he was saying. But on that very first day, he convinces me to go with him to Larry Ivie’s house to meet him. So I meet Larry Ivie…
Alex: Oh, that’s cool.
Hama: Larry Ivie exposes me to his collection of comics that he’s got totally catalogued. He’s got all the Reed Crandall Blackhawks.
Alex: There you go. Yeah.
Hama: All the Hal Foster Prince Valiant. He’s got a framed Frank Frazetta drawing on his wall… I’m… [chuckle]
Alex: So that was like an explosion of all this creative stuff.
Hama: Yeah. And it was through him that I met Wally Wood, Angelo Torres, and Al Williamson, and Roy Krenkel…
Hama: They would drop by… And then one night, Calvin (Thomas) Beck comes up and doesn’t come into the apartment. Keeps the door open, he’s standing on the landing, talking to us. And Larry Ivie was talking about leaving Castle of Frankenstein and he wanted to set me up with Bhob Stewart to take over. He goes, “Bhob Stewart is going to take over.” And I was going to be sort of like the gopher. I was in high school. So we’re having this conversation with Calvin Beck, and for about half an hour. Then there’s this voice from downstairs in the lobby, “Calvin! Get down here. It’s getting late.” And he’s just ignoring it. [laugh] And so, we’re talking for another half an hour of this and then finally, he leans down over the banister and says, “I’m coming, mom.” And it was his mother who didn’t like to go upstairs so she would stand in the lobby.
Hama: I ended up working for Calvin Beck, on Castle of Frankenstein. He lived in this ramshackle house in Bergen County, New Jersey.
Alex: I see.
Hama: He had a basement full of old pulp magazine that the cats had peed all over…
Alex: So you got some kind of assistant editorial experience this way.
Hama: That’s where I learned it all. I learned it from Bhob. Bhob was really great. He was one of my first mentors. He wrote that great book on Wally Wood.
Alex: He did. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve read that.
Hama: Bhob Stewart got me into Gothic Blimp Works. He introduced me to Vaughn Bodē and these other people.
Alex: Gothic Blimp Works, yeah.
Hama: I first met Jeff Jones and Louise Jones at Larry Ivie’s apartment, when Jeff Jones had first come to New York. Louise was like seven months pregnant or something. [chuckle] And it was a very heady time.
Alex: And that’s a next generation of comic creators all kind of hanging out there.
Hama: Well, and Gothic Blimp Works… Bhob took me over to the East Village and took me to the storefront where Trina Robbins and Kim Deitch had a storefront and living. They were putting out Gothic Blimp Works right after Vaughn started it, an amazing collection.
Alex: Yeah, yeah. Because I interviewed Trina. She told me about that environment. That’s cool. Yeah.
Hama: Crumb Spiegelman…
Hama: Spain Rodriguez… Everybody that started underground comics was in Gothic Blimp Works. And Bhob wrangled us a show at the Corcoran Gallery of Modern Art, in Washington DC. It’s a fairly prestigious gallery. It was, I think, called the Phonus Balonus. It was the first show of underground comic art in United States, maybe even the world.
Alex: You mentioned you met Wally Wood through the Larry Ivie connection and you and Ralph Reese both worked with Wally Wood. Tell us a little bit about the studio… And you penciled Sally Forth and Cannon, is that right?
Hama: Well, not penciling as much as…
Hama: We called it “Swipographing”. [laugh]
Alex: Okay. I got you.
Hama: Actually, Ralph worked for him first. Ralph works with him at the studio in Manhattan. I didn’t really go to work for Woody until after I came home from the army.
Alex: Hmm… Yeah, right. That was like `71. Right?
Hama: `71, I needed a job and Ralph had said, “You pencil faster than I can pencil. I ink faster… Let team up. You pencil and I’ll ink.” We did a bunch of stuff for black and white horror books. We did stuff for National Lampoon, The Electric Company, Children’s Television Workshop, a couple of illustrations for Esquire…
Alex: Yeah, I heard about that. And Rolling Stone too, right?
Hama: And Rolling Stone… I wasn’t making an awful lot of money and Ralph said, “You know, Woody still needs an assistant. You could go work there a couple of days a week except on days I’m on.”… That’s how I got in with Woody. He was living in Brooklyn and I was living in Brooklyn also. I was only like one subway stop away from him. So I was really being…
Alex: How was working with Wally and what kind of guy was he at the time that you had contact with him?
Hama: He was like my dad. [chuckle]
Alex: So there was a personal connection.
Hama: He had this relationship with a few of his younger assistants. He was very paternalistic.
