Tagged: Phil LaMarr

Phil LaMarr talks Goblins Animated!

Hey friends, have you seen this?! It’s the Indiegogo for a project called Goblins Animated, and it looks completely awesome.

It first popped up in my Instagram feed as something connected to actor/voice actor Phil LaMarr, and that was enough to get me to check it out. As it turns out, Goblins Animated is to be a new animated series based on the decade-long run of the webcomic Goblins, by creator Tarol Hunt; and is the brainchild of Tarol, Phil, and Matt King.  The animated show, like the comic before it, will be the story of a D & D realm told from the point of view of the little guys, the “monsters,” instead of the adventurers. It’s a heroic tale of a group normally considered evil and weak. “Think Smurfs meets Game of Thrones.” It’s planned to start with ten episodes, and will feature famed voice actors including  Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Jim Cummings, Tara Strong, Matthew Mercer, Jennifer Hale, and Steve Blum.

After checking out the Indiegogo, I hopped over to the comic to check out the source material. Even just a few strips in, I could tell that this is a very clever and fun comic – with the kind of layers of storytelling, character, humor, and social commentary that I love. Realizing that, I had to know more. So I sat down for a great chat with Phil himself, who shared a ton of details with me. The interview made me that much more sure that this project needs to be made!

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below, and you’ll see exactly what I mean!


Emily: Hi Phil! Today we are talking about Goblins Animated, which is a new Indiegogo* project that you are involved in. I saw it coming up and looked at it and I immediately wanted to talk to you. So this started as a comic, it’s been going for ten years, and now you are involved in a project to make it an animated show. How did that happen?

Phil: Well, let’s see. Tarol Hunt, the creator of the Goblins comic, lives up in Vancouver. He’s been doing the comic for a long time. He, years ago, became friends with Matt King. Matt is an actor, voice actor, director, and writer. He has a show called World of Steam that he created. And they share various geekeries, and got to know each other, and Matt and I know each other through acting circles. Matt had the idea of, “This comic is so good, it should be seen by more people, and in this way.” He mentioned it to Tarol, and Tarol was like, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know.” He mentioned it to me and I was like, “Yeah! That’s amazing.”

Because I’m an old D&D head, and so getting into the comic, I was like, “Oh my God, all those references, that takes me back.” And I immediately saw in the writing and all these characters, a chance to do something really cool and really different in animation. Because so much of animation is kids-oriented; which doesn’t mean that it’s bad. But a lot of it tends to be much of the same. Like anytime there’s a show that’s action-oriented with a small kid at the center, then you get five of them. Or if it’s kind of like, psychedelic, and, you know, little kids watch it and kids stoned in college watch it – four of those. And this was something that was really, really different from anything that’s on.

I mean, the characters look like cartoon characters. But the stories that Tarol’s been telling are so much deeper. But, there’s also this geek-nerd-D&D thing at the same time. So it’s funny, and heartfelt, and then sometimes, there’s just things from D&D like, “I attack with my +1 Broadsword!” In the game, you’re just talking it. But in the comic, you see it. And the idea of actually giving all of that bloody, violent, medieval action life and movement just jazzed me so much. So basically we’ve been working over the last…going on two years. And figuring out what we need to do.

The first thing we did was adapt those stories that Tarol has been telling in comics into animated scripts. Because there are certain things you can’t do, and certain things you need to change. His pacing is that he does a page a week. Every medium has its strengths and its weaknesses. You can’t just port something over. Sorry, Robert Rodriguez. Sin City…was fine. Not great. But that’s the thing. People say, “Oh my God, this comic book is so cinematic!” That doesn’t make it a movie. You have to take the essence of it, the core, the thing that makes it cool – don’t lose that – but then adapt it to the form. So we spent a lot of time doing that, working with Tarol and Matt and me, just putting together the script, figuring out how these characters work the same – what we have to hold on to – and what things we can change, to make it work, so they start moving.

E: Yeah! So you said you knew Matt and Tarol knew Matt. How did you find the comic – was it through Matt? And did he just say, “Hey, you have to read this thing?” And you just started reading it and fell in love? What happened there?

P: Yeah! Because when you go on and you see the newest page, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh!” And then you go into the archive, and…basically, I just sat down and read the whole ten years at once. Wow…I guess I was going to say I had never binged a comic before, but I guess that’s what trade paperbacks are, aren’t they?

E: Yeah, I mean that’s pretty much why I like trade paperbacks, is because you can read more story at once. I love that we are both full-on comics geeks, because I know we’ve talked about this before, and I’ve done the same thing with webcomics and trade paperbacks. You’re like, “Where’s the other ones? So actually, I saw this project because you mentioned it at some point on social media, and I thought, “That looks interesting,” and then I went back and went, “I want to support it, where’s the Indiegogo?” And now the Indiegogo has launched, which we’ll talk about. But I started reading through the first ones, in Book I.

P: You went back to the first stuff? That’s so funny.

E: Yep, all the way to the beginning, to see what it was like, and I read about a third of Book I, because unfortunately I didn’t have time to read the whole ten years before we talked, because it’s a lot! And I want to enjoy it, I don’t want to just skip through it! But then I went to Book III, and Book V, just to see how it changes. Because Tarol put up that thing in the beginning that says, “Hey, my art has changed.” And of course that happens; so I was wondering what the characters look like now, because that might be more like what we’ll see in the animation. And the comic looks so clever, even in the beginning. I could see why it appealed to you, and I could see why it would appeal to me as well, and why when I saw a little bit on social media I thought, “That sounds like something I would like to support.” So when you first started reading the comic, was there a particular aspect that drew you, or was it the whole package? Did you like the humor, or the D&D, or the characters, or what really grabbed you the most?

P: It was the fact that he was doing all of those things at once. To me, especially in animation, it’s so rare. Futurama is one of the few shows that has real humor, and real heart. And the fact that Tarol was doing jokes, really funny stuff, but even back in the beginning, he was also doing, like, “Why do these adventurers come after us?” “Because they think we’re less than them.” Like, metaphors for racial oppression. And then – silly jokes!

E: Yes! And all the weird names of the goblins, that are very clever and fun and interesting, but also kinda cute. I love that the fortune-teller (spoiler alert?) calls herself Young-and-Beautiful, and she’s old, and weird-looking, all lopsided. Because the fortune-teller names all of them, so she gets to call herself something nice!

P: Right! Exactly! And Can’t-Think-of-a-Name-Cause-He-Looks-Like-a-Regular-Guy – that’s his name.

E: Yes – and he has that look! Even in the early art, he’s got that little *ting* smile going on. I thought all that was really clever. You talked about how there are layers to it, about classism, and racism, and commentary on those things. I wondered what audience you are aiming for and how you’re going to fold in the different layers through the animation? Are you having to adapt things from the comic in that way as well to make it fly in an animated format?

P: Now that’s one of the issues. And it’s basically the biggest reason that we’re doing this as a Indiegogo. Because Tarol’s got the designs, he’s got the premise. We could have taken this and tried to sell it to studios or networks. We talked to some people – and of course one of the early notes we got was, “What if there’s one character who doesn’t ‘get’ the whole D&D thing, so we can explain it to the audience that way?” And we’re like, “Uh-uh.”

E: Oh, right. They wanted an exposition backstory guy.

P: Yeah, and the truth of the matter is, we want to tell this story this way. We don’t want to have to water it down, or take out some of the layers. It’s like, “Well, we can’t really do that social commentary stuff. Kids won’t get it.” I believe that audiences now, for animation, are much more sophisticated than most studios, producers, and major media entities give them credit for. Because more people can do more kinds of things now, you see such an amazing range. And you do see a lot more adult-oriented animation. And by that, I don’t mean, you know – topless. I mean sophisticated, and layered. Like, our last season of Samurai Jack – we couldn’t do that back in the early 2000s.

E: I’m always a proponent of not talking down to the viewer or the reader; if it’s the story you want to tell, then someone out there is going to want to hear it. So I love that you’re trying to translate this in a way that doesn’t lose that, and crowdfunding is maybe the best means for that because you don’t want the meddling.

P: We want to maintain control and be able to hold on to what makes this comic so special. Always there’s the danger, when you broaden an audience, of “Will some people get it?” But to me, that’s the wonder of having something that works on a number of levels. If somebody just wants the D&D references, they’ve got that. If somebody loves the action sequences, they’ve got that. If they never get the social commentary that’s underneath – fine.

E: Maybe they’re still enjoying it for other reasons. Or it’s not their thing – that happens too. But I always like the idea of aiming high, because then you’ll hit more layers. That sounds really exciting. So you’ve got all this source material to work with, and you’re just starting out; so is there an overarching plan? Are you taking it from the very beginning, and going from there to make it an ongoing story?

P: Well, that’s our one sop to broadening the audience. We can’t plop people down in the middle. Especially because the storytelling is layered and relatively complex. So we go to the beginning of the premise – how do these goblins become the adventuring party? That’s the first story arc. Because the thing is, all of the characters are already there fully formed. Warriors, the goblins – this whole story arc basically builds the overarching premise of – the humans are not the heroes, necessarily. The goblins are. And that’s the twist. And that’s also what I think a lot of D&D people respond to is, “Oh, yeah, that’s so funny!” Because it’s a twist on what we all grew up with, know, and play every Thursday. So that you don’t want to lose.

But it also makes it a nice entry point into the world. I think as it goes on we’ll definitely have more opportunities. Because Tarol is like, “I did that ten years ago. I wasn’t as good as I am now. Can we not do that thing I did?” And there are things where he’s like, “I shouldn’t have done that. Let’s change this.” And we’re like, “Oh, but we love that!” We sometimes go back and forth that way. But it remains to be seen how we will build the story. In terms of: will we pull some things that he got to later, earlier. The three of us will work on that. Because again, you don’t want to lose anything. But you also want to take advantage of whatever opportunities the new format offers you. Like, “Well, I did a whole section where they’re just walking through the woods for three weeks.” “Yeah, man, we’re going to skip that one.”

E: Yeah, you’ve got to condense that down somehow!

P: Yeah, not the best thing to animate.

E: Well, technically, that would be easy to animate. But not the most exciting.

P: Actually, what we’ve found is less that, than more that we’re finding ourselves digging into moments, and expanding them. Because the things that take time on a panel, you can dig into, and blow up. Like, “No no, this is a whole scene now!” You go back and forth. In this medium, we can do this with it, that you couldn’t do before – like 360 degrees!

E: So it is becoming its own entity in a different way. Now, you already have listed excellent voice talents. Some are familiar from Futurama or other animation. So far we’ve got Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Jim Cummings, Steve Blum; and I’m not as familiar with Matt Mercer in the voice sense, but he also is one of the masterminds behind Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role, which of course has some relevance here. So – is he working in other aspects besides voice because of his unique experience there; and also, how did you get this amazing cast together?

P: Uh: we called them. Because they’re all people that we’re friends with. And as a performer, going into the writing and producing part, most of it is a headache. Because all of a sudden you have to worry about all of those other parts of the pipeline that as an actor you never have to worry about. The best thing of all is that you can hire your friends.

E: Hah! That’s why I want to do animation someday. Just so I can hire all of you guys to be the characters.

P: Hey, it could happen! But the best thing is – we know so many amazingly talented people. And it’s funny, because Matt does have huge D&D cred; and before we announced anything to do with Goblins, Matt called me up to do a Critical Role offshoot. Like, we did a streaming day of the gameplay – and it was an all-goblins adventure. And he had no idea we were working on this. So we – me, Ashly Burch, Marisha Ray, Ivan Van Norman, and Taliesin Jaffe – all played a group of goblins on a quest. It was hilarious, because it’s the same thing we get to in the comic. They all picked warrior classes, and we played it, just like they were humans. But of course, they acted like goblins. It was fuuun.

E: So bringing everyone in, did they say yes sight unseen, or what have their reactions been to seeing the project, or the comic, or whatever you gave them to look at?

P: It was interesting. We gave everyone pictures of the comics so they would know what their characters were. And it really made me feel good – a couple of people did, sight unseen, say yes. It was like, “Well, I’ll send you the email,” and they were like, “Doesn’t matter. Where do you want me to be?” It’s so great. Because these are people with such enormous talents. And for them to offer their abilities; it’s like Michael Jordan saying, “Sure! I’ll come over and shoot some baskets with you. You just say when!”

E: That’s awesome. But I’m sure they also trust you not to lead them down the path of a project that’s going to fall on its face. So when they did see some of the materials, what did they say?

P: It’s funny, because none of the guys except for Matt knew about it. They were like, “Wow. What’s this? Okay!” Because, you know, Billy and Maurice aren’t D&D players. But they love characters! And everybody was so gung-ho to dig in – “Okay! Who’s my guy? What are we doing?” And we only had a little bit, because we got everybody together to record an animatic – a proof of concept test thing with some temporary animation – just so we could see the voices come out of these characters. And we’ve got that featured on our websiteGoblinsComic.org. I don’t think anyone has actually read the whole ten-episode arc that we’ve written so far. But everybody has been given full information about their individual characters, and yeah – people dig it! I mean – I’m not sure if anyone is going to jump out and join a Pathfinder game anytime soon…but everybody’s really enjoying the complexity of it. Like, “Oh! This is not Clifford the Big Red Dog. Cool!”

E: So I’m familiar with the voice casting where you go in, and you’re given the character, and you do a bunch of voices, and then they decide whether you’re the person who’s going to do it. Obviously this is a different process. Did you choose characters ahead of time and give them to specific people and say, “Come up with your voices”? Or did you give them choices and they worked on it? What happened there?

P: Again – when you’re working with Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Steve Blum, Matt Mercer, Jim Cummings – they can do anything. So “auditioning” isn’t really auditioning. And having worked with these people for decades, I know what their strengths are, I know what they like, and also what they don’t normally get a chance to do. Because you don’t always want to be doing the same thing. We’ve got Billy playing MinMax. And MinMax is this big, really dumb warrior. But you know, Billy has done Fry. So he’s not going to make him like Fry. So it was great to sit down with Billy and find a new place where this character would live for him. And that was the amazing thing. I’ve been on their side of the glass; but to be on the other side of the glass and just watch them do what they do, so effortlessly, for you, like: wow. I get why these guys work all the time, forever and ever. Because it’s a joy – you work so hard on something, you hand it to them, and they breathe life into it.

E: I love every time I get to see you all do that sort of thing. It’s one of my joys in life. Because it’s so magical to me; because I can’t do it! And you guys are so good at it! But having that different experience – and obviously, this is still somewhat nascent – but has it given you any taste for wanting to do more of this side of things, or thinking, “Oh, I really like this and I didn’t know”?

P: It’s given me an appreciation for it. I realize it’s a lot harder than I thought. The first time we recorded somebody, I was like, “Oh my God, that was perfect! You were great! See you later!” And then you’re like, “Oh wait. They usually get three takes. And then you go back over it and it’s like, “Ohh, there’s a lip smack right in the middle of the one we liked, aack! That’s why we do it over and over again.” And you realize not everybody can direct. Thankfully, as far as the writing, we’ve got Tarol’s stuff to work from, and all three of our brains working together – and we’re all relatively experienced with writing over the years. But yeah, there’s a lot of new territory, in terms of animation producing. And you look at the lists of jobs required for animation, and you’re like, “Timing spinner? What does that even mean?”

