Last weekend, I went to Anthrocon (Pittsburgh’s furry convention) and got a hug from a stranger who I’ve known all my life.
I usually visit the con on Sundays to check out the dealers and bug Chris Paulsen. This year, I bought a full attending pass and went every day.
Because this year, they were doing panels and autographs with cartoon voice actors.
This summer, the guests of honor were the amazing Lee Tockar and (wait for it…) the legendary Mr. Jim Cummings! 
Lee Tockar is best known for performing characters for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Transformers Beast Wars. He’s also a driving force behind FanBuilt, a community for creative people (which all of you creative people should go check out.)
Now, if you don’t know Jim Cummings, I can’t possibly explain how awesome he is in the space provided. I’ll summarize by telling you that he’s best known as the voices of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, The Tasmanian Devil, and roughly 25% of the Disney Afternoon characters from the 80’s and 90’s. (Then, I’ll urge you to google him and learn more.) There are few people on earth that I would be more interested in meeting than Jim Cummings. As soon as I found out about this year’s guests, I bought a weekend pass on the spot – fearing that once word got out that Jim Cummings and Lee Tockar would be visiting Anthrocon, all admission passes would instantly sell out and I’d be left cursing myself for my hesitation.
I need to tell you some stories from my shady past before any tales from this weekend will make sense. First of all, I have never aspired to be a voice actor and I’m very comfortable with my place at the drawing table. Yet, when I turned fourteen and actually started reading the credits of cartoon shows, I found myself remembering the actors’ names rather easily. In the beginning, I was only interested in creators. I wanted to know who to admire for making these great stories, great art, and (above all else) great characters. But most cartoons have big teams of people to take credit for any ideas. It was impossible for me to know exactly who to put at the top of that pedestal. But if I knew who the actors were, then I always had one individual name that I could place on each character – or at least, that version of that character. So I started learning everything I could about voice actors. Keep in mind that there was no proper internet back then, so if you were a “voice chaser” (which was a stupid name people once used to describe fans of voice actors) you had to learn to identify them by the sound of their voice and glean the occasional write-up from newspapers and kids’ magazine interviews. And these people were fascinating. They all seemed to have amazing lives, kind hearts, and great humor. (They’re pretty much what you wish Hollywood actors were like.) Don’t get me wrong, I had great fun learning about cartoon creators. But that was always a little academic, as I knew I was doing research for my own future projects. Learning about voice actors was pure indulgence.
In 1997, a year before I graduated high school, I drew my first serious comic book. It was an eight page book called Small Town Showdown, and it featured the first appearances of Cassidy, Maxwell, Vincent, Clayton, Blair, and Leslie. (Clive appeared almost a year later in a comic called Flip Side.) For reasons that even I can’t fully comprehend, I used an old publicity photo of Jim Cummings as the model for Vincent. As the years went on, Jim and Vincent both changed in appearance. Perhaps the only common features remaining are the wide noses and some fly-away hair (although Vincent’s hair is much messier now.)
Early version of Vincent and the photo I borrowed for reference
Of course, teenage me could never imagine Jim Cummings ever, ever, ever finding out about this. But adult me, who was trying to think of a way to tell Mr. Cummings how much he has meant to me, I couldn’t think of any other story to tell. So, I thought up an “elevator pitch” version of the events listed above, wrote it on the back of an Urban Underbrush postcard (yes, I have those) and brought it with me to present to Mr. Cummings at the convention. I usually don’t get nervous at these things anymore (heck, I once sang karaoke in front of the National Cartoonist Society) but in that autograph line, I was feeling anxiety like I hadn’t felt in years. Finally, when my turn came, I awkwardly told Jim my story and handed him my postcard. Jim thanked me graciously and shook my hand. Then he changed his mind about ending with a handshake and gave me a hug. And here, I had been thinking a handshake was too much to hope for.
That’s Jim on the left and me on the right, in case you were confused.
In the afternoon/evening, I attended all of the voice actor panels. Of course, both guests were funny and charming and everything was alright with the world.
The next day, things got weird.
On Saturday morning, I was ready to attend Jim Cumming’s second panel (the Second Cummings) and my sister Liz came with me this time. The panel was late to get started, so, to keep the crowd busy Robert Bourke,  the moderator, asked if there were any artists in the audience who would be willing to try and draw Jim Cummings.
Liz immediately started shaking my arm and emphatically whispered “You have to do this! Everything has lead to you doing this.” Then she handed me a sharpie, which she apparently produced from thin air. I expected four or five people to draw caricatures, but (surprise) I was the only person who accepted the challenge. I ran my 90 second caricature to the front of the room. The moderator thanked me and held up my drawing to the crowd and I waved and bowed while they applauded and it was all pretty funny. 
Unfortunately, they had to postpone the panel, due to the late start. Fortunately when it started up at it’s new time, both Jim Cummings and Lee Tockar were able to attend together. 
Me and Lee Tockar. I’m on the left this time.
Again, it was a fun show, but just as things were wrapping up, the moderator stood up and said, “Yesterday, one of the fans drew Jim’s portrait and we wanted to present it to him.” And he carefully produced my increasingly sketchy-looking drawing and passed it to Jim. Then the moderator asked, “The person who drew this, is she here?” And I had to stand up. And everyone applauded. And, for the briefest of seconds, the world stopped spinning.
As I recall those moments went something like this:
Jim: Thank you. You drew this?
Me: Yeah, I, sort of gave you some art on Friday too.
Jim: I remember.
Me: I suppose I’m your regular portrait artist now.
Jim: I suppose you are.
Lee: I get one of those too, right?
Me: Sure.
(The panel continues while I sketch Lee Tockar)
In the days that followed, I’ve told that story to friends, relatives, grocery store check-out clerks, people at the bus stop (which was weird, as I never actually took a bus anywhere) and anyone else I’ve encountered. And it still doesn’t seem real. Because this is not the kind of thing that actually happens to people. This is the kind of thing that happens to people in self-indulgent Mary Sue daydream fantasies that we make up to amuse themselves while the wait in line to glimpse our heroes in panels or autograph sessions. We never expect these things to happen.
But, sometimes they do.
-Marj