Alex: Paternal, yeah.
Hama: He was great. He would sit and we’d be drawn. He had two guitars that were hanging on the wall. We’d take the guitars down and play union songs, or union made. He was sort of folky.
Alex: Oh, cool. Yeah. Yeah, Midwest folky guy, yeah.
Alex: And he served, I think in the merchant marines. Did you probably had maybe a bond over similar military experience, possibly?
Hama: Yeah. He had been in the merchant marine and he’d also joined the army and was a paratrooper, right at the end of the war… We met overseas… What we were working on was two strips for the military paper, Overseas Weekly.
Alex: Overseas Weekly.
Hama: We never called it that. We always called it the Oversexed Weekly. [laughter]
Alex: That’s great.
Hama: My deal with him there was that we would alternate. I would write an arc of Sally Forth while he was writing an arc of Cannon.
Alex: Oh, so you wrote some of that stuff. That’s great.
Hama: Oh, yeah. I wrote it and lettered it. Then we’d switch, and he’d write Sally Forth, and I’d write Cannon.
Alex: That’s fun. I love those. I’ve read all those.
Hama: I was also like looking up all the references, and the swipe, autographing, cutting zip and doing all the other… Ruling panel borders, lettering… But I learned a huge amount… I mean, he taught me how to letter. He taught me the Gaspar Saladino alphabet… He said, “Look, you know, if I can’t teach you to the letter, I can’t teach you to do anything else.” He said, “If I teach you to letter, I teach you how to ink. It’s all about mastery of the tool. Lettering is very basic, you go “boom boomp”… You got cross strokes. You got vertical strokes. You got the curved stroke. Those are all strokes that you could use as an inker too.” So it’s all about controlling the tool.
Alex: Because in the medical field, that’s like stitching after a procedure. The stitching is kind of like lettering, it seems… Drool #1, and that was an underground humor magazine, right?
Hama: I was a contributor, yeah. Me and Ralph, I think we did A Clockwork Orange, a parody.
Alex: Let’s talk a little bit about how you got hooked up to continuity, and Neal Adams. Were you also working with Wood at the same time? Or was there… Like from one to the other one?
Hama: Well, I was working with Woody, and then he was going to move to Connecticut. So being a nice guy, and he said, “I’ll hook you up with Neal.” He really didn’t have to because Ralph was already renting desk space there.
Alex: I see.
Hama: So, I ended up renting desk space there as well. It was the best deal in town. It was 50 bucks a month for a drawing table plus all the coffee you can drink [chuckle] and since you were there, you got dibs on commercial work that came in the door.
Alex: And you also were part of the Crusty Bunkers, inkers. Is that right?
Alex: So you talked about how Neal would kind of look over your shoulder and give you some advice. He was a big influence on you. He passed away today, which I think everyone’s like just really shocked by… What do you feel is a legacy of Neal’s?
Hama: A lot of people don’t realize that Neal paid for all the legal work for (Jerry) Siegel and (Joe) Shuster. He hired Ed Preiss, he put his own money on the line for that. He campaigned tirelessly for creator rights and for creators to get royalties. Nobody else was pulling that rope.
Alex: Yeah, no one cared as much about that.
Hama: Yeah. And he tried to establish unions. He created ACBA, that’s the Academy of Comic Book Arts because it might someday sort of morph in to union of some sort. That’s an important part of his legacy.
The work is amazing. His work just stands alone, I think. And they were so revolutionary at the time that he showed up, a lot of people couldn’t comprehend it. And the other thing would be is he got his foot in the door at DC and he kept his foot in door for everybody else to get in. Each going in, Mike Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Jeff Jones, whose styles were like nowhere near what DC expected as house styles.
Alex: Yeah, and it actually, he kind of advanced illustration as a style at DC, right?
Hama: He got Howard Chaykin in there, Al Weiss… And he got me my first mainstream comic job. He told Murray Boltinoff that if he gave me an eight-page horror story to pencil, that Neal would ink it. That’s how I got in the door. I think that was Sinister House of Secrets.
Alex: So, he got your foot in the door at DC and this is in the early 70s, so 72, 73 now, right?
Hama: Right. Yeah.
Alex: And how was the environment in DC? Because I think (Carmine) Infantino was still publisher at that point, right?
Hama: Even though I did a story there, I couldn’t get much traction then. [chuckle]
Alex: I see.
Hama: I started to get more traction at Marvel. I did black and white, horror jobs to do for them.
Alex: There you go.