E: Like, “Who are these people?”

P: “And why do they get paid fifty-five hundred dollars? What? Huh??” But it is so intricate and so complicated and requires so many moving parts that I don’t know how a cartoon ever gets made!

E: It’s a big process! But it sounds like you’re learning a lot, and – it’s good to stretch your wings.

P: Yeah, and especially personally – I’ve been doing this for thirty-plus years, and it’s rare that you find things that are new. I rarely find myself doing things I’ve never done before these days. Although I have to say, the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this is that animation is so much more expensive than anybody would ever believe. Because you see movies like Avengers, that are $200 million dollars – and yeah, because look at that Iron Man armor. But especially nowadays, when people are shooting movies on their iPhones – the range in live action is crazy. You can make something for a thousand dollars or $300 million dollars.

Animation? It only goes so low. Because there are so many parts, pieces, and people involved. It only gets so cheap. And that’s if you’re doing stuff that looks crappy. If you want to do something that looks good? That’s another reason we’re crowdfunding. That’s one of our biggest challenges, is that it’s a big ask. It’s almost 500 thousand dollars. Because you’ve got to design all the characters, draw all the characters. And people might say, “You’ve already got all the drawings.” But comic book drawings are not the same as animation drawings. And you can’t just make the comic into a cartoon.

E: Well, and your comic book artist can not necessarily do the animation. You may need a number of animators who have experience at that. And that’s a great way to talk a little more about the crowdfunding. By this point in life, most people are familiar with crowdfunding sites. You put in your pledge for X amount of money, you get a promise of prizes back, and if the project reaches its goal, you get your prizes, and the cool project gets made. Here, you’ve mentioned what you’re asking for and what it’s going to be put towards. How did you decide on cool prizes, and what do you think people will be most interested in?

P: A lot of it was just drawn from what we’re working with. It’s goblins, and it’s D&D, and things that fans would love. Tarol’s got some great character designs, so it would be silly not to offer things with those characters on them. So we’ve got posters, t-shirts. He’s got one character, a goblin paladin, who gets a magic axe, the Axe of Prissan; which is this amazing weapon that is actually holding a demon. And one of the really up-there prize levels is an actual Axe of Prissan. Because there’s this guy, Tony Swatton, who does the most amazing armor and weaponry – he makes real swords. And he is going to, based on Tarol’s designs, make a real-world Axe of Prissan.

E: I suddenly wish I had a lot more money. That would be great to hang on your wall Although you probably couldn’t take it to a comic-con anymore…!

P: Hah! Just put one of those colored ties around it, right?

E: Right? So obviously, there are levels…

P: Yeah, and all of our prizes have been drawn from what we have to offer. So there’s the goblin character design stuff – we have some plushies based on the characters.

E: Oh good! I bet I can afford a plushie!

P: Right. And because we have such amazing people involved, the funny thing is we haven’t announced everybody yet. Because we just set out a quest – if we reach 1,000 Facebook likes on our Goblins Animated page, then we’ll announce our next cast member. But there are some people that are so good, and they’re just going to blow your mind. And we’re going to get posters and scripts signed by the cast. Those are going to be prizes. Voicemails…because, “You know, we’ve got these voices.” On one of the prize levels I’m offering voiceover workshop sessions. So many people ask about it, and here’s a chance to invest in it, if this is something you really want to do, I’m offering up my experience, and my skill as an incentive – help us do this, and I’ll help you build your career.

E: And that’s no small thing! You have a lot of experience to draw on. I was privileged to observe one of Rob Paulsen’s teaching sessions, and it was a different experience than any I’ve had with Rob before, because you see how people are actually doing their job and working. It was fascinating and amazing to me, and I could see the people taking part learning. So that is a great prize for whoever is thirsting to be in the voice acting industry.

This is a lot of really great news. You did mention that along with the announced cast there are a number of other people coming in. For starting the story, how many characters and actors have you got? Are actors doing several voices?

P: It actually depends on how much we get funded for. We have plans through at least the first story arc, and we’ve got some plans for actually beyond that. We don’t know if we’ll get there right now. But we don’t want to be caught unawares. So we’re thinking way ahead. And yeah, some people are double-cast, in bigger roles, smaller roles – because, again, they can. These actors and actresses that we’ve got are so incredibly talented.

E: Well, you’ve got Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger too! Among many others.

P: And it’s funny, because there’s been this competing impulse. One, I want to get everybody that I know and love and have worked with for many years in to do something on this; but at the same time, any one of them could basically do all of the characters! So at one point, you’ve got Jim doing several voices, and then it’s like, “Oh wait. He doesn’t have to do all of them. Let’s get so-and-so to do that!”

E: Well the nice thing is that if it keeps going you can bring in more people over time.

P: That’s the dream is that we get the budget to be able to flesh this out as completely and fully as possible. Because in animation, you get “three voices for a dollar!” But because it’s so expensive, you have to take advantage of that. But how amazing would it be if we could get all of these characters with different people. Although the funny thing is, like with Billy, every voice is an entirely different character anyway.

E: It’s true! I’m looking forward to seeing what he and the others come up with. Every time I hear new voices from all of y’all I’m like, “Where did that come from? That’s great.” By now I can sort of recognize some people, occasionally, but to this day if I hear Zoidberg and Fry and the Professor, I’m still going, “What? This is all the same guy?” Obviously you’ve got Hermes and Green Lantern, and Baxter Stockman, and there’s some different stuff going on.

I hope you get funded. This project caught my attention not just because of you but because it just looks really cool, and I think it probably will appeal to a lot of people. Is there anything else we should know about it?

P: Well it’s basically: we’ve got the Goblins comic, that we’re making this animated version of – and it’s funny, because Tarol described it to somebody the other day as, “Smurfs meets Game of Thrones.” Which is so apropos, because it gets the funny, it gets the cute, it gets the bloody. And we’ve got incredibly amazing, talented people involved with this and supporting us.

And basically, now we’re at the challenge point. We’ve got all the pieces, and we just need to get the word out as far and as wide as possible, because this is a big mountain to climb. What we’re trying to do is a huge undertaking, and we need people’s help.

E: Well I will spread the word. I couldn’t imagine a better team for such a project, which grabbed my attention. Thank you for giving us your time to tell us more about this amazing project. I hope it gets made and reaches all of its goals!

The Goblins Animated Indiegogo is live now through December 21, and could definitely still use your dollars to reach its goals. It’s got really cool prizes; and the more money we contribute, the more awesome they’ll be able to make the project, as Phil explained above. 

So head on over and see which nifty supporter package catches your eye; and until next time, Servo Lectio!

FN: Goblins Animated was originally set to run on Kickstarter, so the audio interview references Kickstarter. However, it then found its home on Indiegogo, so that is where you should go to support it!

Marc Alan Fishman: “Beware My Bubbles…” Green Lantern’s Plight!

It’s been no surprise to my readers (hey everyone!) that I’ve been on something of an animation jones, something fierce. Well, with Young Justice successfully binged on, Netflix suggested I check out a little known show… Justice League. Bruce Timm’s multi-parter masterpiece was the first time the significant seven (pre New52, Flashpoint, Final Crisis, but post Crisis, ya dig?) were assembled to face off against the biggest baddies of the DCU. Mongul, Despero, Faust and Hades, Gorilla Grodd, and yes: Ocean Master (sorta). To be clear: I’ve seen the show. Often. But something has always troubled me about it. That trouble? John Stewart… the milquetoast affirmative action Green Lantern.

Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and their well-crafted production staff assembled an amazing septuplet. The holy trinity: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The best B-Listers money can buy: Green Lantern and the Flash. And for clean up… Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl. On paper, it all makes sense. Deuces are wild; Supes and J’Onn are the aliens adopting Earth, Diana and Shayera rep all of lady kind, Flash is choas to GL’s order, and Batman is Batman. I’m only going to focus on our representative Lantern for the sake of clarity.

I fully acknowledge, welcome, and love that Timm “went to the bench” to recruit Stewart. Hal Jordan is, was, and will likely always be the poster child of the corps. But in addition to not being another white hero, John Stewart as depicted in the animated series was inherently the anti-Jordan. Where Hal is a known hot-headed cocky flying codpiece, Stewart is a level-headed jarhead who fills out the ranks of the League to make plans and execute them. It’s fun to denote that our Flash in this series is also Wally West. Fitting then that Timm and team flips the script on the original Brave and the Bold. Where Hal was the cocky to Barry Allen’s careful, Wally is clearly the team’s impulsive recruit. But I digress.

What pains me to no end are the continual choices made throughout the show in regards to John Stewart’s character, both in and out of the space pajamas. We’re given no intro to him. He merely shows up, starts barking orders, and firing bubbles and beams (which I’ll be dedicating a whole block of prose to momentarily). With apparently less personality than anyone else on the team, the post-pilot reintroduction of the ring slinger offers us up a civilian Stewart: in a three-quarter length leather trenchcoat, walking through an urban neighborhood, while light funk/jazz twinkles away in the background score. You can practically hear the honkies checking off each box on the black character checklist. The episode in question (“In Blackest Night”) riffs on the destruction of Xanshi from 1988’s Cosmic Odyssey, but swaps Stewart’s pulpy pride for a soldier’s guilt for wanton destruction. Spoiler alert: it was all a plot by the Manhanters. Big robot fight. The day is saved when John recites the oath of the Green Lanterns really heroically. Guilt? Gone.

From here, Stewart was an also-ran. Aside from the now-quippy Caped Crusader, Stewart was often relegated to wet-blanket status. Torn between constant chiding of Wally, or hitting on Shayera. Late in the series, Stewart will have dated Vixen (because, black people, natch), but ultimately land Hawkgirl as his bae. They fight a lot. But, you know. They make a cool mixed-race Hawk-kid in the Batman Beyond universe. All this lovey-dovey stuff? It’s what they passed for dynamic character development. Whereas every other original Leaguer would eventually get a truly deep and amazing moment (Batman with Ace on the swings, Superman vs. Anti-Life Darkseid, Shayera’s betrayal, et al) John’s mostly left to knock boots and make bubbles.

And what of those bubbles?! For the life of me, I’ll never understand if Timm and company had budget issues or something. Because John Stewart, in ownership of the most powerful weapon in the universe, would only muster beams and bubbles to serve his purpose. In the comic, Stewart ring slings with the best of them – with Hal once describing his constructs being literally built from their interior structures out due to Stewart’s civilian life as an architect. But in his animated life, John is relegated to clearly the simplest solution, always. They even make a latent potshot at it during Unlimited where a de-aged Stewart (donning Kyle Rayner’s crabmask) builds intricate and cool constructs to battle bravely with. Obviously in the future, he loses his imagination. It’s a low-down dirty shame, kiddos, I tell you what.

Ultimately, this is one of the nittiest picks I could have droned on about, but it was on my mind. The opportunity to break the mold came and went with John Stewart in Justice League. It’s a shame that over the course of five seasons, they simply couldn’t aspire to do more than the absolute basics. And now, with a new League being formed for film… I can’t help but be worried.

In brightest day, or blackest night,
I expected more from John Stewart’s light.
Let those who disagree flame me bright…
Beware my comments, Marc Fishman’s right!

Emily S. Whitten: NYCC 2015 Part II – The Round-Up!

phil-lamarAs much fun as Turtles Day (as I now affectionately call the Thursday of New York Comic Con) was, it’s most definitely not the only awesome thing about NYCC. There’s always so much awesome stuffed into those four days that it’s hard to sum it up.

This year, to assist me in my round-up, I thought I’d finally try out a New Method of Doing Things, given that my awesome friend Cleolinda Jones finds it so useful, and that she’s been using it to successfully round-up all of the online things we mention during our Made of Fail podcast (which is still going, by the way! Our latest episode was Dragon Con: The Wrath of Con. Lisssstennn!)

So even though I’m still going to hit the highlights below, I’m also going to direct you afterwards to my brand new, shiny first effort at using Storify (woo!) for even more details and pictures and who-all knows what. We’ll see how we like this whole Storify thing, eh? Call it a social experiment. And now, without further ado:

My Favorite Things About NYCC This Year:

Well we already mentioned Nickelodeon’s TMNT. Check out last week’s column for all the details on that!

Artist Alley

This is and always will be one of my favorite parts of NYCC. This year I got to walk the entire room with enough time to stop and look at the art and other items on display, and to chat with some creator and fan friends and meet some new friends. I walked around with one of my TMNT friends who was happy to meet some cool artists (hey, Kathy!), strolled some aisles with my DC-local friend who bought some most excellent My Little Pony art (holla, Petra!), and bounced around to see some creators with Eric Bauza (including taking him, as the Voice of Amadeus Cho, over to meet Reilly Brown, one of the Artists for Amadeus Cho. That was fun.)

Of course, inevitably after the con ended I realized I’d somehow still missed a few people I wanted to see (alas!) but that always happens. I watched some artists working (love doing that! Tony Moy was particularly fun to watch this year), resisted mightily buying everything in sight, and picked out just a few things to take home with me. Chief among them were Jason Hurley and Jeremy Haun’s Beauty, the first two issues of which are intriguing, and have convinced me to keep reading. I also picked up four issues of Runaways written by Noelle Stevenson, with art by Sanford Greene, which I’m looking forward to (I loved Brian K. Vaughan’s original run but got away from it for awhile after he left the book. I’ve been meaning to dive back in!). I got a cool metallic-finish Deadpool poster from Reilly Brown, as well as his new sketchbook.

And since I’m in the process of working on some comics projects myself, I was particularly excited to score a signed copy of Make Comics Like the Pros from Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente; and an X-Files comic with accompanying limited-edition script from Joe Harris. And last but not least, I picked up the most adorable dancing Groot sketchcard from Janet K. Lee, which I’d commissioned at a previous con. Yay!

Walking the Con floor

Okay, so I admit that this year even I was slightly overwhelmed by the crowd, and had to go hide in the still very crowded but less frantic-feeling Artist Alley from time to time. However, I did get to do some really fun things on the con floor. I saw my wonderful friend Ellen Datlow at the HWA booth, where I picked up a free copy of her The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 7 anthology, and bought a copy of her Nightmare Carnival anthology (creepy carnival stories! I will read them with shivery delight and then never sleep again). I hopped over to the IDW booth, had a nice chat with Dirk Wood, and picked up a copy of God is Disappointed in You, which I am super-curious to read.

I swung by the Marvel booth, and, although I sadly missed the spectacular Daredevil poster, got a great Jessica Jones poster and comic and a handful of other cool swag, including the cutest Skottie Young Secret Wars print you ever did see. I mostly avoided buying collectibles because my apartment overfloweth with them already, but did get a tiny adorable stuffed ram (what, it’s tiny!) and an awesome inflatable Companion Cube ottoman (for my casual dinner parties! Totally practical! I always run out of seating). I got to visit with the ever-charming Mark Gagliardi and meet Hal Lublin, both of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, and stroll around with great friends like fun fellow DC-ite LacyMB, awesome voice actor Eric Bauza, and fellow reporter Ashley B. And Ashley and I got to take creepy crime scene videos of ourselves after being “killed” in the line of reporting duty (probably trampled by crowds trying to get into the Funko booth, yes?) at the Spotless exhibit. All-around good adventures.

