June 7 marks the birthday of Larry Hama, unquestionably one of the comics industry's greatest creators. In a career that kicked off in 1969 working alongside the legendary Wally Wood and continues to this day, he's worked in virtually every aspect of comics as an editor, writer, artist --- and outside of comics, he's every bit as interesting as the stories he created.

After selling his first work in comics at the age of 16, Hama served in the Vietnam war as an explosive ordnance expert and, despite never actively pursuing a career in acting, appeared on M*A*S*H, Saturday Night Live and in a Broadway musical, making his living for a year as an actor before returning to comics.

 

Larry Hama circa 1985, courtesy of Sean Howe

 

Hama's career included runs on Batman and Wolverineand co-creating Bucky O'Hare with artist Michael Golden and Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja with Ron Wagner --- the book Hama cites as his own favorite of his work --- but he is, of course, best known for his work on GI Joe: A Real American Hero.

In addition to writing the file cards that gave each one of Hasbro's action figures its unique character, Hama launched the comic alongside artist Herb Trimpe, and wrote all but a handful of the book's original 155-issue run, as well as the majority of its spin-off title, Special Missions. In interviews, Hama has talked about how he was only ahead by "two or three pages at most" when plotting the book, but in his time on the title, he was able to set up long-running stories with fantastic and incredibly rewarding payoffs.

One of the best examples of that comes from GI Joe #21's "Silent Interlude," a wordless story written and pencilled by Hama with finishes by Steve Leialoha that stands as one of the high points of the run, and one of the best single issues of the decade. It was a major turning point for the series, introducing the Arashikage Ninjas and the connection between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes that would be a major plot point in the series for decades to come, but in an interview in 2009, Hama revealed that it all came together on the fly: "When I started drawing/writing 'Silent Interlude,' I had no idea that both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were going to have matching hexagram tattoos."

Outside of his work on the page, Hama was known most famously as a man who was armed with an uzi at all times, something that writer Christopher Priest took advantage of to play a prank on him while they were both working as editors for Marvel:

 

One of my favorite Hama stories was when Ed Davis, a top illustrator and top mercenary, blew into town. We went to lunch, but Hama stopped by the bank on the way. Denys Cowan, Ed and myself took up positions in the bank, near the available exits, and just stood around looking, well, Negro. Larry had no idea what we were doing.
The bank guard got a little antsy, and went behind the counter, presumably to make a phone call, as Larry finally approached a teller, and presented his pistol permit for identification. This is something Larry always did, to amuse himself more than anything else. Larry usually carried two briefcases. Depending on which one it was, he either had a .45 or an Uzi inside (he was licensed for both).
When the teller began nervously twitching, Hama turned to tell us he'd be a few minutes longer, and saw we had taken up positions around the bank, and also saw that the bank had, suddenly, become polarized by the three black men and the Japanese man with the very long hair, pistol permit, and briefcase.
Larry smiled and said, "Stop that." Ed exploded into laughter — scary laughter (Ed was a scary guy), and we three headed outside so Larry could finish up without somebody calling the cops.

 

Happy Birthday, Larry Hama! Here's to many more!