Retro gaming

Remembering Sonic the Comic

A lot has been said about the American Sonic the Comic, but there aren’t too many resources online for the British version. Looking back on my collection today though it’s become clear just how diluted the Sonic franchise has become.

Ladies and gents I’d like to take you back to the early 1990s, back to my early gaming childhood when Sonic mania was at it’s peak; and the console war between SEGA and Nintendo was reaching mammoth proportions.

A lot has been said about the American Sonic the Comic, but there aren’t too many resources online for the British version. Looking back on my collection today though it’s become clear just how diluted the Sonic franchise has become.

Ladies and gents I’d like to take you back to the early 1990s, back to my early gaming childhood when Sonic mania was at it’s peak; and the console war between SEGA and Nintendo was reaching mammoth proportions.

The background to SEGA v.s Nintendo

The Nintendo side of this saga is well documented, but in Europe at least SEGA’s wave of influence was building, and the power they mustered within our young minds was exciting. The Sonic games in particular were unlike anything else we had played – fast, slick and obviously instant classics. Collectively as a fanbase we felt like a wave of energy pushing against the tide that was the mighty Nintendo.

Sparkster flies upwards in the Rocket Knight Adventures comic.

The sense of vendetta built into us was mischievous – but we were kids and we loved it because it tapped into the playful banter and rhetoric of the playground. The old mantras of the SEGA side of the divide are still so deeply ingrained into my mind to this day that I still get a sort of taboo like tingle when I turn on an old school Nintendo console.

I think Sonic the Comic had a lot to do with that, obtensively a cog in the SEGA marketing machine, but more than that, a much-needed avenue for the fans, a delicious appreciation of everything that we were – our passion manifest on pages, and this was long before the comfort of the internet. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in enjoying games was deeply cathartic, and for that reason buying Sonic the Comic was the first moment that my young mind understood that I was a gamer.

The control zone of the comic contains sales charts, the Megadroid intro and other SEGA-related news.

Sonic and the planet Mobius

The simplicity of the original Sonic games hid a beguiling world, and vibrant cast of characters. They were games that could be sped through as quickly as possible, or played perfectly noting every step to achieve a perfect Super Sonic ending. Sonic the Comic built on that with the main Sonic strip, initially with light-hearted storytelling which pandered to our childhood aspirations of Sonic as a flawless, arrogant hero. Later on the comic would lead our imaginations down darker paths, into long winding backstories including our favourite characters, as they were pushed together in an underground resistance against Dr Robotnik’s growing dictatorship.

This was Sonic the Comic as it’s best – when it moved away from the patronising stance of other kids comics and acknowledged that it’s young readers were imaginative young people able to deal with the vast array of issues thrown at their heroes.

We loved to understand Sonic’s story, how he came to be, as well as the origin of Dr. Robotnik and his motivations. The gameworld we knew and loved began to manifest into the vast and magnificient planet Mobius, and rather than departing from the brief lines of text in the game manual, the world began to grow as each installment of the Sonic franchise added more, and the comic and game world blurred together into one wonderful collective canon.

Sonic and Tails grapple with an enemy in the Chemical Plant Zone.

And that was just the storytelling, the comic sounded and looked the part once it found it’s feet. This was particularly evident under the guidance of artist Richard Elson and writer Nigel Kitching. I hate to single out two names out of a sea of people whose collective energy brightened my childhood, but whenever I saw their these names in the white space next to the comic I knew I was in for a treat. The most recent designs for Dreamcast era Sonic onwards do him no justice, but on a personal note, I think Richard Elson was the only person that was able to get Sonic’s iconic look over perfectly in every single frame.

A growing cast of characters

While I didn’t agree with some of the later additions to the cast (namely Amy Rose) the comic largely benefited from the extra faces in the early days. It was nice to see Tails take centre stage in his own comic, to have his backstory, bravery and intelligence properly explored in a decent way. This is a distinct contrast to his treatment in newer Sonic games – as he becomes increasingly more juvenile, but able to juggle obtaining a pilots licence while harbouring a penchant for invention…

Knuckles though was a welcome addition, and is probably the only character to have survived intact through various recent redesigns. Sonic the Comic was the first time many of us got to meet this new character, leading up to the pre-release hype of Sonic 3. These were exciting times, but like many others I started to lose track as the hero and enemy list grew past the original band of heroes.

Dr. Robotnik tells off a trio of suspiciously familiar looking Italians.

As time went on the Sonic’s power came less out of his solo efforts and more out of the sense of camaraderie that surrounded his growing circle of allies. In particular I really enjoyed the exploration of the animal characters which were originally just creatures trapped in the badniks. These simple animations in the game(s) became actual characters within the comic, (such as the rabbit and pig becoming Johnny Lightfoot and Porker Lewis respectively), each original character added their own unique skills to help solve each fortnights problems, and perhaps this best shows off the comic’s inventiveness at creating new, believable characters (if only the recent games followed this lovely design pattern).