Hama: I did a couple of jobs for Crazy, and that led to my first monthly comic. Well, I think it was Marvel Premiere was the actual…
Alex: Right. Starring Iron Fist, yeah. And that was following Gil Kane, basically.
Hama: Yeah. Gil King did the first issue and then I picked it up from there.
Alex: I love your pages. You can tell that you can write and draw. How was that line of work and how was Marvel at that time?
Hama: I was making… My first rate at Marvel on Iron Fist, I was making $23 a page; for full pencils. So if I really worked my butt off, then I could almost make as much in a week if I was flipping burgers…
Alex: People forget about burgers. No one will forget about you though.
Hama: I was doing a Marvel monthly book. Boy, it was hard to make ends meet on that type of money. I still had to do commercial work.
Alex: I see. So that’s how you supplemented the income. I got you.
Hama: Right, right. But then one day, I think I was working on maybe the third or fourth issue of Iron Fist, and I go to Marvel to bring in pages and Howard Chaykin is standing on the side walk in front of the Marvel door. And he says, “Why’d you come with me across the street? I’m just starting work at this company called Atlas/Seaboard.”
Alex: Yeah, okay. So Howard got you into that. I got you.
Hama: Yeah. And I said, “Why would I want to jump ship for Marvel to go over there?” And Howard says, “Well, because they’ll double your rate.”
Alex: I didn’t know that Atlas/Seaboard was that close. That it was literally across the street.
Alex: Did you meet the Goodman’s? Did you meet Chip and Martin?
Hama: Not really. I met… What’s his name?… Jeff Rovin, their first editor.
Alex: Their first editor. Yeah.
Hama: And Rick Meyers.
Alex: And you turned in Wulf the Barbarian. You wrote Planet of the Vampires. I think the first issues. Is that right?
Alex: And the Wulf the Barbarian, that is great. I love the work you did. It’s two issues, but I love that. So was that a character you had brewing in the back of your mind before that point?
Hama: No. It was just like… I’d like to do a barbarian, but I wanted him not to be just another Conan.
Alex: Yeah, right.
Hama: So I went sort of more towards the Nordic roots. Somebody said I was doing the Thinking Man sort of barbarian. [chuckles]
Alex: I like that. That’s true… And then what, after a couple of those issues… What, the company kind of went out of business and that was that? Or why’d you stop?
Hama: Yeah, what happened then was that I was in the elevator in the building I was living in, West 55th Street. I had an illegal apartment in the Wyoming Apartments. It’s like I was paying $50 a month for… It was supposed to be an artist space, but I was living in it.
Alex: [chuckle] Okay.
Hama: And The Wyoming Apartments was, I think originally built as a sister building to Dakota, or something like… Lots of actors and show business people went to the building. Mary Travers from Pete, Paul and Mary lived in the building.
So I get in the elevator one day and there’s this woman in the elevator. She turns to me and says, “Are you an actor.?” I said, “No.” She said, “Do you want to be one?” And I said, “Well, what does that entail?” She said she was producing an off-Broadway production of Moby Dick at South Beach Seaport…
And I got cast as one of the harpooners. I was Tashtego the Harpooner, and the guy who was playing Daggoo was Steve James who later went on to be a black action star. And we got to be pretty good friends. He was a hell of a nice guy. He was funny as hell.
Alex: Yeah. You were also in M*A*S*H, I think an episode or something. Right?
Hama: Yeah. Well, the thing is, somebody saw me in Moby Dick and I got some part in something else, and then somebody saw me in that. I think the third thing I auditioned for was Pacific Overture which was a Broadway musical written by Stephen Sondheim, and directed by Harold Prince. And I got cast in that. I had a principal character…
Alex: That’s great.
Hama: So, I did that on the road and on Broadway for about a year. That got me into Actors’ Equity (Association). When I was on the road doing the show in Los Angeles, I got the part on M*A*S*H and that got me into the Screen Actors Guild. And after, when I came back from the East Coast, I started doing some voiceover stuff, dubbing Kung Fu movies.
Alex: Ahh… I didn’t know that. That’s cool.
Hama: That got me into AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). I still belong to all three unions.
Alex: Yeah. And that’s the movies coming out of Hong Kong, right?
Hama: I did the bad guy voices on Sonny Chiba movies.
Alex: Okay. That’s cool… You have a than ever real eclectic background. It’s great. So now, as far as Big Apple Comix, Flo Steinberg, 1975, how’d you get involved in it? And what was Flo trying to do with that comic?
