Regular readers: Sorry for posting a day late!
In our last episode, Tim sat down to interview Larry Hama, either the best person to start with or the worst…
“Best” because Hama never answered a question with “I don’t remember.” He recalled stuff from the beginning of G.I. Joe as well as the end. He talked for two hours. And he dropped several helpful names, good people to track down next. He was candid, funny, and not severe.
So why was this the worst interview to start with?
One, because I was starstruck. Could I even ask the questions without stuttering?
Two, would Hama call my bluff? I wasn’t a writer, and what research project was I researching anyway? But this was a writer. Sitting in front of me, humoring me, was a major reason why I was a comics reader, a Wednesday regular wherever my local store was – Bethesda, Providence, Cambridge. Here was this famous guy whose name was credited first in almost 200 comic books I kept in my closet at home. The writer of my “desert island” comics. I worried my questions were too fannish, that I was bothering Hama and wasting his time.
Three, some of his answers were short, not because he was cutting me off, but because that’s just the way he answers some questions. To the point. I didn’t know Hama or his conversational cadence, so in the short term I thought my inquiry was lacking if I wasn’t teasing out bigger answers. I didn’t feel like I had gotten much of the information I had gone looking for.
Two hours in, Hama suggested we break, and offered up some snacks from his pantry. As I had stupidly skipped lunch, but hadn’t wanted to impose by asking for food, my relief was palpable. Those cheese slices, crackers, and salami were a relief, and in the times I’ve visited Larry since ’01 I always smile when I see his kitchen. Years later I would realize in fact it was a great interview, and that much of the work philosophy and analytical introspection was better than nuts and bolts like “favorite character.”
We talked for a little while longer, bouncing around non-Joe topics like Nth Man, an underappreciated Marvel gem, and the K-Otics, the blues band Hama played in for years. When we were done, Hama walked me out. Heading toward the elevator I sort of mumbled that I was writing a book, which codified it for me. If I hadn’t been writing a book before, I certainly was now, even if I didn’t know what that meant. Off the cuff Hama mentioned one Susan Faludi, a writer for Esquire Magazine. I didn’t know who this was. Larry explained that she had previously interviewed him by phone for 45 minutes, and that she had interviewed “everyone” regarding G.I. Joe. Everyone. It ricocheted around in my head like a lightning bolt. My heart sank. Already my project had competition! Someone had tracked down all the people I didn’t even yet know I needed to track down! I would later learn that Faludi had won a Pulitzer Prize, and that any article or book of hers on society, the male, and/or G.I. Joe would in no way compete with mine. But that word “everyone,” as frightening as it was because I was now behind in the race, was vital. As the elevator doors closed I promised myself that I would interview “everyone” and more, that I would find obscure contributors to G.I. Joe comic books, toys, and animation. That I would track down people until I had an unreasonably large number of interviews.
So I did.