How the Power of Fan Love Kept Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog Comic Alive for 24 Years

STARTING SCREEN | The Sonic comic is dead. Long live the Sonic comic. Plus, Mega Man X music, Ready Player One trailer reactions, and strange things are afoot in Scarborough, Ontario.

Article by Nadia Oxford, .

Put on your most sombre scrunchie barret and queue up some moody Aerosmith music: Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comic, a beloved staple of the '90s (and well beyond), is officially over and done.

Following a four-issue mini-series that was published in 1992, the Sonic the Hedgehog comic was published on a regular monthly schedule (including spin-offs and additional mini-series) from July 1993 through the end of 2016. In its 24 years of life, the comic series employed several writers, many artists, and became one of the longest-running comics in America.

Weep ye not for the speedy hedgehog, though. Shortly after the official Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter account announced the property's breakaway from Archie, it announced a new partnership with IDW, which already publishes comics based on Transformers, My Little Pony, and other licensed properties. There's a big push to bring overwhelming fan-favorite Sonic comic writer Ian Flynn to the IDW iteration of the Sonic comic.

Disclosure: I'm pals with Ian. But gosh, he did such a great job on Archie's Mega Man comic. Friend or not, keeping him on board is just good horse sense (or hedgehog sense, if you like).

It's rare for an American comic to run for 24 years, let alone without any kind of a hard reboot. The Sonic comic's longevity can probably be attributed to a perfect storm of timing, marketing, and – interestingly – a lack of decent source material.

The comic hit its stride just as the Sega Saturn arrived on store shelves. Long-lived Sonic fans no doubt remember the long Sonic drought that followed. The NiGHTS-like 3D platformer Sonic X-Treme was planned for the system, but ultimately ended up being a no-show.

The "X-TREME!" title belies the sad story behind this ill-fated Sonic game.

In fact, there wasn't a mainstream Sonic game between 1994's Sonic and Knuckles for the Sega Genesis and 1999's Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. Sonic material of any kind became scarce during that stretch of time, at least in North America. Even the two cartoons based on the games wrapped up and faded away.

From the mid- through- late-'90s, the only outlets for Sonic enthusiasts were Archie's series and, God bless 'em, fan shrines built on Geocities using web 1.0 tools. Sonic fans had their appetite whetted for decent storytelling through the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon (fondly referred to as "SatAM" to distinguish it from the goofy, light-hearted alternate animated series that ran alongside it), it didn't take much cajoling to get fans on board with the comic's continuous storylines.

Granted, a lot of the storylines that ran through the '90s weren't great. It's the kind of stuff that seems water-tight when you're a kid, but when you look back as an adult, you see a lot of sloppy writing, loose threads, and derivative storylines. The stories were still good enough to hold fans' attention back in the day, plus they were extremely accessible: Archie peddled much of its fare on grocery store magazine racks, and you'll still find its vanilla digests there today.

Sonic fans made do in the '90s, with the help of the comics and Geocities.

Well, when one Special Zone closes, another one opens. Rest in peace, hedgehog. Long may you reign, hedgehog.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Sigma Stage 1 (Mega Man X)

Say, seeing how I'm in the middle of reviewing the games parked on the upcoming SNES Classic, would anyone mind terribly if I focused on highlighting music from the games contained within?

I thought not!

Here's an SNES soundchip miracle: Sigma Stage 1 from Mega Man X. God bless that slap bass. Sigma Stage 1 might be one of the heaviest Mega Man songs ever composed (matched only by Sigma Stage 1 from Mega Man X5), as it should be: It's what accompanies you when you show up on Sigma's doorstep. It even starts over again immediately after Zero bites it in his attempt to save you from Vile. Hearing the song fire up once more while X stands alone just hits me where I live.

The song was re-composed for Maverick Hunter X on the PSP. It doesn't carry the same weight as the original, but I do love those trumpets. It's Judgement Day, baby.

Game music composer and remixer Savaged Regime recently retooled the Mega Man X soundtrack for the Genesis soundchip. What do you think?

Mike's Media Minute

Over the weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, Warner Bros finally showed off the trailer Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, based off the best-seller of the same title by Ernest Cline. The book and the film tell the story of Wade Watts, a game player in the future where everyone, poor and rich alike play a vast Second Life-style virtual reality style game. Virtual reality meets Willy Wonka meets pretty much every 80's and 90's reference you can think of.

