On the last day of Comic-Con, I met with Steve Blum, the voice of TOM, as well as the likes of Mugen, Roger Smith, Spike Spiegel, and thousands of other anime, cartoon, and video game roles.
We met at the Sails Pavillion within the convention center halls, where Steve was meeting with and signing autographs with fans throughout the convention.
Steve has mentioned on several occasions that he is a big fan of our work in giving everyone the Toonami news, so he was more than happy to give me an interview for you guys. He recommended we met on Sunday, as since the convention buzz was slowing down due to attendee fatigue, he didn’t have as many fans coming to him, though we stopped here and there if a fan wanted to meet Steve.
Daniel: So, Steve, how was Toonami Pre-Flight yesterday?
Steve: Toonami Free-fall was incredible.
Steve: Heh. I kid. It was more of a free-fall for me than a Pre-Flight. It was crazy being in TOM cosplay again [for the] third year in a row. Designer Ashley Zeltzer did an amazing job and the costume was better than ever, but still never comfortable. Mad respect for you cosplayers out there. It went really really well until I sat down and then my arm piece exploded and my helmet head turned sideways, and I completely blew the entire first bit, cuz I couldn’t see or hear my cue. Other than that it was great! We had fun, I think everybody had a fantastic time last night. The Pillows were insanely good.
Daniel: Yeah, first concert I’ve ever been to and as an FLCL fan, really loving this band a lot more from last night. Surprised the Pillows even stopped at San Diego for their tour. With the high demand and the lottery system and all, I was afraid i wouldn’t be able to attend to cover Pre-Flight for my press outlet, but fortunately the folks at Adult Swim helped me out. Anyways, if you don’t mind, I just want to ask you a few questions while you sign autographs with fans.
— Dana Swanson (@danaswanswan) July 22, 2018
Although cross-country and global conference calls are very common nowadays thanks to Skype and other such internet providers, you have been doing just that when it comes to voicing TOM ever since you took the gig in 2001. How different is voicing your character “through the internet” compared to being in the same studio as the director.
Steve: Oh, that’s an interesting question. Back in the day, we used to record in a studio in Los Angeles. They directed me from Atlanta over the phone. And though I’d never met most of them in person until recently, we’ve always had a great relationship – kinda like talking to family. These days, I actually record it by myself from my home studio and upload the files [to them]. I rarely get to see the Adult Swim gang, so I look forward to conventions like this. Recording Toonami is a little bit different than all of the other work that I do, but it’s the one job that I do consistently (pretty much) every week. It’s kind of nice working from home… I don’t have to dress up. I can work in my underwear if I want to. And for the record, TOM prefers briefs to boxers.
As Jason DeMarco has mentioned several times, the Toonami crew doesn’t get paid, per-say on the work they do for the block in particular due to their limited budget, opting to put it in the block’s acquisition budget among other things instead. I remember somewhere that you are only paid the absolute minimum required to voice TOM, as you too do it as a labor of love. For those that may not understand it, why is this so?
Steve: I don’t like to talk about the money part, but for the record, yes we’ve ALWAYS done it for the love of it and for the fans first, and I do get paid well for my work now. When Toonami came back, I did what I could to help out. They take very good care of me and I’m grateful for that every day. I always try to go above and beyond expectation though, because I want you guys to have the best product possible. We all do.
Daniel: We’ll, that’s good to hear. I don’t know about you, but I do find it sad that as recently as a few months ago, I remember Jason saying that the situation of not getting paid for the Toonami portion of their work is still like that for them.
Steve: I’m not privy to that stuff, nor do I care to be. But I can tell you that Jason, Gill, EVERYBODY at Toonami is more personally invested in this than ever. We all believe in the power and the importance of this show in people’s lives and none of us ever take that for granted. We love the genre of Anime and these action cartoons that may not otherwise be seen in America. And it’s important to us to continue on with the past tradition of bringing these cartoons out to a bigger audience. The response from the audience of how Toonami has gotten people through rough times has been humbling. It gives meaning to everything we do here. I think that’s why those inspirational speeches are our favorite part. Personally it has changed my life certainly on a cellular basis, and I think it constantly gives all of us purpose to continue moving forward. It’s my understanding that most of the Toonami crew works on the show after-hours on their own time. I have nothing but respect and love for them all. We all know that these shows help people in tangible ways and never lose sight of that.
Daniel: I agree. To give you an example in my personal case, this past year, I actually lost my mother to cancer…
Steve: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Daniel: Yeah, it was really tough. I’ve still been going through some depression periods at times partly because of it, but basically enjoying Toonami and its shows has been helping me out with the whole recovery process.
