Writer Ian Flynn Discusses Giving The Sonic Comic Series A Fresh Start
Variant cover for Sonic The Hedgehog Issue #1 by artist Nathalie Fourdraine.
Sonic The Hedgehog ran with Archie Comics for nearly 25 years until Sega partnered with IDW last year. With unfinished storylines and an unclear direction, the most notable constant is writer Ian Flynn: a Sonic series regular who has also worked on Mega Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and an upcoming Arms storyline. With several other old friends and a bold, fresh start, we talked with Flynn about the new Sonic line that will be debuting April 2018.
You worked on Sonic comics long before you got your start with issue #160 since you wrote fan-made comics. How did those specifically help you break into that industry and get you the role of writing official issues?
I did do fan comics in high school. That's true. And not to toot my own horn, they were high school comics. They were awful. Don't look for them. This was back in the day when the internet was first starting to gear up as a medium for fans to interact and share creatively. Everybody wanted to do their own comic or whatever, but the one that I was a part of went for 30 non-standardized issues, and just through interest alone, it was translated into two or three different languages, which is crazy! It didn't really help get me anywhere professionally, but on a personal level, it taught me a lot about story structure and working with an artist and maintaining reasonable expectations with deadlines. This was way back during what I like to call the "fan renaissance" where everyone had a "I scratch your back, you scratch mine" outlook when we created together for the sake of creation!
Anyway, it taught me about making comics and how hard it can be, and I think that tempered a bit when applying to the old books. Back then, I was pursuing my English degree and it dawned on me that, once I graduated, I had to get a job. What do you do with an English degree instead of teach English? I thought, "I like writing comics. I like the Sonic comic. I like to write in general. Let's see if I can get on board with that." So I knocked on the editor's door for my entire university career and didn't get an answer. Then, right as I was about to graduate, I was contacted by one of the editors, who more or less said, "You ain't bad, kid. Let me show you how you're supposed to do some things." I was doing some early data-gathering and worked my ass off. I sent in improvised manuscripts and impressed them enough. He first reached out to me October 2005 and then I was head writer by March 2006.
What drew you to comics in general or to the Sonic ones in particular?
The reason I got into Sonic was because I was raised in a Genesis household, thank you very much. Because Genesis does what Nintendon't ... which is drop out of the console market. [coughs] Anyway, I was big into X-Men comics in general, but my little brother liked to read them, too. Those books were a little too much for a five-year-old, so what's on the shelf? Sonic. We like the games, this should be safe enough. Oh, he wants me to read them to him? Well, I'm this big, important middle-schooler. Oh, wait ... this is actually pretty interesting. But what really got me into it was my best friend who gave me an issue since he was a subscriber of the old series. He said, "Here, I think you should have this." I asked why, and he responded, "I don't know. I just had a feeling." And right there, that set me on my career for the rest of my life, thanks to him.
IDW announcement piece by artist Tyson Heese.
You had some issues in the works before Sonic went to IDW. Will old fans get a sense of closure with the upcoming relaunch? Is it, in any way, going to continue or be based on some of the lore you established over the years?
IDW is brand new. There's no connection from before aside from the creators that are involved. All of us are approaching this as a blank slate. This is fresh, new, just-off-the-vine Sonic. You don't even have to be super familiar with the games to get into it. If you know that Sonic is fast, he fights robots, and Dr. Eggman is a villain? Boom. You're set. I'm going to jump in and treat this series how Sonic adventures should be. Fast-paced and fun. Takes itself seriously enough so that you're engaged, but not so serious that you're rolling your eyes and saying, "Come on, this is a blue hedgehog. Chill out." I would love for there to be an opportunity down the line to at least cover the notes of what I would've done with the old series, but we are in uncharted waters at this point. The IDW book hasn't even launched yet. It's brand new and so is our relationship with Sega. We're feeling out what everyone's comfortable with and what we can do with the future. So right now, I'm not focused so much on resolving the past as I am setting up a successful future. Whatever comes from that down the line should be interesting.
Now that you're working with IDW, are there any major creative changes or freedoms you have now that you didn't before? Since it's a newly styled canon and world, where do you and IDW want to take Sonic in ways that haven't been done before?
When I got on the original book, there was already something like 15 years of continuity. Multiple writers, editors, changes in the game franchise direction, cartoon - I rolled all these things together. There were so many visions and I was just one person trying to contribute to the pile. I tried to streamline and bring it all into one focused vision, but that's a lot of stuff! It set the tone for where it is and where it's going. With IDW Sonic, we have the backdrop of the games to draw from, but there's no overhanging expectation with what the book should be; nobody's come before and set the tone or done something wacky. We can do whatever we want. We can go wherever we want because we have the same freedom that Sonic does to just run with it.
