On March 19, 2007, JBL staff was privileged to be able to sit down with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero scribe Larry Hama and discuss his forthcoming Storm Shadow solo title from Devils Due Publishing. Hitting stands in May 2007, the series will focus on the adventures of Thomas Arashikage (aka Storm Shadow) and his place in the world.
First off, let me take a moment to thank Mr. Hama for taking time to discuss his latest comics project with JBL today.
JBL: I guess a great place to start is “Why Storm Shadow”? Was this a project you pitched to Devil’s Due or did the publisher contact you?
Larry Hama: Mike O’Sullivan at Devil’s Due called and asked if I was interested in writing it.
JBL: If you could describe this new series in one sentence, what would it be?
LH: Ninjas without borders.
JBL: Just how involved is Hasbro with the comic? Do they have to approve the plotlines of individual issues, etc?
LH: As far as I know, Hasbro has to approve everything. That’s the way it has always been.
JBL: I realize that you’re fairly early into the creative process but how does it feel to be working on a G.I. Joe monthly title again?
LH: Pretty much the same. A mixture of pleasure and anxiety.
JBL: With the predominance of the internet in “fan culture”, feedback on a particular issue is almost instantaneous. Within hours of a title hitting the stands, fans are posting their thoughts (both positive and negative) on message boards across the web. Do you read such fan feedback and do you find this type of feedback daunting?
LH: I stopped reading criticism on the net ages ago. If you actually have to spend money on a stamp and walk to a mailbox, your opinion actually means something. The ease of the net has devalued certain things. I used to read every letter that was sent in to G.I. JOE ARAH, and I would send out between fifty to a hundred post card replies every week. If a kid wasn’t just fishing for a No-Prize, wasn’t busting my chops about continuity, or wasn’t being downright rude, that kid got a hand-written reply. I don’t find message boards “daunting,” as much as morally offensive. I never say anything in an e-mail that I wouldn’t say to somebody’s face. I hold people who correspond with me to the same standard. Anything else is rather poltroonish to say the least.
JBL: Tommy’s a character who has been first a Cobra, then a Joe, then a Cobra again, and lastly a Joe once more. He’s got quite the conflicted past in terms of loyalties and entanglements. Do you find this to be a bit limiting or does it offer up more story possibilities?
LH: I don’t think his core loyalties ever changed that much. He had a mission and he proceeded to carry it out. His priorities may have gotten distorted along the way, but he finds his way back. May we always be that lucky.
JBL: The question on a lot of people’s minds right now is to what degree will this series tie into events within the “ G.I. Joe: America’s Elite” title? Will it read as more of a stand alone title or as an extension of the primary book?
LH: I am terrible at keeping up with continuity that doesn’t originate in my own head. The problem with continuity freaks is that they are “counting cards” or just vetting the chess moves. What’s important is the motivation of the CHARACTERS. When I see a story (comics, tv or film) described in terms of plot, I know to avoid it. It’s what people are feeling and thinking instead of where they are walking to, or who they are punching in the face. To get back to the point, it will be more stand alone.
JBL: Can readers expect appearances by the G.I. Joe team and COBRA forces in this monthly? Will cameos, if any, be limited to individual appearances?
LH: More individual at present. Some odd surprises. You might be appalled to find out which are the characters I personally found the most fascinating.
JBL: Storm Shadow is a character from two different worlds—one of modern military and one of eastern mysticism. He was trained and served in the United States Army and was also a core member of a family ninja clan whose legacy stretched back for centuries. Will this book focus on both aspects of Tommy’s training or will it tend more toward the martial arts aspects?
LH: He is an amalgam of those two worlds. I can’t figure out how to separate them. The problem with most martial arts is they work best against other people who are using the same martial art. That’s why you have ninjas battling ninjas in the movies. I’m interested in how a ninja, who is also trained as a LRRP would fare against Spetsnaz or their ilk. What would Tommy do if he was in a foreign country and didn’t have a weapon?
JBL: You’ve indicated in recent interviews that this title will have a “James Bond” feel to it. Does this mean that Tommy will be taking on the noble cause of “saving the world” or will we see a much more high tech espionage version of Mr. Arashikage?
