So another Wondercon has come and gone and much fun was had by all. Rather than write about the usual carnival of cosplay (but do see below for some images) and sales floor craziness I would like to write about one special panel I went to: The Spotlight on Larry Hama.
Larry Hama had a profound impact on me as a kid and probably most of you who read Marvel in the 1980’s for you see, Hama wrote the GI Joe comics we all know and loved. When I saw Wondercon was doing a spotlight on him I knew I had to go and it did not disappoint. Hama went through an entire issue of one of his GI Joes comics and broke it down page by page, panel by panel. He talked about the artwork, the establishing shots, a couple of coloring mistakes and what went into his general writing process. If you are a creator on any level, or just love comics (and who doesn’t) then you would have loved this panel. He also went into some of the creation of GI Joe lore, especially Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. The issue he picked was GI Joe #21 titled “Silent Interlude” and it is unique in that it is the only GI Joe that has absolutely no dialogue in it. As a matter of fact, I remember reading this issue as a kid! Here are some caveats he shared as well as why it had no dialogue.
- Ever wonder where Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes got their matching tattoo’s? Okay, we know it is because they both trained at the same dojo, however Larry had a fascinating story as to how they got them. Larry liked to write from the hip, so to speak. He said he would create things and then figure out the backstory later. During a fight between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes to show how deadly the up close and personal action was he had both get their sleeves ripped open. Since he had the open space he decided they should both have tattoo’s and heck, why not make them match? He had no idea what the tattoos meant or why they had them and he said he would figure it out later. Of course, he did and one of the biggest plot points of the GI Joe series was born. As an added note, he used an I-Ching symbol as their tattoo. He explained this was simply because it was easy to remember and draw.
- Why the silence? Why did “Silent Interlude” have no speech? Was it to establish a super-secret, ninja warrior fortress? Was Cobra Commander feeling depressed when he built it? Nope, nothing like that. Larry said he had been wanting to challenge himself creatively and wanted to see if he could do a completely silent comic however the timing on it does have a backstory. It turns out the that Marvel decided they needed an issue released ASAP. As in just three weeks or so, which was near impossible. Larry said back then the lettering and dialogue was not done in house. It was shipped out via mail to the letterers who would then do their work and mail it back. Yeah, as in snail mail. Larry decided this would a great time to do his no dialogue (or sound effects) issues as it would save time not having to send it out. This would save them badly needed time. The rumor about this issue was that it was done strictly because of the short turn around but Larry explained that wasn’t case. It was something he had on his back-burner for some time. What resulted is one of the more memorable GI Joe’s produced. Incidentally, the issue just recently had its thirty-year anniversary so yeah, I feel old.
- So how did Larry end up writing GI Joe? Hasbro started their GI Joe line of toys and wanted something to promote it so they went to Marvel with the idea of a comic. Marvel agreed to it but there was one big problem. Nobody wanted to touch it. Larry explained that no respectable writer would touch a franchise title. Not even the independent contract writers wanted. It was considered not A list, B list or even C list. It was way down the totem pole and Marvel had asked just about everyone they could think of until the finally got to Larry. He had been doing art for Marvel and was desperate to find a writing gig, so when Marvel asked he said he would gladly do it. Basically, he got the job because no one else wanted it! Let’s just say that me and thousands of other kids from the 80’s are so glad you took the job!
- A genius marketing ploy. Hasbro also had another idea. Back then there was all sorts of new legislation regarding the marketing of toys. Rather than show fake animations with cool special effects, toy commercials now had to have a least fifty percent (or something like that) of the footage be of the actual toys. However, a commercial about a comic book did not have any requirements at all. Hasbro agreed to produce commercials about the GI Joe comic book to air on Saturday morning cartoons (did you see what they did there). This provided advertising for the toys in a round-about way since the entire GI Joe comic was made to promote their toy line. It obviously worked wonders because my parent’s attic is still filled with boxes and boxes of GI Joe toys and comics (they have been instructed to never throw those away).
So, there you have it. The spotlight on the great Larry Hama. I say great because he was great to me. GI Joe (and Star Wars) were my childhood. GI Joe was what introduced me to comics and to Marvel. Every year the space under the Christmas tree was filled with the toys. I spent countless hours tracking down back issues in old (now closed) comic shops. Every month I eagerly awaited the release of the next issue. I could not get enough. Best of all I remember those glorious nights of staying up late, lying in bed with my reading lamp on and losing myself in the magic of comics, and for that Mr. Hama, I am truly grateful.
P.S. If you ever watch “The Toys That Made Us” they have a fascinating issue on GI Joe that goes more into the background of the Hasbro-Marvel relationship including why Snake Eyes was painted all black.
So what was your favorite Joe growing up? I have to confess I fall into the Cobra category with good ‘ole Zartan.
You can follow Jefferson @nerdsinrecovery.
Here are some of the more unique costumes I saw.