For a time, there were those who called Steve Blum the “king of anime.” He earned that non-de-plume for his singularly, exceptional role as Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop.What the fans forget is the man should really be called the king of animation, or at least of voice actors. Since he started, back in 1981 (with the very first Mobile Force Gundam series), his talent has been heard in over 300 different animated, video game and, yes, anime series. This does not include his work on commercials or interstitial spots for Cartoon Network or Kids WB. Even more outstanding is his incredible range. As veteran Wendee Lee once said, Blum got the role of Jamie in Megas XLR because he could scream like a girl. She should know, she starred opposite him in Megas as Kira as well as Faye Valentine in Bebop. Screaming like a girl is only the start. In recent years he’s the voice of Orochimaru in Naruto and Yacky Doodle for Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law. Both of those high pitched, super strained voices are light years from his generally recognized rocky baritone. “I don’t know what she’s talking about!” Blum screams in his Jamie-screech voice before breaking down and having a hardy laugh. “I just try to come up with something that matches the role. Somebody counted them for me, and he swore I seriously had 100. I really don’t know. I don’t think I have that many distinct voices. For me I just try to match whatever I see on the screen, is in my head or what the director tells me.” Then again, conventionality is the last thing you can accuse Blum of. Even the way he started in the voice business wasn’t the usual career path. “I started out doing improvised voices when I started working in a program where I read for kids in schools,” Blum recalls. “I had some kids and they asked me if I would mind doing it. I was very happy to do it. That’s where I got my training before I went to the public. I did that for several years. It was actually the best vocal training I could have had. I started out with pre-K and went all the way up to fifth grade. What was great is kids are good at giving feedback. It really helped me to hone my skills. I still love doing it, too. “At the time I was working for a film company, and I was a VP of marketing. I actually had a whole career going on there, but I just hated that part of the biz. There was too much stuff to deal with and a lot of politics. Then I started doing voiceover on the side. Then one day, after I did the 7-11 commercials, I suddenly realized I could make a living doing that and not have to apologize for it either. I was looking for a way out of that job, during that time I had a family to take care of, and the timing was just right.” That’s right. Whenever you hear a TV commercial with a resonant male voice saying “Thank Heaven for 7-11!” it was Blum. That wasn’t the only key role he had. When Cartoon Network decided they needed a spokesperson, they created an animated robot they dubbed TOM. It’s voice? Blum. “It was a big boost to my career,” Blum admits. “Cartoon Network was really good for me. Tom was became an icon of mine. Since they shut down the Tom franchise, I’ve gotten a lot of mail from fans that they grew up with that and it was an essential part of their childhood. I never really realized just how many people he had touched. It was a great time. It was also real great people who I worked with in Atlanta and such a fun little character to do.” Then came such shows as Bebop and another Adult Swim stalwart, The Big O, and Blum was now truly established. What’s interesting is as he rose, so did a number of other voice actors with him. This doesn’t just include Wendee Lee and Bebop fellow star Beau Billingsley, but also Yuri Lowenthal and wife Tara Platt, Liam O’Brien, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Kari Wahlgren, David Wittenburg and Fred Tatasciore, among a dozen or two others. “You know, it’s a wonderful thing,” says Blum. “I have to say that some of the greatest actors I’ve ever worked with have been doing anime for years. It’s not just because of the popularity, either.” His career hit new highs last year, when it was announced that no less than Marvel Animation VP Craig Kyle announced that Blum is not only the voice of Wolverine, but he had the role “for life.” “It’s just incredible,” Blum said. “It almost made me cry, man. I respect Craig so much. Getting that, I can’t even describe what it feels like. It’s really amazing. I never expected it. It’s hard enough to play a character of this caliber anyway. I’m so excited about it. I really can’t express it. You see, I’m a big comic book fan, and a big X-Men fan, since I was a kid. You can’t imagine how really, really excited I am to have gotten that role.” The proof can now be seen on the recently released Hulk Vs. D2D and Nicktoon’s Wolverine & The X-Men. For Blum, this is particularly fun being it includes his colleagues and fellow comic book geeks Nolan North and Fred Tatasciore, the latter just happens to have anointed by Hulk for life by Kyle. “It’s such a treat to work with Fred,” Blum gushes. “We have