If you’re reading this site, there’s probably a 90% chance that the name Larry Hama brings about one specific thought: GI Joe. Hama wrote the Marvel comic based on the toy line for years, and besides the work that he did defining the characters there, he also worked with Hasbro to actually create and come up with some of the most popular Joe characters of all.
Recently Larry has been working with director Ryan Schifrin on Spooks, a best selling comic book (based on an unproduced script) about a military unit that does battle with all the things that go bump in the night. The fourth issue of Spooks hit stores this month, and the complete collection will be out in trade paperback in July. Meanwhile, the official score to Spooks - by Ryan’s legendary composer dad, Lalo Schifrin – is now available on iTunes. And you can check out the official Spooks site by clicking here.
I spoke to Ryan about the comic a couple of weeks ago, and he dropped the info that Larry was scripting Abominable 2, the follow-up to Ryan’s terrifically fun Bigfoot on a rampage movie. I got on the phone with Larry, who lives in New York, to follow-up on Abominable 2, the future of Spooks now that the script adaptation is done, and, of course, the GI Joe movie.
How different is it to be adapting a script as opposed to writing something original?
Very different. I’ve done other adaptations, and for other mediums, so
I’m not averse to it or freaked out by it. It’s just work! And in some
ways it’s easier – you have the thing in front of you, and for designs
there was work by other people as well. A script existed, an outline
existed, so forth and so on. In my point of view it wasn’t comic ready.
I’m not a writer; I started out as a guy who drew the stuff – I see the
process of storytelling from the visual side. I try to figure out the
entire story in visual form and put in just whatever needs to be put in
wordwise. I hate captions! I like to have all the exposition being done
in the pictures. I hate to have multiple pages of people talking and
explaining stuff. It’s my personal preference in comics; if I open a
comic and there’s more than two pages of people in a room talking, I
put the comic down! I like to see people jumping around, doing stuff.
They don’t have to be fighting – they have to be doing stuff. That’s
the approach I took.
Since Ryan came to you with this finished script, how much input did
you have in adapting it to a comic? Were you saying, ‘This character
should go, this scene doesn’t work’?
I didn’t excise characters so much as to compress this whole piece of
action, or saying ‘This whole sequence going on here needs to be
trimmed down.’ They’re different mediums. You have to compress stuff
and at the same time you have to make certain aspects of the action
clearer. What you’re expressing in the panels is making the reader
extrapolate what’s going on between the panels. In a movie you see it.
In a comic you have to imagine all the wonderful stuff that happens
between the panels. That’s the comics.
Comics also offer you the opportunity you don’t have in movies, which
is an unlimited budget. Did you amp up the action, amp up the set
Sure, but at the same time you have to take that with a grain of salt,
the idea that it’s an unlimited budget. Somebody has to draw it! It
takes the same amount of time to draw each figure – if you’re writing
500 people in a panel, it’s going to take the artist that much more
time to do the page than if the page only had ten figures on it. And
having been the guy who drew it, I feel for that guy! I’m not asking
for armies and armies of people. I feel for all the guys working on all
the group books – ‘Man, I’m doing GI Joe and there’s a 150 characters!’
or, ‘I think I’ll pass on the Avengers!’ – but if it’s a book that’s
just Wolverine and a bad guy and one or two X-Men, that’s great. I keep
that in mind.
Issue 4 of Spooks ends the adaptation. Are you guys going to going on with the story and keep exploring the Spooks universe?
You’re always extrapolating the story beyond. It’s like the follow
through on swinging a bat in baseball. If you ain’t got the follow
through you ain’t got what came before it! Your mind wants these
characters to go on. We’ve been working on the Omega Team, which is a
sort of a continuance of the concept, but not necessarily the
characters from Spooks.
But it’s the same universe.
Same universe. Same organization. Same set up, same conflicts.
Ryan tells me you are working with him on a script for Abominable 2.
I guess… he said we could talk about that? [laughs] I’m very careful
talking about anything! When you’ve been in the toy business for a long
time you get used to keeping your mouth shut.
Yeah, Ryan’s talked about it! He did a treatment for the film – is it
in your wheelhouse? Is this a military unit taking on Bigfoot?
