I had the good fortune to get a commission from Rik Mack, who has been in the Sonic fandom for a long while and is currently an inker for the IDW Sonic series (check out the Tails’ 30th Anniversary Special, on sale now, and I get nothing for plugging it!) You may recognize him from his restoration of Sonic Universe #95, which went unpublished due to Archie making a series of absolutely crazy decisions and losing the license. Sort of a Fallout Van Buren situation, but without Fallout New Vegas to make up for it on IDW’s part. (Seriously, I get why it’s not happening, but that is a bummer.)
I’ll be honest: I’m writing this article as a part two to my Ken Penders commission article, because this was a great experience with a professional and a great final piece. The chance to break down the piece’s individual components are a lot of fun, and I doubt I’ll ever have the chance to do something like this in the bonus features of a Fantagraphics collection. Here’s the commission: No Need For Sonic!
I’ve always liked Ultimate Spider-Man’s love triangles, and Sonic’s were no different. The idea of all four characters coming to confess their affections to Sonic at once was intriguing to me, so I wrote a script (which we altered throughout the course of the commission) for a half-page splash of a comic that didn’t exist. It’s a glimpse into what I might have done a few issues after #144, where the figurative romantic board had been shuffled, with a story I called No Need for Sonic! in honor of Tenchi Muyo!. A few issues gave time for some hot tempers to cool off, for the characters to become comfortably single, and investigate the chemistry that seemed to be present with these characters… and having some fun with the love triangles for once.
It took me halfway through the process to realize exactly what I was doing: rejecting the ethos of this cover.
I’m not going to go on for too long about how bad this story is, but it’s meanspirited, nasty, and just gross to read. Even Jon Gray’s art stops about halfway through, being replaced by Al Bigley and taking away the only good thing in that entire issue in the process. Even the inking is bad, with Al Milgrom looking like a drunken baboon. Go to this link to see the good version of that story’s art.
The cover itself is frustrating too. Watching women tear each other down over a dude is completely uninteresting, and unappealing to girls in particular. But the cover was actually made more competitive than its preview. Not only that, Sonic loves that they’re fighting over him. It’s both stupid and boring.
Here’s what is interesting: watching them compete for a dude’s affections while he tries to figure out what to do, or remains oblivious to the whole thing. There’s actually an entire genre of anime for that. And, as it so happens, a company that became famous for silly shenanigans involving love triangles.
To fit what I had in mind, there were four basic tenets in putting this piece together.
1: The picture should be tonally appropriate for a kid, and not something to feel uncomfortable hanging up around them if you bought it from a convention.
2: The picture should not be cheesecake in disguise.
3: The characters should not be trying to tear each other down when showing their affection.
4: This should be fun and funny!
Personally, I think he succeeded on all counts. The absolute closest we got to breaking any of these was Bunnie being on the hood of the racecar bed, which was something of a joke about girls on cars: but it was mostly a blocking issue. We still spent a lot of time fine-tuning her position to keep it from seeming risque.
Originally this was meant to just be a character piece with enough background items to give it a sense of place. But as it so happens, the two of us are Don Rosa and Jon Gray fans – the chance to do a reference heavy trophy room got the better of us, and we bounced off each other through conversation and his drafts to add more and more stuff. I’m going to walk through the room for where each of these pieces came from, starting with the stuff that’s not from Archie.
Chili dogs: The favorite food of the American version of Sonic the Hedgehog. The poster was all him.
Sonic SatAM Backpack: The backpack on the floor is based off of Sonic’s in that cartoon, which was shown most heavily in the pilot episode “Heads or Tails.” You can also see it in the theme song.
The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog guitar: The pink guitar, which we found in a GIF from an episode we couldn’t identify. If anyone can identify it, I’ll gladly update the article and credit whoever can tell me where it’s from.
Astal poster: Technically Astal has been used in Archie comics as a background character, but he is actually the protagonist of a really, really good game! He’s also one of long-time Sonic cover artist Patrick Spaziante’s favorite characters, and he drew a tribute piece for the character’s 27th anniversary. Whether it’s a gag, a Mobian war hero, or just a game that Sonic’s a fan of, this was a tribute to Spaziante’s work. This is the poster in question, and the most obvious Astal cameo he put in to the series.
Sonic Underground Medallion: The center piece is the medallion from Sonic Underground. Where did it come from? Why does he have it? Nobody knows. Sonic’s mom is in some other part of the house, after all. But it balanced things just right visually, so up it went.
SOAP Shoes: The iconic shoes from Sonic Adventure 2. And Sonic Frontiers. Who saw that coming?
The Flash comics: Taking directly from the live action Sonic the Hedgehog, a stack of Flash comics. This is also a reference to the Pseudo-Sonic cover:
Which itself is a reference to The Flash #123’s The Flash of Two Worlds, which both beautifully expanded and absolutely ruined DC’s continuity forever.