Hama: Well, we all knew Flo. I mean, basically Flo just gathered together all people she knew. Me, and Ralph Reese, and Herb Trimpe, Al Weiss, and Woody…
Alex: Yeah. That’s right. He did the cover, yeah.
Hama: Yeah… She had this interest in the whole underground scene. She wasn’t just a Marvel secretary, she had more…
Alex: Yeah, that’s right. Because she’s friends with Trina Robbins and all that, yeah.
Hama: Right. She was really good buds with Trina, and Kim, and with a lot of the movers and shakers in the underground comics.
Alex: And that should probably be more her legacy than being the secretary of Marvel… Toward the end of the acting career, you started getting work at DC again. You were there for about a year doing some editing. How did that come about?… That’s with Jenette Khan, I think was there at that point.
Hama: Yeah. Well, Jenette hired me as an editor along with Al Milgrom. We were like the new blood. But a year later, they had what they called the DC implosion.
Hama: So they, pretty much jettisoned all the new hires.
Alex: I see. So, they got the axe first. I got you.
Hama: Milgrom and I got the boot, and Milgrom went straight over to Marvel. And after a couple of months, he calls up, basically says, “Hey, the water’s fine. Come on over here.” [chuckles]
Alex: I see. He was the test.
Alex: So then when you’re at DC though, right before Marvel, you’re editing like Mr. Miracle, Wonder Woman. Were you kind of in the bullpen there, and how was the environment at that time?
Hama: The fundamental difference between DC and Marvel was always that DC had a very tight sphincter. [laughter]
Alex: That makes biological sense. Yeah.
Hama: I had my own office… We’re talking Rockefeller Center.
Alex: Yeah, that’s right.
Hama: The first week I was there, I had some clippings or something, and I took a piece of tape and I hung it up on my wall. And the office manager came by… “Waaahhh….”
Alex [chuckle] You can’t do that… Okay.
Hama: “You can’t stick stuff on the wall. This is Rockefeller Center.” “What do you mean?” He’s goes, “Here… This is a special envelope, interoffice memo envelope. You want to put anything on your wall, you have to put it in this envelope, submit it to this committee…”
Alex: Oh, okay.
Hama: “They’d judge this, whether or not you can have it on your wall.”
Hama: Then they get to union guys to come over and frame it and hang it on your wall.
Alex: I see. And then, that way, they get their hourly wage also, for doing that.
Hama: Yeah. It was like, “Holy…” Then at Marvel, it was complete opposite. You could… People have stuff hanging off their ceilings… It was… you know.
Alex: It sounds like it was a lot more fun there.
Hama: Lot more fun. At Marvel, I couldn’t wait to get there in the morning.
Alex: Oh, that’s awesome.
Hama: It was great. It was the most fun I ever had working in my life. –
Alex: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah… Yeah, because I’d interviewed (Jim) Shooter, and although he had this structure about him, he had this these great stories about a lot of the comedy that was going on. That it seemed like he had a structure, but then otherwise, people could be a little bit free in those kinds of ways. Would you say that’s right?
Hama: Yeah. It was an open office and people could walk in and wander around from office to office. I had a nice couch that we had bow guarded from upstairs… Jim Ousley, later became Christopher Priest…
Alex: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
Hama: Right in the middle of the night, we went up to where the suits had their offices. I think it was the next floor up or something. And we bow guarded this nice leather couch out of the CFO’s office. [laughter]
Hama: And six months later, I think we got the guy. He just came out to talk to me about vouchers or something and he was sitting on the couch, on his former couch. [laughter]
Hama: He’s in my office, after sitting in it for half an hour, he goes, “Nice couch.” [laughs]
Alex: He didn’t recognize it, but he admired it. That’s funny.
Hama: Yeah. It was a legendary couch… After I left, I think Mark Gruenwald got a hold of it.
Alex: There you go.
Hama: And after Mark, I think Howard… Howard got it, maybe… Howard McKee…
Alex: Oh, Howard McKee, yeah… That’s right in the 90s, I got you.
Alex: Oh, that couch was there for a while then.
Hama: Yeah. That couch was there… It was a nice black leather couch with like brass studs all over… It’s pretty cool.
Alex: Oh, yeah. That thing’s built to last.
Alex: You mentioned creating Bucky O’Hare with Michael Golden and Neal Adams. I remember I read, I think the first issue of that, and there was some mention of Wally Wood as an inspiration, things like that. How did Bucky O’Hare come about?
