Tag Archives: Larry Hama

Larry Hama and the Flagg

This is a fun one.  Between the occasional Wizard or ToyFare article, G.I. Joe fan website, and Hama’s own Facebook page, it’s not too hard to find shots of Larry and G.I. Joe toys.  It is hard to find any where the toys outsize him.  But then the USS Flagg outsizes us all.

Photocopy of Polaroid picture with Larry Hama and the USS Flagg toy, date unknown

I don’t know where the original Polaroid (seen here as a photocopy) is from, but I have a lead I can look into (and should have already!), but my guess is either at Hasbro in Rhode Island or Toy Fair in New York City, February of 1986 or 1987.  Probably not the Marvel office in NYC.  Less interesting, but still a captured moment in time from the same series is another angle, sans Hama.

Photocopy of Polaroid picture with of the USS Flagg toy, date unknown, likely 1986 or 1987

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Bazooka original dossier by Larry Hama

G.I. Joe Bazooka 1985 dossier Larry Hama teaseYou’ve probably seen this:

G.I. Joe Bazooka 1985 cardback dossier by Larry Hama It’s Bazooka’s 1985 toy cardback dossier, or “command file,” to use the official term.  Many fans know Larry Hama wrote these, so in addition to the monthly adventures from Marvel Comics, Hama was also influencing the Hasbro toys.  But before computers and the internet and .doc files and e-mail attachments, Hama’s originals would have been typewritten and faxed from New York to Pawtucket.  So you may not have seen this:

G.I. Joe Bazooka 1985 cardback original dossier by Larry Hama

You can even see the correction fluid.  (Certain typewriters had a second ribbon in white for fixing typos, many did not.)  This dossier is particularly interesting for Hama’s comment on outdated gear, and has his customary codename suggestions for Hasbro Legal to check.

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Ten

Detail of Andy Kubert's cover to "G.I. Joe Special Missions" issue 28

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9] – Ten

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin bought G.I. Joe issue #94! 

Before I get too far into the Snake-Eyes Trilogy, I want to take a step back one month and sideways.  Marvel’s G.I. Joe had a spin-off, G.I. Joe Special Missions.  And Kevin and I showed up just in time to catch the final issue.

By 1986, writing G.I. Joe offered a certain challenge for scribe Larry Hama.  Every year, Hasbro delivered to him 20 new characters, but the monthly series already had plenty.  (Not to mention the vehicles, which may have lacked dialogue, but still netted starring roles, like all the attention paid to the Skystriker and Rattler jets in issue #34, “Shake Down!”)  Marvel had already solved the problem of having too many X-Men characters by starting a second X-Men title in 1982, the monthly New Mutants.  I don’t know whose idea it was – someone in Marvel Editorial, Marvel Sales, someone at Hasbro, kids writing in letters, Hama himself, or some combination, but G.I. Joe and Marvel’s coffers could use a similar expansion.

The double-sized G.I. Joe issue #50 featured a back-up tale of five Joes stopping a jetliner hostage situation, and two months later, G.I. Joe Special Missions debuted as its own bi-monthly series.  (It went monthly in ’88.)  Special Missions spotlighted Joes that didn’t appear in the regular series, and was all self-contained, single-issue stories.  Cobra appeared, but the serial drama of G.I. Joe was side-stepped in favor of discrete 22-page narratives of overseas missions, backstabbing, and another hostage situation or two.

And this is a striking book.  Artist Herb Trimpe drew almost every issue, and for its tightly written narratives, fast pacing, and crafty twists, it’s actually my desert island comic.  While I’ve gone on at length about the merits of G.I. Joe, if I could only take one run of comic books with me on a permanent tropical exile, it would be the 28 issues of G.I. Joe Special Missions.  While I love what Hama can do with a cliffhanger, and weaving threads together and apart over time, he’s at his best with finite sagas.  (Going back to G.I. Joe #34, for example:  It’s a self-contained story starring only 4 people and two jets, yet it doesn’t feel confined by 22-pages.  It’s about fighting to live, honor, and the larger canvas of conflict reduced to a tiny scale, all told as a light adventure tale.  Imagine 27 more comics like that and you have G.I. Joe Special Missions.)