The trailer is a bit confusing. Outside of the voice over, it's a bit of everything, showing of the virtual reality world and all the references and easter eggs to make video game fans ga-ga. But, that's all it is. It's conceptually the same as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - or from many years ago, Sucker Punch - a big visual push that might not be as strong as a film. I feel like it'll do better than those films, but I admit my excitement is muted currently.

It doesn't help that Spielberg's name is no longer a guaranteed thing these days. The BFG, which to all indications was a faithful adaptation of the book, grossed a whole $183 million on a production budget of $140 million. It was as real a flop as film flops come these days. I'm hoping Spielberg has gone in added a bit more heart and character to the overall film than was there in the book. I hope it goes well for him.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Scarborough is a quaint little suburb in Toronto. But there's an unseen gloom there, a gloom that casts a fog over everyone. Little Red Lie is a bleak, bleak game from Will O'Neill, the creator behind the haunting Actual Sunlight. It's an adventure game reduced from the usual bare minimum verbs to a single one: lie. Every interaction you partake in is a lie; whether to yourself, or to others. As Actual Sunlight unflinchingly looked at depression and suicide, so does Little Red Lie with debt, family, and the inherent lies we tell ourselves and our loved ones every day. Little Red Lie is available on PC and Mac for $9.99, and it's well worth a play.

Matt’s Monday Mornings

San Diego Comic-Con was this weekend, and I spent a good portion of mine keeping up with the announcements coming out of the convention. Justice League looks cool, but I still have a hard time getting excited for a movie that will most likely not be very good. Apparently Joss Whedon is getting a full co-director credit on it, but that sort of just makes me think that the film's tone and direction will be further muddled.

Actually, the thing I'm probably most excited about is Thor: Ragnarok which probably had the best trailer coming out of the convention. Easily my most anticipated superhero movie of the fall.

I also checked in on the Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago, but that turned out to have maybe been a mini disaster. I genuinely hope that the next time Niantic hosts a festival they'll be prepared for technical difficulties because other reports seem to say that the attendees really did have a good time playing with one another.

This Week's News and Notes

  • The first Pokémon GO fest had major technical issues, leading Niantic to admit it's "horrified" at how badly things turned out. Things certainly didn't go well, but isn't "horrified" a strong word? If there was a Lord of the Flies-style revolt and people started mounting Spoink heads on sticks as a dark tribute to Giratina, that would be horrific. Anyway, Niantic is trying to make things right.
  • PlayerUnknown's Battleground is fueled, like fire. Start melting ladies and gentlemen because it's hotter than hot, it's hot Hot HOT!
  • Splatoon 2 was big news over the weekend, but players didn't just tear everything down with neon-hued ink. They took a little time to create, too.
  • Special shout-out to those of you on Twitter who helped me finalize my party choices for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. Here's the final tally: Vaan is an Archer / White Mage, Penelo is an Uhlan / Foebreaker, Balthier is a Monk / Shikari, Fran is a White Mage / Archer, Basch is a Bushi / Red Mage, and Ashe is a Time Battlemage / Black Mage. Don't bother telling me "Ya screwed it all up, Oxford!" because it's not like I can change my mind on any of this biz.

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Comments 16

  • Avatar for link6616 #1 link6616 5 months ago
    Oooh someone covering Little Red Lies. Actual Sunlight was a powerful experience for me, so I'm hoping the same developer can strike gold twice.
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #2 DrCorndog 5 months ago
    Being a Sonic fan can be tough. You're part of the most recviled fanbase in gaming, you get a lotbof disappointing and downright crummy games, and then there was that interminable drought in the mid-to-late 90s. It was incredible to me back then that the comic continued to run during that span. Actually, a lot about this comic is incredible. It has a fascinating history. Thanks for the write-up.Edited July 2017 by DrCorndog
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  • Avatar for Thad #3 Thad 5 months ago
    290 issues is an impressive run for any comic, especially a licensed one. Conan the Barbarian only made it to 275.