worked opposite each other a lot of times over the years. There was one show, I forget its name right now, but we both were playing monsters and his character ate my character. After that, we developed this friendship where we constantly knee each other yet spur each other on. We’re always giving each other high fives. Being in the same session with him though really is such a pleasure. Part of that is because he’s such a physical actor. I love to sit back and watch him wail, see the veins pop out of his neck. He gets really intense like that. Then when he gets out of the booth he’s such a kindhearted and generous guy. He’s really such a sweetheart. “[As for North], I was in the studio with him at the same time. He is amazing because he can just make everyone laugh so hard they end up soiling themselves. Then he can snap right back into the action. Personally, I think the way he portrayed Deadpool just stole the show. He brought a character that had never really been seen in the animated universe and did it in such a way that shocked all of us.” Blum also admits doing Wolverine is one of the more challenging roles he’s taken on. “There’s so much about him,” says Blum. “I think it’s just the plain depth and the dichotomy of the character. There’s part of him that’s he’s so tortured and frustrated, and that’s where all the rage comes out of him. Yet there’s a basic appeal to him on a plain physical level. I really like to play with that. It gives me the chance to work on a real emotional range. “He’s in a bit more feral stage in Hulk Vs. It also explores his origins, what happened to make him what he is. He’s really more an animal then. In this new series, we kind of pick up on that thought. The only way it altered the performance, being it really is the same guy, is I noticed in Hulk Vs. he’s a little bit shorter, squatter, more feral. So I kind of stepped it up for the growling and the intensity, especially when he fights the Hulk. In that way we really mirrored the comics. Otherwise, it’s the same guy you see in Wolverine and the X-Men.” And Blum’s work is being properly rewarded. As previously reported, Wolverine and the X-Men was renewed for a new season barely into its first season in the U.S. While he won’t admit just exactly what he’s working on next, Blum does admit he’s one very busy man. “One of my biggest superstitions is to never speak about the future out loud,” he said. “Let’s just say I got a lot out there and I hope to keep on going.” And considering this is coming from the man who should be acknowledged as the king of animation, it will probably be well worth watching.
AC! DOING ELOISE MOVIEThe Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel, the storybook home of Eloise, was the site of the announcement introducing Eloise in Africa, an animated feature that will be released to coincide with Eloise in Paris, a live action feature written and directed by Charles Shyer. The announcement was made by Patrick Meehan, Chairman of HandMade Films, the Eloise rights holders, and Larry Schwarz, CEO of Animation Collective, the studio producing the film. One of the true classics of children’s literature, Eloise was written by Kay Thompson and featured the iconic illustrations of Hilary Knight. Purportedly it told the tale of a young Liza Minelli, who ruled the Plaza while her mother, Judy Garland, was on tour. The first book of the series was published in 1955 and four more have followed as No. 1 children’s bestsellers in the United States. In 2003, HandMade produced two Eloise TV movies starring Julie Andrews to air on ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney. The DVDs Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime have sold over a million units in DVD sales. In the brand new Eloise in Africa, 6-year-old heroine Eloise is joined by Nanny, Skipperdee (her turtle), and Weenie (her dog) as she travels from the Plaza Hotel to Africa where she helps uncover an international animal smuggling ring. The DVD movie will be directed by Animation Collective’s Sergei Aniskov. Patrick Meehan and David Ravden will executive produce the film along with Larry Schwarz and Doug MacLennan. Informed sources say it should come out somewhere in 2010. Production on Eloise in Africa began in October and will be done entirely at Animation Collective’s New York studios blocks from the Plaza Hotel. This will be the first in a yearly series of animated films taking Eloise on adventures around the world. “Eloise is one of HandMade’s centerpiece properties and Eloise in Africa is another step in the continuing development and growth of this timeless brand,” said Patrick Meehan, Chairman of HandMade. “Having grown up as a precious, bordering on spoiled New York City kid, the opportunity to work on Eloise is a dream come true,” said Larry Schwarz, CEO of Animation Collective.
NEXT COLUMN: As anime fans know, Mamoru Oshii redid his classic feature film Ghost In the Shell 2: Innocence. Richard Epcar, the voice of lead character Batou, has some interesting things to say about THAT. Related: Review - Wolverine and the X-Men
New York Comic Con 2009 - Marvel Animation Panel