The breaking of the 75th seal of the Roboplastic Apocalypse is the thunderous croaking out in terror of millions of space toads! Yes at UltraCon December 2014 I unbelievably got to talk to the highest ranking man in S.P.A.C.E., Larry Hama! And even more unbelievably I survived without getting a katana in my face. Yes it's 25 minutes of talking to an incredible artist, writer, and actor about what it's like faking your way through life without being able to draw or write or act. And of course the stuff everyone really wants to know like what is the nature of happiness and what is the most obscure Bucky O'Hare merchandise either of us can name. Unfortunately we didn't get to my questions about Peter Porker or the Transformers Generation 2, but that's because I didn't want to wear out his patience (and I really like being able to breathe without the aforementioned facially applied katanas). What would A.F.C. Blinky's next promotion rank be? Who is pilot Jenny named after? And how awesome does it feel waking up every day knowing you're Larry Hama? Find out all that (except the first one) and more in this I'VE BEEN FAKING BEING A PODCASTER FOR 75 EPISODES edition of the Podcastalypse!
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I can now check 'watching a balloon robot dinosaur singing the Power Ranger theme song to a guy who used to be a Power Ranger' off my convention bucket list.
HAPPINESS IS A TICKET ON A TRAIN TO FAKESVILLE (AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS SENTIENT AND PROTOPLASMIC)
If I took time to think about all the reasons I was totally unqualified to have asked Larry Hama for an interview I would obviously not be writing this right now. He's a legend who has worked with all manner of creative industry professionals and I have a podcast with twelve listeners. I don't think I have ever been more scared, intimidated, and in awe of anyone in my life as I was when I got to meet him at UltraCon. He's played an enormous role in creating many of the pop culture cornerstones of my childhood. From comics like G.I Joe and The 'Nam to Bucky O'Hare and even Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham, Larry Hama is one of the big reasons I grew up loving comics in the 80s. So what does a guy with an obscure blog and a crappy microphone talk to this legend of sequential storytelling about? Well I just tried to keep it short and simple and learn a little about Bucky O'Hare, but I came away learning a lot about art and life and why jumping into something without knowing what you're doing is probably the best way to do it anyway.
If Mr. Hama ever does come across this post I want to thank him for tolerating my bumbling as I faked my way through being an interviewer. Of course I also want to thank Mr. Irving 'G.I. Joe' Santiago for making it all possible and letting me talk to his hero for a half hour. The following is a transcript of the conversation I typed up because the audio from my recorder wasn't very good and plus I just think it's neat to have the words. I hope you think it's neat reading them!
Transcript codes: LH = Larry Hama / EKM = Evil King Macrocranios
EKM: The one thing I just wanted to ask you, the one thing I just really wanted to know...is I understand you had the idea for Bucky O'Hare very early on. You had it around Star Wars time is what we're talking [about].
EKM: But you decided to not let DC have it. You decided to keep it to yourself. And then eventually when Continuity [Comics] came around, that's when because of the whole creator rights situation, you wanted to ensure it was yours, and so you waited.
EKM: Is that more or less, is that right?
LH: No. [laughs] I was working for DC and they were offering creator owned contracts. So they asked people to create stuff for DC that we'd retain ownership of. So I said, 'Where's the paperwork?' They said, 'Don't be nosy. The lawyers are working on it. So come up with something.' So I came up with the whole Bucky O'Hare concept. And they kept saying the paperwork wasn't ready so I should just hand it in. My lawyer who was also Siegel & Shuster's lawyer-his name was Ed Price, he was Byron Price's dad, terrific guy-he said, 'A spoken contract is worth the paper it's printed on. So don't hand them anything. Retain complete ownership.' And they never came up with [anything]. A year went by and they never came up with the paperwork.
LH: And I think Al Milgrom created Firestorm supposedly under the same deal, handed it in, and if you look at Firestorm today there's no credit to Al Milgrom. But he created it under the same auspices. So there's the object lesson.
EKM: Oh, okay. I thought it was something that you had had beforehand and then you had maybe pitched it to them and they said, 'Okay, we'll come up with the contract,' but it turns out they had the program in place and you came up with the idea with the intention of submitting it to their creative...
EKM: Okay, okay.
LH: So Neal Adams really liked it and it was originally going to be that I was going to write it and draw it-pencil it-and Neal was going to ink it.
LH: So I sat down and designed the characters and the spaceships and all that stuff and then Michael Golden walked in the door and me and Neal looked at his stuff and said, 'Well he can do it better than both of us!'
EKM: So it wasn't much of a...it was a no-brainer to let him do it?
