"Sonic" Comics Hit 20 Years As Mega Man Looms

Sega's spinning blue video game icon may have been running through digital zones for 22 years, but Sonic The Hedgehog has been anchoring an Archie comic book for 20 years too.

The publisher is marking the anniversary across 2013 with a number of new formats including digital availability for the entire series, new mass market magazine formats and a wraparound cover for "Sonic The Hedgehog" #250 - an issue that arrives in the thick of the April 10-launching Sonic/Mega Man crossover event "Worlds Collide."

To catch up on the overarching plans for Sonic and his Freedom Fighters, CBR News spoke with series writer Ian Flynn and Editor Paul Kaminski. Below, the pair discuss the recent shake-ups to Sonic's world, why the book has been built for new readers who thing of the comic as kids faire rather than action-adventure, what character dynamics will drive the "Mega Man" crossover starting with April's "Mega Man" #24. Plus, they reveal an exclusive first look at issue #250's anniversary cover.

CBR News: Gentlemen, we're about to hit the 20 year mark for Sonic comics, and for a long time in those two decades, the majority of the Sonic readers were folks who read the series as their primary form of comics entertainment. Sonic fans are diehards, and there's less crossover between them and superhero readers or even other Archie readers. I feel like you've been making moves to draw attention to the book with other readers going back a few years to the "Genesis" arc which was a sort of soft reboot. What's been the result of broadening that readership out?

Paul Kaminski: I think Ian deals with the diehard fans more than I do!

Ian Flynn: [Laughs] Day in and day out. The diehard fans are the reason the book has endured for so long. You can say that it seems to be an "us versus them" kind of thing with Sonic fans and other comic fans, and part of that I think stems from the fact that cape book fans have not given Sonic a look because it's a tie-in book and it's about colorful animal people and cartoons. I think some people feel like "We have more serious things to read about like guys with red tablecloths tied around their necks flying through the air or dudes who shoot claws out of their hands. That's real comic books."

And I know that was my mentality at the time I gave Sonic a shot. I bought the book for my littler brother ages ago, and I realized, "Wait a minute. This has got everything that's great about comics!" You've got bright, colorful characters with endearing personalities, and they're fighting the good fight against impossible odds. The only difference is that things just happen to be tied into a video game.

So I think one people come onto the book - and "Genesis" was a great way to do that because after 20 years there's a LOT of continuity in the book - and saw that this was the same kind of fun they could get from other books, they stuck around and said, "Oh gee, I can enjoy this not ironically." They may still tuck it under their sleeve as they're leaving the comic book store and say, "Oh, I'm buying this for my niece." But so long as they're reading and enjoying the book, that's all I care about. That's what comics are about. It's escapist literature. You don't need to take it too seriously.

Kaminski: Yeah, that's the sign hanging over my office. "You can enjoy this non-ironically." [Laughter] But to that end, we have a lot of traditional "Big Two" people who have worked for us on the books over the years, some who still do to this day. Terry Austin, for heaven's sakes, is a legend in comics, and he's been the inker on "Sonic" for over five years. Stephen Butler and people like that work for us. This is comic fans and comic professionals making these books. I always describe "Sonic" and "Mega Man" as classic American storytelling mixes with Japanese concepts. It's a really interesting mix because the games are things where there's not one plotline that runs through all the games. More so with Sonic, it hops around a little bit. But the comics give you a sense of continuity. It's Sonic with a story, basically. And that speaks to the longevity over 20 years.

Flynn: That and the Sonic comic over the years has become a kind of melting pot of the franchise. It's got elements from the cartoons from when I was little and elements from the newer games the kids who are coming up now will look at and go, "I recognize that." So if you liked the cartoons or the old school comic stuff or are just a fan of the new games, all of that is mixed in. That makes it a really attractive package to me.

Over the past year plus, you've really split Sonic's Freedom Fighters into two teams, and that's allowed you to use each arc of the book and the "Sonic Universe" spinoff to explore different aspects of the overall world. What was the goal in setting that status quo?

Flynn: The goal for the post-"Genesis" world of the book was to really shake up the status quo. Up to that point, which was like the 18-year mark, we'd had for a long time the Sonic and Tails group of Freedom Fighters - our Justice League or Avengers, if you will - without really any major changes to the group dynamic. So the post-"Genesis" story arc was meant to really shake things up. It took characters out of their comfort zones and really tested them to see what their limits were.

Originally, we were going to be wrapping that all up in the 250th issue where the heroes would come together and triumph. Then Sega and Capcom got together and said, "You know what would be cool? Let's do a crossover with Sonic and Mega Man!" And I just went, "Yeeeeeeah!" That's worth dropping all plans for because when are we ever going to get a chance to do another crossover like this? That's unprecedented. So the new crossover plan kind of sidelined what our post-"Genesis" plans were, but that's okay. We're going to be forward-thinking, and after the crossover is done, we'll resume tying up those plans in a nice and neat way. The crossover itself will be four months of pure, unadulterated fun as we take the Sonic and Mega Man worlds and smash them together. We're going to have all sorts of good times with it.

Kaminski: I'm actually looking at part one of the crossover on my computer screen right now. We're putting the final touches on it before it heads off to the printer, and this is some of the most fun we've ever had on the comic before. Reading Ian's scripts with Dr. Wiley and Dr. Eggman...the way he wrote those two together with an epic bromance united by mustaches and general lab coats is a beautiful thing. I say that removing myself from being the editor on the book. With these I felt more like I was sitting back and giggling as I read the adventure, and I think the fans will get a really big kick out of this one.

