In my never ending pursuit of GI Joe, I attend many comic book conventions that are within driving distance of Nowbacktogijoe HQ. Luckily for me, there are a lot of them to attend. From small cons like Frank and Sons collectible toy show to the mega grand daddy of them all, San Diego Comic Con International. This past weekend I packed up and headed North to Long Beach California to attend Long Beach Comic Con. LBCC, isn’t a small show, but it’s not a behemoth either, so it makes for a great “in between” sized show that offers a lot but is still relatively small enough to be enjoyable. Check out Long Beach Comic Con for more info on the show.
A few weeks ago, LBCC started announcing programming and special guests through twitter and among those announcements was Mary McDonald-Lewis. Mary is an accomplished voice actress and dialect coach who has enjoyed a successful career in the entertainment business. Oh yeah, she’s also the voice of Lady Jaye. Mary provided the voice for the character in the Sunbow produced GI Joe animated show from 1984-86. Soon thereafter a whole slew of GI Joe voice actors were announced much to my delight. Bill Ratner aka Flint, Niel Ross aka Shipwreck-Dusty-others, Gregg Burger aka Spirit-Firefly-others, Jerry Houser aka Sci-Fi, Keyone Young aka Stormshadow, and finally legendary animation voice director Wally Burr were all going to join Mary in a panel celebrating their work on the much beloved cartoon.
Everyone had a different way of being indoctrinated to GI Joe, mine was sitting in front of the tv watching the GI Joe cartoon. There was no way I was going to miss this con and panel!
The Convention itself was a lot of fun. Cos-players were out in full force, vendors had all the latest and greatest in pop culture memorabilia, convention celebrities were greeting fans, and every booth had a healthy hustle and bustle. I’ve been to more cons than I can count at this point but each show has something unique to see or experience so they never get dull or redundant. Sadly though, GI Joe was pretty much non existent as far as memorabilia goes but I still had a great time exploring all the booths and seeing all there was to be seen. I always make it a point to visit artist alley at any con I go to and try to get an art commission to add to my GI Joe art collection and support local artist. As I was making my way across artist alley I came upon an artist that went by the name of Rocom. What caught my attention was the commission that he was working on, he was drawing a Kylo Ren and it looked rad! We agreed on a price and a few hours later, I had this great Wet Suit commission!
1:00 rolled around and it was time for the GI Joe panel. It was a joyous reunion for the panelists as they greeted each other before the panel started. There was laughter and hugs all around and it was great to see the love and respect they all have towards each other even after 30 years of having worked together on GI Joe. Everyone was accounted for except for Bill Ratner who was running a few minutes late. He showed up 5 minuted later and he had with him a special unannounced guest, actor Robert David Hall who you might of seen on the television show CSI but who voiced Colonel Sharp on GI Joe for many episodes. The panel kicked off in amazing fashion with a script read through with Wally directing all of the actors whom reprising their GI Joe roles. It was such a thrill to hear those old familiar voices while Wally amusingly lived up to his hard ass reputation by stopping the read through abruptly with a loud “Will you guys shut up!” time and again when he thought the actors weren’t giving it their all. “Just like old times” the cast joked.
It was an hour of funny and endearing stories of long recording sessions with Wally and each other, remembering Chris Latta who voiced Cobra Commander, thoughts and opinions on the entertainment industry, and the current state of GI Joe. One after one the panelists shared their “Wally stories” and you began to see why Mr. Burr is such a luminary figure in their careers. The most poignant story came from Keone, who shared his story of overcoming social stereotypes. He gave a lot of credit to Wally for hiring a minority at a time when it was normal convention to hire Caucasian actors to do an Asian accent for minority characters. As the panel was wrapping up, the entire cast gave a big thank you to us, the fans, for keeping GI Joe alive and thriving which garnered a big round of applause from the audience. Afterward, Bill invited everyone to step outside the room for a meet and greet with the panelists. The room emptied out and a large crowd meet the actors with picture and autograph requests which they were more than happy to oblige. They signed, smiled, and hugged fan after fan who came up to them wanting to share a story of what the cartoon meant to them as kids. Each actor listened intently to every single one of them. It was an extraordinary afternoon.
I tweeted a “thank you” to many of the voice actors who attended the convention for spending an afternoon with fans and helping give us a memorable panel and Mary responded thanking me and all the fans who attended. She also shared this candid photograph and ended with “We’d love to do it again”
Hope you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, C’ya!