EKM: Do you ever wonder what would have happened had DC gone ahead with it in the late 70s? I mean, it seems to me like so many of...well when I remember the toys coming out in the toy stores, there were so many anthropomorphic animal figure lines, like the turtles, that Bucky O'Hare almost got drowned [out]
LH: This was before the turtles and before Rocket Raccoon. I created this stuff in nineteen seventy....When did I do that? The seventies, mid-seventies? It was in the late seventies I did it. I was an editor at DC in the late seventies. And none of this other stuff was around at that time.
LH: But it took something like eight years for the first comic to come out.
EKM: Dang. I think so much about what could've been or how it might have gone down had it been released earlier, and you would have beaten a lot of people to the punch in terms of the animal action figure genre.
EKM: It seems kind of a shame but then on the other hand, the time that it did launch, you got a lot out of that. It had the cartoon, it had a really great four player arcade video game. I mean a lot of that stuff wouldn't have happened had it come out in the seventies.
LH: The video [game]...I've got the video..what's it called? The NES version of the video game. It was good. I've tried playing the arcade. There was a club called the Knitting Factory, it was a jazz club. They actually had the arcade game.
EKM: That was awesome. You know what my favorite Bucky O'Hare thing ever kind of is? It's a set of Christmas cards. They were the Bucky O'Hare Christmas cards for schoolkids I imagine. And it's just the cutest thing-Christmas stuff from Bucky O'Hare. I still have a couple of those.
LH: I've never seen those.
EKM: Aww, I wish I would have brought 'em. They're the most awesome cool little things. It's kind of like Valentine's Day except it's Bucky O'Hare Christmas.
LH: Well I've got a whole...we sold over a hundred licences...
LH: ...and I've got, like a box. I think there were party plates and napkins. There were sneakers-kid's sneakers. So when Neal's daughter had a kid, a baby girl a few years ago, then I gave the kid sneakers. And there was a big wheel trike.
EKM: No way!
LH: Yeah! Had two of those. Halloween costumes, a lunch box. I've got two lunch boxes and I think they're kind of rare.
EKM: Yes! Most definitely. It's tough to track down Bucky O'Hare stuff.
LH: Yeah the lunch box is kinda cool. I still use the thermos.
EKM: Did you have a George Lucas situation where you were final approval on all the Bucky O'Hare stuff in terms of licensing?
LH: No, I didn't, really. Neal took care of a lot of that.
EKM: It's very difficult now to be a Bucky O'Hare completist.
LH: Yeah, there's a big wheel out there, a Halloween costume...I can't remember what else. The lunch box is worth trying to track down, though. It's pretty good.
EKM: It's a plastic lunch box with maybe a sticker on it?
LH: Yeah, it's a plastic lunch box with the big sticker. And there's the thermos inside. The thermos has got the stuff printed right on the thermos.
EKM: Okay, I have one nerdy question that I don't know if you'd be able to answer.
EKM: Okay, A.F.C. Blinky-that's Android First Class.
EKM: And so, I'm thinking, in the cartoon they extended it so that they introduced another character that was an android second class. But I know you're military, you're very military minded. So if A.F.C. is Blinky's rank, then...would he..would his next rank be, like a Senior Airman in the Air Force, or would it go along more like Army lines, and he'd be like a-what [rank] would that be? I don't know Army. I just know Air Force.
EKM: Did you imagine it being a rank structure for the androids in S.P.A.C.E.?
LH: I don't know. I never really thought it out.
EKM: Okay I think about it too much, but I could never figure out...it always seemed to me that him being a robot, he was an Air Force guy instead of an Army guy and I could never figure out-I wonder if he intended him to be an Army robot or an Air Force robot?
LH: Well I don't think they had those distinctions in S.P.A.C.E. I mean, it's like...Sentient Protoplasm [Against Colonial Encroachment].
EKM: Yeah, S.P.A.C.E. would be its own thing. Alright. Are you sure 100% that the Righteous Indignation was not made into a toy and released?
LH: I don't think it was released. It wasn't made. They may have made the molds. I've seen the mock-ups.
EKM: It's just one of those urban legends.
LH: I would've had a copy. I'd have one.
EKM: Alright. I just gotta make sure absolutely 100 percent.
LH: At one point I was gonna get together with Golden and build one just for our own grins, but never got around to it.
EKM: I saw on your Facebook you had like a double page spread. It was this splash except extended, with the ship getting attacked by the toads.
EKM: That was really pretty. That was really pretty. So you hung on to the Bucky O'Hare pencils?
