Exclusive Interview with Sonny Strait!
Now for our third Oz Comic-Con interview, where we sat down with the very funny, quite loquacious Sonny Strait! Best known as the voice of Krillin on Dragonball Z and his work on Elfquest, we spoke about blank puppets, pregnant blow up dolls and not the live action film. Make sure you hit that audio button, you need to hear this one!
G-Funk: We at the Perth leg of Oz Comic-Con, 2016…
Sonny Strait: First leg.
G: First leg. The left leg?
SS: I would say that this is both legs, jumping in.
G: We are talking to to Sonny Strait, who has arrived from Texas!
SS: (Exaggerates accent) Yes, ah did how y’all doing?
G: Oh, um…(terrible exaggerated Australian accent) G’day mate, we’re great!
SS: (Significantly better Australian accent) G’day mate, good to see you as well! No worries!
G: You’re best known for voice work and comic art…
SS: Yeah, I think I’m known a bit more for my animation voice work than comics, but I do both professionally. In comics I’ve worked at DC comics and Tokyo Pop and currently at Dark Horse comics. But primarily I’m known as a voice actor, mostly as Krillin on Dragonball Z.
G: Now I have a bit of tragic Dragonball Z story…
SS: They all start in tragedy. Krillin died four times.
G: That was going to be my first question, thank you (laughs). I don’t really know Dragonball Z because I lived so far away from my school growing up that we just saw that cool intro with that amazing music (various people in the room chant ‘Fight the Dragon!’), and then we’d all get in the car and go to school.
SS: That’s a great way to start the day.
G: Just disappointment, every morning. I went and asked some fans who know Dragonball Z and said ‘tell me about Krillin’ and they said ‘he dies, a lot’. How does that feel to you?
SS: Generally it feels unemployed. But luckily he always comes back. The Dragonballs are a way of wishing…you can get any wish you want and luckily my friends would say ‘let’s wish ol’ Krillin back, he’s a good laugh to have around’. And it’s fun to watch him die.
G: But then it’s a wasted wish because he’s going to die again.
SS: That’s true, but Krillin is the party. If you don’t wish back the party, you’re going to be bored.
G: My other photographer who will be here over the weekend, he wanted me to ask you this: how did you have a baby with a robot? You being Krillin, of course.
SS: I wouldn’t call her a robot so much as a sophisticated blow up doll.
G: The question stands.
SS: The question still stands! I believe he made a wish that would let her have babies.
G: Not make her human…
SS: No. No, no, no, no! He is a sick bastard. He wants to make this blow up doll capable of making babies. That was his wish. (Switches to Krillin voice) ‘Hi, uh, Porunga? Here’s my wish: I got this blow up doll here and she is so cute, and I would love if we could have children together!’
(Porunga voice) ‘You mean make her human?’
(Krillin voice) ‘No, no, no! I just want her to have babies!’
G: That raises so many more questions!
SS: It’s saga, an epic saga, that goes on for years. You have to come up with new stories all the time and that was one of them.
G: Speaking of epic sagas, the list of anime you voice in is enormous.
SS: It’s a saga unto itself, yes.
G: What’s the appeal…it’s almost exclusively anime…
SS: What’s the appeal of anime?
SS: Good god, man…I don’t know. I honestly thought this would last two years when I started seventeen years ago. I thought this is a fad, it’s not going to go anywhere. But it’s cool and I’m on TV and it’s a good way to have fun. I didn’t realise that I’d stumbled onto a whole career. I was doing comic books and I’d been published here and there, and I’d done a lot of theatre – that’s really where a lot of my acting came from, is that theatre background. And then Funimation at these open auditions for Dragonball Z in Texas and I thought I’d give it a shot. I landed the role of Krillin, and then I thought ‘this is really cool, acting in cartoons’, because that was my real dream as a child, to do cartoon voices, but I never planned on leaving Texas so that wasn’t going to happen without moving to LA or whatever. But that was fine, I had a great time doing theatre when suddenly this major cartoon studio moves to Texas, and suddenly I’m doing cartoons. But still I thought this was to good to be true, this isn’t going to last and it felt like a fad because everyone jumped onto it at the same time, just huge numbers. We had the highest rated animated TV show in television history in the United States, and so…
G: That’s Dragonball Z?
