“I love that we live in a time where people want a girl show.” – Tara Strong
You may not have heard the name Tara Strong, but you’ve certainly heard her voice(s). Currently, she is the voice of many of your favorite heroines (and anti-heroines) in the animated DCverse. Some of her roles include Harley Quinn, Ivy, and Raven. This is far from an exhaustive list, but we’d have spent all day at the “DC Superhero Girls: Impacting Dreams” panel in Hyatt Centennial I on Friday morning if it were, as her work, and her talent, is extensive.
While Cara McGee may not be a face or voice that you know either, her artistic skills are on display in numerous comics, including Dodge City and Black Canary: Ignite. The Meg Cabot—penned Black Canary sees McGee re-imagining the classic Vixen as a 12-year-old girl—melding the classic Black Canary look with 12 year old’s modesty and a bit of superhero edge. A deft hand and a commitment to letting kids be kids allow McGee to take characters who are often presented as “sexy” and make them age-appropriate, while remaining identifiable.
There has been an active push in recent years to find ways to bring diversity into all form of stories, including comics, and it’s a movement that both McGee and Strong support wholeheartedly. “Animated characters are every color of the rainbow,” Strong remarked in response to a question about having more people of color in these stories. “Everyone is accepted, and everyone is loved for who they are.” While this may not in fact be a universal truth, it’s one that Strong lives by.
As much discussion focused on younger fans, the panelists were asked about their most touching fan interactions. Strong shared a story about a young girl dressed as Raven who came to her table, talking excitedly to her, only to have her mother in tears. Her daughter, the woman explained, was autistic, and hadn’t spoken in years, but upon learning that she would be able to meet Strong, she began to talk, nonstop, about it. It was a powerful moment, and a reminder that even comics can change people’s lives. McGee said she couldn’t top that story, so she didn’t try.
Asked about designing new characters, McGee described not knowing until after she’d started working on her designs that some of these were, in fact, superheroes. “Well, I guess I just re-designed that person,” she quipped with a laugh. She draws digitally now, which is great for fixing things, for instance a book where she had done all the art as fall/winter scenes, only to find out later that, oops, it was set in the summer!
Many aspiring artists and voice actors were in the crowd, so both women briefly explained the audition process for their respective roles. Strong encouraged people who want to do voice acting to take classes; acting, scene study, improv, singing… basically every class relating to training your voice and learning about character development. She also vehemently emphasized that you should never, never, never pay to audition. McGee, and other artists, have a slightly different audition process, which generally involves being sent a sample snippet of a script and drawing it, or sometimes they’re asked to draw a specific character.
As there is always a connection in entertainment and politics, that landscape, and how it shapes the way both women not only view the world, but their work, was a hot topic. “I was never political, until I was infuriated,” noted Strong, while encouraging others to get involved if something moves them, to not be afraid to speak up. “I think we’re stronger together.” McGee added that while some negative voices are getting louder, but “we have to drown them out. There’s room for everybody.”
An anecdote shared by Strong, which demonstrated her commitment to anti-bullying and raising up voices that are often quashed, was about a time on set where there was an off-handed “joke” at the expense of a fat woman. Rather than let it go, she requested they change what would have been a cruel moment into something else, and thankfully, the writers agreed.
“Adding diverse characters make your comics more interesting,” McGee said, as she was talking about Dodge City, which has a main character who speaks Spanish, which they don’t always translate, and also has a deaf character. She loves getting to draw people learning sign language.
A last question for Strong was about if she ever forgets voices, because she’s done so many. The studio keeps clips, so actors can recall what they want each to sound like, she says, but if it’s a character you’ve done for a long time, she says you won’t forget. “Once you create a character, they live up in your brain, and come down to play when it’s their turn.”