Steve: That’s why we do it. That is the reason why we’re here.
Daniel: Definitely. And what you said is why me, and everyone at Toonami News, Toonami Squad, and every other Toonami-centric site, do it as well. This is why we all support Toonami.
How does it feel working with Dana? With Jason and Gill? With Adult Swim and Cartoon Network in general?
Steve: Like working with the most amazing, talented, funny, brilliant, slightly dysfunctional family in the world. I’ve loved these people for decades now and am grateful for them every day! They truly have become chosen family after all these years. Working on opposite sides of the country, we hardly ever see each other, but occasionally connect at conventions and things. Seeing Dana is like seeing my little sister and Jason and Gill are my brothers and will be for life. Again, I love those guys…and the whole crew at Adult Swim [for that matter]. They are such cool people. To give you the full list of who and why would take the rest of this interview.
— Steve Blum (@blumspew) July 22, 2018
Adult Swim has basically aired your career defining show Cowboy Bebop for over 17 years now despite its only 26 episodes and no sequel is inbound anytime soon, if ever. Why do you think Bebop is such a show that continues to be enjoyed through the decades and stands the test of time, like perhaps no other anime or any work that you’ve ever worked on has?
Steve: I think it’s a testament to the genius of Watanabe-san. It’s a masterpiece. I think that before we even got our throats on it, it was a masterpiece. The music is extraordinary, the cinematography is amazing, and the storytelling is fantastic. There was nothing like it ever before or since. It was such a wonderful homage to the film noir style and to so many different aspects of pop culture too. It just appeals on so many different levels. I still listen to the soundtrack in my car just as a fan. So, whether I was in the show or not, it’s become a part of my life forever.
Daniel: I was too young to watch Adult Swim when it first came out, but I did see a few episodes here and there. I only really got around to watching it from beginning to end around the time when Toonami came back, and it was then I understood why it’s considered a masterpiece.
Steve: That’s one of the great things about Toonami. It’s brought Bebop to an audience that otherwise may not have seen it. And for a lot of people, that is the only anime experience that they’ve had because they just won’t otherwise give anime a chance. It’s also become a gateway show to try out other forms of anime. It inherently appeals to an American palate, but whets the appetite for the unique style and flavor that Anime offers.
Daniel: Definitely. Speaking of which, some of the more elitist otaku, so to speak, tend to say “We don’t need you anymore. We don’t need Toonami anymore in this era of streaming and fansubbing.” Yet we still see it still brings people to anime. What do you have to say about that?
Steve: It absolutely brings people to anime. I’m not going to say they’re wrong, that’s their opinion and they’re entitled to it. Maybe they don’t personally need it any more. Fine. But our audience is as strong as ever, as evidenced last night by the [amount of people attending the] live Pre-Flight that people still love Toonami, and it is still resonating with people – and as long as people still watch the show, we’ll continue making it. I love being a part of it and I am proud of bringing it to a new audience. Haters don’t bother me, they’re still watching anyway. In fact, I’m sure a lot of these haters that say they don’t need Toonami are still watching it.
During the panel, Toonami had announced that Boruto will join the block on September 29. You’ve had a history voicing characters in the Naruto franchise such as Orochimaru and Zabuza. How does it feel to have played a part in the illustrious history for this great anime franchise?
Steve: I feel grateful. When you get to work on a show for that long, it’s nothing but gratitude. And I get to work with all of my friends, the people that produce the American version of it are all my friends. So, that alone is worth it to me. It’s certainly not for the money, we don’t make a lot of money making Naruto. Just slightly above the rate we worked for 20 years ago! So we do it for love and we do it for the fans.
Daniel: I’ve heard a lot that voice acting as whole is kind of chump-change compared to regular acting, so to speak.
Steve: It can be. Every once in a while you get that job that pays really really well, but for the most part, we’re the blue collar workers of the industry. And I work harder now than I have ever had in my life. I do 30+ auditions a week, and I get called back for maybe 5-10% of it if I’m lucky, and sometimes not at all. I had a couple months this year where I was barely working at all. So, yeah, it’s not a career where you can count on stability necessarily, and we don’t get the recognition or the money that you would get on-camera, but we do love what we do, and it’s the community that I want to be part of because we support each other.
Daniel: Definitely. That’s why we’re really appreciative of what all you voice actors do.