It’s not exactly a military take on it. There’s a military team, but the main characters aren’t military characters.
So it isn’t like Aliens to Alien?
It’s really about a couple of holdover characters from one, and a new
character who is a girl. I’m trying to make the military team as cool
and authentic as possible… but they’re fighting a Sasquatch! But no,
it was a lot of fun, and again he had a pretty good outline. I felt
like what I had to add to it was to play with the characters and to try
to tweak the action and suspense.
I get really finicky about the action because I like to control the
choreography. On the books I’ve written for Marvel or Devil’s Due,
they’ve let me control the choreography, with fight diagrams and stuff
like that. I used to get plots from writers when I was drawing comics
and it would say, ‘The fight starts on page 11 and it ends on page 16.’
That guy was getting paid the same page rate that I was to write that!
It probably took him as long to type that as it took me to say it, and
I could barely pencil one page a day at that time. Then was when I
went, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ On certain aspects of
storytelling I like to give the artist some leeway, but fights are a
specific thing – they’re exercises in cause and effect. When I was a
kid, comic fights were just meaningless ballets. You’d open up Thor and
there’d be lots of gods swinging hammers and swords at trolls and stuff
for five pages, and that was the action. There was no continuity to it.
That always bugged me as a kid and I thought that this was something I
wanted to fix. I wanted to see what happens, what’s the follow-through.
This has happened in film as well – if you look at fights in movies all
the way up to the 70s, the guy throws a punch, you cut to the
reaction… you could shoot an entire fight scene with people who
couldn’t really fight! It was all cuts and close-ups! But as soon as
the American audience got exposed to kung fu movies and samurai movies
and realized ‘Gee, they really do this stuff.’ You can make it look
good, you can make it look interesting, and you can make it make sense
in its own parameters. That’s what I’m interested in.
You shot a cameo in GI Joe.
Yes… I don’t know how much I can say about that! [laughs]
I understand. But how cool was that, to be there on the set, talking to
people playing these characters you created? You’re in a scene with
It’s very cool. It’s very gee whiz amazing. But I’ve been dealing with
that for over 30 years. Just to see any of it, to see that stuff appear
on the shelf and in comic books is mind boggling to me. You never get
over it. It’s always amazing, and I think that’s probably what makes it
fresh to everybody. Once it stops being amazing, you might as well
forget it. If you no longer say, ‘Wow,’ something’s really wrong!
Respecting how much you can or can’t say… your GI Joe comics were
more realistic than the cartoon show. Is the movie more in line with
the comic, more with the cartoon? How do you see the film being tonally?
Tonally it’s more hard edge than the cartoon was. But you have such
restrictions in animation on television. The people involved are taking
it seriously. The attitude on set wasn’t ‘Oh, it’s just a toy license.’
You got serious actors seriously thinking about the characters as
characters. They’re actually curious about where these characters come
from. That was the nature of a lot of my conversation on the set –
‘Where is this guy coming from?’ But that’s what actors want to know.
They want that background. If they don’t, they have no business doing
this stuff. That’s what it’s about, making these people come alive and
adding some substance to them. It’s a lot of fun.
A couple of years ago I talked to Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and I talked
to him about how in the 80s, when the cartoon and comic were big, the
US wasn’t involved in big military actions, and terrorism wasn’t so on
the front of our minds. But how do you make a movie about these things
today, when American soldiers are fighting on foreign soil and when
terrorism means something bigger than just an evil mastermind in a mask?
They had to put themselves in a mindset that it’s less about all the
military stuff and technology and warrior terms than it is a fantasy
about this group. It’s a fantasy about personal loyalties and
relationships on that level. The core of it is more similar to Harry
Potter; people go, ‘Harry Potter, that’s about magic,’ but no, it’s a
fantasy about being with these cool kids at this cool school away from
your parents. The core of the GI Joe fantasy is loyalty. That’s what
made it work in the comics and bled over into the animation. The
fantasy isn’t about shooting at Cobra, the fantasy is about ‘If I get
left behind, Snake Eyes will come and get me.’
It’s about having people you can rely on.
You can rely on. Scarlett will stand by Snake Eyes. That’s the fantasy that will bring
people back, and I think Lorenzo is very aware of that, and it’s
reflected in the script.