Ash vs. Evil Dead

This was a fantastic panel. I love Bruce Campbell (particularly after Burn Notice – he was so good as Sam!) so I really wanted to see him on a panel; plus, I’ve been curious about how they’d make this show work ever since I started seeing the media for it at SDCC. This panel was particularly cool because I went with someone else who was totally excited about it (probably the most excited of anyone there, really) and good panel-going company always makes it more fun. We got nifty swag (Ash4President buttons, and foam chainsaws), Bruce et al. (and host Kevin Smith) were very entertaining panelists, and they showed the entire premiere episode (during which I am not ashamed to admit I jumped a lot. My startle reflex will never disappear. Neither will my desire to hide behind people or couches during scary scenes).

Unfortunately there were no couches at the Hammerstein Ballroom, but I survived. The premiere is exactly what you would want if you’re an Evil Dead fan, I think; and even if you’re not really up on the franchise, it’s engaging enough to draw in a new crowd – that is, if they are people who can handle a lot of gore and gratuitous violence. I was pretty interested in the characters they’re starting to build for the younger leads (Kelly and Pablo, played by Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago) and the storyline they’re starting with the cop (Jill Marie Jones) and Lucy Lawless’s character Ruby. And of course, tying it all together is the always classy (sarcasm, what? I will say I thought the sex scene early on was a little much even for this character) Ash, and a boatload of well-done references to the franchise. My one caveat is that I think in order to keep people interested, they’re going to really have to do some character and story-building with the non-Ash characters – but if they do it well, this show could be a really cool addition to TV horror.

Seeing awesome people!

And so many of them; but primarily here I’m talking about Andrea Romano, who I was delighted to learn was autographing this year (if she has in the past, I’ve missed it). She is definitely one of the uber-talented people of the animation industry that I most admire (plus she’s super classy and nice), so it was great to see her again and get her to sign what is turning into one of the most-autographed things I own, a TMNT pizza box. Phil LaMarr also added his signature to the collection (I love him as Baxter Stockman), and it was great to see him as well. And as it turned out, the delightful and hilarious John DiMaggio was also signing at the same time, so I got a great Joker picture signed by him. Yay!

The ICv2 White Paper Happy Hour

Although I love all the media stuff that goes on at comic cons, I really like to spend time on the comics end of things too. I’d never been able to get to the ICv2 stuff before, since they usually do events on Wednesday before I arrive in town for the con. This year, though, they changed tack and did something during the con. For those who don’t know, ICv2 studies and reports on the statistics and trends about in the industry, including e.g. comics and convention trends. It was interesting to hear the latest on the State of the Industry at the event, and particularly the continued growth in female readership in comics, which was regarded with enthusiasm (good!).

Of course, it was also nice to grab a drink and a chat with comics friends, and engage in some more serious discussions regarding news such as the most recent sexual harassment in the business (which I will be addressing more in another column). I’m glad these things are being discussed rather than ignored.]

And finally…

Just all of the fun and energy of going out and about with all of the awesome people who are in NYC during Comic-Con. That includes the Image party, at which everyone in comics showed up (seriously, I mean I didn’t personally run into everyone, but I’m pretty sure they were all there) in a maze-like bowling alley/arcade/bar/dance club with many levels and rooms and cool chairs I wanted to steal. Also the several lovely breakfasts and dinners I had with high school friends and law school friends and con friends (and apparently this year’s accidental restaurant theme was seafood, since I ended up at Grand Central’s Oyster Bar, Crave Fishbar, and L&W Oyster Co. all in the space of three days. Not that I minded! Such gooood foooood). And the fun bar scene, which this year included the Campbell Apartment which I had no idea existed and which is exactly the sort of place I love to discover (thanks, Dennis!). And of course the wrap-up of my NYC trip, which ended with a great long-form improv show featuring Phil LaMarr at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, which I’d never been to. It was fantastic; and I haven’t laughed that hard in some time!

And that was pretty much my show this year! But if that isn’t enough excitement for you, or if you’re hurting for my usual linkage to tons of pictures, for even more round-up, click here or just scroll down to check out my NYCC Storify (and let me know if you like it, as a thing. Should I do it again? Feedback, people! Do tell!).

And until next time, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Awesome Con DC 2015

AwesomeCon2015LogoSo I just got back from Awesome Con DC 2015, and happily, it lived up to its name once again, because it was pretty darned awesome!

It was also kind of interesting to realize that every year I’ve gone has been a different experience, thanks to what I was doing each year. The first year, which was of course also smaller than the current con, I was reporting for ComicMix but did not have any other responsibilities. That meant I had time to see pretty much all of the floor and meet any guests I’d like, plus doing great, longer-form interviews with the talented Phil LaMarr and Billy West. Last year, I was running programming, so I saw a whole lot of back hallways, the exhibit hall whooshing by at a fast clip several times as I hurried around, many great volunteers, and a few guests for just long enough to introduce myself before they walked out on stage. (I did allow myself one break to see the voice actor Ghostbusters script reading panel, though. And may have possibly told my staff I’d kill them if they bothered me during it. Because hey. That panel was awesome.)

This year, although I was planning to report on the con, I also offered to moderate some panels if needed. I ended up moderating four really cool panels; and that gave me yet another fun perspective to add to my myriad con experiences. Interestingly, despite all being billed as Q & As, each of my panels had a very different feel. The Gerry Duggan and Mike Hawthorne panel, while naturally discussing storylines and characters both had worked on, also contained some really in-depth insights into the working process of both comics writer and artist. I found Gerry’s process for script-writing, which includes editing what was a final Deadpool script to “punch it up” more after seeing the storyboards created by Mike Hawthorne from his draft, to be particularly interesting. And Mike told a great story about working with Harvey Pekar and receiving a “script” to work from that was just two pages with many panels of stick figures – and yet somehow managing to make it work!

Mark Pellegrino’s panel was very energetic, with Mark interacting with each fan who asked a question on a personal level by having them come up and stand next to him in front of the stage while they chatted. This made for a dynamic panel; although it almost became a bit too dynamic when a Castiel cosplayer yelled, “Hey, assbutt!” And tossed a”holy fire Molotov cocktail” at Mark as she came up to ask her question. Fortunately the bottle was plastic and Mark caught it with aplomb – but really, guys – let’s not throw things at our con guests, okay? Even if you think it’s going to be totally awesome, just – don’t. For one thing, you’ll give your friendly neighborhood moderator a heart attack as she pictures a nice, unsuspecting actor getting beaned in the head and/or cut by a glass bottle; and for another, unlike with merchandise, if you break a con guest, you don’t get to buy him or her. Instead, you get big, big trouble, and possibly fandom-wide hatred.

The next panel I moderated was for George Newbern, voice of Superman from Justice League, as well as many other voice and on-screen roles, including Father of the Bride, Friends, and tons more. He’s currently playing a fascinating role as Charlie on Scandal. George was delightfully interesting to listen to given his storied career, which also includes having read over a hundred audio books. It was pretty cool to hear him demonstrating coming up with something like 140 voices for the most recent book series he did. And of course it was awesome to have Superman sitting next to me for a few moments when he did that voice. (George also worked on Switching Channels with Christopher Reeve. How cool is that?)

The last panel I moderated was Adult Swim with C. Martin Croker and Dana Snyder, which was a total trip because with Dana, “moderating” essentially means, “pointing him towards a stage and letting him go.” I did say we shouldn’t throw things at guests. However, those rules don’t go both ways – and if you go to an Adult Swim panel and you’re not paying attention, there is every chance you will get beaned in the head by a water bottle thrown by Master Shake. Fortunately, everyone was paying attention, and thus no attendees were harmed in the making of the panel. There was some fun information shared by both Clay and Dana, including that Clay recalls an episode of Space Ghost, Coast to Coast that was actually too crazy to air, and that Dana landed the role of Master Shake essentially by talking on the phone. Or at least, I think those are things we learned – I don’t know for sure, as my head was spinning from all the comedy going on next to me on stage!

Along with moderating panels, I actually got to go to some panels as well, including a few minutes of the Lord of the Rings panel with Sean Astin and John Rhys-Davies (I wanted to stay for the whole thing but had a schedule conflict), which was really great to listen to, as those two have such presence; the entirety of voice actor Jess Harnell’s panel, which was the most warm, friendly, funny, energetic one-man storytelling hour I’ve been to in some time; and the Twisted Toonz live movie script read, which this year featured all four original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Rob Paulsen, Cam Clarke, Townsend Coleman, and Barry Gordon), as well as Jess Harnell, Jim Cummings, and Phil LaMarr. The Twisted Toonz reading was a blast, as always; and if you haven’t ever seen one of these live reads, you need to check out the link above. I recommend starting with the ECCC Star Wars Trilogy.

The panels were fantastic – but they weren’t the only thing to do at Awesome Con. I also walked as much of the con floor as I had time for, seeing great costumes and buying ridiculously fun merchandise (like my new tiny and giant My Little Ponypools). 17750292184_f6da133be9_bIt was surprising and cool how many friends I ran into just wandering the con floor, which really made it feel like a warm and welcoming con. Not to mention I got to catch up with fun guests I hadn’t seen since last year’s cons, like Alex Simmons, Andrew Aydin, J.K. Woodward, Joe Kelly, Marc Hempel, Noel MacNeal, Phil LaMarr, Rob Paulsen, and Sean Astin; and meet a few neat guests I hadn’t before, like Mark McKenna, Sorah Shibao, and Diana Leto. And don’t worry, for anyone who’s sad they didn’t get to be there and have these fun experiences too – I took pictures for you!

Not only that, but I also got the chance to interview some really fantastic folks. So stay tuned in the next few weeks for some words from Jess Harnell, Jim Cummings, and all four of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!!

And until then, stay Awesome, and Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten’s Interview with Maurice LaMarche

whitten-art-131029-150x173-1422348In my apparent continuing quest to interview all the great voice actors living today (because they are the most fun, okay?), I now bring you my interview with the talented and Emmy-winning Maurice LaMarche, a.k.a. The Brain, Squit, Kif Kroker, Morbo, Lrrr, several Futurama robots, Dr. Egon Spengler, Dizzy Devil, Yosemite Sam, Mr. Freeze, Victor von Doom, General Var Suthra, Mortimer Mouse, Chief Quimby, and more.

It was a real pleasure to speak with Maurice, who I’ve been listening to in various guises since I was a wee thing (I was a big Inspector Gadget fan as a child; and then with Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Futurama being amongst my other favorite shows through the years, I guess I’ve pretty much been listening to Maurice all my life!). It was also great to see him do many of his excellent voices and impressions both during the interview, and at “An Evening with Pinky and the Brain,” which I attended at the Plaza Theatre while in Atlanta for Dragon Con. That event featured Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche together, and was just a total joy to experience. It also resulted in some fantastic video clips like this reading of Who’s on First by Pinky and the Brain, a couple more of which I’ve linked below.

So without further ado, I bring you my interview with Maurice! Read on for the transcript, and click here for the video, which is really worth watching for all the fun voices.

•     •     •     •     •

Let’s start with Futurama, and Kif, who you voice on the show. That voice seems more delicate than some of the voices you’re known for; how did you come up with that one?

We were recording episode three or four, and Matt was very hands-on as we built the show. He knew exactly what he wanted in terms of who the character was; but he wasn’t sure about a sound. His tagline for Kif was, “He’s Mister Spock, if Mister Spock had to deal with William Shatner.”

So we tried a few things. I tried going (as Nimoy) “Sir, it seems the rest of the crew doesn’t share your passion for velour,” very deep and in the Nimoy range, and it sounded too much like The Brain; and we realized that he sounded tired; you know, we had the sighs. So I thought… I played a character in a very short-lived show called The Adventures of Hyperman, where the chief of that was very much, “Truman Capote. He’s Truman Capote.” So I thought that (as Capote) “the whole voice quality of Truman Capote had a sort of sighing sound to it, and so I decided that he would sound like Truman Capote,” and Matt said, “Well, too effeminate. I also want him to have some of the sarcasm and pissiness of Jon Lovitz.” So it went from this (demonstrating Capote) to this (demonstrating Lovitz) and became this (in Kif’s voice) “Sir, the rest of the crew doesn’t share your passion for velour, ugh.” So that’s where Kif came from. We kind of threw Jon Lovitz and Truman Capote in a blender, and out came Kif.

Now that Futurama is… doing whatever it’s doing [coming back again, I hope!], what are you working on right now?

My self-esteem. No, currently, I’m working on a project for Disney called The 7D, which are the seven dwarves about twenty years before they met Snow White. So they all have all their hair, and their hair is its original colors; nobody’s grey. And of course, needing to fixate on a beautiful female figure, they live to serve Queen Delightful, who is the queen of the kingdom.

And they’ve done a very different take with them. We’ve gone away from the Snow White movie, and it looks almost like a 1960s Jay Ward cartoon, kind of Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle. Very simple drawings. And each one’s voice is very distinct. Kevin Michael Richardson is Happy, and he just plays it so happy; and when Kevin is full of joy, the room bursts with it. And Bill Farmer is Doc. Billy West is Bashful, and Billy uses his upper, upper, upper range, and he’s like, so adorable that even though he’s a 62-year-old man, you just want to pinch his cheeks.

And I do Grumpy; and, again, I do a lot of my voices by throwing two things into the hopper and coming up with a unique voice. There’s a little George Costanza in him, and there’s a little bit of one of my best friends, Kenny Lombino, who’s a Brooklyn by way of New Jersey guy, and he’s an investment guy, but (as Kenny Lombino) “he came up through the streets. So Kenny is very much like this guy,” and then (as George Costanza) George Costanza’s like this: “I don’t know, Jerry! People think I’m smart, but I’m not smart!” (In Grumpy’s voice) So then Grumpy is kinda this guy right here: “Alright. Okay, Fine. I’m Grumpy, and I accept it, but I gotta help Queen Delightful anyway!” So he does a lot of, like, “Oh, this guy again.” He gets all the sarcastic lines.

It’s a thrill to be in a show where I am actually getting the good lines. Because I’m usually the setup guy. Even in Pinky and the Brain, Rob Paulsen got all the great lines, while I gave him the, (as The Brain) “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?” And then he got to say the funny thing. So The Brain’s humor had to come from being put-upon, and having to deal with this knucklehead named Pinky – who may have been the genius; and The Brain may have been the one who was insane.

But Brain did get his funny lines in there…

He did. He had great lines like (as The Brain): “If I could reach you, I would hurt you.” Or, “Yes, that is a pain that is going to linger.” Or, “It must be inordinately taxing to be such a boob, Pinky.” Little sarcastic things like that. I love playing the sarcastic note. Because I’m really actually very kind in real life.

Do you have a favorite episode from Pinky and the Brain?

It’s kind of a tie. “Bubba Bo Bob Brain” was the one where I think we found the stride with the characters. We’d done two or three episodes before, but we recorded “Bubba Bo Bob” and two things happened there: the voices changed. Rob got out of the buck-toothed thing that he was doing the first few episodes, and really found that almost lady-like voice that he did; and Brain stopped being a straight Orson Welles impression, and there are little Vincent Price-ish kind of highs in there. And their relationship became…the annoyance became stronger, and I realized “that’s the note I have to play with Pinky. And yet I still have to have affection for Pinky.” So “Bubba Bo Bob;” and the Primetime Emmy-winning Christmas Special. Which was a big folderol, because that special was the first time that a daytime cartoon had come into primetime and beaten The Simpsons. So those are my two favs. I’ve never been able to quite choose between them.