Steve: Thank you. And thank you for what you do. You’ve been an amazing influence on our community, too. I’ve really appreciated the trending rundowns that you make and everything else. It’s incredibly helpful to all of us and to all the other fans, so you’re pretty much part of the family and the history of our show!
It seems rather ironic (but in a good way) that Spike was in a relationship with Julia (at least until what happened in the final episodes), but in real life, you are in a relationship with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, the voice of Julia. Do you find it crazy that real life imitates art sometimes?
Steve: I find it very crazy. We’ve been friends for 20 years and both of us have been in different relationships for all that time, and I’d only ever considered her to be my friend and colleague until about 4 years ago when the universe threw us together over and over and over again in a series of coincidental meetings until finally we sat down together and said “Someone’s trying to tell us something. Let’s have a conversation.” And we just hit it off. We laugh every day, we have a great time together, we share the same friends and the same ideals, and the history of this show. It’s kind of a magical thing. Bebop has changed my life in so many ways but that’s a really great benefit. She is my fiancée now and the Bebop is alive and well in our lives every single day, and so that makes it so much more meaningful. But yeah, I’m a lucky guy. A true happy ending.
Daniel: Wow. Really all I can say is that on behalf of the Toonami Faithful, and the Cowboy Bebop fandom, we wish you and Mary all the best.
Steve: Thank you so much, I appreciate that.
Daniel: Hopefully it won’t go down like the last few episodes of Bebop did for Julia and Spike…
Steve: Oh no, it can’t go worse than it did on the show. But Spike and Julia are still very much still alive [to me], so that answers that question.
You’ve voiced literally thousands of anime, cartoon, and video game characters. Is it possible to keep track of all of them in regards to tone and how they are supposed to sound?
Steve: No. In fact, it’s sort of become a thing at conventions where fans will come up and try to stump me with old characters and to find things I don’t even remember, and that happens a lot. When you do this for almost 30 years, there are a lot of characters that come and go. In one game, I recorded over 20 different characters in a single session! I don’t even know the character’s names at the time and I don’t play the games, I don’t watch the shows – so there’s no way to have that reference. That said, if I go into the studio and I have to reproduce a specific character, all they have to do is play it for me once and it “snaps back in.” Thankfully after years and years of training, it becomes a muscle memory thing. So I don’t have to keep them separate from my head. Most of the time.
Daniel: I remember you saying that, since you voice thousands of characters, you can’t necessarily watch all of them…
Steve: Oh no. I don’t even watch a small percentage of them.
Daniel: How much would you say? I know you watched Bebop.
Steve: Well, I watched Bebop once – out of order about 9 years ago. So I need to re-watch that because I’ve forgotten a lot of it. But yeah, most of the shows, by just looking at the table [of character photographs to autograph] here in front of me… Rurouni Kenshin, I’ve never seen. Legend of Korra, I did see. Sub-Zero, I’ve never played Mortal Kombat or Injustice. Star Wars Rebels, I did see. Digimon, I did see only because I was a writer in the show. Naruto, out of 700 episodes, I only saw maybe 5 (all episodes with Zabuza in them). Samurai Champloo, I have not seen. GTO, nope. Even Regular Show, I haven’t seen all my episodes. And that’s just a few here on the table. There are hundreds and hundreds that I don’t even have pictures for! So yeah, most of them, I haven’t seen. I just don’t have time.
Daniel: If you do get the time, I’d recommend checking out some of the shows you are in.
Steve: Thanks. Someday. I’m gonna try…I will try.
At the FLCL panel, it was mentioned that you reprised your role as Mew-Mew, a cat that previously was in the first season, in the second season. How was it to have reprised a minor character in such a way?
Steve: Meow, mee…meow meeee meow meow <cat screech>. That’s my answer. It was fun, it was really fun.
Tell us about your character Yoga in FLCL 3? How was it like voicing him? Any interesting moments during recording?
Steve: He was fun because they said he’s got this sort of Rastafarian look. And at first, they were thinking of doing a Jamaican accent, and then they scrapped it. They just wanted him to be sort of laid back and a little cranky, which was right in my wheelhouse. So that made it a lot easier for me. I’m pretty rusty on my Jamaican dialect anyway, so I was relieved. The best part of working on that show is my friends. Maki [Terashima-Furuta], the producer of the show, is an old friend, so is Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh, plus I got to go over to her house, her home studio, and work with them there. And the guys from Toonami came down too! Jason and Gill were there, and the wonderful Chris Hartley. So it was really just like hanging out with my family for a couple hours and doing some voices. It brought back (and created) some happy memories.