LH: Less about noble causes and more about technique.
JBL: Do you see this title being more action-driven or character-oriented?
LH: I like both, don’t you? Just not crazy about continuity!
JBL: Do you have any plans on revealing any of Tommy’s early years in the United States? (Before the events seen in Marvel G.I. Joe #26)
LH: If I am allowed to.
JBL: Does it feel different to be writing a G.I. Joe-based comic without having to tie in specific aspects of a toy line?
LH: Absolutely. A lot more leeway, but it’s also harder in some ways. I have to actually think up ideas. In some ways it’s easier to be handed pictures of the space shuttle and Payload and work up a story around the vehicle and the character.
JBL: Here’s a tricky one: with everything in his past, how does Tommy Storm Shadow view himself? How do you think he’ll fit in the modern world with no current military affiliations?
LH: Tommy is a survivor. That’s the whole trick to his character. I feel he’s no longer carrying the ugly luggage he used to have.
JBL: Could we possibly see Tommy attempting to reunite the Arashikage clan once more?
LH: To what end? No, he’s not interested in running something like that. Even the Hard Master and the Soft Master knew he wasn’t up to it. He might become involved in preventing the reorganization by certain persons…
JBL: Many characters are made more interesting/relatable when they’ve been given a companion or “sidekick”. (Batman/Robin, Green Arrow/Speedy, Cable/Deadpool) Will Tommy be walking his road alone or will he be picking up an entourage along the way?
LH: He desperately needs a sounding board. That was how I used Jubilee during my run on Wolverine. It was a lot tougher to write that book after they took the Jubester away from me.
JBL: Would you be interested in writing any other G.I. Joe mini-series such as G.I. Joe: Declassified if the opportunity arose?
LH: Depends on how much homework I would have to do.
JBL: Some authors have stated that they prefer to produce a timeline or outline that covers several years on either side of the current issue while others are much more free-form. Can you describe your approach to writing a particular issue?
LH: Years? As I have stated on many occasions, I have no idea how the issue I am writing is going to end until I get to the end. A timeline that covers several years seems like a sure-fire way to telegraph your endings, or at least make you bored before you start writing! I like to surprise myself. If I can’t be entertaining myself, then what’s the point?
JBL: In the past several years, Marvel Comics has begun to release entire comic series on DVD-ROM, such as the Uncanny X-Men, the Mighty Avengers, and the Amazing Spider-Man. What are your feelings on such collections and would you like to see G.I. Joe receive a similar treatment?
LH: This is the first I’ve heard of it. I guess it would be neat to have as an archive. My set of Joes is getting pretty ratty. If they archived those other books, I might be able to skim the disks and note down the covers I designed. While I was on staff at Marvel, I routinely did cover sketches for other editors (during lunch, of course) . I must have designed hundreds and hundreds of covers. (Just the JOE covers alone is over 150) I also designed posters, like the Hulk poster where it’s just a big head and a fist.
JBL: Recently, in a fairly controversial move, Marvel killed Captain America. (For how long no one knows.) What is your take on the use of death in comics today? What is your personal philosophy of character death in comics?
LH: It’s always a sign of desperation or bankruptcy of ideas. I have been forced to kill characters by the powers that be (or were) , despite bitter protests, and then been forced to bring them back. This is what comes of letting marketing people and bean counters stick their fingers into the editorial pie. I love the fact that marketing people always take all the credit when a book sells well. “It sells well, because we promoted it well.” But when a book tanks, it’s because editorial dropped the ball. Sorry, I digress-- Here’s how I feel on the issue: If you didn’t create the character, you are simply the CUSTODIAN. I’m not talking about supporting characters. I’m talking about title characters. There is only one reason for killing a title character, and that is to boost sales. Sort of like shooting your grandmother to keep her from sucking eggs.
JBL: One last question: are you surprised at the enduring popularity of “ G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” and the life that this cast of characters has taken on?
As always, JBL would like to thank Mr. Hama for being so willing to take time out of his schedule to answer questions regarding his work.