Sonic crackers: Knuckles’ Chaotix, a Sega 32X game that you may have heard of but almost certainly have never played with very good reason, was originally presented with a prototype called Sonic Crackers. Is a 32X reference ever necessary? No. Do I feel good about it being here? Yes!
Sega Saturn: This is my favorite reference of them all, like an onion, but filled with microhips and a terrible launch event at E3. I needed something for Sonic to do besides look nervous, and there had to be a reason that things didn’t break out in to a mess once the four arrived. I technically took from Sonic #94 and #134’s Sega Saturn, but took artistic liberties with the model for reasons I’ll explain below.
This is actually a Japanese Sega Saturn model bundled with Christmas Nights, a variation of the famous Nights into Dreams. I picked this game and model because it’s more visually interesting than the North American black version, has a way better controller, and because Christmas NiGHTs allowed me to make quite a few references.
In a number of continuities, Sonic was born on Christmas Island. Adding to that, this is the only game you can play on the Saturn with 3D Sonic in an actual game, not just a compilation. The game was also developed by Sonic Team, for full meta fun. Finally, the regular Nights into Dreams comic was published by Archie Comics, with covers by Patrick Spaziante himself.
I have never had the pleasure of playing Nights into Dreams in any format, but trying to find a high quality video of it gave me motion sickness so I’m glad they waited until the Dreamcast to do something 3D.
The other game on the floor is Radiant Silvergun, a suggestion of Rik’s to match Sonic’s personality.
For my own peace of mind, this Saturn is either modded to be region-free, or Sonic is using the implant from Sonic the Hedgehog #127 that lets him understand every language to play Japanese games. Is this a necessary justification for a commission that only exists in my own head? Absolutely not. Do I feel better with this in mind? Yes. Yes I do.
Surfboard: This one is interesting! Various power-ups in Sonic, as well as cutscenes, have shown Sonic on a surfboard. But having referenced three cartoons, the Sega Genesis, 32X, Saturn and Dreamcast, I thought it was only appropriate to give a shout-out to the Game Gear and Master System. Sonic has had many snowboards over the years, but the best one is from Sonic Triple Trouble. The 16-Bit remake coming out recently certainly helped influence my color decisions. By the way, it’s fantastic, completely finished, and you should play it. After you’re done with this article.
Clock: Alright, calling this a reference is a stretch since that wasn’t the intention, but if you squint right it is a variation Sonic Chaos and Sonic CD’s Time monitors. Mostly this was used to give some setting details, and is entirely Rik’s design. But hey, with Sonic CD given a small shout-out, that covers every major Sega console out there. And the 32X, I guess.
Now, on to the Archie specific stuff!
Sports equipment: This is an amalgamation of things Sonic has done in the past, from a one-page comic about baseball to the consistency of a baseketball hoop in shots of his room, it fits his character and shows a comfortable mess.
Kingdom of Acorn pennant: Rik figured that Sonic, as a sports fan, would have something representing the home team, as it were. The colors were taken from the ill-advised school arc.
Classical guitar: In one of my favorite stories, Heart Held Hostage, Sonic’s dad teaches him how to play the guitar. With the help of the exceptional references that artist Jay Axer did, along with my girlfriend who actually plays the guitar, we were able to have something that matched a real-life guitar beautifully. I love the lighting effects on it. His work in managing an aurora and the light of the television together is no small feat. The entire room is beautifully lit and I hope people take notice of that.
Medals: The Knighthood medal presented in #78 was a great design. Hanging that up was a no-brainer. But the Hero Medal from #51 was even better, and its addition necessitated a balancing piece in the form of the Sonic Underground medallion.
Racecar bed: Sonic’s racecar bed is the greatest thing in the world, and the article on it should be read by every man woman and child, including the babies. They’ll better, talk sooner, grow up stronger, and never, ever argue on the internet.
One Billionth Ring: I have a huge soft spot for Sonic #35’s Ring of Truth!, and it’s the most obvious trophy of the bunch.
Beyond that, all characters were given designs appropriate to that specific post-#144 time on the series, and with the idea that Rik would draw the characters within his version of the Archie style (no small feat, considering there are unwritten rules to make the characters look on-model pre-#160, and a great deal of freedom that isn’t present in the later issues or IDW.)
His character acting is phenomenal, and he made sure to both follow the script and elevate it beyond what I had in mind while working with me. I’m really proud of the part I played in putting this together, and incredibly happy to have had the chance to work with a talent like him. And hey, maybe if you bug him enough, he’ll start putting some prints out for sale. After all, when we talked at the beginning of this, I made sure we both understood that I was more than happy to see him sell this piece to as many people as he could.
I’m very proud, and selfishly gratified after my first commission experience, that I was able to serve as the genesis for this work.
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