So what about “You Said A Mouseful”?

That was interesting. Rob and I are doing “An Evening with Pinky and the Brain” at the Plaza Theatre; and for our finale we are actually going to do a staged reading of “You Said a Mouseful,” with a cast from the audience. [Note: I got part of it on video! Watch it here!] “You Said a Mouseful” was a fun, and funny, and challenging episode to do; it was the only episode where I ever left the booth, walked into the control room, and slugged the writer in the arm – in the way you’d hit your little brother, a Lucy/Linus kind of slug. I just punched him in the arm for writing something so difficult. Then I went back, sat down, and went, “I feel better now. Rubber baby buggy bumpers, rubber baby buggy bumpers…”

You’re originally from Toronto; how do you find the South?

I have a GPS! …Well, I’ve only been here a day; I got here late last night; and Pinky and the Brain went out for dinner, to Morton’s. There was definitely a flavor of Southern hospitality; but then again, if you’re Captain Kirk and you’re beamed into any Morton’s on Earth, you don’t know what city you’re in because every Morton’s looks the same. (as William Shatner) “I don’t understand where they get all this wood paneling from!” And the steaks were all delicious and fantastic.

But people have been very nice here. This is my first Dragon Con, and my first time in Atlanta. And I’m not even going to complain about the humidity because Toronto, being on Lake Ontario, is just as humid as this in August; so I’m fully used to it. Haven’t lived in it in thirty-three years; but I’m loving Atlanta. I’m having a great time. People are so nice. And the Dragon Con people – I have to say, there’s a real difference between the Comic Con vibe and the Dragon Con vibe. Comic Con is Comic Cannes film festival, it’s there to sell projects – and this is all about fan love. This is completely fan-driven. Comic Con is very studio-driven and publisher-driven. But this is just the fans expressing themselves and truly paying tribute to the genres, and it’s wonderful to see. So, I’m really enjoying my time here.

Have you worked on games?

I’ve only been on a handful of games. Games beat up my throat; and unlike a lot of voice actors who seem to be invulnerable, I seem to get a lot of cases of laryngitis, etcetera by having to do repeated lines over and over again. So I really limit myself, and am very blessed and fortunate that I can afford to. I can turn down a lot of the work because I’ve gotten to be on shows like Futurama or be the voice of Lexus. So I’m very selective. I do things that I think my son will think are cool; like Mr. Freeze in Arkham City.

Or General Var Suthra in the [Star Wars:] Old Republic game, which had literally a phone book of script for every character. It was unbelievable. But I think it’s the world’s largest online game right now. You can join up. So I play this Mon Calamari general named Var Suthra, and the whole thing takes place 3,000 years before the continuity of Star Wars. So I wasn’t locked into (in character), “It’s a trap!” So I decided he sounded (as Gene Hackman) “more like Gene Hackman. Greatest criminal mind of our time.” But that was a lot of days of work on that. Although they break it up. I’ve never done a war game where I have to do a lot of dying, falling, being blown up, being shot, that sort of thing. I guess they don’t think of me for those things, but just as well, because my throat gets beat up very easily. (In a delicate voice) It’s a very sensitive instrument.

I know you probably get asked this a lot, but what really pulled you into voice acting? And what was your first job as a voice actor?

It was a weird sort of gravity that pulled me in, and it really was a pull. I never thought of myself primarily as a voice actor; I was going for the big stand-up comedy enchilada. I started in 1977 at a club called Yuk Yuks in Toronto, which also birthed Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey, and Norm MacDonald. I was chasing after that. I’d done a couple of voiceovers up in Toronto for a company called Nelvana Films. They were annual specials. One was Easter Fever, with Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live, who’s now on 2 Broke Girls; and I played Steve Martin and Don Rickles as animals. So it was Steed Martin and Don Rattles, and it was a roast of the Easter Bunny. That was the very first time I heard my voice come out of a cartoon character. I was nineteen; and it was magic, to hear that, and to see that, and go, “Wow, that’s me.” It was like, “I’m Fred Flintstone now.” It was astounding. I remember seeing Alan Reed on an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies when I was a kid and going, “He sounds like somebody. Who does he sound like?” And I realized halfway through the episode, that’s the man who plays Fred Flintstone. That’s when I first realized it was a human being behind those moving drawings. So that was my first job.

Then I came down here for stand-up comedy, and a voiceover agent from the William Morris Agency, who I was with for my personal appearance stuff, was in the audience, and it was Nina Nisenholtz, and she said, “With all of these impressions you do, you’d be a natural for voiceovers.” And I said, “Well I was always told that was a closed shop,” and my friend was Frank Welker, and he told me he was going to try to get me started – and Frank really did talk me up around town for about a year before I got my first job; but Nina also started sending me out right about that time.

It took me a year to get my first job, and my first job was Inspector Gadget. I did one episode of The Littles, and one episode of something called Wolf Rock TV, just as a guest star thing to test me and see how I was, and then they ended up putting me on Inspector Gadget, where I was The Chief, and Henchman No. 2, and then right after that, Real Ghostbusters. So that was my entrée into cartoons. And it just kept coming. Voice acting is as close to a meritocracy in show business as you can get; if you’re good, the work will keep coming. Because they love to work with people who can do the skill of coming up with multiple characters – in animation, at least, so they don’t have to hire five actors. They can hire you and have you play five parts in the episode. So if you can deliver those goods, the work comes. So it was a steady thing; and I got sort of pulled into it, rather than taking a bunch of voiceover workshops. I’ve got a lot of friends who did study. Nancy Cartwright studied with Daws Butler – you know, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear. I just never took a lesson. I don’t know why, I just seem to have a knack for doing this.

I know that you based The Brain in part on Orson Welles; and I’ve heard that you used to recite the “Frozen Peas” outtake as a warm-up exercise. Where did that come from?

We were on the job from hell. We were dubbing a French puppet show – lifesized puppets, people inside costumes – into English, and it was the longest day. It started at nine and ended at nine on New Year’s Eve. I was supposed to do the job for two hours and then make a 1:00 flight that would get me to New York. Howie Mandel was hosting an MTV party and I was supposed to go party with the MTVers, back when that was brand new. And the thing just took for-bloody-ever, and I missed the party. And I was so depressed at the end of the night, that Phil Proctor, from the Firesign Theater, who was making college students laugh when I was still in junior high school, said, “Here, this’ll cheer you up.” And he gave me a cassette with Orson Welles doing this frozen peas commercial.

So my consolation prize was, I didn’t get to party with Sting and Howie Mandel; but I did get to have a career. Because this tape that he gave me had this gold on it. Orson Welles being himself. Being a curmudgeon; and yet the more you listen to it, the more you go, “He’s right! These guys don’t know what they’re talking about.” So I listened to it backwards and forwards, and couldn’t get enough of it. And eventually I began to ape it, because that’s what I do, and it made its way into my bag of tricks. And whenever there was down time, if they were listening to the playbacks, I’d just sit there and try it out on mic, because I’d wear headphones, and (as Orson Welles) “Get me a jury and show me how you can say in July, and I’ll…go down on ya.” It was hysterical. So it amused me to do it and I wanted to see how close to the timing I could do it; because when you get somebody being themselves, that’s the best was to grab them as an impression; and get all facets of them from there on up. So that’s how that happened. [To see Maurice do the Frozen Peas impression live, click here.]

Going back to Futurama; you do many voices. Which ones did you start out with, and which were added later, and…how many do you do? Do you know?

I don’t know. A couple of years ago when we were making the direct-to-DVD movies, there was a website that somebody came out with, where they had actually listed and counted all of our characters. I think I was at seventy-two characters, counting everything – all one-offs, all recurring, all regulars. But Tress MacNeille had me beat; she had seventy-five.

What about Billy?

Billy was in the fifties; but he does the heavy lifting on the show, because he’s Fry, he’s Zoidberg, and the Professor, so he’s three people in the break room at Planet Express; and then you throw in Zapp, who’s in every fifth episode or so; and Smitty… he’s got so many characters. He topped out with fifty-something.

So your characters – you’ve got Kif, and Morbo, and Calculon, and the Mafia robots…

(In the characters) “I got the Donbot. I got Clamps! I have the country Hyper-Chicken lawyer, and oh, Hedonismbot. And Lrrr.

Which one do you enjoy the most? Do you identify with any of them?

Oh, I identify with most of them. Because any actor is only giving you parts of himself. There’s a great line in a movie called My Favorite Year, that my friend Dennis Palumbo wrote. At the end of the film, Peter O’Toole, who plays this Errol Flynn character, tells Benjy Stone, his handler from the King Kaiser Show, which is really the Sid Caesar Show, that he can’t go on. He chickens out. He’s hiding, and he’s drinking, and he goes, “I’m scared, Stone.” And Stone says, “You don’t get to be scared. You are that damn hero; and you couldn’t play that hero if you didn’t have him somewhere inside of you.” And O’Toole goes on to save the day, in the film.

But every actor gives you what’s inside of him. So every character I play is a piece of me. So even though they may draw Lrrr, the Lrrr I voice and the Lrrr I play is my own angst about being in a midlife crisis. Kif is my own shyness and my own sense that (as Kif) “maybe I’ll never quite rise to Zapp Brannigan’s rank, but certainly I hope that I may one day save Amy with a buggalo,” you know, or something like that. Morbo is…very different from Lrrr. Completely different.

Do you really want to eat kittens?

(As Morbo) “They give me gas!” You know; there are foods that give me gas. So I relate to that. Everybody’s a little piece of me. (As Clamps) “I won’t tell you where Clamps comes from!” It’s my parenting skills.

Let’s go back to Animaniacs. You did other characters on there as well, didn’t you?

I was the Ray Liotta-based Squit, in the Goodfeathers. (As Squit) “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Goodfeather. If you were a Goodfeather, you had it all.” Martin Scorsese apparently loved the Goodfeathers. He and Spielberg were friends, and when that was on, Spielberg would just send him tapes of the Goodfeathers episodes as they came out. He dug that we were paying tribute to him.

And you did that West Side Pigeons episode…

I had a lot of singing in that. But they really worked with me; I’m not a natural singer. So Steve and Julie Bernstein and Rich Stone, God rest his soul, really walked me through it, and we rehearsed for a couple of days, and worked with the tapes. The way I practice singing, you’ve got to give me something that has only melody on it. If you give me anything with harmony, I’m lost. Because I start singing up in the harmony, and then back down to the melody; I’m not a natural musician, like my son. So I did that.

One of my favorites was playing Michelangelo in “Hooked on a Ceiling.” It was a nice little twist. It was Michelangelo, but we didn’t go Charlton Heston; we went Kirk Douglas. So it was like, (as Kirk Douglas) “What have you done to my ceiling? My beautiful ceiling!” Or Miles Standish as Richard Burton, (as Richard Burton) “Ohh, my Petey Pajamas, I loved him so.” So all the people that the Warners annoy, I got to play.

Now that Animaniacs is back on TV, do you see a resurgence in interest? The younger generation finding the show?

The Hub has just started running the original Animaniacs again, and they’ve got a big viewership. I’ve got another show on The Hub called Transformers: Rescue Bots, where I play the patriarch of a family of first responders, and the Transformers that come pick our vehicles; so there’s a police car character, and a fire truck character, a tractor character, because one of the sons is a civil engineer, and a helicopter. So The Hub putting these on is giving it a resurgence; but it’s yet to see quite the impact – I’m not quite sure where it is yet.

I think the cartoons are timeless. We did a lot of timely references, and there are maybe a few too many Clinton jokes in there; but with Clinton being back in the news – Obama keeps pulling him back into the spotlight – he’s hip again. Other than that, I think the show has legs. If a 1990s generation loved it, why wouldn’t a twenty-teens generation love it? Especially since the Pinky and the Brain piece of it is so relationship-based; it’s not based on timely humor. It’s based on the dynamic between these two characters, and that plays no matter what – an odd couple that really do love each other even if they are annoyed with each other, That was always the fun.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened between takes; because I’ve heard that that’s when the most fun happens.

We-ell, it’s got a dirty word in it.

Okay, shoot!

It’s a moment that came from Tress MacNeille. At one particular time we were all on a show where the executive producer had become extremely religious, almost overnight; so there was to be no sexual innuendo, and certainly no swearing. So the executive producer was there, we did the table read, we read through, and then he said, “Alright, I guess you guys have got it. I’m going to go back to the studio.” And we all watched as he left, and then we were quiet as the door closed behind him; and then Tress breaks the silence with: “Now we can say fuck!” in that old lady voice that she’s got; that smoker’s voice? And I must have laughed for five minutes.

Just the way she hit the word now. It’s like, the door closed, and then: “Now we can say fuck!” That might be my favorite studio story. Tress MacNeille is unbelievable. I think – and I’ve worked with so many greats, and everybody’s really at the top of their profession – but to me, Tress is the pinnacle. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter, she’s the pinnacle of what a voice actor is. She’s the best. I say to myself, “I gotta get as good as Tress.” That’s the way I feel.

I haven’t ever seen her at a con…

We finally got her out to Comic Con this past year, because Matt Groening asked her especially, because we had the full cast of Futurama, and we showed the first third of the last episode, then we table-read the second act with the full cast – Dave Herman, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom, myself, Tress, and Billy, John, and Katie. The first time we’d all been assembled at Comic Con. It was pretty legendary. Tress went specially for Matt; and it was also our goodbye, too.

But you know what; at the end, they gave us a standing ovation. And when 5,000 people get on their feet because you’ve done a good job since 1999, it’s kind of touching, and moving. I think for Tress, it showed her that people really do care about the work, because she kind of keeps to herself, and I think she’s understanding that people do care; people do love the show and our work. And that’s great.

Well I certainly do love your work! And thank you so much for your time!

I hope everyone enjoyed this interview with the amazing Maurice LaMarche; and until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: Baltimore Comic Con — All About Comics

Whitten Art 130917You know what I love about Baltimore Comic Con? It’s all about comics.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love going to cons that also put a lot of focus on media guests. As you can tell if you’ve read my column, I have a great time attending panels about Battlestar Galactica or Warehouse 13, or interviewing the cast of Psych, the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (coming soon!), or the voice actors behind Animaniacs or Futurama. But sometimes, it’s nice to go to a comic con that’s still all about the comics – and that’s Baltimore Comic Con.

At Baltimore Comic Con last weekend, I did one of my favorite things to do at a comic con – which is to simply wander Artists Alley for much of the weekend, looking at everyone’s art and comics offerings, saying hi to some brilliant friends, and meeting some new comics folks. I got to catch up with the awesomely talented Bill Willingham, Barry Kitson, Francesco Francavilla, Tom Feister, Cully Hamner, and more. I met a guy named Dave McDonald, who does a cute children’s comic and made a Lunar Dust Bunny puppet to go with it. (Come on, how cute is that? So cute.) I chatted with Matt Sturges, a kindred spirit and fellow TV Tropes addict. I also finally met fellow ComicMixer Martha Thomases and got to catch up with the other ComicMix folks and the Unshaven Comics group, which is always nice.