In August of 1990, my father, mother, brother and I were headed to New York from Maryland to visit my paternal grandmother.  (According to my calendar, this was right around when we went to the beach and found issue #93, although the two memories don’t “feel” chronologically close.)  Near the Bethesda subway stop, our local Jerry’s Subs and Pizza, and one of the city’s three major intersections sat a Crown Books and a Dart Drug.  I don’t know if the bookstore carried comics — I’d guess no – but it turns out that the drugstore did.  Near the cashiers was a low, light grey rack of magazines, puzzle books, and possibly other comics.

Please remember at this point, Kevin and I only collect G.I. Joe.  We haven’t yet moved on to other comic book series.  (That’s one month away, and the topic for next week’s blog post.)  While we’re not quite leery of other series, G.I. Joe makes sense, and our money is committed to action figures, LEGO, and the occasional radio controlled dune buggy.  But if there’s a comic book that reads “G.I. JOE SOMETHING SOMETHING” on it, that’s not a big stretch.

There on that low, light grey rack was G.I. Joe Special Missions issue #28.  Big, yellow block letters.  White background.  And tantalizingly, several vehicles we hadn’t yet seen in that one comic book we did read:  The Cobra Stiletto, the Cobra Condor Z25, the G.I. Joe Defiant (or was it the Crusader?), and what kind of looked like the G.I. Joe Phantom X-19.  And notably, no people.  Again, the kind of cover you’d never see on Superman, Batman, or X-Men.  This was just tanks and jeeps and planes.  Or in this case, just planes.  And like G.I. Joe issue #90 three months earlier, it was just a dollar.  I bought it, or perhaps convinced my dad to buy it for me since I’d be reading it on a car ride and parents are suckers.  And while Kevin had initially advised against buying #90, he was onboard this time.

G.I. Joe/Frontline Combat art by Zeck, Trimpe, and Toth

Special Missions #28 is a great read.  (If you want to learn how to write airplane comics, read it, the aforementioned G.I. Joe #34, Special Missions #5, and “Thunderjet!” from EC’s 1952 Frontline Combat #8 by Harvey Kurtzman and Alex Toth.) Hama deftly balances the nuances of piloted flight with the action of aerial combat, all while using authentic jargon, finding opportunities to explain that jargon to readers, and throwing in some goofy fun or less-than-realistic moments. In the case of Special Missions #28, that would be the Joes landing their Space Shuttle on the flight deck of their aircraft carrier.  Without an arrestor cable.  Which is somewhere between ridiculous and impossible.  But it still makes for a fun yarn, and “Condor” (the title of this story) is the only time in all of Hama’s comics where the on-page characters speak directly to the readers.  In this case it’s Hawk, kneeling in front of all the Joes, soccer team photo-style, on the deck of the Flagg, telling us to keep reading the regular monthly G.I. Joe.  I didn’t like this breaking of the fourth wall, and I didn’t like discovering a whole ‘nother G.I. Joe series that was over the day I found it, but I’ve come to terms with Hawk’s goofy dialogue and I have a faint wish to track down the original art for that final page splash, buy it, frame it, and hang it on my wall.

Credit goes to Hama’s artistic collaborator, the talented and reliable Herb Trimpe, who had drawn the first year of G.I. Joe.  Trimpe flew planes, and owned his own, so Hama tried to give him planes to draw in this spin-off.  I’m convinced this particular comic book would never have happened unless Herb Trimpe was paired with Larry Hama to draw G.I. Joe Special Missions:

G.I. Joe Special Missions issue 12 cover by Herb Trimpe

Back to the victorious Dart Drug purchase, I don’t remember reading that issue in the car ride north, but I do remember throwing it in the back of our Chevy Malibu station wagon a few weeks later when we drove the hour to visit my other grandparents in Baltimore.  This was before Kevin and I discovered protective bags and boards, in that first year when our entire G.I. Joe collection sat stacked in a cardboard box at knee height on a bookshelf in my bedroom.