    I was involved in the fandom back in the 1990s. Sonic fans are intense, man.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #4 Roto13 5 months ago
    Back in the dark ages of the 90s, Sonic was one of the few comics I could read as a kid. I stuck with it for a long while but eventually grew out of it, like you do. Still, my current love of comics as an adult definitely owes a lot to the Archie Sonic comic.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #5 SatelliteOfLove 5 months ago
    MegaMan X: The S-SMP Can Too Do Good Bass
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #6 Vonlenska 5 months ago
    I'm glad the Saturn years were largely Sonic-free. I generally seem to actually like Sonic games for all the poor reputation the series has today, but I almost always prefer originality over sequels. NiGHTS and Burning Rangers are just too wonderful, and I'd rather live in the universe where they got to happen than the universe where Sonic X-Treme 2 happened.

    I had super mixed feelings about Actual Sunlight and I'm...probably going to have super mixed feelings about Little Red Lie.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #7 CK20XX 5 months ago
    I wonder if Sega got fed up with Archie's incompetence. They held a Kickstarter for their Archie reboot, which was an immediate bomb, but they went in figuring its success into their budget, so they essentially lost a chunk of money on it. Then there was the Ken Penders lawsuit, which should have been easy to defeat, except Archie lost their copy of his contract and thus couldn't prove anything in court. The expense of that may have even killed the Mega Man comic via collateral damage.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #8 riderkicker 5 months ago
    While IDW is nuts to not hire Ian, makes you wonder if they'll do the same as Marvel did when they got Star Wars back from Dark Horse, ie clean slate, despite a rich tapestry cultivated over the decades.
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  • Avatar for Thad #9 Thad 5 months ago
    @CK20XX I don't know about sales figures, but the Archie reboot's been a critical success, at least; it's had some damn fine teams working on it. (Jughead just won an Eisner.)

    Re: "Then there was the Ken Penders lawsuit, which should have been easy to defeat" -- I think you mean it "should have been easy to win." Archie sued Penders, not the other way around.

    As for whether they "lost" his contract or forgot to make him sign one in the first place, I'm inclined to believe the latter. It sounds like the Mamaroneck office in the 1990s really didn't have its act together and cut a lot of corners -- and, in their defense, you can hardly blame them for not thinking that the Sonic comic would still be around 20 years later.

    But Penders isn't the only guy who's claimed he didn't sign a contract; Scott Shaw, Mike Gallagher, and Elliot S Maggin all made similar claims. Scott Fulop sued Archie over rights to work he did after he was no longer an Archie employee and was working on a freelance basis.

    This isn't a case of one disgruntled artist gaming the system; there are numerous people all telling the same story, including two highly respected comics creators and a former Archie employee. Now, they could all be lying -- but it seems far likelier that Archie messed up.

    As far as that goes, though, you may well be right that that played into Sega's decision to seek a new partner. Archie made bush-league mistakes (and that's true whether you believe the "never made them sign contracts" version of the story or the "lost all the contracts" version) that threatened Sega's bottom line; Penders's suit against Sega and EA was dismissed due to a filing mistake, but this still throws Sega's ownership of a number of characters and comics into question, and obviously they don't want that headache. And if you want a company with a proven track record of handling licensed properties, IDW is the obvious choice.

    (Incidentally, I've been amazed by just how good IDW's Transformers comics are. I think More than Meets the Eye/Lost Light has surpassed Beast Wars as my favorite Transformers anything ever.)
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #10 nadiaoxford 5 months ago
    @Thad I have nothing good to say about Kenders, his ego, and the lack of talent that keeps him clinging desperately to the Sonic franchise, but yeah, Archie messed up hardcore by not crossing its t's and dotting its i's.
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  • Avatar for Thad #11 Thad 5 months ago
    @nadiaoxford I had some pretty unkind things to say about Penders and his work back when he was on the comic too, but that's irrelevant to the merits of his legal case. A judge isn't going to say "Dude, Sonic Live sucked. I find in favor of the plaintiff."

    If Archie published all those comics without written work-for-hire agreements in place, in advance, then that means it's been reprinting work it doesn't own, and creating derivative works of same, for twenty years, without compensating the legal owners. That's not right, no matter how much better a writer Ian Flynn is than Mike Gallagher.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #12 CK20XX 5 months ago
    @Thad Eh, no, that's incorrect about the lawsuits. Ken Penders started them, though Archie eventually retaliated with their own.'_legal_cases

    Apparently he's wanted the rights to his Sonic OCs back so he can write and sell original stories with them in their own universe. It's like he represents the worst stereotypes of the Sonic fandom.