And then there was the shopping. Ohhhhh, the shopping. Every comic/genre con has a Dealers Room or area, and I always enjoy looking around them when I get a chance; but at a lot of cons, there’s so much going on that I sometimes miss the Dealers Room entirely. In Baltimore, though, I had the time and energy to wander through the wares, and thus came up with some awesome finds, like this little Donatello that I’d been wanting ever since Rob Paulsen (voice of Donatello on the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) tweeted a picture of it. And then there was the My Little Pony Applejack purse (complete with pony!) which was adorable in its own right, but even better since I’d forgotten a purse to go with my red dress for the Harvey Awards. Not only did I luck out in finding a geek purse that matched at the last minute, but then it just so happened that Thom Zahler, who’s recently done some MLP issues, was nearby, so of course I ran on over and got it signed. And then off I went to the Harveys!

Baltimore Comic Con is a great home for the Harvey Awards, which honor “excellence in the comics industry.” Sure, the awards ceremony can get a bit long (I think several babies were conceived and born during this year’s), but I tend not to mind, because I actually thoroughly enjoy seeing creators who have produced awesome comics getting their moment in the sun. (And I enjoy the swag bag. And the tasty desserts. And, of course, I really thoroughly enjoy the pre-and after-partying.) I also enjoy the MCs, who have included folks like the hilarious and geeky Phil LaMarr, and, this year, the super-talented Bill Willingham. Bill did a great job discussing the history of pictorial storytelling from cave paintings to now and reminding us that “We in the comic book industry have to content ourselves with being the stones upon which all of civilization was built.”

Amen to that! He’s so right, and there are so many great comics out there; and that’s why I like going to Baltimore Comic Con, a con that’s big enough to attract excellent comics guests, relaxed enough to still feel friendly and a bit familial, and wise enough to really celebrate the comics that are the cornerstone of so many things we enjoy.

Baltimore Comic Con has already got their dates set for next year (September 5 through 7), so if you’re looking for a good comic con to go to, I recommend putting it on your calendar; and until next time, Servo Lectio!



Emily S. Whitten: Billy West at Awesome Con DC!

imagesLooks like it is just Interview Central around here these days, folks. Because following up on last week’s column, in which I briefly recapped my Awesome Con DC experience and posted my interview with the fantastic Phil LaMarr  (go read/listen if you missed it last week! Good stuff!), I now get to share with you my Awesome Con DC interview with the excellent Billy West! Hooray!

Even if you somehow haven’t heard the name Billy West, before, I almost guarantee you’ve heard his voice. Voicing everything from classic cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Woody Woodpecker, and Popeye to four of the main characters on Futurama (Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, and Zapp Brannigan), Billy has voiced characters on a myriad of other shows as well, including title characters for Nickelodeon’s Doug and The Ren & Stimpy Show; and is also the current voice of product mascots Red the M&M and Buzz the Honey Nut Cheerios bee. Billy was also one of the voices of The Howard Stern Show from 1989 to 1995, where he did astonishing impressions of everyone from Johnny Carson and Al Michaels to an ailing Lucille Ball. (His Jay Leno is uncanny.) As a voice actor, Billy has an amazing range – going seamlessly from one character and reaction to another; and you can see some fun examples of that here. For a good time, I also recommend the Star Wars Trilogy: The Radio Play video, shot at ECCC last year and featuring Billy and a number of other talented voice actors doing the script of Star Wars in some of their iconic voices (including, for Billy, Stimpy, Fry, Farnsworth, and Zoidberg). My absolute favorite bit is when he does Porky Pig at about 45 minutes in. Seriously. You must watch it.

But quickly! Before I get lost in YouTube again: let’s get to the interview! If you want to listen to the interview (listen to it! He does Richard Nixon’s head in a jar!) you can do so here. Or, you can read the (slightly edited) transcript below!

Hello, this is Emily Whitten for ComicMix, here with Billy West at Awesome Con in DC. Billy, thank you for being here with us – and Billy is busy, so we’re doing this while he eats.

I ain’t that busy; I can talk with a mouth full of vegan sandwich.

That’s fair! So you are such an amazingly storied voice actor, etcetera…

Aww, thank you.

There’s a lot to talk about, but I’m going to try to distill it down a little bit. Let’s start with the earlier things; so – how did you decide to get into voice acting? Because I know you also are and were a musician; so what was the career path there?

Well, I remember I was like a little freak, you know? I was always running around making noises, and doing voices. Every time I wanted to play the piano – we didn’t have one, but if we were at somebody’s house – to me that was a golden opportunity. I just wanted to hear it, touch it, and make it do something; because the sonic world that I had going on in my head would dictate that I would go over there; but the thing was: I couldn’t play. And down comes the lid: “Can you not do that?” I heard that more than any other kid, probably, in the world, “Can you not do that?” And I was always trying stuff; it was peripheral and surreal; abstract stuff, but, you know.

I had a weird childhood. My house was a horror-house, and my dad was just, like, certifiable, and a drunk and a crazy; so I was growing up kind of terrified. And I was very hyper-vigilant. I could tune in to things – like I could tell you what kind of a night I was going to have by the way the car pulled up in the driveway, or the way the key went in the door. I was so in tune with people’s behaviors – you know, out of survival mode. But it also trained me, like a cop. I was becoming an observer; an extreme observer.

So from your experiences, you were able to be observant about people and how they acted and how they behaved, and so that would help you later on?

And I loved radio. Oh, I loved radio so much, because of the voices. And there were still some radio plays going on when I was a kid. There was a radio guy named Stan Freberg that had a radio show; and he had one of my favorite voice guys on it, whose name was Daws Butler, and he did a lot of the Hanna-Barbera stuff. He was a little ball of fire, this Daws Butler; and I just came to know these people. But there was no way you could know anything about show business in those days; because there was no emphasis on it. That was for “other people.” You know, “Well who?” It was like: nobody in my town. I was such a geek, I had to hunt down the only other kid who had comic books, and he lived on the other side of town. I just set my inner GPS and found him. I just walked and walked until I found him somewhere.

So what kind of comics did you read, when you and this kid were growing up?

Silly stuff; we read the Marvel stuff – I didn’t mean that that was silly – [Marvel and] DC comics were not silly, they were exciting. But, like, Gold Key Comics were silly; there was The Fly, which was Archie Comics, and he was their superhero – and he fell by the wayside because the other machines were a little more happening and powerful. But I had the original issues of some really important comic books. I had secret origins of like, Batman and all of those. They came out around 1960; 1959, maybe 1961.

Do you still have them?

No. No, it went up my nose, heh.

Back in the day?


Well, do you still follow comics these days?

I try to. I like the revamps of stuff they’re doing. Because there’s so much time that has gone by, that these characters have been around, and eventually they’ve got to morph. You know, they’re not going to get older on us, even though they can dance in and out of timeframes, to show old Superman, like where he wound up.

Yeah; they did that, of course.

Yeah! And there are so many comic books that it’s tough to keep track of them.

Do you watch the movies?

I try to go to movies, yeah, when I can. I’m writing a lot, and I stay up late, late into the evening.

Oh, okay, what are you writing right now?

There are a couple of projects that I’ve got going with my partner that I worked with on Ren & Stimpy. His name is Jim Gomez; and we’ve put together five fully developed shows, most of them animated. We’re pitching them around town, and we’ll see what happens. I love doing what I’m doing – you know, I can be an objective fulfillment machine for the rest of my life – but at some point I do want to create or own something, and give myself the objective.

I think all creators feel that way – it just makes sense.

Yeah – I mean, but I will still always go and work for somebody else, probably doing voice-over.

Now you said that you love radio, and you’ve been on the radio – and I know when I was growing up, I heard you on K-Rock; so tell me, what was that experience like? I mean, I used to listen to that in the morning, when I was getting ready for school…

Didn’t you feel like there was subterfuge involved with that? Like you couldn’t just let everybody hear that.

Yeeeaaah; don’t tell my parents, okay? They didn’t like that show; they didn’t like Howard Stern. I had to be subtle about it.

Of course not. Of course not; but the people who listened to it got it. They understood that everything was silly. It was all about being totally silly in the face of the most horrific subjects.

And pushing boundaries.

Yes, pushing boundaries. It was very organic. We didn’t play records. And Howard was a great ringmaster; he knew, okay, when something’s enough. We’d beat it so far, that’s fine, let’s go to commercial and we’ll start something else. He’d always keep things moving.

And how did you end up working there? I know you’d worked in radio before that.

I was in radio in Boston, and I wasn’t a disc jockey. I was very creative, and showcasing the works of others for a living didn’t turn me on; because I would always feel like a curator in a museum. But these disc jockeys were really pompous about playing records, and it’s like, “Dude, you didn’t create the statues; you just dust them.” And I used to get reamed for having that type of attitude. It’s like, “You’re not allowed to unmask these icons,” and it’s like, “Screw you. You don’t do anything.” I was always surly because there was so much phoniness that used to drive me crazy. My heroes were the artists, not people who were famous for some cottage industry reason – like disc jockeys or TV show hosts. They’re not creating anything. So my heroes were never celebrities. It was always artists. And if they happened to be a celebrity that was a byproduct of their great artistic talent.

Right. So being on a show like The Howard Stern Show, where you got to interact and do your own thing, that was what you were looking for.

That was very appealing to me. And you had to be ready for anything.

So did that help you prepare in large part for the voice acting? And were you also doing voice acting some when you were on the show, or did that come later?

Well I’d already been doing voice acting in Boston, on the radio, and then when I went to New York there was just more of an opportunity to open up and to push myself to see what I was capable of. Plus, I had one of the funniest people in the universe lobbing in little lines here and there for me. But people said, “Ah, Jackie wrote everything for you.” Hey, yeah, sure: let me just talk straight, in a character, for seven minutes. A guy can’t write every bit of dialogue that you say for seven minutes. He can put in ideas, and you integrate them into your conversation. I mean, he did it for Howard all the time. But Howard was very generous; I mean, that’s like loaning somebody a nuclear weapon, that he would let Jackie Martling facilitate me.

And now when you were doing all of this, I know you also played guitar and had a band, and you’ve played guitar with Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson…

Oh, I opened up for a lot of famous guys that I knew growing up, like Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, The Four Seasons, and Jan and Dean… And later on in life I actually got to play with Brian Wilson.

When was that happening, in comparison to the radio and the voice acting?

Radio just started happening as I was phasing out of playing music.

Okay, so that came a little bit before?

Yes, and then after a moratorium, when I did pick up again, in the future, as the years went by, I wound up playing with one of my idols, which was Brian Wilson.

So what was it like playing with Brian Wilson?

It was so strange; because the first time I played with him, we were at a little hall in Santa Monica, by the beach; and it was me and The Cars guitar player – Elliot Easton – and we were playing with Brian, and then a friend of mine was playing bass. We put together a little band; but I mean, I knew every note of the whole catalogue, I knew every harmony, I knew every chord change, because I was so into The Beach Boys. The Beatles and Jeff Beck; the English stuff was good. But The Beach Boys were our band. And it was like a dream, you know, just playing with Brian Wilson.

And then next thing, we’re at Lincoln Center. And then we played David Letterman. And it was crazy, I mean I’m playing these songs with Brian Wilson; and I still can’t get over it. You know, he did all those hot rod songs – girls, and cars, and fun – and we did 409 onstage, and he was singing 409, which is the old hot rod song, and in the chorus, “Nothing can catch her, nothing can touch my 409, 409,” I started going (hot rod revving noises), and he looked over with this happy, astonished smile, like a little child. He’s like: “What’s going on? But I love this, whatever you’re doing over there.”

Oh, that’s fantastic. So now obviously your voice acting is a large part of your career, and Futurama is a huge part of that – and you developed Philip Fry, well Philip J. Fry, if I’m doing the whole name —

— Well that’s because most cartoon characters’ middle initial is J. Rocket J. Squirrel; Homer J. Simpson; Stimpson J. Cat.

Yes. So when you were developing that character; you’ve said that Fry is similar to you at twenty-five; so when they had you in auditioning for Futurama, did they ask you to develop that character; did you come in saying “this is something I have,” or what?

They showed me the pictures when I went in, and there was some dialogue they wanted me to read; and…you know what it’s like – something, you look at it and it just gives you an impression, and depending on your experience, or your talent, or your intuition, you’re hoping that you’ll come up with what they’re looking for. And all of them were pretty much very close to what I gave them. They described Fry, and I said, “You know what? I don’t do this very often, but I’m going to just use my own voice, like when I was twenty-five.” I remember, I was very whinyyy, and complainyyy, and I just know I had a plain vanilla voice. I had no idea I had this wild animal in my throat somewhere; this big clumsy beast that could do anything. You know, I really didn’t know back in those days. Because I was singing and playing. But I would go in and do voices on stage like when we blew up an amp, or a string snapped, or whatever. Out of embarrassment, I would just keep going and entertaining. Might not have been the music or anything, but people loved it. Launching into characters that I would make up, and imitate, or whatever.

Right. And now, on Futurama, you do a lot of the voices. How did that come about?

They would just keep showing me pictures, and I auditioned for everybody, including Bender. I played him as a construction worker, and John DiMaggio came in and mopped the floor with that audition. He played him as kind of a punch-drunk fighter.

Yes, Bender is a great voice.

Oh, it’s beautiful. And it developed into what it is. In the beginning, none of us sounded like who we were. I mean, that’s who we thought we were, at the time, but voices morph. You listen to an episode #10 from The Simpsons, and you listen to the 200th episode, and it’s like, “Huh?” Well, Homer Simpson was like (voice impression), and then later on he developed all of these other facets that make the character so interesting and believable.

Yes. Now in Futurama, or your other roles, what are your favorite characters to play or have played? And what were the most difficult?

I love doing all the characters, and I love them equally; so I can’t pick out a favorite. Because I just try to bring so much imagination to it. I was always trying to do something nobody had done, and that served me well. I didn’t want to mimic people. I could do it – I’ve held up franchises. I did four years of Woody Woodpecker; and Popeye…the works, you know? But you only make your mark for real if you start creating and it catches on. And you have faith that you’re just as good as those impressions that you relied on; that were your little power base.

Right, well because they were starting out once, and they made up those voices, and so why not you? And so what was the most difficult voice to do?

I don’t know; I know that I had become fearless; totally fearless. I’m not afraid of anything, and I’m willing to try anything. I’m willing to fail. I was like that in comedy clubs. Because it didn’t make sense to me – why should I memorize twelve minutes worth of material and then go out and pretend every night that I’d just thought of it? I needed stakes. I needed real things at stake like dying or bombing [on stage]. I really did, and I wasn’t afraid to.

Did you do a lot of stand-up?

Not a lot. A little bit, and then I got into radio, and that was it. Stand-up is very, very hard. There are guys that are just so, so amazing at it and everything. But my forte was not stage performance, doing stand-up. My forte was radio; and that was a bigger playground. You could dodge in and out of characters, and you didn’t even have to have written material; you could ad-lib while you’ve got these crazy voices going back and forth.

In your voice work, how much do they want you to or let you ad-lib?