Anyway, Special Missions doesn’t get a lot of attention, but narratively it’s as vital as the regular series.  And because each issue is a complete story unto itself, it’s actually more satisfying than G.I. Joe, even without Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow showing up all the time.

I have a distinct recollection of seeing a TV commercial for Special Missions #28, but I have never seen any evidence of it on the Internet.  Bethesda, Maryland’s Dart Drug and Crown Books were demolished a few years later.  A feud in the Crown family tore the business apart, competition from Borders and Barnes & Noble was fierce, and that entire plot of land was to become a eighteen-story, double-towered headquarters for Chevy Chase Bank.

But this wasn’t the end of buying comics in Bethesda.  What was our new outlet?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9] – Ten

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Eight

Part OneTwo Three FourFiveSixSeven – Eight – Nine

In our last episode, Tim bought G.I. Joe #93, a comic book that promised to tell much about NINJA COMMANDO Snake-Eyes, but surely would not reveal his never-before seen face!  But then Tim turned to page 18…

There it was, taking up almost the entire left side:  A full portrait of Snake-Eyes, unmasked!  Four huge scars crossed his cheeks and mouth, his right eye bugging out, a calm expression on the martial arts master’s face.  It was a shock.  I must have made some noise outloud, or burst out “WHOOOA!”  Kevin must have asked what was up.  I didn’t show him the page, but I sure wanted to.  “There’s something in here you’ll really like,” was all I could tease.  Surprises in fiction, whether they be dramatic reveals at the end, unexpected cameos, or twists and turns along the way, are the most exciting parts of reading stories and watching films or TV, and this was possibly the biggest surprise of them all.  (In a dead heat for first place are the deaths of several key characters at the beginning of the animated Transformers: The Movie, a shocking theatre-going experience that had taken place three years earlier and three miles north.)

Looking back at Mark Bright’s robust portrait of everyone’s favorite Joe I’m struck by how tame the gore is by any standards of action and violence twenty years on.  (This is a topic for another day, but it’s clear that what used to net an R-rating now is routinely PG-13, and concerning blood and violence we’re a much more permissive and desensitized society.)  When I really think about it, Snake-Eyes doesn’t look that bad.  This is the face of a soldier who took trace fire in Vietnam, and who took a face full of exploding fuel in a crashing helicopter on the way to the Iranian Hostage Crisis?  I mean, his skin doesn’t look like what little I know of burn victims.  But again, this is me being rational and methodical in an analysis that benefits from decades of hindsight and reflection.  This image, and indeed all of the violence in Marvel’s G.I. Joe, had to meet the standards of the The Comics Code Authority, the industry’s self-censorship board.  But as a soon-to-be sixth grader mired in the height of kid G.I. Joe fandom, this was a revelation without comparison.

The rest of the issue is thrilling.  The Joes arrest and then lose the Dreadnoks, Flint and Roadblock threaten civilians (not really), the Baroness learns that the same plastic surgeon who fixed her years earlier (a footnote to issue #22, waaay too early for my brother and I to register as a big deal) is the some one operating on Snake-Eyes, and that Snake-Eyes killed her brother!  And then, the Baroness blows up Zarana and the Dreadnoks’ van via remote control — while talking to Zarana on the telephone!  This ranks as one of the best cliffhangers ever, and is heightened by the cruelness with which the Baroness executes her task, frowning while she literally pushes a red “detonate” button.  (“Luckily I had a contingency plan.”  WHAM!)  It was all too much excitement, and if it weren’t for needing to shove the issue into my brother’s hands so he get up to speed, I would have read it again from page 1 that very instant.

It is this magic that I long for when I read comic books.  A thrilling hunger to know what will happen next, and a  nervous worry that anything will, and that my favorite characters might not make it out of the next story alive.

What Kevin and I couldn’t have known was that we started reading the G.I. Joe comic book right around the time that writer Larry Hama was pulling together several plot threads and character revelations, and that the next few months would be my favorite comic books of all time.

