Did you ever think you knew about someone, but then when you get into you realize how little you knew…and how fascinating that particular person is? That’s the experience I had after reading the new book from Christopher Irving, Larry Hama Conversations. It’s a fun read to be sure, but the more you learn about Larry Hama the more you want to learn. Hama is so much more than just the writer of GI Joe comics. Through this collection of interviews, I learned so much about him; everything from his time with folks like Wally Wood and Neal Adams to the secrets behind vintage San Diego Comic-Con vintages photos. This tidbit was revealed as Hama was speaking about a “lost project” where Vince Colletta was the photographer.
Christopher Irving is a gifted writer and an academic. Fall’s a busy time for him at Virginia’s Commonwealth University, but I caught up with him to talk about this new book.
Ed Catto: Why Larry Hama? Was he always a favorite?
Christopher Irving: G.I. Joe was the first monthly comic book that my father and I would drive around town finding, month after month. It was also the only common bond I had with my two older brothers. But from there, as a point of departure, I got to know Larry over the years, and realized what an absolute genius and delight he is as a human being. His work, as well as conversations with him (pardon the pun), are lessons in storytelling.
So, full disclosure: he started as one of my favorite creators and has ended up being one of my favorite people.
EC: I think many fans think of Larry Hama as just “that GI Joe guy”. But he’s really so much more, right?
CI: As a cartoonist, Larry learned from the masters of the industry: Wally Wood, Bernie Krigstein, and Neal Adams–and also encountered Harvey Kurtzman early on in life. What’s more, his background in cartooning made him an instinctive and natural writer of comic scripts. His work as a musician and, especially, an actor have given him a sensitivity to character and–I imagine–a penchant for improvisation.
Throw in his being a crackerjack editor, from CRAZY to The ‘Nam, and he’s more than “just” a writer or “just” a comic artist/illustrator.
Larry is also outspoken. I was so happy to be able to include a great speech he gave at John Jay College, as well as a transcript taken from the excellent NYU documentary Making It Up As I Go Along, that both focus on his heritage as a Japanese-American and many of his experiences.
EC: You’ve interviewed so many comics professionals. What makes Larry Hama different?
CI: Honestly? It takes knowing who Larry is and what work he’s done to know. More than anything, though, I love and admire his respect for not only craft, but also the importance of not treating one’s own work as too precious. This man literally has no airs about his work. He grew up on comics, and admired and loved many, but he’s about so much more than comics. I find it refreshing to come across creators like Larry who are about so much more than comics and have an even more interesting life outside both their work and the industry.
EC: I’m so intrigued by some of the teases in the book. There’s one part where he says there are photos, taken by Vince Colletta, at an early San Diego Comic-Con for Crazy fumetti pages. I hope we find those treasures one day soon, Chris. Can you tell me a little bit about how this was published?
CI: After the Conversations: Mike Allred book came out, I felt I had more than enough Larry interviews to compile an academic volume if I combined it with some other fantastic interviews from a variety of other interviewer voices. More importantly, though, Larry is LONG overdue for an academic work about his life and career. He is, I think, the most under-rated creator in all of comics, and my hope is to change that with this book.
From there, it was a matter of reaching out to my fellow associates of all things Hama to procure permission to print their interviews with Larry. I’m really lucky to have had the chance to produce this book on one of my favorite creators of all time.
EC: It’s nice to see a photograph on the cover by your old buddy, Seth Kushner. He left us too young and too early.
CI: Thanks. Funny story. Seth wrote a Letter to The Editor on how he hated the silent issue (when he was a kid) and it got published! He felt like he had to apologize to Larry when he took that photo years later.
Larry Hama Conversations by Chris Irving is published by University Press of Mississippi and is available directly from the publisher here.