Daniel: I remember Maki posting some, voice actor moments so to speak, and I was like “This was at her house?”
Steve: This was at Stephanie Sheh’s house. She has a studio at her home.
Daniel: Oh, that makes more sense. I remember hearing that some of you more experienced voice actors have recorded some of your work in your homes. How does that work, do you just take a closet and just cover it with sound barriers?
Steve: You certainly can. In fact, I record all of Toonami with some exceptions from my home studio. I have two studios, I have one where I’m living now, and that’s just a converted closet where I do most of my recordings. I have another studio that was built specifically for that [voice acting], but it’s the same type of sound treatment. I have this acoustic foam I put up on the wall to pad the room and treat the ambient sound. It’s not sound proof, but it is definitely deadened in there so you get the best sound quality. And I use a high quality microphone and gear. You can get some amazing sound out of a closet if you do it right. It’s kind of shocking.
Daniel: Speaking of FLCL, I remember when Maki was posting moments of when she was basically kicking you guys out of the studio, and you were flipping her off. That was hilarious.
Steve: Yes, we had a pretty good time. We’re all a bunch of little kids in grownup suits.
While we had to kick everybody out, we had to get down on our knees and beg Steve to come back and he gives us this… #flcl2 #flcl3 #flcl #adultswim #productionIG #flclforever #itsawrap (not staged) pic.twitter.com/aOE9VXGJP7
— Maki Terashima-Furuta (@MakiTerashima) May 9, 2018
Daniel: It was great seeing FLCL 2 personally from the Toonami broadcasts, and we just hope that FLCL 3 will be just as good, if not better.
Steve: I hope so too.
As a member of SAG-AFTRA (the labor union that represents actors among others in the entertainment industry), tell us about the #ToonsUnited proposed strike. I know it involves streaming services and the changes that it brings, but can you give us some insight regarding this?
Steve: It’s a tough situation because we have the same contract that we’ve been working with since the 90’s, pretty much. And there was no forethought at the time to allow for new media like streaming services. And so what’s happened is in voice acting, we don’t make the kind of money that on-camera people do, and we rely heavily on our residuals from original animated content. And unfortunately with the streaming services, they expect us to be fine with not getting residuals anymore, even though on-camera [streaming service original productions] have provisions in their contract for residual payments. So all we’re asking is for the same thing. We’re just asking to have the same formula so we can get paid fairly for our work. Cause right now, it’s really not fair. Most of us have lost 30-60% of our income [due to these lost residuals], and it’s hard to make a living.
On the same subject, it wasn’t long ago that you guys were striking against the Video Game industry in the #PerformanceMatters strike. What sacrifices did you guys had to do to reach a resolution?
Steve: Yeah, that’s kind of a sore subject. We didn’t get what we wanted for that one; that was tough. The thing that I was personally fighting for was protection from excessive vocal stress and I wanted that in the contract because it’s a real health and safety issue. Not as much so for me because when I go into a studio, I can demand two hour sessions or less when I have vocally stressful stuff so I don’t hurt myself. But new actors coming in don’t necessarily have that luxury, they have to take what they can get. The producers absolutely would not bend on that issue. It’s unfortunate, because people are getting hurt. We actually brought in OSHA, and we brought in throat surgeons with proof that you can do permanent damage from vocal stress, and still, we could not get the producers to agree with that in by contract, so that was upsetting. There are also no stunt coordinators required for [the] potentially dangerous motion capture work. They are required in virtually every other area in the entertainment industry.
And then in terms of pay, we were trying to get some sort of residual structure in place because games, especially if it’s a billion dollar or multi-billion dollar game in some cases, we don’t get any extra money from that. It’s not fair that they don’t share that profit to some degree. Yet they’ll bring in big celebrities, they’ll pay them tens to hundreds of thousands to do roles, while we’re standing next to them in the same booth for $800-900, which sounds like a lot of money, but not so – compared to the ridiculous amount they’re receiving for the same work. Not to mention the fact that sometimes they don’t even have to skill set to do their own efforts and reactions and fight stuff, so we have to voice-match and finish their job for them at the same low rate. So we know that they have the budget, they just don’t want to spend it on us. All we were asking is for a fair contract, and they wouldn’t give that to us. We got a little tiny bump [to our paychecks], and some awareness, but it’s a process. We have to take what we can and keep pushing forward. Unfortunately, that’s the way the negotiation process works. Most of us are not in this expecting to become rich, we just want to make a decent living and be able to put out a good product with a safe environment. There was also a whole other transparency issue, but I’d rather not even go into it.
