We spent much of our day in panels at Wizard World Chicago on Saturday. There was a long list of programming that included fandoms that ran the gamut from Outlander and Disney to Guardians of the Galaxy, Overwatch and Buffy, and we did our best to get you the story no matter which fandom you’re a part of.
Take a look below for all the good stuff from the various panels we attended.
Everyone knows Mario, but not many people know the voice behind the iconic video game character. Charles Martinet has been the voice of Mario since 1990, and his bottomless well of joy helped shaped Mario’s personality into the one we know today. Martinet talked about how he got the job as Mario, when he “crashed an audition 31 years ago.” He was originally going to do a deeper Italian accent, but decided to keep it high pitched—something he thought children would find more pleasing. It turns out he was right, and it’s hard to find someone who couldn’t pin point the character behind the now legendary “It’s-a-me!”
As far as playing Mario games, Martinet says that he has played plenty of them—and while he’s not the best, he enjoys the more open world versions of Mario that allow him to explore, “I love the sandboxes, where you can kind of just run around and play around.” But when it comes to games like Super Smash Brothers he’s just not good — “I could close my eyes or keep my eyes open and it won’t make any difference in my success level” he joked.
Martinet is a joyous person, and uses that joy to bring happiness to others. Recounting how another fellow actor had developed a stutter after a particularly bad public roasting by a comedian, Martinet pledged to never do that to someone. “I will never be hurtful in my comments—I will never (make a joke) at someone else’s expense.” And he used that principle to guide Mario, which had an impact on that character’s development early on. During his voiceover work for Mario Teaches Typing, Martinet thought the script was too harsh on failure, and decided to have Mario encourage the player instead of admonish them.
When asked if Martinet identifies more as Mario or Luigi, he says he’s definitely more Luigi. “All acting is true, and it all comes from the inside of you, so somewhere inside of me is Mario—the joy to have fun. But my reality is far more Luigi—which I think is more, you know, terrified,” he said with a chuckle and a terrified Luigi scream.
Continuing on the theme of iconic things from our childhood, our next panel was one featuring Steve Whitmire, who, again, if you don’t know by name you know by reputation. Whitmire has a long history with Jim Henson and the Muppets, and has voiced characters like Rizzo the Rat, Lips from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Wembley Fraggle and Sprocket the Dog from Fraggle Rock. After Jim Henson’s passing, he took over the voice of Kermit the Frog himself, as well as Ernie from Sesame Street. Later, Whitmire would go on to voice the roles of Beaker and Statler, as well.
As Whitmire tells it, he sort of stumbled into acting from puppeteering, which was his original passion from an early age. After some gigs in his hometown of Atlanta, and attending some puppeteering events, including one which brought him in contact with Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer behind Big Bird, where his work would get noticed and eventually shown to Henson, who brought him into the fold. By the time Henson passed away in 1990, he’d come a long way from his beginnings as a puppeteer and had grown very close to Henson. Though it was difficult, and Whitmire doesn’t so much credit himself for Kermit despite voicing him for so long, he took the role. He said that when he’s Kermit, he’s actually being Henson, because Kermit was so much like the person Jim Henson was; a quiet, caring and softspoken leader.
It’s clear in conversation with Whitmire how much respect and admiration he had for Jim Henson and his vision, and just how much he respected the world that had been created. As fans would take turns telling about their favorite Muppet experiences, he often recalled his own favorite moments from those same films, including an interaction between Oscar the Grouch and Rizzo the Rat in Muppet Family Christmas that tickled him particularly, since the two became fast friends and Oscar, notoriously hermit-like, actually enjoyed having Rizzo in the trash can. Whitmire made a few comments on the modern Muppet movies, as well, stating that while he had some issues with the characterization and some plot points, he still thought everyone was doing a fantastic job and he was glad the Muppet legacy was continuing.
Known for her voice work on the Sailor Moon series, specifically as the voice of Sailor Jupiter, Amanda Miller talked to Wizard World attendees about her “origin story” as a voice actor, and strange burial rituals in Victorian England. When asked how she got into voice acting, Miller joked that she was “pushed into a vat of toxic actors.” She was actually encouraged early on during an acting workshop in her youth. She was told that she had a future in the business of voice acting, and it turned out to be true, with her first major gig as Takerua Aizawa on Squid Girl in 2011. Miller also gave some insight into voice acting, specifically, ”walla” which is a name for artificial background conversations—which are hard to get right, apparently.
We also got a chance to check in with some fantastic cosplayers of note for their Diversity in Cosplay Panel. Led by Knightmage, Papa Bear and Ivy Doomkitty, this was a panel that touched on a lot of tough topics, like how to handle people who body shame or say racist things to people just trying to have fun and cosplay, and what to do if a community you’re cosplaying in becomes toxic.
A lot was said about accountability and understanding that hate often comes from a place of hurt. As Papa Bear mentioned, you need to choose your battles because a post that started out full of positivity can quickly turn negative regardless when hateful comments are bickered about in the comments.
Not all of the panel focused on negativity though, and these three fantastic cosplayers had a lot of kind words for each other, and praise at the ways in which each has been a beacon of light for others in the cosplay community, whether it’s encouraging other cosplayers of color to be fearless about their choices or to encourage women to cosplay whomever they want however they want regardless of their size. They also pointed out some of the positives of the cosplay community, including a mutual understanding of each other based on the social awkwardness that a lot of us in the nerd community and cosplay community will readily admit to having. It was a great time to learn, share experiences and grow and we’re glad for these sorts of panels to sort it all out.