SS: That was Dragonball Z, yeah. It beat out The Simpsons, everything. So we thought this was cool, and we went to Comic-Con in San Diego, and we’d sign and the lines would go for days, but I still kept thinking this is a fad, this is not going to last. Lo and behold it just kept on going and going. Cartoon Network, I was about two years into it, Cartoon Network – where we show are cartoons, mostly, in the States – they like what I did with Krillin and they asked me be their host. It was this robot named Toonami Tom who introduced all the cartoons. I got that part and then I got another part and suddenly I went ‘can this last?’ And it’s been going and going for seventeen years now.
G: It seems to be bigger, and now you’re in Australia…
SS: Not for the first time!
G: You’ve been here before?
SS: Many years ago, for another convention, about ten years ago.
G: Right. So it’s a decade later and you’re still coming here and still being promoted as one of the actors from Dragonball Z.
SS: Which is really weird, because I’ve done tonnes of shows since then but Dragonball Z will not die. That was another thing, I though definitely Dragonball Z would be done…we just did a movie last year, won all kinds of independent film records. Funimation didn’t go through major distributing chains, they pretty much promoted it themselves, and still broke all kinds of records. Hopefully we’ll be doing Dragonball Z Super soon, knock on wood, so this could go on another 20 years.
G: And a live action movie was made!
SS: We don’t speak of this.
G: Moving right on. Elfquest?
SS: Elfquest, yes!
G: Elfquest has been around a long time and it’s been in a lot of the big houses, Marvel and DC…
SS: And now Dark Horse.
G: …and now Dark Horse, and it’s still a cult series.
SS: Not only that, it’s still owned by the original creators.
G: That’s unusual.
SS: Very unusual. Wendy and Richard Pini started this in 1979, they started their publishing house, it was WaRP Graphics – it stands for Wendy and Richard Pini, and then they have licensed Elfquest first to Marvel. Then they got the rights back and started publishing on their own again, then they published at DC, then they got the rights back again, then they published on their own again and now they’re at Dark Horse. It’s a pretty big accomplishment, I don’t know of anyone else who has been published by the big 3 in America and STILL own the rights to their characters.
G: I think that makes it very unique.
SS: I was reading Elfquest, I was a big fan of it back in highschool, and I’m 150 years old so it’s been around for a while. I met Wendy at Comic Con, and this was the first big convention that Funimation had sent us to. While I was out there they set our booth next to her booth and I didn’t even know, we were just rushing over there to do the signing. People kept saying Wendy Pini’s name and I said ‘is she around here?’ ‘Dude, she’d right behind you!’
I looked over my shoulder and she was leaning over and smiling and waving at me, and I was just ‘oh my god!’ Then I just gushed fandom, ‘oh my god, I just love you, oh my god!’ Then she told me that she was a fan of me and I was just ‘shut up’. She said ‘no, I love Dragonball Z’. Are you kidding me? I didn’t think anybody would like Dragonball Z except kids. She loved it! She started telling me about where Dragonball Z came from, stuff I didn’t even know, that is came from Journey to the West, the Monkey King story, and I was just blown away. She started drawing pictures of our characters with her characters and giving it to us as a gift.
G: So cool.
SS: Yeah. I went back to my room, and thought that was really nice – and her husband, Richard, allowed us to sign in their booth space, and that space is expensive at Comic-Con. So to thank them I drew a picture of my character, Chris Sabat’s character Vegeta, because he was there, Sean Schemmel’s character Goku and Stephanie Nadolny who was the original Gohan, and Krillin, I drew a picture of them looking at her main character Cutter and I gave empty voice balloons so each of us could thank them personally for letting them sign there. She looked at that and she goes ‘I didn’t know you could draw’. Well, yeah, I’ve been published a few times. She said ‘oh, do you want to draw for me?’ The floor just fell beneath my feet and I was suspended in space and I was like ‘is this a trick question? Yeah, I would love to draw for you!’ So she hired me on the spot to draw Elfquest. It was great, and I got home and thought about it – this was great opportunity, something that doesn’t get handed to you every day. I felt like my art had hit a ceiling and I wanted to study under a cartooning master.
I called her up and said ‘I want to change the terms a bit’.
‘You want more money?’
‘No, no, the money’s fine. I want to be your apprentice. I want to draw for you but I want to learn from you as well.’
She said ‘Ok. Move out to LA.’
So I was the first actor to move out to LA to draw comic books and not act. But I moved out there and I studied in her studio and every day I’d draw a page and every day she’d say this works, this doesn’t, and she’ll tell me why and it was the greatest learning experience of my life.
G: A lot of people, even comic readers, don’t really know a lot about Elfquest. Who should be reading Elfquest?
