Making It Up As I Go Along

“I’ve been faking it all my life.”

For as long as we can remember, we’ve read comic books.  They helped shape our imaginations and develop our abstract thinking skills.  What’s great about comics is that you have to fill in the blanks — the stuff between the panels is yours to run wild with.  Comic book artist Neal Adams called this the space where the magic happens.  We’ll buy that.  So imagine our surprise when the Asian / Pacific / American Institute at NYU asked us to make a documentary about the one and only Larry Hama.

Larry has been in comics for more than forty years and is responsible for, among others, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Wolverine, The ‘Nam and Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja.  But it doesn’t just stop there, either.  Larry has been a writer, penciler, editor, actor, musician, activist and much more.  He’s a regular Renaissance Man.  And we were given the unique opportunity of finding out what really makes him tick, what motivates him and what he gets out of all of it.

Our Process

“Tea and cookies.”

Larry was the Artist-In-Residence at the A/P/A Institute when we were brought in and he had several events scheduled already, including a teaching workshop.  Add to that several interviews of our own and you’re talking about a lot of footage to sift through.  We had to figure out what angle to reveal Larry from; how to present him to the world, to the A/P/A Institute, and to himself.

We followed Larry all over town: New York Comic Con, a panel discussion about Asians in comics, a reunion for the Basement Workshop, a project dinner, and even spent some time interviewing him in his home.

A Zen parable.

It didn’t take long before it became clear that Larry “makes it up as he goes along.” But that was the thing we were looking for, too. Our own process took on the same characteristics.

Larry says that when he’s writing page 21 of a comic, he has no idea what will happen on page 22. Well, as we were cutting the more than 17 hours of footage together, we didn’t know what direction the story would take, either.

Basically, if the characters are good and strong, the story will write itself.  See where we’re going with this?

White Light

Once we knew that we, too, were making it up, the film began to take on a life of its own. Between the editorial and the animation, specific concepts took hold and guided the completion of the film. For instance, as Larry reminisces about studying Kyudo as a child, we animate through images from his comic, The Nth Man.  We see images of a character who was based on the Kyudo sensei.

Larry’s life is so full and interesting and once he starts talking, he tells the most amazing stories.  It made it very hard to try and keep the documentary to the length we had agreed upon.

The point, as it revealed itself to us, was that Larry’s creative process is important not just to his work but to life in general. His philosophies and insights are guiding factors not just for those interested in comics but for everyone. We framed the story in stories that Larry tells us because they represent the essence of Larry: storyteller and entertainer.

HamaAnimation2

Comics read for 'research'

Shoot Dates

Hours of Footage

Years to complete

The Film