Into every generation, a bleach blonde vampire stumbles out of a car with blacked out windows, sizzling in the sunlight, beer cans littering the ground behind him, and a fandom gets a punk vampire you love to hate and also can’t avoid loving.
Such is the legacy of James Marsters for Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, and it’s why we were so excited to finally get a chance to get to his panel. Marsters had actually been at Wizard World the previous evening not just for photo ops and autographs, but to do a little unplugged concert in the very same room this panel was held in, and for some lucky fans this was their second encounter.
One thing we hadn’t known prior to Marsters’ panel is that while he was raised in Modesto, CA, he actually moved to Chicago after Julliard to pursue theater, and he talked about his time at the Goodman and an offshoot theater company designed for bolder projects that included a whole lot of total nudity, according to Marsters, meant to put off or challenge the Goodman’s standard clientele.
Marsters would go on to spend time discussing a number of his different roles for fans eagerly awaiting a chance to talk to him, including his time with the MCU on Runaways as Victor, who is not only a character he’d love to get a chance to take up again, but someone he makes a fairly great case for not actually being the villain. “Victor is the hero of this show,” he said, arguing that he was making a plan to save the world using fusion energy, would have gotten the cure, and that even if the price was something like eating one teenager a year, did that not still weight out to heroism when considering it would save the world?
Those arguments aside, Marsters also touched on everything from Wedding Band to the various controversies that have threatened to tarnish Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fandom. When asked about the allegations about Joss Whedon, Marsters was candid. “Artists make art about what they think is important” he said “and what they want to be true…and often fail to live up to those ideals.” Marsters himself did not have much interaction with Joss Whedon as he kept to himself on set and was not a regular until Whedon had turned most of his attention to Angel and Firefly, but mentioned that he’s still having trouble reconciling it himself.
“I came from a really dysfunctional family, and I got to theater and it was a bunch of imperfect people” Marsters said. “And some of us wounded people who were able to nevertheless came together with some harmony and created something worthwhile and then gave it to the audience night after night. And I think that I still love Buffy, because a bunch of wounded, imperfect people were still able to come together and make something that was useful.”
Moving on to some less pressing issues, he also cleared up a rumor of a feud between himself and David Boreanaz, saying that Boreanaz was the one who’d shown him the ropes and predicted his success, though he did mention a bit of tension when his former girlfriend had gotten jealous of the actor’s on screen relationship with his girlfriend Drusilla, played by Juliet Landau, with whom he was strictly friends, and had decided to have a somewhat retaliatory crush on Boreanaz. The sneers were real, perhaps, but the bad feelings were not.
Meanwhile in a nearby panel room, tabletop games were the topic du jour.
According to John Morris, the creator of Swords and Spaceships, tabletop role-playing games treat gear as too disposable. If your character leaves your family’s farm with their father’s +1 sword, the player is likely to sell it (or toss it away) when a new, shinier, more powerful sword comes along. Swords and Spaceships does away with this by having just six guns (of, co rse, swords), but these guns can be modified, and in pretty significant ways.
Swords and Spaceships is a tabletop role-playing system (think Dungeons and Dragons) based in a sci-fi world. It’s a space adventure that doesn’t get bogged down in science, but still allows to epic interplanetary adventures.
Combat is dangerous in Swords and Spaceships, but beloved characters won’t be killed without warning. Critical hits don’t just do damage, but can have an impact on that character’s story—more like “critical wounds.”
When I asked about space combat, and whether it would be more “Star Wars than Star Trek” Morris compared it more to a mix of Star Wars meets Warhammer 40k, with massive ships shooting broadside cannons.
Morris talked about Swords and Spaceships’ development, and some of the crazier weapons that came out of testing—including a pistol that was so powerful it was guaranteed to kill anything it hit—if it could fire at all. Its modifications gave it only a 30 percent chance to shoot. That doesn’t sound convenient—but it does sound hilarious, and fun. I was provided a Gamma version of Swords and Spaceships to test, so expect a preview in the coming weeks.
Paul Nakauchi, the voice of Hattori Hanzo and Chole Hollings, the voice of Widow Maker made it to the Wizard World stage to talk about their experiences in voice acting, especially during the work and home quarantine of last year, and whether or not they actually play Overwatch.
While the question invariably always comes up, it’s always amusing to learn how each character’s voice actors manage in the game that they’re doing voices for—and as usual, Nakauchi and Hollings both struggle to play. Hollings doesn’t play at all, but Nakauchi made an earnest effort to play—even embarrassing himself at a convention one year, when he was urged to play. He said, “I was actually playing this game for the first time in front of all these people, you know, I could barely like get out of (the starting room).” Nakauchi went on to say that he admires players who can play Overwatch, stating that “we have an appreciation and respect for all the hours you guys (put into Overwatch).” And “You have to be thinking, you have to be strategizing, you have to be doing all this and it goes so quickly!”
During the quarantines of last year, Nakauchi and Hollings had different ways of dealing with remote work. A voice over actor requires a sound proof place to record—since any noise can ruin a take. Nakauchi managed to buy a sound booth early on in the pandemic, while Hollings had a different solution: duvets. She has a walk-in closet lined with duvets for soundproofing. As you can imagine, it gets pretty hot in there, so her solution? Ice. She even tried to put her clothes in the freezer overnight, but the measure only provided temporary cooling.
That rounds out the panel fun for Saturday, but stay tuned for all the deets and the people we met Sunday in another panel catchup, coming soon.