Legendary comic book writer and artist Larry Hama (b. 1949) is recognized for his lasting contributions to American comic books and popular culture in general. He is the creative force behind titles like G.I. Joe, The ‘Nam, and Bucky O’Hare, but his creative influence extends to other titles and fields.
A third generation (sansei) Japanese American, Hama was born in Manhattan and raised in Queens, New York City. As a youth, Hama had his vision set on becoming a painter and attended Manhattan’s High School of Art and Design, where one of his instructors was former Entertaining Comics (EC) artist Bernard Krigstein. Hama’s talent was evident from an early age. He was able to sell his first work in comics to fantasy film magazine, Castle of Frankenstein, when he was only 16 years old. Upon graduation from high school, Hama worked as an illustrator for catalogs.
From 1969 to 1971, Hama served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, an experience that would inform much of his creative work relating to the military and war. After his discharge, Hama found a job as an assistant at EC with the help of his high school classmate Ralph Reese who was working as an assistant to Wally Wood. Hama also had illustrations published in Esquire, Rolling Stone and other magazines. Around this time, he also began his active involvement within the Asian American community of New York City by joining Basement Workshop, a grassroots activist organization in Chinatown.
After leaving Wood’s studio, Hama joined comic book and commercial artist Neal Adams’ Continuity Associates studio. Along with other artists like Reese, Frank Brunner, and Bernie Wrightson, Hama became part of an inking group, collectively credited as “Crusty Bunkers” and known for their distinctive, rough-hewn style. During his time at Neal Adams’ studio, Hama created Bucky O’ Hare, a comic character that later went on to have a television cartoon series, a video game and toy line. He became a “penciler” working on titles like Iron Fist, Wulf the Barbarian, Planet of Vampires, and Big Apple Comix.
Hama became an editor at DC in 1977 before joining Marvel as an editor in 1980 where he edited acclaimed titles like Conan and The ‘Nam. It was at Marvel that he began writing stories for G.I. Joe. Although originally meant as a short-term vehicle for the Hasbro toy line of military action figures, Hama created engaging storylines involving complex characters and rich details based on his knowledge of Eastern philosophies, martial arts, and military history. G.I. Joe became an unexpected blockbuster hit capturing a wide spectrum of readers, including a female readership that was drawn to his strong female protagonists, a rare feature during this period. In addition to creating an enormous catalog of toys, the title inspired, and continues to inspire, a number of comic book series, television shows, and movies.
Other works in which Hama has made significant contributions as writer or artist include The Nth Man: the Ultimate Ninja, Wolverine, Daredevil, The Punisher War Zone, Moon Knight, Before the Fantastic Four: Ben Grimm and Logan, Savage Tales, Generation X, and Batman. Most recently, Hama wrote a new G.I. Joe short series for IDW called Barack the Barbarian, a fantasy-parody based on President Barack Obama and other major political figures.
Hama is also an actor and musician. He was the guitarist for the band K-Optics, and in the 1970s, was seen in minor roles on television shows like Saturday Night Live and M*A*S*H. In 1976, he was cast in two roles in Stephen Sondheim’s original Broadway production, Pacific Overtures.
To learn more about the contents of the Larry Hama Comic Book Collection, located at the NYU Fales Library & Special Collection, view the collection’s finding aid.