Hama: I started it at DC. Because DC asked all the people who worked there, they’re saying, “Look, we’re going to create a creator’s contract. You bring us a property and you’ll own a piece of it forever.” Milgrom whipped together the Nuclear Man. He had flames coming out the top of his head…
Alex: Firestorm, I think.
Hama: I came up with Bucky O’Hare. But they never came up with the contract. So they told Milgrom. “Look, trust us. Just hand over the stuff and we’ll get you the contract when legal finishes it.” My lawyer at the time, was Ed Preiss, who was also Segal and Shuster’s lawyer.
Alex: Yeah, the same guy that Neal hired. Yeah.
Hama: Yeah, the same guy. He was Byron Preiss’ dad.
Alex: Oh, that’s crazy. I did not know this. And that totally explains Byron’s involvement now. Okay.
Hama: Exactly. And Ed was a sweet sweetheart. Nicest guy ever. And he says, “You know, an oral contract is worth the paper it’s written on. Don’t hand them anything.” So, on his advice, I held on to it. And then I got laid off… I got laid off. I still owned it. So I took it to Neal, and originally, I was going to write it and pencil it, and Neal was going to ink it, and Cory, his first wife, was going to color it. And then Michael Golden showed up… Both Neal and I looked at his stuff and Neal turned to me and he said, “Listen, this kid could do it better than either of us.” [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah, that’s cool. That’s what he said about Golden. That’s cool.
Hama: Yeah…”So let’s let him fly with it.”
Alex: So that’s how that came about. That’s great. Yeah. I love Bucky O’Hare. I was into that, as a kid. I watched the cartoon and stuff. Editing Crazy Magazine, did your involvement in any of the underground comics and contributing to Drool, did that inform some of your editing on Crazy, when you started that in 1980?
Hama: Yeah. I started hiring all these underground guys. [laughs]
Ales: Make sense.
Hama: I had Ralph doing stuff for it. I had Joey Hackman, Peter Bramley, Mimi Pond, Trina Robbins… Oh, Ned Sonntag was another guy.
Hama: Mary Wilshire. Eclectic assortment.
Alex: Yeah, that’s really great. That’s interesting. So like when Denis Kitchen did comics book and like `74, kind of the next time something like that happened or underground people came in, was when you were editing Crazy in 1980.
Alex: I think your underground stuff is really informing. A lot more stuff than probably a lot of people even realized. GI Joe: Real American Heroes was, I think, one of my first introductions to anything Marvel related. First, there was a license from Hasbro for a G.I. Joe because they had G.I. Joe before. And then they were talking to Jim Shooter about licensing it, making a new storyline…
Hama: They were looking to have a comic book done. They needed a writer.
Alex: Yeah, for the comic. Yeah, the licensed comic, yeah.
Hama: They asked all the contract writers and they all turned it down. Every writer at Marvel turned it down. Nobody wanted a military book… As a toy license, it paid this lowest rates in town because the licensing fee came off of the top of the page rate.
Alex: Oh, I didn’t know that. Okay.
Alex: So that’s why people were turning it down too. Okay.
Hama: It was cheap money, and there was no prestige, and it was also a pariah where people told me, “If you ever work on a toy comic, toy license comic, you’ll never be given an A list book ever again.”
Alex: Because Woody did Captain Action and he was fine after that, you know?
Hama: Well, he’s Wally Wood.
Alex: That’s true. [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah, so you’re saying that up and comers can get pigeonholed? Basically.
Hama: Or older guys, it’s the first way station on the road down the hill.
Alex: Oh, okay, I got you… On the way out. I got you.
Hama: [chuckle] But I had been trying to get writing work for years. Nobody would give me a writing work. They say, “Well, you’re an artist.” So I took it. And if it had been Millie the Model, I would have taken it. [chuckle]
Hama: A military book wasn’t the thing that I’ve been dying to do. [laughs]
Alex: So, G.I. Joe vs. Cobra, although I know that, from what I understand from the story is that, then you asked, “Well, who are they going to be fighting?” (Archie) Goodwin came up with the name Cobra. But was this kind of formulated from like S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Hydra? Did that turn into G.I. Joe vs. Cobra?
Hama: Pretty much? I mean, but based on… At the meeting, I asked the question, I said, “Well who do they fight?” Hasbro said, “Well, we don’t have anybody they fight.” “All right,” I said, “Well, what are the stories going to be about?… Is the stories are about them marching?” [chuckle] And I said, “We need to have some bad guys.”