    That's an interesting nugget of information about there not being any actual contracts though. If that's true, I'm boggled at how Archie hasn't been ruined and shut down by now.
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  • Avatar for Thad #13 Thad 5 months ago
    @CK20XX From the link you just provided:

    In response to Penders filing of legal ownership in 2009 and announcement of his own original graphic novel project, Archie Comics proceeded to file a cease-and-desist letter and lawsuit against him in the fall of 2010 in an attempt to retain their copyright holdings of his characters and concepts.

    Penders filed copyright registrations. Archie sued.

    (Incidentally, that last part is wrong. Archie was not attempting to "retain their copyright holdings", because Archie never had any copyright holdings on the Sonic comic. It had publication rights, but that's not the same; Sega owns the copyrights to the Sonic least, the ones where Archie remembered the work-for-hire contract.)

    That's an interesting nugget of information about there not being any actual contracts though. If that's true, I'm boggled at how Archie hasn't been ruined and shut down by now.

    I was initially very skeptical about Penders's claims, because Archie isn't known for that kind of sloppiness with its own contracts. (It successfully defeated a suit by Dan DeCarlo when he tried to get a share of the profits from the Josie and the Pussycats movie, and to this day the company refuses to acknowledge that Bob Montana created Archie.) But it's quite clear now (again, whether the contracts were lost or never signed in the first place) that the Mamaroneck office was not as thorough in handling its paperwork for licensed books as the main Archie office historically has been for its own books. Again, to a certain extent this is understandable; nobody imagined that a licensed comic about a video game would still be a going concern twenty years later.

    Archie's mistake raises interesting questions about reprints. The terms of Penders's settlement aren't public; he reached an agreement with Archie, but it's unknown whether that agreement applies to IDW now -- and even if Penders is no longer a concern, as I've noted, there are other writers and artists who have made similar claims. If IDW wants to reprint any of the Archie books, it may just stick to the later ones, after Flynn's reboot that retconned all the disputed characters out of existence. Or maybe Chris Ryall will reach out to the creators and offer them a deal (likely a one-time payout in exchange for agreeing to drop any copyright claims). Like I said, IDW knows how to play the license game.Edited July 2017 by Thad
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #14 CK20XX 5 months ago
    @Thad Blast. Reading comprehension fail on my part.

    I'm guessing IDW will just start over. No more Sally and the Freedom Fighters; it'll be a new comic birthed from the games. That's what Sega steered toward anyway after the Sonic and Mega Man: Worlds Collide crossover, and that'll cut away Penders and other kinds of baggage.

    I've always wanted to see Silver the Hedgehog recast as a guardian of the Little Planet and the events of Sonic '06 be a result of him messing with the Time Stones when he should have known better.
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  • Avatar for Thad #15 Thad 5 months ago
    @CK20XX I agree that IDW will likely start a new series with a new continuity (just as they did with Transformers and TMNT). But that doesn't preclude publishing reprints of the old comics too (as they've also done with Transformers and TMNT). The later books, at least (Genesis and beyond), are easy money, as by that point there are no contractual disputes and no royalties owed. If they have access to digital files already, then releasing them digitally would basically be pure profit; print editions, of course, would have slimmer margins.

    I don't really expect them to seek out Gallagher, Shaw, et al, to make a deal for the older stuff; I just don't see enough demand to justify the trouble and expense. But nothing's impossible. Like I said, Sonic fans are intense; there may be a completionist demand to collect the entire series, even the early, less-loved stuff.

    I also wouldn't rule out the possibility of bringing back the Archie comic continuity later, in some form. While IDW launched Transformers as a new series with its own continuity, it eventually published a series that picked up where the original Marvel series left off, with the same creative team. If there's sufficient demand, it could happen.
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  • Avatar for Arrowned #16 Arrowned 5 months ago
    The Sonic portion of this article is bringing back fond memories of my own Sonic fansite on Geocities, "Radical City", which had a good variety of stuff here and there but was really just a smokescreen for a place I could host the crappy MIDIs I'd made back in 98/99, before I got gudEdited July 2017 by Arrowned
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