Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Secrets of a Super-Hero Sketch Artist: This Is a Job for... the Voiceman!

The latest theme of "The Line It Is Drawn" (a feature of the "Comics Should Be Good" blog on the website) was in honor of the 50-year anniversary of James Bond films, so comic book fans were asked to submit Twitter suggestions for pairing or "mashing up" comic book characters with James Bond characters.

One suggestion in particular caught my eye: "James Bond tries to seduce Wonder Woman." It would answer the age-old question of what happens when the irresistible force meets the unseducable object. However, it was another suggestion, "James Bond infiltrates the Hall of Doom to steal a microchip," that inspired me to use the SuperFriends version of Wonder Woman for the piece. So the scenario was fairly obvious: an Alex Toth SuperFriends-style James Bond would make a pass at Wonder Woman while they were searching for a microchip on the Hall of Doom. As I started to sketch another one of my usual mock covers, based on the SuperFriends "TV Comic" from the 1970s and 1980s, I reasoned that it would be more fitting to make this submission a mock animation cel that would look as if it had been from the SuperFriends programme itself.

So the dialogue that I had intended for the comic cover idea would not go to waste, I also decided to mock up a fake SuperFriends episode script to add to the drawing.

I had just finished the final Photoshop adjustments to the piece when I felt Namiko's hand on my shoulder.

"That looks really good," she said, regarding the image on my Wacom tablet screen. "I can see your style in it."

I mulled my wife's words for a brief moment. It wasn't my style but Alex Toth's that I was aiming for, but her compliment was sincere. "Thanks," I replied.

"But you know who should really look at it?"

"Indeed I do." I clicked open my Internet browser window, where a draft e-mail to Shannon Farnon was awaiting an attachment.

Some of you may realize that I have had the privilege of interviewing Shannon Farnon, the original voice of Wonder Woman on the SuperFriends programme, for the ToonZone website a few years back. When I started conducting interviews with animation voice actors for the old Comics2Film website in the early naughties, I eventually considered Shannon Farnon to be the "holy grail" of voice-actor interviews. This was probably due to the fifth issue of Back Issue, a comic-book-related interview magazine, which featured a spotlight on Wonder Woman on television. The magazine included a series of interviews from almost all of the actresses that had portrayed the Amazing Amazon up until that time. One of the few actresses not featured was Shannon, which was a surprise to me. Shannon was in my mind the quintessential Wonder Woman. She was the first actress to play the role in a regular series, and I always heard her voice in my head when I read Wonder Woman dialogue in comic books. The only plausible explanation I could think of for her omission in Back Issue #5 was that she was extremely difficult to find. Unfortunately, life and work had displaced the free time I had devoted to the Comics2Film interviews, so it would be a number of years before I would start to even think about tracking Shannon down.

Thanks to the website Toonzone, I had managed to make connections with some inside people from both Warner Brothers Studios and the Cartoon Network. So when time freed up for me get back to animation interviews, Shannon was at the top of my list. As seasons of the SuperFriends programme were starting to be released on DVD by Warner Home Video at the time, I e-mailed my contact at Warners and asked what my chances were in locating Shannon Farnon for an interview. He responded with a phone number to a Hollywood talent agency and a simple message to "ask for Samantha; she'll hook you up."

I had done so, and 20 minutes later Shannon herself had called me on my mobile to schedule a time. It was the easiest interview I had ever arranged. And I am honored to say that Shannon and I have stayed in regular contact since.

Elated upon receiving an e-mail from Shannon regarding how much she liked the piece, I felt surprisingly bold enough to suggest we create a dialogue sound clip to add to this week's submission, whereby Shannon would reprise her Wonder Woman role and rebuff Bond's advances. She agreed, to my delight.

My face lit up as I made Namiko the third to know. She had one question.

"So who is going to do Bond?"

Now I was by no means a master vocal impressionist, but I had been told that my mimicry of the Sean Connery James Bond, inspired by my first viewing of a Bond film (which, interestingly enough, was a re-showing of the first Bond film, "Dr. No," at a London cinema in December 1979), was dead on. I remembered making my best friend Dan shoot Sarsi out of her nose one time at a London eatery when I used my "Connery voice" to re-enact an old Sesame Street routine with Simon the Soundman ordering a "buck buck buck ba-caw sandwich."

Namiko cocked her head to one side at my response. "Come again?"

"I am going to play Bond," I repeated. "You heard my impression of Sean Connery."

"I heard your impression of Sean Connery playing the Swedish Chef," she said with an amused smirk."And that was a few years ago. I never heard you do Sean Connery as Bond."


"Really." There was a playful flicker in her dark chocolate eyes. "C'mon. Let's hear it. Use your line to 'seduce' me."

I brushed Namiko's mock sarcasm aside as I stepped behind her. Encircling my arms around her slim waist, I pressed my lips softly against her right ear, tightened my thyroarytenoid muscles, and purred in my best British-Scottish accent:

"I don't suppose, Wonder Woman, that I could interest you to be a SuperFriend with... benefits?"

Namiko tried to suppress a giggle, which escaped as an audible snort from her nose. Then she nearly doubled over with laughter.

"What? The line's not that funny."

She took a few moments to regain some semblance of composure. "I'm sorry," she gasped, "who are you supposed to be again?"

I shifted my voice once more. "Bond... James Bond."

She shook her head. "English... Johnny English." I could see the seriousness behind her smile.

Another thing I love about Namiko: I can always count on her to cash my reality checks. Even spending much of the next day listening and repeating various Bond YouTube video clips hardly improved the situation.

"So what are you going to do?" Namiko eventually asked. "Shannon is, of course, the big deal with the audio extra, but you can't use it for a Bond tribute without Bond."

As always, Namiko was right. I deliberated for a moment. "I think I know someone who can help."

My Warner contact had on a number of occasions told me about Will Rodgers, a long-time SuperFriends fan who had compiled the most extensive and complete SuperFriends episode guide I had ever seen on the interwebs. In fact, his guide had served as key research for my Shannon Farnon interview (and, sadly, was no longer online). The Warner contact had also told me that Will was a radio personality nicknamed "The Voiceman" due to his talent for impersonating various voices -- including several cast members of the SuperFriends programme, as well as suave-sounding actors like Larry Hagman and Adam West. So I reasoned that James Bond shouldn't be too much of a stretch for him.

I had managed to first connect with Will myself via a SuperFriends-themed fan message board a few years ago, and a simple Facebook message connected us again. Will was more than happy to help out, though he admitted he had never portrayed Sean Connery before. And while the recordings he quickly turned around were not dead-on Connery, his voice did carry the Bond smugness perfectly. As an added bonus, Will's take had a little hint of Michael Rye (voice actor for the SuperFriends Green Lantern and Apache Chief roles) which added more realism to my fake clip; if James Bond ever did appear on the SuperFriends, one of the regular cast members such as Rye would have provided the voice.

You can check out the the finished version of the mock SuperFriends animation cel, and the fake audio clip, by scrolling down on this “Line” web page. I cannot thank Shannon and Will enough for bringing life to my 41st submission to "The Line It Is Drawn" — especially on such short notice. And thank you for your interest in this fun little lark that, along with the blog, allows me to exercise the right side of my brain on a regular basis.

And if the "Line" ever decides to do a Johnny English tribute, I am so there!

[NOTE: In the recent Comic Book Resources website update, the audio file on the "line" web page has been lost. You can now listen to the audio clip here.]