LH: I had the actual pages.
EKM: Yes, do you still have them?
LH: Yes, they're inks, they're not pencils. They're the actual pages that were printed.
EKM: Oh really?
LH: Yes, in black and white, not colored.
EKM: So Mr. Golden then, inked over the pencils?
LH: Yes, he inked his own pencils.
LH: Yes, he was gonna throw them all out and I saved them.
EKM: Oh no way! No way!
What was-okay I swear this is the last question. We only got to issue five originally [...in the US. Did you have anything to do with the UK continuation of the Bucky O'Hare strip?]
LH: Oh. No. I've never seen it. I've never read any iterations of stuff that I didn't do. I've never read any of the G.I. Joe material that I didn't do. Haven't read Wolverine since the last issue I wrote. I've never seen any of the G.I. Joe animation. I've seen maybe one Bucky O'Hare animation. That's about it. [I'm] just not interested, you know?
EKM: Yes. I heard you didn't really like the way they went with the cartoon theme song.
LH: I didn't like the theme song, I didn't like the changes they made.
EKM: Is that hard to see?
EKM: I mean was that hard to-was it just hard for you to let it go like that and see what other people did with it? Or is that just your rule that you don't look at what everybody else does on work you've started?
LH: Well, it just doesn't seem...All these characters are based on people I know, you know? So basically it's not like...
EKM: Oh really?
LH: It's like if somebody wrote a story about your brother or your uncle and they didn't know them, you know? You'd think it was pretty messed up!
LH: And you'd go, 'Man they got all that stuff wrong!' You know? I mean, the reason my characterizations stay very consistent is that I've got real templates to look at.
EKM: Is that why...I've always wondered this, too. Jenny has a normal name. Jenny is just Jenny in Bucky O'Hare. But then you have the surrounding characters who have all these fantastic names. Even Willy DuWitt to an extent is a very creative, interesting...
LH: No, no, no. She's PILOT Jenny.
EKM: Is that named after anyone?
LH: Um, you know who BrechtWeille are?
EKM: No sir, I don't think I know...
LH: Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weille. They wrote The Threepenny Opera.
EKM: No I'm totally unfamiliar. I'm out of my league here.
LH: Go on YouTube and look up 'The Ballad of Pirate Jenny'.
LH: Sung by Lotte Lenya. So it's a pun on...there was a character called Pirate Jenny in The Threepenny Opera. There was a...it's a terrific song. Lotte Lenya did the original, Nina Simone and Judy Collins both did amazing covers. It's really worth listening to.
EKM: I'll definitely have to put that in the links to the podcast.
LH: In German it's Seeräuberjenny-'Sea Raider Jenny' [is] the name of the song-the original.
EKM: Okay, so when does this come into your life? When did you have time to become a fan of plays?
LH: What are you talking about? [laughs] Just being a human being, you know? I mean you should be exposed to all sorts of culture. I don't watch network TV. I don't read comics, you know? I never really did read comics, I looked at the pictures. If I can't tell what's going on in a comic by looking at the pictures, I'm not interested.
LH: So I read. Lots of books. I reread lots of history. If there are movies I like, I watch them four or five times. I watch movies for two reasons-to get absorbed in the alternate universe or to study the methodology of the storytelling through the visual medium. I didn't even know who BrechtWeille was until I was in a musical myself. By expanding what you do and learning different things, I learned. Everything that I learned doing theater and acting and playing in rock and roll bands is all stuff that I could apply to doing comics, and vice versa.
So you know, for a lot of people the opportunities come by. It's like a train coming into a station. If you don't get on the train, you ain't going nowhere. Lots of times getting on the train involves leaving behind your stuff. But if you never do that, then one day you wake up and you're old. And you ain't done nothing.
LH: ...and you will feel like a steaming turd on the road because you didn't get on that train when it came in the station. Getting on the train can be really scary but there's no other way to do it. You ain't in the lottery until you buy your ticket. It all comes down to that. Most people don't.
I got cast in a Broadway musical while I was working in Neal Adams' studio and everybody said, 'Well, why you wanna give up your [job]. You've got a gig here! And now you're gonna go on the road and do this show?' [pauses] Why not? And I got cast in a Broadway musical and I didn't know how to sing and I didn't know how to dance.
And I never really acted before. And had no idea how to do any of this stuff. The first day of rehearsal it really dawned on me that I don't know how to do any of this stuff. I should have had the worst panic attack in the world, especially when the choreographer was Patricia Birch who choreographed Grease! She'd been in the original production of West Side Story! I mean, she was a big time choreographer. This was a Stephen Sondheim/Harold Prince musical on Broadway.
