This March, Larry Hama reaches his landmark 200th issue writing "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero," featuring art by S.L. Gallant. The series, based on the classic Hasbro toy line, was originally published by Marvel Comics until the series ended in 1994 with issue #155. In 2010, IDW Publishing picked right up where Hama left off, releasing issue #156 and continuing the series from there.
Hama discussed what it's like to reach 200 issues of "G.I. Joe," remembering how it felt to revive the title with IDW, what big changes he has in store for the Pit, the rosters of his dream Joe squads and much more.
CBR News: Larry, your "G.I. Joe" run is now up there with the longest comic book runs of all time. What's it feel like to finally hit issue #200?
Larry Hama: Writing every new issue is like going home again. I feel comfortable with the characters, and I like insinuating myself into their world. In the last few years, I've started to have dreams where I'm walking around in the Pit under the desert in Utah. But sitting down to write page one is still like jumping into the deep end of the pool. I remember that when I handed in the plot for "Real American Hero" #1; I thought, "What am I going to do now?" I had no idea where to go with it, and still didn't know until I wrote the first page of the second issue. I've been taking it one page at a time ever since.
So, what's happening to the Joes in "G.I. Joe" #200?
I'm trying to fix what was wrong with the Pit from a practical viewpoint. A cutaway diagram will be included, and an abbreviated tour of new features. And oh, yes -- it is the conclusion of various threads that have been running for the past six issues.
So the Pitt will be revamped for issue #200.
Yes. Much improved and more defendable.
After 200 issues, who would be in your 'ultimate' Joe squads?
Fire Team Alpha: Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Gung Ho, Rock & Roll and Torpedo.
Fire Team Bravo: Stalker, Flint, Lady Jaye, Spirit and Tunnel Rat.
Command element and fire support: Duke, Roadblock, Dial Tone, Bazooka, Zap and Mainframe.
Command element is cheating a bit. I am taking your use of the word "squad" literally.
What are some of your favorite story arcs or character moments from your run?
All the Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Storm Shadow and Zartan stuff -- but I guess that also brings in Stalker, Soft Master, Blind Master, Destro, Baroness. And those characters bring in others in a Mandelbrot progression. It's hard to separate them out since they all intertwine.
Were many of your stories over the years inspired by your own experiences serving in the armed forces?
Very little, except for characterizations. I based pretty much all the character quirks, mannerisms, etc. on people I actually knew, mainly to keep them consistent. It's like personality transference, though. Very few of them look like the people they were based on, and when they did, it was by some freak accident since I did not design the visual look of the figures. That was mostly the great Ron Rudat.
An example of the convergence is Wild Bill. I had dinner with the guy I based his characterization on a few years back, and he still has the mustache, and still wears the aviator shades. Whereas whatever it is that animates Gung-Ho is based on a fellow who was barely five foot four inches tall, wasn't a Marine, and didn't shave his head. He was a bona-fide swamp-water Cajun, though, and tough as nails.
What was it like coming back to "G.I. Joe" after having been away from it for decades? Has your your writing process and style evolved much over that time?
I was a lot more comfortable with picking up the story from where it left off than in trying to reinvent the whole thing. I took a stab at that, but the characters seemed to be rebelling, and wanted to go back to their roots.
The process is still pretty much the same. I start on page one, and have no idea where I'm going. I would hope my style and the way I attack the dramaturgy is improving. I try out new stuff all the time. Mostly I experiment with how much I can leave out, especially in dialog.
You say you have no idea where your "Joe" comics are going as you write them. Is this your attitude just towards writing "Joe" or towards all of your writing?
I don't know any other way to do it. I have never planned out arcs in advance. At least, not in any detail. I tell the editor, "Okay, the Joes invade Cobra Island, and there's an epic battle, and we see little pieces of that battle from the POV of different Joes and Cobras." Or, "Grunt gets taken prisoner in Sierra Gordo, and when the Joes go down there to rescue him, Cobra takes over the Pit."
Have you heard from any actual soldiers over the years? What do they say?
All the time. A lot of them tell me that reading Joe as a kid influenced their decision to join the service. I ask them if they read #155, and they say, yes, but they had a feeling they knew what they were getting into, and they understood the nature of the fantasy, but that I got the attitude right. The Joes never got a parade, either.
Do you have any idea how many more Joe stories you've got left to tell? Have you ever thought about a way to end the run entirely, however years down the line that may be?
I never think about the ending of anything until I get to it. I can go on telling "Joe" stories for as long as I still have my marbles. I used to write two "Joe" titles a month while holding down a day job as an editor and playing with my band two nights a week!
"G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" #200 by Larry Hama and S.L. Gallant is out this March from IDW Publishing.