Daniel: All I can really say is that as a gamer and animation fan, I wish you all the actors the best of luck, the companies the best of luck, and for the sake of the art and its creators, hopefully from all this you guys can get a fair deal.
Steve: Thank you.
With Toonami, and the many works you have been involved in, generations of fans have been inspired by your characters. Even being at this autograph booth, we’ve seen fans telling you that you have been an inspiration to them. Heck, doing this interview right now is one of the highlights of my con this year. How does it feel to have been an inspiration to fans in positive ways?
Steve: It’s humbling. It’s actually immensely humbling and I take it very seriously. People’s lives have been affected by the work that we do, and that’s all you can really hope for in any kind of job. I originally was going to go into medicine or science because I wanted to help people, and I simply wasn’t cut out for it. But being in this business for as long as I have, we get to experience real-world results of our positive impact on the world, and that feels pretty good. The happy after-effect that people are moved or we helped to improve their lives in some way is the thing that ultimately gives me purpose. When people come by and say that a show or character got them through a hard time, or helped an autistic child speak for the first time, or got somebody through a loved one’s illness, that’s the kind of thing that fills up my soul. It makes me feel like I’m doing something of value. So I’m just grateful, and humbled by it all every day.
Daniel: Really, all I can say is on behalf of everyone, thanks for everything.
Let’s answer a few fan questions:
Ask him if he ever had Bebop Spike hair.
— Bacon 4 President 🥓 (@Bacon4Pres) July 22, 2018
Steve: Have I ever had Spike’s hair? I kind of had crazy hair when I was in High School. Especially when it rained, it would turn into a giant Jewfro, so that was the closest thing back then. But it’s never been green as far as I can remember. I did dye it different colors when I played in a funk band back in the late 80s.
Daniel: Besides TOM, have you ever cosplayed in a convention?
Steve: No. Someone threatened to build me a Grunt (from Mass Effect 2) costume for me once, and it just never materialized. I think it was just too hard to put it together.
Are you willing to carry that weight, Mr. Blum?
But forreal. Who do you think would win in a shootout?
Spike? Or Zeb?
— Dan-Yull (@danyulla) July 22, 2018
Steve: In a shootout? Uhh, wow. That’s a pretty good question. Zeb’s got that bow rifle, that thing’s pretty nasty. Umm…you know, it’d probably be a tie. I think they’d just shoot each other, lick their wounds and go have a beer together.
There wouldn’t be a shootout. Zeb likes bounty hunters.
— Steve Blum (@blumspew) July 23, 2018
What would you like to see for TOM and Toonami in general next? What’s on your personal wishlist?
Steve: Our own animated series. I think there’s enough material, there’s enough history there to really pull that off. Either an animated series, or a movie, or both. I think that would be insanely cool. I don’t know if that would ever materialize, but I think that would be amazing. And Jason? Gill? I’m available.
One last thing: Anything you would like to say to the fans or anything new we should know from you?
Steve: I’d just like to say thank you to the fans for supporting us for all of these years. My life wouldn’t be what it is without you guys, I wouldn’t have a job without you guys. So I can’t even tell you what that means to me that you guys have supported not only the art form of anime but for everything that we do. And secondly, I’m finally teaching voiceover because you guys bullied me into it. It’s called blumvoxstudios.com and I’m teaching live classes through at least April of 2019. I’m teaching two classes a month live on Zoom. It’s a subscription service and once you sign up for the classes, you get access to all of the archived classes plus a newsletter that we put a lot of love and work into every month, too. Plus, there’s a lot of surprises and fun things on the site for you guys to come and check out, including my own guided meditation, merch, the story of my friendship (and work!) with hip-hop superstar Logic (the hip-hop superstar) and much much more – so please come to blumvoxstudios.com and see what we’re doing. Just started Live Coaching classes too! We’ve put our hearts and souls into this and offer some unique insight into the industry.
Daniel: Alright. So on behalf of the Toonami Faithful and Toonami News, thank you Steve for talking with me, and see you again next time.
Steve: My pleasure, thank you. Stay gold. Only Toonami.
— Daniel Limjoco (@AnimeSavior) July 22, 2018
Still to come is my report from Comic-Con, which will be posted once i have the time to finish them. If you missed them, check out my Interviews with Jason DeMarco, Kari Wahlgren, Maki Tereshima-Furuta, and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, my Interview with Megan Taylor Harvey, and my Highlights and Musings report of Anime Expo 2018 as well. Let me know what you think at the comments below.