Tell me about how the crossover works. I feel like Sonic and Mega Man have certain themes shared in their DNA. Sonic has always been a story of conservation and the natural earth versus a robot army. Mega Man is a story about a world where a robot tries to be a real boy. How did you mash those two worlds together?

Flynn: It's not so much the themes as the characters. We mashed them together to see where they were like oil and where they were like water. Sonic is a very dynamic character. He is perpetually in motion. He's always got a one-line. He acts first and thinks second. Reckless abandonment and charm carries him from adventure to adventure. Mega Man is much more paced. It deliberate. He didn't want to fight anybody, but he did it because it was for the good of everyone. He's much more slow in his approach, and he doesn't want to pull the trigger unless he has to. That even matches up with the gameplay where Sonic was always about speeding up and flying forward, and Mega Man was about making sure you didn't do something to fall into a pit yet again and have to replay the stupid level.

So when you take those two characters and put them into a place where they have to work together, their styles are completely different. Sonic is still worldly and snarky while Mega Man has a bit more naivete to him since he is an eight-year-old when you get down to it. Having that dynamic between the two of them is loads of fun. Then you have characters like Tails who is a little more like Mega Man in that he's slow and analytical and brings more thought into the mix, and Protoman is a guy who doesn't like to work with anybody because he has his own sense of right and wrong. You throw them into a situation with all these villainous characters, and there's the epic bromance between the doctors going on in the background. It takes on a life of its own.

Kaminski: We're also hoping this crossover lures in a new readership or makes people who have been curious sample the book. To speak to the point you had about the heavy philosophical points these books can make about robotic ethics and creation or in Sonic's case the idea that he's kind of an insurgent in Eggman's authoritarian dictatorship, the themes Ian plays with here are adult, but they're told in a way that's palatable for children. That's what a good all-ages comic is. It's why I loved the stuff I did when I was a kid. Kids don't want to be talked down to as readers. What we're hoping is that this crossover shines a light on those big themes and helps people see these titles as more than mere licensed books.

There may be a number of people checking out the crossover for curiosity's sake. For Sonic, are you trying to tell a story in the crossover that will get some forward momentum into his long terms plans in hopes of netting those new readers?

Flynn: I think so, yeah. The crossover itself was specifically designed with the novice in mind. The hardcore fans are excited anyway. They know Sonic and Mega Man. They know what to expect. They know it's going to be a lot of fun. New folks coming in will probably more familiar with the games than anything, but they'll get a great sense of who these characters are. You'll see the adventure and the fun that these books regularly provide, so when we go back to the regular storylines in the series, you'll know who the characters are and what kinds of stories to expect overall. You'll know the cadence and the pace of the books, and if you don't know exactly all the plot threads that the story will pick up from, you'll be ready to go along with the flow. From there, it's just the fascination of discovering these worlds. I think they're so fascinating and rich by themselves that folks will really want to hang on and enjoy the ride. Hopefully they'll even want to go back and pick up some of the other pieces. Heaven knows we've got plenty of trades and digital content to get.

Kaminski: And the story arcs following the crossover are made with that new reader in mind, so it's going to be a shining example of what the books are capable of. We're very aware that these new stories are our opportunity to speak to a new audience, and we want to approach them in a coherent, fun an interesting way.

Flynn: Once the crossover is done, we're ready to hit the ground running with another major turning point for both Sonic and Mega Man.

Kaminski: It's going to be world-shaking. It's awesome.

Paul, Ian just mentioned all the publishing stuff available, and I feel like Archie has been ramping up the amount of Sonic material available over the past year or so. We've now got a monthly "Super Special" magazine, a regular Sonic digest and all the original issues available digitally through iVerse. I was even at the Barnes & Noble the other night and saw that some kid had been reading them around the store and left a pile at the checkout on the St. Patrick's Day display table. What's been the response to those new formats in the general audience?

Kaminski: I love the Barnes & Noble vigilantes that place our books everywhere. [Laughs] We want to get these books in the hands of kids and adults that we know will love them. Our driving mantra is "How can we get these books out, who can we reach and where is the next natural expansion?" Initially, that was with graphic novels mining the 20 years of history Sonic has. You had the "Sonic Archive" series reprinting everything from the very beginning. Then you have "Sonic Saga" which are the tales Ian started with in 2005. In the office, we call these "The Ian Archives" where the stories become what they are today. You've go "Sonic Universe" also in graphic novels.

But what if you're not in a bookstore? What if you're at a place that only has magazines but no comics? Well, then we've got the "Sonic Super Special" magazines which are filled with lots of news. It's like "Sonic Wizard" almost - a clubhouse for Sonic fans to hang out in. And now with the Sonic digests, obviously Archie is the king of digests. We are and have been for years, and it only made sense to put a Sonic one out there. Those have been doing very well for us, and we're very proud of that book. Artist Jonathan Gray I feel should get a lot of credit on that because he's designing those too and has lots of funny drawings in there. They're great for kids, and if you have a mobile device you can also pick up the Sonic comics. They're expanding daily on comiXology, and we have every back issue available on the Sonic Comics app. We have a Mega Man app with the entire catalog available. It's all about putting the material in the hands of the people we know are going to enjoy it.

The Sonic/Mega Man crossover "Worlds Collide" starts on April 10 in "Mega Man" #24 from Archie Comics.

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