What are they?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part OneTwo Three FourFiveSixSeven – Eight – Nine

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Seven

Part OneTwo Three FourFiveSix – Seven – EightNine

In our last episode, after returning home from summer camp and buying G.I. Joe issue #92, Tim went with his family to Ocean City, Maryland.

One of OC’s two malls, Ocean Plaza Mall, had a toy store near a bookstore next to a video arcade in front of a food court with my favorite pizza, so it was a destination.  And one afternoon in the August before 6th grade I wandered into Harriet’s Books, which was a small shop with (I want to say) a green sign with yellow letters.  Kevin had gotten into Dungeons and Dragons novels, and I might’ve had to pick up a summer reading book.  Just inside on the right was a newsstand with magazines and – COMIC BOOKS!  Comic books?  Why, if those had been there in years past I certainly hadn’t noticed.  But my eyes worked differently.  Now I was on the lookout.  And there on the bottom shelf was a bright yellow logo that spelled one my favorite words:  “G.I. JOE.”  It was issue #93!  Confusing!  Hadn’t we just bought issue #92?  Was Waldenbooks behind?  Was Harriet’s Books ahead?  It didn’t matter, all I knew was that I now had three comics to read over and over on the trip (we had brought G.I. Joe #92 and the Batman adaptation).

For some reason Kevin had stayed in the car – I guess my jaunt inside was going to be quick?  Mom or Dad must have been there, or both?  Maybe they were in the Super Fresh (grocery store) and I had enough time to kill to run in the mall?  Anyway, I opened the car door and excitedly showed Kevin.  “Awesome!” was probably his reply.  Contrary to his mild reaction two months earlier regarding issue #90, Kevin was now fully onboard and we were splitting all comics purchases 50/50.

The cover to #93 teased big revelations regarding Snake-Eyes, the masked ninja commando clothed in all black.  It’s important to properly set the scene of how mysterious and cool this character was:  We’d never seen his face, he never spoke, his action figure came with a sword, an Uzi, and a wolf, AND HE WAS A NINJA COMMANDO.  I also liked grenades, and his action figure had three molded onto his chest.  Very cool.  Since he didn’t speak, the writers on the TV show seemed not to know what to do with him, and besides three or so episodes, Snake-Eyes rarely appeared.  It fell to Larry Hama, who had created the character’s entire back story, to flesh out him in the pages of the monthly comic book.  Even though we only owned less than 15 G.I. Joe comics by this point, Kevin and I knew that portions of Snake-Eyes’ origin and motivations had been doled out over time – issues #21, 26, 27, 43, 84 – but we didn’t have most of those yet.  We were in the dark.

I got in the car and started reading.  The issue was great, starting with a compelling splash page of the Baroness and Zarana (two villains) grappling with each other in the open doorway of a transport helicopter over Manhattan.  At the top, the title “Taking the Plunge” only added to the drama.  In the story, threads from issue #90 continue and new story beats develop: Destro asserts his leadership over Cobra; the Dreadnoks brainwash Clutch and drive an ice cream truck; Flint, Lady-Jaye, and Roadblock (three series regulars from season 2 of the TV show) drive G.I. Joe’s Tiger Force-recolored vehicles; and seemingly innocuously, Snake-Eyes and Scarlett see a plastic surgeon in Switzerland.  Tantalizingly, Dr. Hundtkinder removes the ninja commando’s mask (the one that looks like a normal face for going about in public, not the black costume one) and rattles off anatomical mumbo-jumbo.  (Actually Hama being diligent and accurate.)  But we weren’t going to see Snake-Eyes’s real face because that was a permanent part of G.I. Joe lore.  Since early 1982, Hasbro, Marvel, and Sunbow had held back what masked characters Destro, Cobra Commander, and Snake-Eyes looked like.  It was embedded in the mythology.  Those visages would forever be mysterious and unknown.  The comic book had previously gone to some lengths to show Snake-Eyes without his mask, but always in shadow, cropped, or from behind.

And then I turned the page.

What did Tim see?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part OneTwo Three FourFiveSix – Seven – EightNine

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Behind the scenes of G.I. Joe – Rock-Viper

Today’s post reveals some development artwork for the 1990 Cobra Rock-Viper.  First, a not-great photo by me of the production toy to serve as a baseline for all you casual fans.

