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  • Writer's pictureBrad Gullickson

"A Major Relief." Larry Hama and Chris Mooneyham Back on 'GI Joe'

We chat with the creative team about relaunching the forty-year-old series under the Skybound banner.

Larry Hama Chris Mooneyham GI Joe

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Larry Hama and Chris Mooneyham about resurrecting GI Joe: A Real American Hero.

 

I can't imagine life without comics. The notion is absurd. However, there is a miserable fringe universe where I never walked into a comic book shop and saw GI Joe: A Real American Hero #103 on the rack. That Brad is a bore. And Comic Book Couples Counseling means nothing over there. No thanks.


Like many, Larry Hama's GI Joe brought me into comics and radically reworked my imagination. I was obsessed with the series for years, but as the nineties swayed, so did my passion for the book. That was not the case for Hama. Marvel Comics may have canceled the line, but when Devil's Due acquired the license, they knew they needed Hama on their squad. When IDW procured Joe next, they brought Hama with them too, and this time, they allowed him to continue his original Marvel continuity.


Now, GI Joe: A Real American Hero lives under Skybound's roof. Some may have thought issue 300 was the end, but Larry Hama knew he'd be back with #301 even as he created the IDW climax. He's steered the Joes in their battle against Cobra for forty-one years, expanding the various character relationships while delivering riveting action. He's currently partnered with artist Chris Mooneyham, and together, they're having a blast subverting and exceeding expectations.


I spoke with Hama and Mooneyham about GI Joe's return and how Skybound honors A Real American Hero while rapidly bolstering the brand with their Energon Universe books. Are they concerned with there being too much of a good thing? We get into it. And, yes, I couldn't help embarrassing myself with my fannish questions, but Hama and Mooneyham graciously accepted my geeky assault.

 

Larry Hama and Chris Mooneyham on Their GI Joe Responsibility


Brad: I'm sure this is a story you hear frequently, but GI Joe: A Real American Hero #103 was the first comic I ever read. Sure, I grew up on the cartoons, but in 1990, my Navy dad retired and moved our family across the country to Virginia. I had no friends. I hated the state because it was too green and not at all like my previous California home. I don't think you'd call me a brat, but if you did, I wouldn't fight ya either. Mostly, I was depressed until my dad took me to my first comic book store, and I saw Storm Shadow leaping at me from the stands at Joe Gumbinger's Used Books and Comics. That book changed my life. So, thank you.


Larry Hama: ...

Brad: But that's not a question. Here's my question - do you have any memories associated with GI Joe #103? I'm sure it was just the next issue in your ongoing narrative, but as someone who had their life reworked by it, I'm hoping there was something about that comic that still stands out today.

Larry Hama: All my back-issues are in storage, and although I have a complete set in digital, none of my current computers have the ability to read disks - so asking me about a specific issue by number is equivalent to me asking you what you had for breakfast on April 5 2007. I’ve written well over 450 GI Joe stories, and probably over 600 other stories. I can’t even remember the plots from a year ago. I am not a plot person, but a character person. I write page by page, and have never written an outline in my life. I can tell you about characters, but continuity and plot points are ephemeral to me.


Brad: Fair enough. Chris, I know you didn't grow up with GI Joe, but you write in the issue's afterward that you - like me - are the child of military parents. Can you elaborate on the responsibility you felt to get the military setting and vibe correct?


Chris Mooneyham: I’d say that it’s not *quite* about injecting a “military vibe”, so much as it is getting a feel for the characters, all of whom serve/have served in the armed forces. I’ve spent my fair share of time around veterans, and while they all have that service in common, they still very much have their own personalities. They’re still people, and people are complex. So, for me, it’s about trying to capture that more than anything else. However, because I’m not as familiar with the franchise, I lean pretty heavily on Larry (and our continuity coordinator, Diana Davis) to inform me on how a character would act in any given situation.

Larry Hama Chris Mooneyham GI Joe Team
Image Credit © 2023 Skybound Entertainment

Larry Hama and Chris Mooneyham on Keepin' GI Joe Moving


Brad: How does that responsibility differ from the responsibility you have toward the GI Joe characters, vehicles, its brand, and fandom?


Chris Mooneyham: I’m not sure haha. At the end of the day, this is a toy franchise, and things need to mostly stay on model. I get some leeway, but ultimately, it has to be recognizable as the product they’re trying to sell. My job is to make these toys look as real as possible in this fictional world, which means that I have to sprinkle in some real world sensibilities. What really helps is that there’s an element of science-fiction to the book, and I think that helps glue all of it together. As far as the fandom goes, I’m bringing my own energy to the book, and so far, based on the response to #301, it seems like the fans like it.

Brad: Larry, when you finished issue #300, did you know you would be back with #301?

Larry Hama: Yes.

Brad: What was your initial response to Robert Kirkman when he called for your return?

Larry Hama: I was very glad. It’s always like coming home to me. I feel at home with the characters.

Brad: How does returning to GI Joe with Skybound differ from returning to GI Joe with IDW? Obviously, the story has progressed quite a bit, but emotionally, is there a new sensation for you?

Larry Hama: I’ve been writing the same story since 1982, so from my POV not much has changed.