SS: Elfquest has a lot of fans, but they’re not your typical comic book readers.
G: No, more fantasy people.
SS: Yeah. Richard put Elfquest up online a few years ago and in two months the got well over 2 million hits. People went ‘where is it, I can read it for free?!’ I would say, at one point back in their heyday, Elfquest was beating X-Men on the shelf. So they had a lot of readers. Some of them were comic book readers in general but some of them were reading Elfquest alone. And it makes sense because the story is…well, it’s a lot more emotionally involved than most comic books, especially American comic books. Now with Manga…Manga tends to strike a more emotional tone as well. Wendy was influenced by Manga of the 70s, that’s where she really got the look of the elves. If you look at the elves their eyes are much bigger, their proportions are much more like Manga, especially Manga of the 1970s.
G: Which has become more influential now, so Elfquest was pretty ahead of it’s time.
SS: Pretty much Elfquest was the first American Manga. It’s been called so, I’m not the first to say that.
G: You heard it here first. The FIRST Manga.
SS: I so coined this. I dub it the FIRST AMERICAN MANGA.
G: As you know, and as the readers don’t know, I’ve been stalking you on Twitter all morning while you’ve been coming down to the interview.
SS: Be sure to post the picture of me pantsless.
SS: That was only when you came to visit.
G: (Laughs) I swear to god! You’ve got a muppet with you? Talcum?
SS: My wife makes them for an Etsy store. She makes a lot of clothes, her and my daughter make clothes and stuff…one of the things she makes are these blank puppets with no nose or eyes. Just the basic base of puppets, and she calls them ‘Puppet Blanks’. So I took one of them, a solid white one I’m calling Talcum, and I decided to take him with me on tour. He’s sleeping in the hotel room, he won’t get up. He got up for a minute and I filmed him and then he went right back to bed. Jet lag. We were travelling for 27 hours, that’s a long trip. You have to go from Dallas to LA, from LA to Sydney, then from Sydney to Perth.
G: Nothing flies directly into Perth.
SS: It was no more than an hour and a half layover at any stop. It was just go, go, go, go, go. So he’s still up there sleeping, he’s not going to get up. Maybe tomorrow.
G: I’m glad that you’re awake enough to talk to us.
SS: I feel pretty good right now. I little shaky, but doing pretty good.
G: Here’s another question from your twitter, you were standing in front of a building saying you’re about to record the important role of my life.
SS: I think I said probably the ‘coolest’ things in my life.
G: I’ve got it here…yes, ‘coolest’.
SS: Yeah. Not the most important because it was a Ford commercial. That was one of the coolest things, because we’ve been doing this for such a long time, and when we first started parents had no idea. When they asked what I did for a living and I said I did cartoon voices and they asked what show, I’d say Dragonball Z and they’d say ‘I never heard of that’.
‘Do you have children?’
‘Yes I do.’
‘Then you don’t love them. Because they know what it is and you show no interest.’ I can’t tell you how many episodes of Hannah Montana I watched as a parent, you don’t love your children! But know we’ve come up to a level, (Krillin voice) we’ve come up a new power level! Because Ford Motor Company has approached us to do a commercial.
G: So you did it as the Dragonball Z characters?
G: That IS cool!
SS: Krillin was making a wish and he wanted a car that can do all these things. He says (Krillin voice) ‘I want three cars. For the first wish I want a car that has one of those screens that tell you what’s behind you so you can see in the back, and I want this and this…’
Finally the dragon’s like (dragon voice) ‘you don’t need that, you can get it all with the Ford Fusion.’ (Krillin voice) ‘Oh, ok, I’ll have that!’ and that’s pretty much the commercial.
G: I don’t know if we’ll get that (in Australia), but we’ll see it on youtube. Last question, everyone gets this: you’re well known for Krillin, you’re well known for Elfquest, is there anything else you want people to know you for.
SS: Yeah, you can check out my own comic book work, which is published at TokyoPop, I did a series called ‘We Shadows’. It’s about the characters from ‘Mid-Summer’s Night Dream’ and what they’re doing today. That was nominated by the American Library Association for the best graphic novel of 2008, and got the rights back because TokyoPop went under, so I put in up as a webcomic and it was voted up into the Top 10 webcomics many times. It’s well worth checking out. weshadows.com
G: weshadows.com. We’ll put a shameless plug.
SS: Absolutely, thank you.
G: And we will see you on the floor at Oz Comic-Con all weekend.
SS: Absolutely, thanks for having me up.
G: Thank you!