Interesting to note this Cobra soldier, of which there were many (rather than a specific individual like Destro or Gristle) has a moustache.  So I guess graduates from training school had a facial hair requirement?

First up is Dave Hasle’s sculpt input drawing for the Rock-Viper’s backpack:

A black and white photocopy (probably of a color photocopy and not a chrome) of Dave Dorman’s internal presentation painting:

Note above and below there’s no moustache.  Here’s the pencil sketch of what will become the final package painting.  I’m attributing this to Hector Garrido:

Here’s the almost complete layout of the cart front and back, in b+w photocopy form, with Garrido’s drawing now a finished painting:

I don’t have a color copy of the painting or a full blister card (any readers want to help?) so this cropped close-up from my dossier and the tiny back-of-package thumbnail of Garrido’s final painting will have to do for comparison.

If you didn’t read this above, check it out here.  Dossier writer Larry Hama’s sense of humor on display.

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Interview #1: Larry Hama, June 2001 – Part Three

Regular readers: Sorry for posting a day late!

In our last episode, Tim sat down to interview Larry Hama, either the best person to start with or the worst…

“Best” because Hama never answered a question with “I don’t remember.”  He recalled stuff from the beginning of G.I. Joe as well as the end.  He talked for two hours.  And he dropped several helpful names, good people to track down next.  He was candid, funny, and not severe.

So why was this the worst interview to start with?

One, because I was starstruck.  Could I even ask the questions without stuttering?

Two, would Hama call my bluff?  I wasn’t a writer, and what research project was I researching anyway?  But this was a writer.  Sitting in front of me, humoring me, was a major reason why I was a comics reader, a Wednesday regular wherever my local store was – Bethesda, Providence, Cambridge.  Here was this famous guy whose name was credited first in almost 200 comic books I kept in my closet at home.  The writer of my “desert island” comics.  I worried my questions were too fannish, that I was bothering Hama and wasting his time.

Three, some of his answers were short, not because he was cutting me off, but because that’s just the way he answers some questions.  To the point.  I didn’t know Hama or his conversational cadence, so in the short term I thought my inquiry was lacking if I wasn’t teasing out bigger answers.  I didn’t feel like I had gotten much of the information I had gone looking for.

Two hours in, Hama suggested we break, and offered up some snacks from his pantry.  As I had stupidly skipped lunch, but hadn’t wanted to impose by asking for food, my relief was palpable.  Those cheese slices, crackers, and salami were a relief, and in the times I’ve visited Larry since ’01 I always smile when I see his kitchen.  Years later I would realize in fact it was a great interview, and that much of the work philosophy and analytical introspection was better than nuts and bolts like “favorite character.”

Nth Man issue #16 cover by Ron Wagner and Bob McLeod, 1990.

We talked for a little while longer, bouncing around non-Joe topics like Nth Man, an underappreciated Marvel gem, and the K-Otics, the blues band Hama played in for years.  When we were done, Hama walked me out.  Heading toward the elevator I sort of mumbled that I was writing a book, which codified it for me.  If I hadn’t been writing a book before, I certainly was now, even if I didn’t know what that meant.  Off the cuff Hama mentioned one Susan Faludi, a writer for Esquire Magazine.  I didn’t know who this was.  Larry explained that she had previously interviewed him by phone for 45 minutes, and that she had interviewed “everyone” regarding G.I. Joe.  Everyone.  It ricocheted around in my head like a lightning bolt.  My heart sank.  Already my project had competition!  Someone had tracked down all the people I didn’t even yet know I needed to track down!  I would later learn that Faludi had won a Pulitzer Prize, and that any article or book of hers on society, the male, and/or G.I. Joe would in no way compete with mine.  But that word “everyone,” as frightening as it was because I was now behind in the race, was vital.  As the elevator doors closed I promised myself that I would interview “everyone” and more, that I would find obscure contributors to G.I. Joe comic books, toys, and animation.  That I would track down people until I had an unreasonably large number of interviews.

So I did.

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