And it went around that. I think Shooter was there. Nel (Nelson) Yomtov was there. “How about some sort of paramilitary…”
Hama: No, fascists, paranoid paramilitary group. [chuckle]
Hama: And somebody said, “Yeah, like S.H.I.E.L.D. has…
Hama: Yeah. Hydra. And Archie Goodwin said, “Yeah, so let’s have them be a group like that and instead of Hydra, we’ll just call it something like… Cobra.”
Alex: Yeah, perfect. Exactly.
Hama: He just said what’s on top of his head and everybody just went, “Okay.” [laughs]
Alex: They’re like, “Perfect. That’s great. We got it.” Yeah.
Hama: There was no bantering about, it was just, “Okay, that’s it.”
Alex: [laughs] Very practical, but it worked. Yeah. Because you know G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero better than anyone… Is there a Cobra analogue to Baron von Strucker? Is that Cobra Commander? Can we equate them?
Hama: Not really. I mean, because Cobra Commander is basically an Amway salesman [chuckle] or used car salesman. And his chief henchman, Dr. Mindbender is a failed orthodontist.
Alex: [laugh] I love that. Yeah. This sounds like a very New York perspective too.
Hama: The thing about Cobra is that like, they’re not out for something totally abstract. They’re promising prosperity. [chuckle] They’re saying, “Join with us and your life will be better… We’ll make lots of money.” … The promise of taking over Sudetenland. [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah, land and money. I got you. That was the motivation… So then now, that comic ran from 1982 to 1994. You also created some of the female characters: Cover Girl, Scarlet, Lady Jaye. Right?
Hama: And Baroness.
Alex: And the Baroness, yeah.
Hama: I actually created the Baroness, from the ground up, because when I sat down to do the first issue, I realized that there wasn’t a single Cobra that had a face. They were all completely covered with masks. In order to have dramaturgy, you need some agents of expression…
Alex: Yeah. Right.
Hama: I wanted to have a character that can be react to things that Cobra Commander said. Like, “Ahh… “ [chuckle]
Alex: That’s true. Yeah. It adds something to the visual. You’re right.
Hama: So I met with Herb Trimpe and I said, “We’re going to have a character that has a face. Let’s make it a hot babe in black leather outfit, call her the Baroness… Be a little bit of S&M in there.”
Alex: [chuckle] I like it, and it works. Yeah.
Hama: Yeah, it work. Yeah. She’s, I think, the most popular cosplay character.
Alex: And a very successful cosplay. Anytime someone does it, like… All eyes are on the Bareness. That’s true. That’s very true. I’ve experienced that. Now, around this time then, the cartoon came out. I think it was Marvel Productions made the cartoon. Stan Lee was at Marvel Productions. Did you have any meetings with Stan Lee during this time or other times at Marvel?
Hama: I’ve known Stan Lee since the early `70s… Flo Steinberg was constantly saying, “You know, Stan is really is a gentleman.” [chuckle] People bad mouthed him all the time and he never bad mouth them back.
Alex: That’s true. You’re right.
Hama: For all the horrible things that Jack Kirby said about Stan, Stan never said, “Oh, Jack’s lying. Jack’s blah, blah, blah…”
Hama: It wasn’t in him to do that.
Alex: That’s a good point. And actually, all these interviews he never gets to that point. That’s very true. And he is honestly the guy that did make anxiety and superheroes, a mainstream thing. And that was more his direction, I think. And I think that deserves a lot of praise.
Hama: He brought this sort of humanism to it and basing the stuff… I mean, to have Spider-Man grew up in Forest Hills and be part of a real neighborhood. That was amazing, because prior to that, Metropolis. [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah. I don’t even know where that is.
Hama: [chuckle] Yeah… Gotham City. I mean, they were all posing as New York. But Stan was the first guy that said, “Look, it’s actually New York.”
Alex: Yeah, let’s keep it real… Yeah.
Hama: Let’s keep it real.
Alex: There’s a character, Tunnel Rat, 1987, that they say is an explosive ordnance disposal specialist. The character was born in New York. Although he’s different ethnicities, Chinese, they say that he’s modelled after you.
Hama: Well, I wrote the bio and nothing in the bio was me at all. What’s true is that the sculptor modeled the head…
Alex: After you…
Hama: My head. So it is me in that aspect.
Alex: That is your face. I see.
Hama: My face on the figure.
Alex: There you go. Now, part of your, you know, reading The Duck comics, creating Bucky O’Hare, it sounds like probably some of that informed your co-creating Peter Porker, right?
Alex: Spider-Ham. I think you what, you co-created that with Tom DeFalco?
Alex: How did that come about?
Hama: I forget really how that happened. But I think a year before that or two years before that, I had submitted a proposal to do Marvel superheroes as funny animals.
