July 1, 2012

Animation fans have grown up with Steve Blum. From T.O.M., the laconic host of Cartoon Network’s anime block “Toonami” to snarling Wolverine in “Wolverine & the X-Men” to the nasally Guilmon of “Digimon,” his voice is instantly recognizable to many teens and 20-somethings.

This has been a big year for 47-year-old Blum. In addition to returning as T.O.M., following the May renewal of “Toonami,” and voicing Amon in the “Avatar” spin-off “The Legend of Korra,” Blum won a world record for the most video game roles (261), including turns as Grunt in the “Mass Effect” sequels and Vincent Valentine in “Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.”

At the L.A. Convention Center, a crowd of about 2,000 chanted “Steve, Steve, Steve” as they waited for their gravel-voiced hero, one of this year’s guests of honor at the 21st annual Anime Expo, to take the stage.

Doing T.O.M. again is like “coming home,” he said, adding that at conventions people who watched “Toonami” after school would come up to him and say “I helped raise them.”

The man some fans call “father” is such an inspiration for fan boys that he’s added a page on his Web site to answer their most frequently asked question: “How do I become a voice actor?

But Blum’s entry into the world of animation and video games was happenstance.

He dreamed of becoming a comic book artist around the same time he was studying for his bar mitzvah at Adat Shalom. From age 12 to 14, he spent his summers helping his uncle run the comic book department at his grandfather’s Hollywood bookstore, Cherokee Books.

In the late 1980s, he worked as a production assistant for a sci-fi/horror film company by day and played in an R&B band at night, hoping to make it as a musician. Although Blum was the only person in the mailroom who didn’t want to be an actor, the various voices he did to entertain his co-workers earned him a tryout for the anime series “The Guyver.” Blum was so good at synching English dialogue to lip movements intended for Japanese actors he was hired for all 26 episodes.

He started landing more anime roles, but Blum continued to look on the jobs as a sideline as he went to work as an executive with a film company. “I never really tried to become a voice actor,” he said. “I was just doing it because it was fun.”

Around the age of 40 he landed a job that allowed him to transition to full-time voice acting, but he says he still doesn’t make that much money doing anime. “I do it because I love it,” he said.

A self-described “voice monkey,” Blum says the best character he’s portrayed is whichever one he’s currently working on. “If I feel like I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career and that is my all-time favorite, I would have nothing left,” he said.

Among the other voice actors he’s befriended over the years, Blum says he draws the most inspiration from Frank Welker, famous for voicing Megatron in “Transformers” as well as Fred on “Scooby-Doo.”

“Frank is just one of these amazing people that not only is he an incredible talent — he can make any kind of sound you could possibly imagine: mechanical, human or creature — but he’s also one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met,” he said.

This isn’t to say Blum doesn’t have an edge. For shows like “Wolverine,” which records with a full cast in the studio, he says the room is full of “lunatics” who play off each other.

“The biggest show is actually in the room, [which] you’ll never hear. That’s where the filthiest stuff is,” he said, adding that the tamer and younger the show skews, the dirtier the bloopers.

Despite his long list of voice acting credits, Blum says he goes on 30 auditions for every one role he gets — even one he seems to now own, such as Wolverine.

“Wolverine was kinda rolling around in my head since I was pretty young,” he said. “After chewing some razor blades and drinking some whisky, it worked.”

Following the apparent death of the villain Amon in the season finale of “The Legend of Korra,” Blum says he can’t comment on whether he’ll return to that role or take up another on the show.

“We’re not allowed to talk about anything that hasn’t been shown yet, and especially at places like Nickelodeon, where quality is everything, we really want to keep it on the down low.”

A fan of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Blum laments that he didn’t have time to watch more than 12 or 13 episodes of the original animated series, but he said he was inspired by what he saw.

“When they asked me to do Amon, it was one of those gigs where I almost peed myself,” he said. “The quality of that show is just unsurpassed.”

For those fans who want to join Blum in the world of voice acting, he recommends studying acting and improv, and cautions that actors need a strong self-esteem to motivate them between jobs — an inevitability in entertainment.

“If you go into it for the right reasons, you do it because you love to do it, and you’re not doing it because of money or fame or because you feel like you have to be working all the time,” he said. “You have to find that inner peace inside where when you do have that downtime you have other stuff to do.”

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