Detroit natives gone Hollywood return for Michigan Comic Con
Voice actor Rob Paulsen and actor/martial artist Walter Jones are proud of their Detroit roots.
“I’m the embodiment of ‘Pure Michigan,’” said Paulsen, 63, who was born in Detroit, raised in Livonia and is a 1974 Grand Blanc High School alumnus. He is best known for voicing Yakko on “Animaniacs,” Pinky on “Pinky and the Brain,” and Raphael on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” from 1987-96.
“I’ve been in Los Angeles for 40 years, but I’m still all about the Midwest at work,” he said. “Michigan’s always been a part of me.”
Jones, 52, a 1984 alumnus of Central High School in Detroit who is best known as Zack, the original Black Ranger on “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” agreed with Paulsen.
“The people in Detroit are pretty genuine,” said Jones, of LA. “When you meet somebody in Detroit, I’ve always found that there’s a genuine hospitality and they have good hearts.”
Both men will appear at Michigan Comic Con Friday through Sunday at Cobo Center in Detroit, alongside actors Val Kilmer (“Batman Forever”), Michael Dorn (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”), Matthew Lewis (“Harry Potter”), best-selling “Star Wars” novelist Claudia Gray, classic “Batman” artist Neal Adams, artist Ron Lim (“The Infinity Gauntlet”), and more.
This is their first appearance at this con. Further, Paulsen will throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Detroit Tigers game Thursday at Comerica Park.
“I do 20-30 cons a year. I love to meet fans and get loved up. It’s not a hard job to have people tell you how amazing you are all day,” said Jones, laughing. “It’s incredible because the show (premiered) 26 years ago. We’ve now affected three generations. Those kids are now adults. They give me this feedback on how we’ve positively impacted their lives. That’s pretty amazing to know you’ve had a positive influence on anybody. To be able to go to all these cons and to hear from all these different people how they were inspired by me is pretty amazing.”
Although Jones has appeared on “The Shield,” “Space Cases,” and done voice-over work, he doesn’t mind being remembered as Zack.
“The show’s been seen in more than 40 countries around the world. I have trading cards, dolls, comic books,” he said. “I’m remembered for something that’s positive... I’m proud of that.”
When Paulsen realized he wasn’t going to play for the Detroit Red Wings, he turned to acting. It took him 10 years to get established in voice-acting. Nobody cares about his age or looks because he’s doing voices.
“It’s really cool not to be limited by the way you look, especially in this business,” he explained. “The fact that I’m an average-looking Caucasian from Michigan has had no effect on what I was hired to do with my voice as a youngster and an oldster. I’m limited only by my talent and the kindness of people who hire me.”
Paulsen is the voice director of the current “TMNT” cartoon. While an “Animaniacs” reboot is in the works, he cannot confirm or deny his involvement. Still, he gets fan-mail daily.
“It never stops,” he said. “Characters are beloved for different reasons, and I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with characters that are popular just by virtue of people all over the world. People in just about any language and know what a Ninja Turtle is. ‘Pinky’ and ‘Animaniacs’ are beloved for their content, music, acerbic wit, subversive humor, and the fact they did not condescend to the audience. They’ve not only stood the test of the time, they’ve transcended it. It’s not delivered by a plethora of toys and video games; it’s art for the sake of the art; I’m really proud of that.”
In 2016, Paulsen was diagnosed with stage 3 metastatic squamous cell carcinoma, a form of throat cancer.
“If something’s gonna get your attention and you make your living with your voice, why not get throat cancer? That’s one way to get your attention,” said Paulsen, a non-smoker.
Although the treatment was brutal, it had a positive outcome. Paulsen’s currently in remission and is still able to work.
“I’m busier at 63 than I was at 33 – I never expected that. I just love it!” he said. “The audience loves it. I love it more than they do and I get to be a Wings fan – life’s pretty good.”
What boosted his spirits has been hearing from fans, many of whom he inspired and comforted when they were ill or enduring great hardship.
“I don’t even know how many children Raphael or Pinky has called… Parents keep in touch with me long after their children have died, telling me how much Pinky and Raphael meant to them,” explained Paulsen. “When it was time for me to take a punch, I had a lot of courageous stories and examples to draw from. That aspect of my treatment is not prescribe-able. I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have been able to draw on those experiences... I also had what other people don’t have: examples of courage. I have photographs and letters from people about their profound experiences with these goofy cartoon characters that helped their children… They sent me letters of encouragement.”
Paulsen isn’t uncomfortable speaking about his illness.
“I share this because someday someone might be reading this in Algonac or Lapeer and think, ‘Wow, this guy was the voice of my childhood. If he got through it, maybe I can, too,’” he said. “Even if I don’t meet those folks, this story might be one to push someone over the top. I know I can leave this rock and say, ‘Wow, it was a good ride. It was not a waste of my time. Moreover, not a waste of anyone else’s time.’ They give me a bigger gift than I give them. It’s incredibly appreciated. We get the better gift. It’s just the most glorious thing.”
Michigan Comic Con
Cobo Center, 1 Washington in Detroit
Friday: noon to midnight
Saturday: 10 a.m. to midnight
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets prices vary from $30-$60 and can be purchsed online or at the door. For a complete list of ticket prices, visit michigancomicconvention.com/tickets/. Children 12 and younger are admitted free.
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