Brad: Skybound has so much going on with GI Joe and Transformers, their Energon Universe stories are garnering a lot of attention. Were you ever concerned that A Real American Hero would be overshadowed?

Larry Hama: Both Devils Due and IDW had other GI Joe titles that they considered the main books. I think the going assumption was that I was played out, and they could do it better. DD didn’t even let me continue my original continuity. At IDW I was allowed to restart the original Marvel continuity with issue 155 ½ and then plow ahead, but it was considered a side dish - a curiosity, and they put their big push on their own revamping of the title. In the end they all fell by the wayside, and ARAH held it’s own. Mr. Kirkman calling me, was very reassuring and supportive - something I never got from DD or IDW. I am extremely grateful to him for that.


Chris Mooneyham: As far as I’m concerned, this is THE GI Joe book. The Energon Universe can do its own thing, just as we’ll be doing ours. One thing I can tell you is that we’re all trying to make the best books we possibly can.

Larry Hama Chris Mooneyham GI Joe Cobra Commander Strikes
Image Credit © 2023 Skybound Entertainment

Larry Hama and Chris Mooneyham on GI Joe Partnerships


Brad: Chris, bringing a character like Snake Eyes to the page must be exhilarating, but I don't want to assume he's your favorite to illustrate. Or is he? Or is there another character that's an absolute blast to draw?


Chris Mooneyham: Oh, he most definitely is. I’ve said before that I’m sure that’s a “basic” answer; it’s like saying Wolverine is your favorite, or Batman is the best, but in my limited knowledge of this franchise, he’s the standout for a reason.


Brad: What about a least favorite? Or most difficult?


Chris Mooneyham: Most difficult? I’m not sure. I got the opportunity to redesign some robot characters, which was cool, but also drawing them over and over can be a bit of a pain haha. For the most part, though, I’m at a point now where the designs are easy enough to memorize after drawing them a few times (as most good designs should be).


Brad: Are there characters you're already anticipating to appear in Larry's scripts?


Chris Mooneyham: I’m looking forward to drawing some Destro/Baroness stuff. If only to change things up a bit.


Brad: How much back and forth is there between you and Hasrbo these days? Certainly, you're used to working within this license. Has it changed significantly over the years?

Larry Hama: I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with Hasbro, and they pretty much trust my judgement these days. They understand that I have the best interests of the franchise in mind, and they give me a lot of leeway.


Brad: How does the research process work for you, Chris? I heard that Larry sends reference material along with each script.


Chris Mooneyham: Yeah, Larry sends his own reference, but the real hero is Diana Davis. She pours through the scripts, and then through the 40-plus years history of the comics to get me what I need. Honestly, I’d say that’s the hardest part of the job, especially on #301. I was given access to the entirety of the runs from Marvel and IDW, but it was like looking into the Ark of the Covenant. There was SO much information, that I’m honestly surprised I was able to get to the finish line with that issue.

Larry Hama Chris Mooneyham GI Joe Zombies
Image Credit © 2023 Skybound Entertainment

Larry Hama and Chris Mooneyham on Honoring GI Joe


Brad: What tricks have you already learned to balance so many characters on a page? I seriously marveled at how much information you were able to communicate in issue 301.


Chris Mooneyham: Mostly, it’s about figuring out what’s essential to tell the story, and what’s not. 301 has a lot of group shots, and that can be (and was) difficult to choreograph. But as you go, it gets easier to remember the staging/where everyone is supposed to be. Thankfully, Larry lets me know in the script exactly who is in the scene. Since then, though, he’s broken them down into smaller, more manageable teams. I’m sure they’ll all be gearing up together again in the near future, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Brad: Larry, Skybound also gave you the chance to correct General Hawk's speech in GI Joe: ARAH #1 - with its most recent reprint. How does it feel to have that moment corrected so many years later?

Larry Hama: A major relief. That editorial change in #1 altered the entire tone of the book as far as I was concerned. All the reaction I got from vets was that they liked my original dialog (that was excised) and most of the folks who preferred the changed version were those who had never served. So, I felt vindicated.

Brad: Hawk's restored dialogue seemingly reaffirms your military experience of fighting for the guy next to you instead of Marvel's more cringy wording. From my perspective, looking at your work on Joe and even as editor of The 'Nam, you've always gone out of your way to portray the military experience from the soldier's POV respectfully.


I was particularly struck by this when recently re-reading GI Joe #155 where Snake Eyes recalls the soldiers that don't make the covers of the comics, who don't get the toys - the soldiers who gave their lives for their country for a wide variety of reasons but never got the acknowledgment from the public they serve. How do you view your responsibility as the go-to GI Joe writer? Have you ever lost sight of that responsibility? Is it something you have to re-engage with continually?

Larry Hama: All the time. One of the secondary reasons I took on the title back then was that I didn’t like the idea of some arm-chair soldier wannabe writing a military book that was going to be read by kids. I’ve been told by hundreds of vets that my comics were an important factor in their opting to serve. When I told them, that was not my intent, they all say “I knew that,” and remind me that I never promised them a parade.

 

GI Joe: A Real American Hero #301 is now available wherever rad comics are sold.

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