Alex: Yeah, which is great… I read that as a kid too.
Hama: That didn’t fly. [chuckle] But somehow that all came to fruition within Peter Porker. And Peter Porker sort of lay dormant for ages, a sort of a side note and then, boom, he appears in the movie, [chuckle] all of a sudden, people are interested.
Alex: Did you feel like they got the voice right?
Hama: Oh, yeah. A couple of years ago, three years ago in New York Con, I actually saw a Peter Porker cosplay, a Spider-Ham cosplay.
Alex: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. I love Spider-Ham and Marvel Tales, I think is… Now, what I read was you also were editing Savage Tales magazine. But Savage Tales magazine, but there was some shift genre wise. Is that right that it went from sword and sorcery to more to other flavors of comics as you edited it?
Hama: Well, Savage Tales, I don’t think was ever really initially thought of as being just more barbarians. It was going to be sort of like men’s true sweat – military stories, western, some barbarians, action, science fiction. I got some pretty interesting guys to work on that book, including John Severin.
Alex: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, and for men’s adventure, he could be considered the best artist for that. Yeah. So, you edited the ‘Nam comic. So in overseeing the ‘Nam and also writing G.I. Joe Real American Hero, how much is that informed by your own personal military experience into those comics, or was there more of a separation, a professional separation?
Hama: First of all, when I started, G.I. Joe wasn’t going and my military knowledge at that point was 20 years out of date. [chuckle] I mean, everything had changed by that time, so I had to do just as much research as anybody else.
With the ‘Nam stuff, I set up just the setup for the book. The got the writer and I told him, “The only structure that I’m giving you is that this is in real time. Every month that goes by up in the comic, a month goes by in the actual year the comic… We’re going to make actual events sync up.”
Alex: Wow. That’s great.
Hama: I think, Doug (Murray) had done two tours in Vietnam. So he was fine with that. I just gave him free reign.
Alex: I see.
Hama: You know, “This is the setup, just do it.”
Alex: And you created the initial plot to the ‘Nam then?
Hama: It wasn’t really an initial plot. I just created the setup.
Alex: I see. Okay.
Hama: Like the timeframe thing.
Alex: I see just more of the concept overall.
Hama: Yeah. And I said look, “This has to be stories about people and it’s personal, and we’re following real people. It has to be from the enlisted man’s point of view. We’re not telling it from the point of view of some general. We’re telling it from the point of view of a Speedy 4, a Spec 4 or a PFC or a new find soldier. It’s their point of view on the ground.
Alex: Have you read any of the Harvey Kurtzman war comics before this point?
Hama: Oh, yeah. Sure. And I’d read every issue of Blazing Combat. The whole line of it. I wanted it to be different. Most war comics were just none episodic. They were just self-contained story. “Doug,” I said like, “These are characters and these characters got to evolve. Characters that are interesting.”
I said, “They come to Vietnam, and goes to the rebel depot and evolves by the natural course of events, by what he sees or what he has to do.” I thought that’s much more interesting, in my point of view, than just to have fights.
Alex: Oh, yeah. For sure it is… Aging in real time versus the illusion of change, that’s rarely done. It’s brave actually to do that.
Hama: Ed Marks, the first character who comes in, spends a year in country and goes home. And other people are filtering in and they are in overlapping things. You really get across the what the feeling was at the time. When you see like World War II movies or World War II TV shows. everything just goes on forever, and nothing changes.
Alex: Yeah, it’s way more interesting the way you did it. A couple of characters that you’ve written, Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja, Wolverine, Punisher, Batman. these characters that you’ve written, there’s almost an overall theme. And correct me if I’m wrong, that there’s a little bit of dark hero-antihero kind of flavor to these characters. Is that something that resonates with you more than, let’s say something like Superman or something like Captain America?
Hama: Probably. I don’t think I could write Superman very well. I think I understand where Captain America is coming from a bit more. And I did write the novelization, The Death Captain America for Marvel. The only reason I got the job was everybody else turned it down because it was a three-month deadline for a full novel.
Alex: I see. Wow. That’s putting a pedal to the metal, three months…
Hama: And I had not read Captain America since Jack Kirby had done it. I was totally out of the loop as to what the current storyline is. So, I had to read like four- or five-years’ worth of work before I even can start writing.
Alex: Yeah, so no bay truck in that one, it sounds like. [chuckle] Just one quick question about Wolverine. When you were writing Wolverine were there any limits about how you could develop his backstory? Were there any parameters that you had to work in as far as backstory?