They want to get what they want to get; ideally, what they had in mind. And then after you do that and they’re happy with it, they ask you if you thought of anything, or you want to add or bring something; and a lot of times I would, and a lot of times it made it in. A lot of it just winds up – they want more rather than less. Because that way they have options; they can play with stuff they didn’t think would work and all of a sudden, oh my God, it works beautifully.

Right. Because sometimes improvisation is the best part of life.

Yeah; but it’s also this constant wonderment of discovery – whether something’s going to work or not. That’s exploration. It’s like, you try to control every aspect of everything as much as you can, but when serendipitous things happen, like, “What was that thing you just did?” “Oh, you mean this?” and they’d say, “Yeah, what if he just goes right into that?”

Like when I did Nixon – I’m old enough to remember when Nixon was running for President, and John F. Kennedy, and they did the debate on TV. And I was astonished at how perfect Kennedy looked – like a game show host, with his perfect teeth, and his buttered-toast hair. He was made for TV. Nixon was made for wanted posters. He looked like a stolen car. And he was (in character) “shifty-eyed, and he was nervous and…ar-rar-rar.” And he was sweating. While the interview was continuing, he was getting worse, and his beard was coming in; you could practically see the bottom half of his face get darker and darker. And I said to my mom, “Mom, he’s going to turn into a werewolf!” Because I loved horror movies, like with Lon Chaney slowly turning into the werewolf. Nixon was kind of almost there – lycanthropic. So he was just doing his thing, and I said, “That’s awful; he’s almost unwatchable.”

And then years later, I get the chance to do Nixon, as a head in a jar, and I would say something like, (in character) “You filthy hippies, get off the grass outside this White House,” and then all of a sudden I would go: (werewolf noises). Like I was changing. You know, just replacing words with noises and stuff.

Hah, wow. I know it’s hard work, but it just sounds like so much fun.

Well, you gotta keep coming up with new bags of tricks, and keep expanding them and everything. That’s how you keep working.

Now you were saying earlier that you have essentially had conversations with yourself. Some examples of that are Farnsworth introducing Fry to Zoidberg [in Futurama], and then Doug and his arch-nemesis. How do you deal with that; how does that work in your head? Because that seems to be even a double challenge over consistently trying to sound a certain way.

It’s like I had my boot camp training in Boston doing consecutive voices. Because I got a job as a producer; and there’s no producer school you can go to. I had to learn how to splice tape, and I had to learn how to write and create my own characters and bits; and then put it together so it could be air-able; with sound effects, and music, and everything. I didn’t quite know what I was doing, but I just did it.

And it works for you!

Yeah, I mean, I’m very strange in that way; like I still, to this day, can’t tie my shoes properly, I just can’t. And a necktie, I have problems with. I can’t do anything practical; but if you ask me to do something only like, four or five other people in the world can do, I have no problem.

So now as a voice actor, what’s the experience of celebrity? How do you experience that as someone who’s mostly known by different voices, so someone might not actually know, talking to you, that yours was the voice they’ve heard on shows?

Well, celebrities were never my heroes. Never. To this day, I don’t give a dismal damn, really, whether Kim’s having problems with her pregnancy, or whatever. It’s like, “Fuck you.” You know what? Anybody who can fart the national anthem can become a celebrity. Any stupid-looking bald guy can throw on an earring and a goatee and a leather jacket, and now he’s Pawn Stars. And they pose these guys like rappers, like album covers; they’re all big, bad, and bald – and they’re basically lucky imbeciles, because show business ain’t what it was anymore, now it’s supposed to be “reality.” These guys just have to be who and what they are. And then they learn how to act; because they go, “I like this ride very much;” and they know it’s going to be over, and they want to stay in that business. They don’t want to go back to oblivion.

Yes. So how do you interact with fans? And do some people just know your whole oeuvre? What is that experience like?

There’s people that know more about me than I do. Because I can’t remember every little fiddle-faddle, you know? But I’m just grateful; I’m so grateful – I mean, what are the odds that there would be people in this world that would put aside time in their life to know what you do, and to follow it? It’s mind-blowing to me; it’s surreal – and it still is, to this day.

Well that’s a great and very humble attitude.

Well, I mean, I know. I know the drill, I know the deal. You have to somehow connect in one way or another with people who admire you; and hopefully you’ll keep up the same standard of work that turned them on in the first place. So I always try to – whatever new thing comes along, I just try to come in like gangbusters; you know, get some attention. Like, I like to turn tables over, bash chairs. You know, when I first went to New York I was like a Terminator. I got all skinny because I knew I was going to be walking everywhere, and auditioning; and I used to listen to bagpipe music.

Bagpipe music?

Yeah, because I’m half Irish; and when I hear bagpipe music, it makes this Celtic side of me boil, and prepares you to go into battle. I’d be galvanized, like I was marching into a glen with my compatriots, and we’re all going to get stabbed and shot; but it’s okay, because we’re doing it for the right reason. And I used to listen to all these bagpipes, going up 2nd Avenue, 3rd Avenue, to work, and I would get to the audition, and I’d feel like a Terminator.

Like you were ready. That’s fantastic. Speaking of getting ready for new things; what are you working on currently that we should be looking forward to?

I’m doing some kids’ stuff. I never used to get hired by Disney; because I wasn’t their kind of guy, you know what I mean? The stuff I did was very Gothic and dark-ish, like screaming and yelling and very dramatic. But I got this show called The 7D; and I’m playing Bashful, because the 7D are the seven dwarves. (Singing) “We’re The Seven D,” and they get a beautiful, cute song and everything. And I love it; I love it to pieces.

And is that out now, or coming out?

It’s coming out. And I was doing some voice work for Avengers Assemble. There’s a character called Rocket Raccoon. So I’m doing him. (In character) “Yeah, he’s got kind of like a Joe Pesci. And like, Steve Buscemi.” “Blood has been spilled, Jerry. I’m through fuckin’ around wit’ you, Jerry.” But somehow he has that voice. I thought it would be perfect to just tweak it; and it’s not a dead-on impression – I could care less about that. What it is, is: “Is it funny? Is it interesting? Does it fit?” I did a bunch of hours of recording the other day. And then I have my projects going. That keeps me busy because I’m always writing. I stay up all hours and stuff, but it’s a labor of love, so you feel energized somehow.

Yeah! Well I hope that we see some of that from you soon.

I hope you do, too.

And thank you so much for this interview.

My pleasure.

•     •     •     •     •

Nope, it was totally my pleasure, Billy. You’re delightful.

Big thanks to Billy West for the interview, and big thanks to the ever-helpful Kevin O’Shea, producer for Made of Fail Productions, for cleaning up the audio file for me. (And as ever, check out the Made of Fail podcasts for fun geek-tastic discussions, in which I have actually appeared a couple of times.)

That’s all for now, and until next week, when I’ll be sharing my interview with the talented cartoonist Nick Galifianakis, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: Phil LaMarr at Awesome Con DC!

Phil LaMarr Emily Whitten

So, ComicMix readers, as per my previous column, Awesome Con DC happened April 20 and 21…and, I say this unironically, it was awesome. I had a blast. I spent time with good friends; I met new friends; I walked the con floor and met comics legends (great chat, Larry Hama!) and witty and charming award-winning artists (hello, Ben Templesmith!); and was delighted with the strong turnout of talented local comics folks. I went to a couple of panels (amazing, for me, since I usually plan to go to tons and then don’t go to…any); and wore my Girl Jayne Firefly costume. And yes, naturally, I bought some stuff (surprise!). I also pretended to be Nick Galifianakis for awhile (don’t tell!) and did three fantaaaastic interviews: with Nick, and with the amazingly talented Phil LaMarr and Billy West. (More convention pictures here, and oh by the way, next year’s Awesome Con dates are already set! April 19-20, 2014! Woo!) So much fun!


This week, I get to share with you my Awesome Con interview with Phil LaMarr, who is so fantastic. Seriously, y’all. So fantastic. And multi-talented. If you don’t remember him from his many roles during his five year stint on the sketch comedy show MADtv, then you might remember him as Marvin (poor Marvin! So young, so shot-in-the-face!) from Pulp Fiction. Or you might have seen him on one of the many other shows in which he made guest appearances. Or you might know him from his voice acting, in such roles as Hermes Conrad (and Reverend Preacherbot) on Futurama; or as John Stewart, Green Lantern, on Justice League; or as J.A.R.V.I.S. and Wonder Man on The Avengers TV series; or as Samurai Jack on Samurai Jack; or from Family Guy, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Avatar: The Last Airbender, or Star Wars: The Clone Wars, or King of the Hill, or Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, or, or, or…really I could go on forever. But instead, why don’t we go to the interview?

If you want to listen to the interview (listen to it! He does voices! We geek out about comics!) you can do so here. Or, you can read the (slightly edited) transcript below!

Hello, this is Emily Whitten, and I am here with Phil LaMarr at Awesome Con, the first comic con in the DC area in something like eight years. Phil, thank you for joining me.

Of course.

And I’m a big fan of your work; who isn’t?


And…there’s so much of it, I almost didn’t know where to start; so I’m going to ask you, what was the first time that you were on stage, or acted?

Ooh, wow; first time ever was eighth grade, in a school play; a production of The Phantom Tollbooth. I played Tock the Watchdog.

You played Tock!

I did.

That’s fantastic. So how did you like it; what was your experience there?

Oh, it was amazing. The play opens with the real-world version of Tock, who is the clock in Milo’s room, doing a monologue to the audience. So my first time on stage in front of an audience was alone, on stage, under a spotlight, talking to the full auditorium; and it was a transformative experience. It triggered something in me that has never been the same since. I mean, that’s basically the dragon I’ve been chasing – since eighth grade.

So then were you in all the other school plays after that, or did you feel your way out; how did that work?

Not all of them; I did tech crew, and stuff; you know – because I was in eighth grade. And then in tenth grade, I got the part of Bogart in Play It Again, Sam. Which was arguably the start of my voice work and impressions…I mean, because (as Bogart) “‘Cause honestly, I was doing a Bogart impression and I was fifteen.” When most kids my age didn’t know who Bogart was. I beat everybody out by doing it.

Well that’s amazing! Now since then, obviously you’ve done a lot of work.

I’ve never done Bogart again.

You haven’t? No! But you did do a lot of work for MADtv. Now, tell me how that came to be?

Well, I’d gone through The Groundlings program, so I’d done sketch comedy and improv and over the course of that, created a few characters. I didn’t get MADtv through The Groundlings – I wasn’t there when the casting people came – but I was prepared for it, from creating characters and writing sketches. I’d been at that point, doing it for…that was ‘95, and I’d been in The Groundlings program since ‘89. So I had a lot of experience under my belt doing it. And it translated nicely.

So when you went to MADtv, and you had the characters, like Slick Rick, and you had the UPS—I mean UBS guy…

Right…yeah, that always annoyed me; it’s like, “Really? We can’t say ‘UPS’? We can say UPS.”

It’s unfortunate! So were those characters that you had created and brought over?

The UPS guy I had done at The Groundlings on stage; and in fact the first UPS guy sketch that I did with Mary Scheer on MADtv; I had also done with Mary Scheer on stage.

Oh, okay – because she was in the program as well?

Yeah, she was in The Groundlings with me, and we both got the show at the same time. Of course, for some reason the producers made me change the ending; because, in my version, he got the girl.

Awww. As it should be, you know?

Of course!

I love Jaq.

Everyone does!

He’s great, you know?

Eventually they saw the error of their ways, and then they began to write sketches where he, like, really got the girl. It became increasingly sexual; it’s like, guys, guys: (as Jaq) ‘Well no ’cause he’s just all moving around-‘ it’s like: (exasperated sigh).

The video store one is probably one of my favorites, because you do the embarrassed not-quite-sure-what-to-do very well.

Thank you.

And the fact that he was kind of popping up all over the store, that was fantastic.

Right. Pretending to rent everything except the one he wanted. Yeah, I don’t know where that came from. Out of whole cloth, completely imaginary.

Right; you heard a story once, or somebody had an experience.

Although it’s funny that you mention that one, because that was the one sketch that I got writing credit for.



Well good job, well done you!

Thank you.

Now when was Pulp Fiction, was that before MADtv?

That was before MADtv. We shot that in ’93, and it came out in ’94; so yeah, next year it will be twenty years, actually.

Wow – and of course it is a classic already, even though it will officially be a classic, you know, when it’s twenty. …I guess, if that’s how you calculate.

It will be an ‘antique.’

Yes; well I hear cars are classics after twenty or something like that…

Oh, okay; and movies…are classic once they reboot them.

Yes, exactly; Spider-Man’s like twelve classics now.


So when you were working on Pulp Fiction, obviously you have a great but not huge part, but what was that like, and what was your favorite part, or did you learn something new from it that you found very valuable in the future?

It was interesting because – you know, I loved Reservoir Dogs, so I was chomping at the bit to audition, and I got the chance. And it was so much fun; because Quentin was just so generous. You know, in the audition process, and later on, you know, in the shooting process as well; and I got to audition with the Jules and Brett scene – Sam Jackson, you know, has the gun on Frank Whaley, and it’s just – it’s like reading fresh Shakespeare. It’s like: “So Romeo and Juliet; but they can’t get togeth-my God, this is amazing!” You know? It’s like, “Where do you come up with these ideas, Will??”

Yeah, it was amazing. It’s the sort of thing where when you’re preparing for the audition, by the second or third time you’ve read it through you realize, “Oh, I’ve got this memorized;” because the words just flow, one into the other; it just makes sense.

That’s really great.

Yes; it was the best set that I’ve been on; still, to date.

In terms of the people you were working with, or the atmosphere, or the direction, or everything?

The vibe and the atmosphere; which, oddly enough, I think came from the script. Everyone who read that script loved it, you know, and wanted to be a part of it. Bruce Willis took a – I mean, I don’t know how big a pay cut he took, but the budget for the movie was eight million dollars; so he took a hell of a pay cut. And again; I mean, I knew going into it that it was a very, very small part – it’s like, five lines; but I also knew, “Well, as small as it is, they can’t cut me out – or they lose forty-five minutes of the movie.” Where did all the blood come from??

Yeah, they call up their friend, and they’re like, “What do we do now?” And what would they do if there was no you? The [plot would] be in trouble.


So, okay, you had done some improv, and you had done the movie, and you’ve done voice work – between the three – or however many different kinds of roles you’ve had – what’s your favorite and/or what do you find the most challenging to prepare for?

Well it’s funny, because the most challenging to prepare for is my least favorite. And that’s things that are badly written.

That’s fair!

Because honestly, that’s the most challenging to prepare for. It’s like, “Oh dear God. How can I make this work?” When something is great? When something is just a fantastic piece? It’s not work. It’s like, “Oh! Oh I could do this!” You’re inspired by what you’re given. So that’s not work at all. And it’s funny, because people always ask, “Do you like live action, or animation, or stage?” And I’m like, “I like things that are good.”

And the truth is, things that are good have more in common than just being something in the same medium. Like Pulp Fiction has more in common with Samurai Jack than Samurai Jack has with Pound Puppies.

Hey! I had a Pound Puppy once. …I still have one.

They’re back!

They’re so cute!

