Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sign Here, Please: Larry Hama

Having already been indoctrinated in the ways of the Force since just after my birth, I was introduced to something new at the age of five in 1982. That was the year I received my first G.I. JOE figures, Breaker and Snake-Eyes. Breaker was pretty cool, but not the most exciting toy in the world. Snake-Eyes, on the other hand, was more than just an ordinary soldier toy. He was dressed in all black, and he wore a mask. A soldier who wears a mask must be badass, right? I was intrigued, and it wasn't long before I realized there were monthly adventures to be followed in G.I. JOE from Marvel Comics. Issues #2-#10 held my attention (I didn't get a copy of #1 for a few years), but things really picked up in the teens. Characters like Destro, Dr. Venom, and Scar-Face were introduced. Betrayal occurs in the ranks of Cobra, and Baroness suffers for it. Something else happend when the series got to issue #21, though, a chapter without even a single word of dialogue. It had already been established that Snake-Eyes didn't speak, but this was a silent issue, and it introduced Storm Shadow, the Cobra ninja. Ninjas? Really? I was hooked.

I followed the series for years. Zartan and the Dreadnoks came next, and as the origins of Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Zartan, and Cobra Commander were fleshed out, I grew increasingly eager for each month's new installment. When the animated series debuted in 1985, it was a tremendous disappointment. This cartoon was nothing like the comics I had been reading! '85 was also the year I really got into DC Comics. I had always loved Batman, and I already had several of the Super Powers figures, but the Super Friends and Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show cartoons were the media fueling my interest. Once I read Crisis On Infinite Earths, I knew there was more to superheroes than what those shows could offer.

But even as I read titles with Batman, Superman, Firestorm, and the Justice League, it was G.I. JOE I read religiously. I could not miss an issue of that book. The stories weren't talking down to me like the animation was, they provided me with history and character development, and people actually got hit by bullets (not lasers!) in combat. This meant something to me. I didn't want to see parachutes every time an aircraft was lost in battle; I wanted consequences. Larry Hama, who wrote an amazing 149 of the 155 issues (in addition to over two dozen issues of G.I. JOE: Special Missions and most of the file cards from Hasbro's line of action figures), provided them.

It was Mr. Hama's work that most inspired me as a youth to take English and creative writing seriously in school, his storytelling that made me want to be a writer. I've only had one piece of fiction published, but I have managed to earn a living in the past as a proofreader and as a copywriter, and that likely would not be the case if I hadn't been so greatly influenced by Mr. Hama. When it was announced that he would be a guest the 2007 G.I. JOE Collectors' Convention in Atlanta, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to meet a creator who'd had such an impact on me. Sure, I wanted to see the new 25th Anniversary action figures that were being shown for the first time, and I wanted to experience the convention itself, but my primary motivation in making the trip was a chance to meet Mr. Hama. I no longer have the G.I. JOE #21 I had as a kid, but I had replaced my old copy of G.I. JOE Yearbook #3, which contains the second silent story. I took it with me to Atlanta to have it signed by Mr. Hama.

Larry Hama: G.I. JOE Yearbook #3

After so many years of admiring his writing, meeting Mr. Hama, who was both friendly and humble, is a memory I will always keep with me.

There are several writers and artists I hope to meet at some point, creators like Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Jeph Loeb, Brad Meltzer, Tony Isabella, Grant Morrison, and Dennis O'Neil. I'm thinking of making the trip to NYCC next fall, so maybe I'll get a chance to scratch a couple of those guys off my list.

Sign Here, Please: Larry Hama