Hama: No, because I think it was doing so badly… I mean, the only reason they gave it to me was I think, it was going to be cancelled or something.
Alex: I see.
Hama: For the first year or so, they just let me do whatever I wanted to do.
Alex: Oh, that’s cool. You could have made Sabretooth his dad or his brother, I guess, or whatever you wanted.
Hama: Yeah. But the thing that happened was, then it became really popular. It was like the number two or number three selling book.
Alex: There you go… Then there was more scrutiny.
Hama: Yeah. So that’s when they started making me come to the meetings, and make me go in their retreats. Every year there was an X-Men retreat where we had to go to some hotel in the boondocks, and scream and yell, and pound on the table, and work out what was happening in the X Universe.
The next year, so many writers and editors doing X material… It was like herding cats, couldn’t get anybody to agree on anything.
Alex: Did you like those retreats? It sounds like you didn’t really like them that much.
Hama: Nobody liked those retreats. [laughs]
Alex: You were forced. I see what you’re saying… Did you watch his origins… ? Did you like the movies with Hugh Jackman and all that? Did you feel like Hugh Jackman did a good job? Did you like the way those movies panned out?
Hama: Yeah. The old man Logan, I thought was the best.
Alex: Yeah, that was great. Yeah. That was like a Western, a mutant story as a Western or something. It’s what it seemed like to me.
Hama: It’s sort of seemed like a re-telling of The Wild Bunch. [laughs]
Alex: Yeah. Something like that. That’s true.
Hama: They had the washed-up outlaws trying to one last stab at glory.
Alex: Now, entering the 21st century, you’re busy with toys, cartoons, comics, TV, film, entertainment, the entertainment industry. Would you have done anything different leading up to where you’re at now with your creative work and all those things?
Hama: I don’t know… I’d never had a plan for anything. [chuckles] I just played the ball where it lands.
Alex: And then, what advice would you give to new people entering the entertainment industry, in all those fields, media. They’re full of new ideas. Other than partnering with Larry Hama, what other advice would you give to people trying to kind of recreate some of that same pioneering that you did?
Hama: Well, I’d say, “Even if you have to make a living, doing something else, allocate 50% of your time to doing stuff that you own completely.” Because otherwise, you’re just the salary man, with no piece of the action. A decent piece of the action, even a small success can be quite sizable.
Alex: Yeah. Even a small, of your own thing. Yeah, that’s true. That’s great advice, that 50% rule. No one’s ever phrased it like that to me before. But it makes sense because otherwise, like you said, “the salary guy”. But then, you might almost be used by the industry in a way and discarded later, and that’s no good.
Hama: Comics were paying immense royalties. We’re talking about mid-80s.
Alex: Yeah, the `80s, kind of like the Jim Shooter-Paul Levitz era.
Hama: Right. People were making ton of royalties… Well, the books were selling a mil plus.
Alex: Yeah, that’s when I was buying comics. Yeah.
Hama: Yeah. So that’s like crack.
Hama: It’s easy to get addicted to that, and think, “Well, who cares if I’m doing it all, I’m making all this money.” But then one day, the pipeline goes dry. Not only is the pipeline real dry, but your particular style or whatever you do is out of style. And the phone stops ringing… It’s very hard to avoid that. You have to really be spreading your shots all around town. And being able to do any number of things. If you’ve only got one shtick… You might as well get out of it. [chuckles]
Alex: You kind of need your hands in a few different things.
Hama: Yeah. You have to be adaptable, and naturally be aware of which way the wind is blowing. Not be afraid to take chances. It’s like, the analogy I used to tell people was. “Look, when the train comes in the station, better get on it. Because that train may never stop at your station again.” Most people go, “This gig pays lousy but it’s steady.” [chuckle] You have to keep asking yourself, “So how do I adjust those values within myself?”… And being safe is sometimes the most unsafe thing to do.
Alex: Yeah, that makes sense. Too many eggs in that basket and you feel you’re not taking the risk to kind of spread your wings a bit. Yeah… That’s really great advice and I think a lot of people will take that to heart. Last question, do you have any upcoming projects that you fans should be looking out for?
Hama: Nothing that I can talk about.
Alex: That’s fine, and that’s respectable… Larry, thanks so much for your time. This has been really illuminating and wonderful. I’ve always wanted to kind of sit down and do this with you. So thanks so much, especially during a day like this, and I know you got a lot of phone calls to make following Neal’s passing. But again, thanks so much for your time today.
Hama: Okay. Well, thank you.
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