But, now; being someone who’s known for improv and sketch comedy as one of your things, do people give you more leeway in roles that wouldn’t usually call for that, necessarily? Like do you ever go in and say, “Oh, but I could do it this way!” – because I know that can happen with any actor, sometimes, that they can go in and improv something; but do you find that people expect that of you, or like that from you?

At times. It depends on the project. Although, the weird thing is, even though I’m an improviser, as an actor I’m really, really text-driven. So my first impulse is not to go off script; my first impulse is to go into the script and figure out: “Okay, how best can I serve the writer’s intent?” But yeah, I mean obviously there are a lot of comedy things, roles in shows that you get on, where they’re looking for you to, like, “Make it better!” Which is a great challenge, and a great opportunity.

That’s really interesting. Now, speaking of the different kinds of roles, could you pick your top roles that were either the most fun or most challenging, or both? And I know we’ve talked about the connection between fun and challenging. But roles where you could look back and say, oh, my life was more complete because I did these things, or my career was more complete, my experience.

Hm, I don’t know, Justice League [for which Phil does John Stewart, Green Lantern] was definitely a lot of fun, just because it was a wonderful nexus; because I’m a comic book person, and to be able to play in that world was really, really fun and rewarding. It was also made by spectacularly talented people, you know: Bruce Timm, and Dwayne McDuffie, and Sam Berkowitz, and Len Uhley, and Andrea Romano; like basically everybody involved with it was at the top of their game.

Yeah, they’re basically legends in their field. And now you said, as I was aware already, that you’re a comic book fan. Tell me, when you were little, how did you get into it, or what’s your favorite character or storyline?

Well I think I was pretty much a casual comic book reader, until maybe ten or eleven? Then our neighbors had a son who came back from college, and basically bequeathed unto me his entire comic book collection.


So he was like in his early twenties-

-You can tell I’m excited about this.

Yeah, he just like, handed me this longbox.

The actual longbox, like what is it, like 300 comics at least in a longbox?

Right! And there were some amazing – I mean, I had some Mad Magazines, some of which I still have, that are older than I am. And I had great old Carmine Infantino Batmans; [and there were] twenty cent comics, and this was at a time when comics weren’t twenty cents anymore. And just a wide range. Stuff that I probably wouldn’t have picked up myself, but I got to read them. And it’s funny, because I’ve never been a “collector;” I’ve always been a reader; and the one time I tried to be a collector in the mid-eighties, I’m like, “Oh, there’s these new issues of this comic book coming out; I’m going to make sure I get number one!” and most of the number ones I have are, like, crap. I have Rom #1; Rom: SpaceKnight.

I don’t even know if I know that one.

No, you don’t. No you don’t.

I should, right?

No, you shouldn’t. It was really, really awful. The main character was a space robot.

Hmm, because “Space Knight” actually sounds kind of cool; but a space robot…?

But there was no there. There was no character, it was like, “No! He’s just a robot. From space. Doesn’t talk!” But I mean, I do also have New Teen Titans #1. So that was one I jumped on. And actually, I have Moon Knight #1, which wasn’t that great at the time

Yeah, but he’s gotten a lot bigger, in the last, I don’t know, I would say five years? I feel like it’s been more recently that he’s gotten more attention and more development.

Well it’s a tough character, just because that initial thing is like: “Okay, so, he’s a rich guy. And a mercenary! …And also a cab driver!” It’s like: “Whaaat??”

Yeah, he’s a little schizophrenic in the character development.

And eventually they wrote that into the character. “No no no, he’s actually just crazy.”

I was thinking, “Are they going to retcon that ever, or is it just going to be part of him now?”

Yes, somebody’s going to erase that. “Oh, the moon came over and it erased that…mental disease that this hero has.”

Yeah…but still, having the #1 of that is pretty good!

Well, especially because it’s early Bill Sienkiewicz. It’s Bill when he was still, like, “Is that Neal Adams? But just with really…with more sketch lines?”

That’s fantastic!

Yeah, I love that.

So yeah, that’s a good one, absolutely.

I’ve got to get him to sign that.

Yes, you should. He goes to cons, right? I haven’t actually run into him at one, but I’m sure…

He was at New York Comic Con last year.

Oh, then I’ve been at one with him and not – just kind of like how I saw you maybe from a distance at NYCC, I don’t know.

Yes, he’s very elusive.

Well I’m sure he’ll be at another one, and we’ll be at another one. So speaking of comics, I am embarrassed to say, that while I was –

That you’ve never read a comic book?

Hah, no! You know that’s not true!

“I’m, I’m just really pretty, aaaand…”

“I’m a fake geek girl, you know, ohmigoood…”

You are the fake unicorn. You are a horse with a horn glued on.

Hah, I am, I exist, the fake geek girl! No; I’ve read – my collection is quite impressive. I actually do have the entire-

You sound like such a dude when you say that.

I know, right?

You have a Ferrari – it’s a little red Ferrari: “My collection is massive. It’s really pretty impressive.”

“It’s amazing, dude. Bro!

“You should see it. But don’t touch it! Or I’ll…”

“Dude, it’s all in the little bags and boards, and if you get your fingerprints on it, I’m gonna be like, ‘Phil LaMarr’s fingerprint versus a mint condition, I don’t knoooow…'”

…But I have the entire Deadpool run.

Oh wow.

From the first appearance in New Mutants all the way through the current…


Yeah, I’m missing, like, a Black Panther that I cannot find. Black Panther #23.

So you’re kind of a completist?

Oh, I am. When it comes to Deadpool. And then when it comes to current runs that I’m reading if I miss one I go back and I get it.

Oh, well that just makes sense.

But yeah, I’m a definite completist when it comes to Deadpool; my collection is ridiculous.

How are you liking the Posehn/Duggan stuff?

I have to admit, I’m a little behind. Don’t tell! So far I’m liking it…

That’s the problem with being a completist.

I know! And I’ve also done some review copies lately so the stack [of stuff waiting to be read] is always changing. I have a stack right now that still includes Peter David’s X-Men: Gifted prose novel in the plastic and I got it for Christmas! But I read a little bit [of the Posehn/Duggan Deadpool]; I like it so far. But here’s what I’m embarrassed to admit: I was looking at your Wikipedia to prepare for this interview, even though I know some of your work, obviously, and I was like –

“He’s black! What the hell? No one ever told me!”

Right? “I didn’t know!”

No, but I was like, “He was in Spider-Man 2??” Which, I love that movie! And I love the scene that you’re in. And I was always so focused on Spider-Man; I went back and I was like, “Where is he, where is he, I have to find him!” This was last night; I have the movie, but I got on YouTube, because I knew it would be on there, because it’s the train scene – it’s the big scene. So I watched, and I was like, “And he catches Spider-ma – look at that!” How did you make that happen? No, I mean, they probably came to you and were like, “Phil. Come be in our movie.”

No! I auditioned for the Hal Sparks part; the guy in the elevator, when Spider-Man’s powers stop working.

Which is a great scene, where he’s like, “Cool Spidey suit, dude.”


So you auditioned for that…

And didn’t get it. And then they called, randomly, in August, and said:

“Hey, is Phil available to work from Wednesday to Friday?”

“For what?”

“Oh, Spider-Man 2.”

“Well, what part? Is it the part that he auditioned for?”


“Well what part?”

“We can’t say.”

“Well can you send over a script?”


And they refused to say anything! Like, “Well, what are we doing?” “They won’t tell me.” “Uhhhh…o-kaaay.” And I’m just racking my brains, like, “Well, this is Spider-Man, but…what am I doing?” And I told my agent, “All right: ask them, will I be working directly with Sam Raimi?” Because I knew, it’s a big, big movie; and I’m not going in there to be some sort of second unit, running from falling building blocks. And they said, “Yes, you will.” “All right, I’m in.” But I had no idea what I was doing. I showed up, and I’m like, “Whaaaaat are we doing?” And it turned out, [Sam] saw that scene, that fight between Doc Ock and Spidey, especially with Spider-Man losing his mask and keeping going, as the action heart of the movie.

And I totally agree!

It is.

That’s actually the reason I never noticed that it was you, because I’m so focused on the whole of the scene!

And it’s a fantastic scene!

Do you know, whenever I watch that movie, I actually watch that scene at least two or three times? Like, whenever I watch it. I cannot stop myself.

Because when else have you ever seen a fight scene at 100 miles an hour? In and out.

I know, with the windows, and the arms, and everything, and he goes in and out of the cars, and then at the end, when he’s stopping it with all the webs; it’s great! It’s fantastic.

Yeah, and the fact that it’s like: Is he going to stop it? No! He fails! No, he’s going to try again! And it’s just really – it’s just about willpower. But Sam knew that he needed emotion in this scene, and he said, “Okay, I’ve got, like, sixty extras,” and he sat us around and he said, “Okay, I’ve hired you eight actors so I can sprinkle you throughout this scene, so that I always have someone amongst the extras that I can cut to, to give me what I need at that moment, in the scene.” And I’m like, “I’ve never heard of that; that’s absolutely brilliant!” Like, if you have a crowd scene; yes, you don’t want to have to cut to extras to deliver the heart or the fear or whatever. And so he said, “I don’t know what the lines will be; we may be playing around with stuff; there’s nothing really scripted; but we may put some things in. You may not have lines, you might have lines, we don’t know .”

And you didn’t actually have a line, did you?

No; I had a line at one point that got cut out in the final cut.

Okay; but in that scene, I vividly remember people catching Spider-Man, and the emotion of it; I just didn’t realize it was you!

And you’re not supposed to! That would have been really distracting.

Well, and actually, the last time I had watched you on TV was more like Pulp Fiction and MADtv and stuff, and then I knew your voice acting; and so I don’t think I had connected the two of them as much. But that’s so great.

Yeah, it was fun. Well it was hilarious, because that two days turned into two and a half weeks.

Because that’s a huge scene! So how was it, working with Sam Raimi and everything?

It was great. I mean, a lot of sitting-around time, because on a movie with that kind of budget, they don’t really care if you sit around for twelve hours and don’t work. They’re like, “Your pay isn’t even going to show up on our budget,” you know what I’m saying? So it’s like, “Yeah, two weeks. Eh.” Actually, they didn’t even tell us that it was going to be extended. Just at one point, it’s like Friday, and it’s like, “Okay, so I guess it’s our last day,” and they’re like, “Oh, by the way, you’re on a weekly contract.” And I’m like, “Whuuu…?”

“See ya tomorrow!”

Right! “Oh, okay, I guess we…” But it was fun. It’s funny, because I wound up meeting Chloe Dykstra, who is a cosplay model and host, and she was fifteen, sixteen? And her dad was doing the special effects – John Dykstra – although it’s funny, because at one point – the subway train was pretty analog, like when the train rocked, there were a bunch of grips pushing a big wooden pole to rock it back and forth; and it looked very practical. They had practical Doc Ock arms, puppet arms that came in; and I passed John Dykstra one day on set, and I was like, “Well, this looks like a pretty easy scene for you, not a lot of special effects.” And he’s like, “…Not really.” And I was like, “Well what do you have to do?” “I have to create all of New York.” And he pointed up, and I realized that the entire three-story sound-stage we were in was a green screen.

Wow, and so he had to do everything rushing by, and when the webs go?

Everything you’re seeing – because actually, even some of the webs were practical; like when he’s holding them? Those were actual, practical webs.

I would think they would have to be, at least in his hands, so that they would look real.

But everything you’re seeing as it goes by, like all of the lighting, and all of the texture and everything – he created.

I find that stuff so fascinating, and I only know a little about it; and so I’m thinking, like, “How do they make his costume rip in just the right places, at just the right times,” you know?

The continuity was insane. And that was the other thing that was really impressive. Because Tobey Maguire was there on set, and at one point, we’re all carrying him. You know, it was that shot from above. And we were actually carrying him. And he was so nice, and I’m thinking, “If you’ve got me glued into a suit, where I can’t pee but once every eight hours? And then you’re going to throw me, with a recent back injury?”

Oh, he had a back injury?

Around Secretariat.

Oh yes, I remember that. [Emily note: We were both thinking of Seabiscuit. Because, you know, movies with horses and jockeys, yo.]

There was this whole talk about, they weren’t sure if he was going to be able to do it. And it’s like, “And you’re going to have me carried by a bunch of extras?” I’m sure if I was him, I would have done it; but I would have been in a bad mood. But he was so amazingly cool.

Did you get to sit down and chat with him at some point?

A little bit.

Because I’m sure everything was rushing around.

Yeah. And you also don’t want to bother him.

No, because he’s concentrating, he’s the main guy, in the main scene…

Yeah; and you know that guy has to – you don’t know what that person’s process is to maintain their energy. Because there’s a lot of sitting around, but when it’s time to go, you have to be ready to go. And it’s all on him.

Well, and everyone has a different method, and some people want the silence and everything.


That’s so cool though. I’m so glad that you’re in that; now every time I watch it I’m going to be like, “Look, it’s Phil!”

I’m so glad I’m in it every time I get a residual check.

Hah, that’s fair to say! Well I supported you, then, because I have the movie, and I went to see it.

Thank you.

So just a couple of other questions. Obviously, in your voice work, we mentioned the John Stewart role; also Futurama, which is huge and amazing and fun, and you play Hermes Conrad…

(As Hermes) A thirty-sixth grade level certified bureaucrat!

Which is fantastic! And at some point he gets bumped down and then gets back up there. He’s a great character, and you did other voices too…

Yeah; I mean, it’s been ten, fifteen years…I don’t know how long we’ve been doing it; but over the years we’ve all wound up doing additional characters, secondary characters; because there’s always somebody else to do.

Right. And now with that voice work, I have seen where sometimes with voice actors, you go in and you’re by yourself, and you’re doing your part, and then sometimes there are other people. Did you each record your own parts for Futurama, or were you in the room with everybody?

For Futurama we do group records. In shows that are writer-driven and comedy-driven, where the writers care about the comedy? You do group records.

Because the chemistry just works so much better when everybody’s together.

And you can’t really tell if a joke works if you can’t hear the lines before it.

That’s a really good point, obviously.

But people do it all the time!

Yeah, I’ve seen where people are just by themselves, and I’m like, “Wow, that has to be even harder than doing it with the group.”

As an actor it’s really difficult, because you can no longer trust yourself. You can’t take in the line that you’re getting and then respond naturally. You have to basically guess. It’s like, “Well, I don’t know what my response would be,” so you just have to trust the director.

Have you done that too? Jobs where you had to go in by yourself?


So you have both experiences. I would much prefer the group to going in by myself.

Of course. It’s the difference between, like if you’re writing, having an editor you know and an editor you don’t know. It’s like, “Okay, well, I don’t know what this person likes, I don’t know what they hate, but I’ll just deliver whatever I’m going to.” You can do it, you still do the same job, but it’s less comfortable. And a lot of the big companies – Disney and DreamWorks – tend to do more individual records than group reads. Occasionally there will be a creator or producer who can insist on, “I really need a group read,” but generally, more and more of the companies lately are doing individual records.

Right; and I have seen some of that, because I follow the Deadpool fandom, and Nolan North does Deadpool for things like Hulk vs., so I saw some clips of that process. Now you actually worked on a project with him fairly recently; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


And there are a lot of really great names in there, like Sean Astin, and Rob Paulsen –


– and Kevin Michael Richardson, and Jason Biggs, and Greg Cipes.

