SNAKE EYES Exclusive Interview With Legendary G.I. JOE Comics Writer & Editor Larry Hama
Ahead of next month's 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray launch of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, we were able to sit down with legendary G.I. Joe comics writer Larry Hama to talk about his work on the film.
Following the recent digital launch of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, we caught up with former Marvel Comics writer and editor Larry Hama, who most famously penned the acclaimed G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero title where he was able to breathe new life into fan-favorite characters Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.
With both ninjas at the center of Snake Eyes, played by Henry Golding and Andrew Koji, respectively, we asked Hama about his initial process writing for the characters, his work as a consultant on the film, some of the major liberties the film chooses to take, and a whole lot more.
Check out the full interview below!
ROHAN: Your work on the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comics, especially with the Snake Eyes character, really put the franchise on the map - when you were offered the job, what was it about Snake Eyes that really piqued your interest or at least know that you had a story to tell.
LARRY: "You know, I’m not really a writer. I started out as a penciler, an artist and so, I don’t think of a story in terms of words. I develop stories as a series of pictures in my head and I see a silent movie, a virtual silent movie, and I plan out the whole thing like that, scene by scene. So, I don’t know what’s happening on page three until I get to page two and I just make it up as I go along.
The entire G.I. Joe continuity that I worked on was a complete retcon, day-by-day, so the way I developed the characters - I based the characters on people I knew so I had a real reference point, just their attitudes and body language and how they would react to a situation and I threw these characters that I know into a situation and let them figure it out. That’s how I write, I’m basically a penciler with a word processor, I try to see this whole thing in my head and I put in the word processor and describe everything, that’s how I write. "
ROHAN: How much involvement did you have with the film's script and the many deviations it takes?
LARRY: "Well, I was hired as a consultant and at first I thought, “Oh, Snake Eyes is going to be talking?,” and then I realized, in the comic continuity, he’s not silent because he took a vow of silence, he was actually injured in a firefight and he physically can’t speak, so the events in the movie continuity take place before that seminal event and in fact, it’s before Snake Eyes joins the G.I. Joe team, so the fact that he’s speaking is perfectly fine as far as I’m concerned. You’re able to reveal so much more about the character than having to have people guess it."
ROHAN: The movie opts to show us his face, for the first time played by an Asian lead, which is a major change from the comics, what were your thoughts on that reveal?
LARRY: "It’s complicated because the diversity in G.I. Joe was always deliberate and I remember when they first came out with the Storm Shadow figure and I had to write him, create stories that I thought, “Wait a second, this is the only Asian character in the entire G.I. Joe universe and he’s a bad guy?”
So, that didn’t sit well with me, so I decided to change it to a good guy the next year and neglected to tell Hasbro and Marvel that I was doing that. Another thing that happened ten, twelve years ago, I was in San Diego for Comic-Con and I was doing a panel about G.I. Joe and an Asian guy in the back of the auditorium stood up and he said, “Answer me this, why is the most badass ninja in your entire world some white guy?” *laughs*
The fact of the matter is that Snake Eyes didn’t start out Asian, he was a commando, and had a different story. It was only after we introduced Storm Shadow and in his first issue where Storm Shadow appears, #21, Snake Eyes does not have a story and he doesn’t do a lot of ninja-type stuff. When I wrote it, I wrote it in three days, it was something I did really fast, I literally create these stories page by page in my head, so I didn’t know anything about how these characters related.
I got to the middle of the story, paused it, and they had torn up sleeves, and I thought, “What can I do with these torn up sleeves? Wouldn’t it be cool if I gave them the same tattoo,” which was a hexagram, which was Hexagram 63, meaning after completion, it’s alternating broken and solid lines with a broken line at the top. At the time I did that, I had no idea why they both had the same tattoo. *laughs*
It was sort of a mystery I had to figure out, so a few issues later, Issue #26, I had to come up with the entire backstory, so I established the ninja clan and the relationship between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes in Vietnam and how Snake Eyes was brought into the ninja clan.
So, if I had had my druthers, he would’ve been Asian to begin with. "
ROHAN: There was a lot of buzz leading up to the release that the film would reveal Snake Eyes' name, but it doesn't, with everyone only calling him Snake Eyes. Do you know Snake Eyes' name? Is that a secret you'd rather not share?
LARRY: "I never came up with a name for him. I figured that would pigeonhole him too much. "
ROHAN: While your comics run remained relatively realistic for the most part, the movie takes things to a very supernatural place with the big snake reveal. Do you think those elements suit the story as well?
LARRY: "Well, I don’t think it’s any more supernatural than cloning a dead Serpentor *laughs* or having a brainwave scanner or troops with laser weapons. It’s a fantasy, I wouldn’t have done it that way, but I guess from the filmmaker’s viewpoint, it’s an added value to get some CGI in there."
ROHAN: From your role as a consultant, did you only discuss this first movie or were you involved in mapping out future films or maybe a Snake Eyes trilogy?
LARRY: "The idea was to set up all these things that could be utilized in subsequent sequels or continuations. That’s why Scarlett and Baroness are brought in, they don’t play a super active part in the ongoing scenario within the movie, they are really there to tease the bigger universe and for what comes next. In a movie like this, you want to establish all these things ahead of time, so next time, you’re ready to roll. "
ROHAN: With Snake Eyes, Shang-Chi, Mortal Kombat, and last year's Mulan, we've seen so many kickass movies with Asian leads - I'm still waiting on more Indian-American representation - but what do you think the future holds for Asian-American actors and people in Hollywood as it seems films with leads that look more like us are becoming more normalized.
LARRY: "These things actually come in cycles. *laughs* A lot of people don’t even know one of the biggest screen stars in the silent film era was a Japanese actor who was bigger than Rudolph Valentino at the time and he was second fiddle, he was the lead, he was a romantic lead and he was followed by Anna May Wong and she did lead roles too, but unfortunately, then came a lot of rising anti-Asian sentiment, and things went the other way.
The problem with all this inclusion at this point is that it coincides with this pandemic and the stupidity and paranoia of these people blaming Asians. I’ve been yelled at in supermarkets, so it’s hard to judge where that’s going to go because these other actors - you can’t predict it, who can predict what happens, it’s tough to say."
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is now available on Digital HD and arrives on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray on October 19!