SALT LAKE CITY — Comic conventions typically seek to invite a new group of guests each year, but one repeat guest Salt Lake Comic Con fans continue to request year after year is voice actor Jess Harnell.
And the love is reciprocated.
Harnell — who is known for voicing Wakko Warner from “Animaniacs,” Ironhide and Barricade in the Transformers series, and video game character Crash Bandicoot — said he thinks Salt Lake City’s comic con is the best in the world.
“This one is just special on a lot of levels,” Harnell said. “I think that the guys who organize it — Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg — really go out of their way to ensure that everybody has a great experience.”
The fan favorite said he appreciates the spirit of love and support for everyone at Salt Lake Comic Con.
“It’s very inclusive and beautiful,” Harnell said. “What I always say is that a lot of the folks that go to comic cons have spent a lot of their formative years feeling like outsiders. But then they throw a party like this and it’s the biggest party in the state and these kids are the biggest insiders in town, and that’s an awesome thing to be a part of.”
It’s common at Salt Lake Comic Con to find Harnell at the head of a long line, taking the time to greet and talk to each fan. He said his favorite part about interacting with his fans from year to year is watching them grow and encouraging them as they work to fulfill their dreams and ambitions.
“It’s beautiful when you have a 15-year-old kid come up and show you some art that they did, and you give them some genuine appreciation for it, and they come back and see you three years later and go, ‘I’m in art college and I got accepted on a scholarship and I was going to give up, but because you admired my art and I grew up liking your stuff, it gave me that push,’” Harnell said. “So my favorite part is feeling like in some tiny way, I might make a difference in a good way to somebody who could use it.”
Harnell first got into voice acting by way of being a singer for movies, TV and in bands, he said.
“One thing led to another, and I just would be doing voices when I was singing commercials and they said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got a talent for this. You should look into it,’” Harnell said.
He was later invited to voice characters Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox for Disneyland’s Splash Mountain ride and has since voiced numerous roles in TV shows, video games, theme parks and movies — including "Wall-E" and "Up."
“It’s the best job in the world because it’s the only job in the whole world where you can play the dad, the kid and the dog on the same show, the same day, and not have to change your costume, and get paid for all three,” Harnell said.
Harnell said he comes up with a new voice by looking at the picture and design of a character and thinking about what that character might sound like.
“Then you modify it as you’re working on it, and you come up with new nuances and twists and things like that,” Harnell said.
He said his favorite character to voice was his first big role: Wakko from “Animaniacs.”
“But I always say I’m inordinately blessed because I still do this every day,” Harnell said. “Another big favorite character of mine is the next one because I’m still doing it, and I’m still swinging, so hallelujah.”
Being able to talk in different voices also has its uses beyond entertainment, Harnell said.
“It’s good for getting tables at restaurants when they’re not available because if you can be a celebrity and have your assistant call and then get on the phone as the celebrity, they usually give you a better table,” he said.
Harnell said he wants Salt Lake City to know it is special to him.
“When I say this is my favorite comic con, it’s not just lip service; it’s because it’s true,” Harnell said. “I hope that every time they have this con, I will be here because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”