Yes! Lots of great names on there. So do you actually interact together, or is that one where you’re recording your separate parts?

Andrea Romano directs that, and Andrea’s very good and pretty old-school. So she does a read-through before, which almost nobody ever does, unless it’s a prime time show. But she does a table read the day of, just like she did in Justice League; like we would start the session by reading through the entire script.

Oh, right, so she directed both of those.

Yeah. She’s amazing. She did Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, Pinky and the Brain, Justice League

Yes! Which – Rob worked on a lot of those, I know. Did you ever work on Animaniacs and all of those?

No, those were before I got into VO. But fantastic shows. So she tends to do group records. And the funny thing is, there are directors who have four hours, or however many hours, or an hour for an individual thing and can barely get it done. She has an entire group of actors for just four hours, does a read-through first, and will still get you out early.

Wow. So who have you recorded with for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I’ve recorded with the gang.

So how did you like that? And is that coming back?

I believe so.

Okay, well, you should know.

I don’t know! No, the actors are the last to know. Seriously? If you’re putting something together, the last people you call are the actors.

I see. Well I haven’t actually gotten to watch [TNMT] yet, so I wasn’t sure exactly where it is right now.

I think they’re still recording episodes; but maybe they’re in second season; I’m not exactly sure.

Well hopefully there will be more of that. Because I’ve loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from, you know, yea big, so I will want to check that out at some point.

You should, because the people behind it – Peter Hastings, and Ciro Nieli are just really, really talented.

Awesome. I will definitely do that. So tell me, is there any other current work you would like to talk about?

Hm, what’s going on right now…? I’m doing some on-camera stuff; I did a comedy series called Inside the Legend, that’s just been picked up by My Damn Channel. It’s a comedy interview show with characters from history, mythology, fiction, and legend; but they’re all a little tweaked. Like we did one where the female host is interviewing Albert Einstein. And then she introduces him, and he starts talking with a Southern accent. And she’s like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry! Ladies and gentlemen, Mark Twain!” And they just keep switching back and forth, and she’s never sure which one she’s talking to.

Okay, I must see that! Where and when is that coming on?

That’s on My Damn Channel on YouTube.

So it’s just a web series?


Okay, well that’s fantastic; I will definitely put that link in, because that sounds just right up my alley.

Oh, and you’d also love – I’m also working on Chatroom of Solitude; Jeff Lewis from The Guild has written this. It’s for Stan Lee’s World of Heroes, and it’s really hilarious. It’s basically superheroes and supervillains on Google Chat.

I’m in love already. And that is also online?

Yeah. They’re both out now.

Well I’ll definitely check those out, because that’s fantastic. Yay! Thank you so much for this interview; and I’m going to do the thing that everybody [I assume] asks you to do…will you do the Green Lantern oath for me? Will you do it, Phil? I know you did it once today already, but…

Okay… Well, they’ll pick this clip, or the clip from YouTube, whichever:


“In brightest day, in blackest night,

no evil shall escape my sight.

Let those who worship evil’s might

beware my power: Green Lantern’s light!”

Thank you so much, Phil, this has been great.

You’re so silly.

Well, he’s right; I am. Big thanks to Phil LaMarr for the interview, and big thanks to the ever-helpful Kevin O’Shea, producer for Made of Fail Productions, for cleaning up the audio file for me. (And as ever, check out the Made of Fail podcasts for fun geek-tastic discussions, in which I have actually appeared a couple of times.

That’s all for now, and until next week, when I’ll be sharing my interview with the excellent Billy West, Servo Lectio!



Emily S. Whitten: This $#!% Makes Me So Mad

Cosplay1When I started writing this column, I was also in the midst of excitedly making plans for Awesome Con, which took place this weekend in Washington, DC. Plans for seeing friends I hadn’t seen in months; plans for meeting up with people I’d only talked to on the Internets; plans for dinner with awesomesauce con guests; plans for what panels I wanted to try to see; and plans for what costume(s) I was going to wear. My head was full of happiness and excitement and anticipation for a local convention that focuses on so many of the things I love.

And then as I was catching up on general geeky news, I read this. It’s something everyone should go read in full, along with this second account of the incident, and with this account of an earlier incident that’s even worse. Seriously, go read it. I’ll wait.

•     •     •     •     •

Now that you’re back (and just in case you didn’t follow my instructions to go read those posts) what is recounted in the most recent links is yet another account of female cosplayers (a group of Tomb Raider cosplayers in this instance, ranging in age from fifteen to thirty-one) being treated inappropriately at a con, which is the short-hand or mild way of saying that they were, with a single question from some random male “reporter,” embarrassed, dehumanized, harassed, discomfited, unwillingly sexualized, and disrespected (at the very least) because they chose to wear costumes at a convention.

The best part of this (and by “best” I mean absolute worst. Worst!) is that when this asshole was confronted by Meagan Marie, Community & Communication Manager at Crystal Dynamics (developers of Tomb Raider) about his inappropriate behavior, he had the gall to call her an “oversensitive feminist” (forget the fact that she was there as a professional, representing the actual, official product; she’s a giiirrrrrl so it’s okay to dismiss her words and actions) and then to say that “the girls were dressing sexy, so they were asking for it.” (Otherwise known as the “cosplay is consent” argument.)

What I can’t: even.

Seriously, this stuff makes me so mad it takes away my coherency, leaving me spluttering things like, “What the – Where do these guys come from? Were they raised by wolves?? Lecherous wolves???” Or, slightly more coherently: What goes through a man’s mind that makes him think it’s acceptable to treat a total stranger as an object, and make her uncomfortable like this? And to think that it’s actually funny, or clever, or…whatever? And do these men want to be perceived as terrible, sexist jerkwads? Because that’s how it works out, though I can’t imagine that’s the goal. What is the goal? I don’t know.

I’ve actually seen some of these guys post online in response to women speaking out about such behavior, saying, “But how can we knowwwwwww what someone will take offense to? It’s like all the ruuuuuules have changed since yesterday when it was the fifties. And nobody told me!!”

Well, I can’t speak to every situation, but I can provide a set of general guidelines. Everyone has their own level of comfort with sexual behavior, but when you don’t know someone, you can’t assume their level of comfort. Therefore, if you want to be “safe” and not harass strangers (a fairly simple-seeming proposition to me, but apparently many people don’t know how not to harass strangers), then here’s a basic flow-chart style guide you can use to ensure you’re not being a harassing jerk to strangers, and more particularly women, you don’t know:

(1) Do you know the woman you’re about to speak to or interact with?

(a) No.

(b) Yes.

Cosplay2(2) If answer is (a):

–> Behavior you should not engage in:

(i) Do not touch the woman. No, not there. Not there, either! And not there!! Don’t. Just don’t. (Addendum: if the woman touches you, e.g. for a photo they’ve consented to where they put an arm around you or something, do not touch the woman anywhere that they are not touching you, or in any way that they are not touching you.)

(ii) Do not make specific comments about (or stare lecherously at) the woman’s body, body shape, body parts, etc. (e.g. “You have such a great ass!” *leer*)

(iii) Do not comment on the woman’s looks in a general sexual way. (E.g. “Daaaamn, you’re hot.”)

(iv) Do not make sexually explicit or suggestive comments about you and the woman or what you want to do to or with the woman. (e.g., “All I can think about right now is fucking you.”)

(v) Do not take inappropriate photos of the woman. (e.g. “upskirt” photos or other things that are voyeuristic and often actually illegal.)

(vi) Do not act like something is “all in good fun” or pretend it’s okay when the woman is clearly uncomfortable or unhappy about it or has asked you to stop whatever you’re doing. Stop what you are doing, and apologize if you can see or have been told that you’ve made the woman uncomfortable.

(vii) Do not put a woman on the spot while doing any of the other things listed here, e.g. by doing any of these things while recording the woman on camera or voice recorder or while talking to her in front of a crowd of other men who you know and/or who are paying attention to the conversation.

(viii) When in doubt, pretend your grandmother and/or mother and/or someone with actual manners is standing next to you. Adjust your behavior to what it would be in the presence of your female family members or someone with respect and consideration for other people. Stay in that zone.

–> Behavior you may engage in:

(i) Compliment the costume itself! (e.g. “That is a fantastic Spider Woman costume! It looks so authentic! Where did you get it? / Did you make it?” and similar.)

(ii) Talk further with the woman about your mutual love of the character/comic/show/etc. if they initiate further conversation or show interest in it.

(3) If answer is (b):

(i) If you know the woman slightly (have just run into them at a con before, or exchanged a few sentences, or chatted briefly about generic topics), see (2).

(ii) If you know them fairly well and/or are actually friends, stick with (2) until you’ve gauged their comfort level with comments or compliments that have a sexual component, based on their actual interactions and conversation and statements. When in doubt, see (2), and bear in mind that not only do women have different comfort levels, but that these levels also vary based on the person they’re interacting with, factoring in things like how well they feel they know the other person, whether they trust them, whether they are comfortable with them, etc. (e.g. a woman may feel comfortable joking around about sexual topics with, or receiving a physical compliment from, one person and not another.)

(4) In all situations, remember to treat women as people, not objects.

Well, there you go! This may not be a perfect guide, but for anyone out there who desperately needs a clue about this stuff, it is a good place to start.

On a personal note, the stories shared by cosplayers who have been harassed resonate with me, because I have been harassed, too. I have had experience with examples (i) through (iii) of my guidelines for things not to say or do to total strangers/women you’ve just met at a con, and I was actually the recipient of the exact example statement I used in (iv). Years later, I still remember how dehumanized and uncomfortable I felt at that moment, and I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

I also identify with the point Meagan made in her post regarding how differently she reacted when harassment was aimed at her versus at another woman, and how when she was the recipient of harassment, she often laughed it off or let it pass. For my own part, while I have told people off for acting inappropriately towards me, sometimes I am so shocked at what’s just been said to me, completely without justification or permission, that my brain literally doesn’t process it until it’s too late to react as I should. I’d imagine I’m not the only one this happens to. This is when it’s good for others to step in if they witness the situation, and when it helps to be “prepared” (sadly) for things like this by thinking ahead as to how you would want to react.

And now, on to something slightly “positive” regarding this topic; which is that the unfortunate incidents linked above, and others like them, have spurred a neat idea, the Cosplay =/= Consent (“Cosplay does not equal consent”) photo project, as outlined here. Essentially, the blogger is collecting photos of people in costume at cons holding a whiteboard that says, “Cosplay =/= Consent” and then posting them as part of a photo . I think images like that and comics like this one are a great way to distill the points that I’ve made above regarding the treatment of cosplayers at cons down to a simple rule that everyone can remember. And the idea is already catching on! While at Awesome Con (which was, indeed, awesome) I actually ran into someone who had one of these signs (yay!) and took some pictures to share here. I encourage people to continue enforcing these ideas about behavior through the signs or any other means they find effective.

Maybe if enough people do that, we won’t even have to talk about this anymore, and can instead just focus on awesome convention things, like, e.g., the fantaaaaastic interviews with Phil LaMarr, Billy West, and Nick Galifianakis that I did at Awesome Con and will be sharing with you over the next few weeks.

Until then, keep promoting the idea that cosplay does not equal consent, and Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: Awesome Con DC!

Whitten Art 140416This Saturday and Sunday, April 20 and 21, a new comics and pop culture convention will debut in Washington, DC: Awesome Con! I’m super-excited about this, given that there hasn’t been a comic con in DC proper in lo, these many years since I have lived here. Okay, okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit. As it happens, there was a comic con here as recently as 2005. But it’s still been quite awhile. There are comic cons in the general area, yes, like the excellent Baltimore Comic Con, as well as cons in Richmond, and Annapolis; but for those of us who are Metro-dependent, those cons are not so easy to get to.

Now, finally, we’re getting a con right in the city, at the Washington Convention Center, a three minute walk from the Mt. Vernon Square metro station (or 11 minutes from McPherson Square or Metro Center stations, for orange/blue line folks). Yay! The con will run from 10 AM to 7 PM Saturday, and 10 AM to 5 PM Sunday, and tickets are very reasonably priced at $15 for one day, or $25 for both (unless you opt for the $75 VIP package, which includes exclusive items).

Not only is the con convenient and affordable, but it looks set to be every bit as good a draw as other, already established area cons might be. Created by the guys behind Annapolis Comic Con, the guest list to date includes celebrity guests like Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Nicholas Brendon, Futurama’s Billy West and Phil LaMarr, Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson, and The Walking Dead’s Theodus Crane, along with over eighty artists and comic creators, including Larry Hama, Herb Trimpe, Justin Jordan, Ben Templesmith, Noelle Stevenson, Nick Galifianakis, and many more. The con is advertising “a wide assortment of comic books, collectibles, toys, games, original art, cosplay, and more,” and special events to include “discussion panels, costume contests, trivia contests, gaming tournaments, and a whole lot of activities for kids.” There’s even going to be a Mind of the Geek comedy show starring comedian Arnie Ellis. Sounds…awesome!

Given that this is a newly minted con, and that I’m a convention co-founder myself and am always interested in that aspect of things, I thought I’d check in with comics dealer Ben Penrod, co-founder of Awesome Con, and ask him a question or two. Here’s what he said:

What spurred the creation of this new Washington, DC comics convention?

As long as I’ve been doing cons, there hasn’t been one in DC. Awesome Con is something we (Steve Anderson, owner of Third Eye Comics, and I) had been kicking around for a while; we knew a lot of people wanted a con in the District.

What’s your previous involvement with comics and convention-running, and how did you get involved in organizing this con?

I’ve been selling comics on eBay since 1999. In 2008 I started selling comics full-time, and Steve and I ran the first Annapolis Comic-Con in 2011. The Annapolis Comic-Con was something we had discussed since 2009 or 2010, probably.

What’s the planning experience been like? Any roadblocks, or smooth sailing?

I don’t know that I’d call it smooth sailing, but things are good. It’s definitely a lot of work. I have met a lot of great people, and I’m so excited about Awesome Con; it’s a really fun job. But it’s a lot of work.

What are some highlights of the upcoming con, and what are you most looking forward to?

If I didn’t have responsibilities and could just attend the con as a fan, I’d probably try to get to as many of the guest Q&As as I could, and probably early Saturday before it gets too busy I’d find some artist I’d never seen before and commission some artwork.

What have you got on the schedule for kids?

We have a lot of stuff for kids. The Kids Are Awesome room will be fantastic. Any time during the show, kids can find art supplies in the room and get to work drawing or coloring. We’ll also have a kids’ costume contest and an art show both days. On Saturday there will be a children’s book reading and an art workshop. On Sunday we’ll have a game show with kids and pro artists paired up!

Is this planned to be a yearly event? What are your goals for the show?

This will be an annual event. The goal is for this show to be a fun event that the people of the DC area can look forward to every year. For too long, DC was the only major city without a con, and now we have one.

And I hope it’s here to stay!

As the website says, “Awesome Con DC is a comic-con that embraces all aspects of geekdom and pop culture.” Sounds good to me! So if you’re in the area April 20 and 21 and looking for something fun to do, come to Awesome Con! I’ll be there both days, so if you see me, feel free to say hi.

And until then, Servo Lectio!