The choreographer pointed to me, and then these two professional acrobatic dancers, and she said, "Okay you three guys are the same height."
LH: "I'm putting you together as like the central group here and when the curtain goes up on act one you'll be the only ones on stage. And you're going to have to carry it for the first twenty bars of music." And I'm standing there like, WHAT THE--? And I turn to the guys and I said, "I'm not a dancer! I don't know how to do this stuff!" And this guy looked at me and he said, "Don't worry about it, just do what we do!"
LH: And that's how I got through it. What's worse is when they started putting it together-the singing part and there are all these professional Broadway singers- thirty-five of them -and me, who can't hold a tune in a bucket. And I just sort of like, try to fake it. The conductor who's Paul Gemignani who's conducted untold numbers of hits on Broadway, who's conducted Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd...he's got this ear that's phenomenal and he says, "You're not giving me the notes. You're not singing loud enough." And I said...I leveled with him, I said, "Look, I've got a vocal range of like maybe three notes in the lower register." He pulls out the sheet music and he says, "Look, I got thirty-five guys here and most of them are tenors. I got three who can really hit the lower register." And he takes out my copy of the sheet music and he takes out this red pencil and he goes, "See all these notes on the upper bars?" He crosses them out and says, "Forget about those! When we get to those notes, just like, flap your lips!"
LH: Gemignani was a cool guy. He was like a regular guy. It was just the way he talks. And he says, "But when we get down to these here, when we get to these three notes, you just hit them as loud as you can, and I'll get my chord and I'll be happy. I don't care about the rest of it." And I said, 'Okay, you've got a deal.' And that's how I got through the job.
LH: But your first instinct in a lot of these things would be [to] cut and run. But every time I've toughed it out and tried...I've gone through my entire career here in comics not knowing how to write and not knowing how to draw.
EKM: And faking it all your life.
LH: I've been faking it all my life. People think I'm being facetious, but I'm being absolutely honest.
EKM: I don't know. I don't know about that. I don't think just anyone who didn't know how to draw could do a lot of what you've done.
LH: I really don't know how to draw. What I do know how to do...I could sort of do basic figures...but my talent is in being able to tell a story. So I go with what I can do the best and try to parlay that into something else.
EKM: Did Mr. Wood ever notice that you couldn't draw? I mean, you don't just work for people that are so enormously talented themselves without them considering you a peer. I mean, come on, really, you can draw, you can do these things.
LH: I can draw to an extent. I just don't think that much of my drawing.
EKM: Okay, that's fair.
LH: It may be that's what allows me to get better. I've noticed that people who are really satisfied with what they do never get any better. They...they reach an acceptable level of suckiness. An acceptable level of suckiness is like..what is that? [laughs] Gimme a break!
EKM: Well, maybe some other people would consider that a level of competence that is enough to get through. I've never heard of being comfortable with yourself being considered an acceptable level of suckiness. [laughs]
LH: Well look, it either sucks or it doesn't! [laughs] So if it isn't any good, it sucks!
EKM: Are you happy, though, with yourself? You've gotta be happy with what you've accomplished, though. You have to wake up and look back and say...
LH: No. Nobody who continues to get better is ever satisfied with their old stuff. Once you're satisfied with your old stuff you settle into a quagmire of complacency. Like I said, everybody I've ever seen who is happy with what they do, they never get a whit better. They reach this plateau, and that's it. That's life.
EKM: That's life.
LH: So, and, you know...what's happiness anyway?
EKM: Happiness is I think waking up in the morning and saying, "I'M LARRY HAMA!" That would be enough for me!
LH: Well happiness to me is getting up in the morning and being able to do what you like to do. Whether you could really make a decent living doing it or not here is inconsequential. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. But I would rather do that than get up every morning and be guaranteed a salary for doing something that I didn't like doing and have it all be going towards, 'Oh, someday I'll retire.' We've had our wake up call in this country-that retirement for most people is pie in the sky and pipe dream. It doesn't exist. It ain't gonna exist. So what did you do that for? And lots of people could be perfectly happy being on an assembly line participating and producing a widget. If that makes you happy, that's fine. People could be happy doing all sorts of stuff. People could be happy being gardeners. They like to make things grow. They like to make things. Being me! [laughs] That's the important thing. It's not anything else.
EKM: What's the saying? Nobody dies wishing they would have spent more time working at the job they didn't enjoy doing their whole life.
EKM: Well Mr. Hama thank you. Thank you very much...
Sweet Cy-Kill kite I got for 5 bucks.