This was also the time when Dr. Robotnik was a proper evil genius, (who clearly earned his doctorate) as he frequently got close to beating Sonic. I miss the times when Robotnik used to be a believable, and genuinely disturbing bad-guy – the man that you loved to hate, and it efforts made it abundantly clear that Sonic was not infallable, as Robotnik’s growing resourcefulness forced Sonic’s character to reinvent new ways to take him down each time, it was no longer enough for his character to rely on pure bravado.

Sonic aside for a moment – it was also really nice for other SEGA franchises to benefit from the comic treatment, with all of the aplomb and personality of the Sonic trips. Suddenly the characters of some of my favourite gaming series were no longer silent, but bright, vibrant characters on the page in front of me, speaking their motivations aloud. Golden Axe, Wonder Boy, Shining Force, and Shinobi were among many others series immortalised in print by the fabulous artists and writers at STC, the quality of these strips are so great I may have to return to each of them at a later date to point out their individual merits.

Ecco the Dolphin explores Alantis.

We miss you Sonic…

I consider myself a fan of the SEGA and Sonic Team of old, first and foremost, and Sonic the Comic helps me to tap into the preciousness of my youth. These were the moments when every penny spent on games, and related merchandise were appreciated and treasured. Every game I owned was played repeatedly until they were not just completed, but memorized and mastered. Although the comic was by no means perfect, the British version is an undeniable reminder of the moments when I was most patient and to a greater extent in awe with my gaming.

And Sonic was much better then too.

7 replies on “Remembering Sonic the Comic”

@john I can completely agree with you about the proliferation of characters, but do remember that I am talking about the British comic here who generally kept things pretty simple – there was only ever one human in our comic, and that was Robotnik. The idea of inter species relationships are absurd! (not to mention disgusting) if I remember correctly Sonic didn’t even like Amy much in our comic, she was a pain in his ass distracting him from destroying Robotnik.

I must disagree though, our comics were brilliant, and to look at your wonderful points another way, all the story stayed on the comic and could be enjoyed by those of us that wanted to know or completely ignored allowing the games to stay as those cool, silent 2D platformers that we knew and loved. Wasn’t it better with those clearly defined boundries?

So yes UK comic, different artists, writers and completely different feel, more subtle more enjoyable, slightly less cheese. But I do agree with you and the degradation of Sonic is something I will return to.

@Geoff Glad you liked Sparkster! The Ecco and Sparkster comics were my favourites, I plan on writing and scanning more of the picture in, but I need to figure out the best way to do this…

I’ve always thought of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic as the most obvious example of the franchise’s excesses. WHY do Sonic and friends need such tortured backstories? I saw a family tree for Knuckles one time and just about shat myself at its complexity. And Knuckles’ entry on Wikipedia is longer than most articles that are actually important in the grand scheme of things. And really, I think a lot of the weaknesses of the new Sonic games are exemplified in the reasons you gave why you like the comic. Who are all these losers hanging around Sonic?! Sonic should be pared down to Tails, Kunckles and the hedgehog himself. Who wants Big the Cat or Rouge the Bat?! WHY IS SONIC KISSING A HUMAN? Involving stories might be okay for something like a comic book because I don’t think sidescrolling gameplay really does well on the page, but why is every other recent Sonic game packed to the gills with cinemas and cutscenes?!

Man, reading this makes me wish I could tune out everything Sonic related post-1999, and I’d go a little earlier if I didn’t have a certain fondness for Sonic R. Though I think I’m one of, oh, three people who doesn’t mind Amy Rose for some strange reason. I never knew that there was a Sonic comic made for the UK was different from the Archie Comics-published American one. My thoughts on the US one pretty much reflect yours on Sonic the Comic, in that I loved having one of my favorite characters having his own comic series. The fact that it was quality work was a bonus! A pity those pesky sequels had to come along and rob the franchise of its dignity, as it’s barely clinging on to relevancy these days. By the way, I had a nerd-out when I saw the panel with Sparkster from Rocket Knight Adventures. I was doing a lot of reading up on that franchise recently, and saw that Sparkster had a short series within this very comic. How fortuitous to see this entry less than 24 hours later!

I still remember the series where Robotnik finally mechanized Sonic, and the entire events that followed. After reading some of the comments though, I’m glad I found enough distance between myself and the series before they entered the Dreamcast era.

I loved those comics when I was a kid. The thing that always supprised me was how dark some of the stuff was. Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Eternal Champions were all pretty nasty for kids’ comics.

I remember the uk STC with great fondness, excitedly running to the sweet shop to get the only copy they ordered in (Mario loving area were i grew up) The comic lioke t he game became far to diluted with week caracters who only served to detract from the main point, Sonic. Why Sega didn’t just continue with the original sonic formula and end up with duff game after duff game beats me. It’s only know they realise that going back to basic with sonic 4 is the only option to save sonic from extinction.

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