From the outset, I'm only considering the game material to draw from because you never know what the licenser wants represented or not. So, down the line, we might incorporate other older elements and fringes of the franchise, but for right now, it's that core game feel. Straightforward stories, lots of cinematic action early on. No long monologues or deep world building. No heavy focus on lore or backgrounds. It's focused on the adventure we have on hand and building on that.
Cover B for Sonic The Hedgehog Issue #2 by artist Adam Bryce Thomas.
It's about the journey rather than the destination.
Exactly. That being said, folks who know my writing style know I love the long con, so we're going to be setting up a surprise early on that will play out within the first year. There's a new antagonistic force that...I don't know if I can talk about it, but the first four issues are all bite-sized, but they're all building to something, and boy howdy, it'll be amazing once we get there.
Any hints you can drop about this new antagonistic force or what direction it'll be taking the story in?
I will say that long-term fans will probably piece it together very early on. Casual fans will find it new, exciting, and interesting. They might not even know that it's a reference to something older.
So it'll feel like a new antagonist but is based on something obscure from the games' past?
Yeah. We'll put it that way.
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Variant cover for Sonic The Hedgehog Issue #3 by artist Nathalie Fourdraine.
What games are you drawing inspiration from specifically? Is Sega involved with the comics? Do you see the company collaborating with storylines like tie-ins?
The first few issues are kind of an unofficial follow-up to Sonic Forces. The one that's freshest in everyone's minds. You don't really need to play the game because Sonic beat Eggman and the world a saved, but because Dr. Eggman had conquered the world before his defeat, he has all these robot armies scattered around the place and they're leaderless. They've all gone rogue and they're forming all these chaotic pockets of danger and Sonic is running around to take care of it. That sets the stage, so if you played Sonic Forces and you got into the storyline about the Resistance and putting your own little fuzzy buddy in there and whatnot, you get a continuation of the story. Here's chapter two. If all you know about the game is that it's Sonic, you're still golden.
As for the Sega relationship, they approve everything. From the story pitches to the scripts to the artwork, everything has to go through them. This time around they've been more directly involved with the stories themselves. Not that they've dictated anything, but they've offered suggestions here and there on where to tweak things and I've been excited because it makes it feel a little more "Sonic-y," you know? It's not just me doing Sonic like I have all these years. Sega's saying, "That's a neat idea, but what if you did this instead?" and I'll say, "Yes, we'll do that instead!" I'm sure we'll be incorporating future game elements. That's just the nature of the beast, so one thing I'm trying to be mindful of when constructing new characters is that I want them to feel like they belong in the game universe, so that if Sega were to say, "Hey, that's pretty neat. Maybe it should be in a game," I can squeal like a happy pig in the corner and get validated a bit. Ain't holding my breath, but it would be neat!
If you had the opportunity to write a story for a Sonic game, what would you do?
[Laughs] I have ideas on top of ideas. I would love to be involved with any Sonic game that comes down the line, but it wouldn't be up to me to construct the story. My understanding is that Sega presents the baseline story and the writers extrapolate from there. Very similar to what we did with the online exclusive Sonic Forces tie-in comics that were on social media. They gave the storyline for each issue and it fell to me to turn it into scripts by pacing it out, deciding where the page count was and how everything should be wrapped up by the end. I'd imagine any game would be the same way. Here are the game mechanics we're introducing, here are the new story elements and characters we want you to touch upon - go. But having not worked on any of the games, I'm not sure 100 percent if that's how it would go. I'd love to find out, so fingers crossed. We'll see how it goes.
Variant cover for Sonic The Hedgehog Issue #4 by artist Evan Stanley.
You have a new character coming along: Tangle the Ring-Tailed Lemur. What makes her exciting and different? What about the new villains Rough and Tumble?
When introducing any new character to the series, I don't want them to be baggage or superfluous. I want them to fill some kind of niche that isn't already provided by the games. For example, Dr. Eggman is the main villain. We don't need to introduce some other major villain. Sonic doesn't need another sidekick because he has Tails. With Tangle, there aren't a ton of female roles within the Sonic franchise. Off the top of your head, I always think of Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, and Shadow first. Beyond that, you've got Amy, who's somewhat active yet is all over the place. Rouge is competent but has that odd sex appeal for a cartoon bat. Cream is like a six-year-old who isn't supposed to get involved, so the singular kick-butt female character is Blaze, and she's awesome! But she has the universe problem of being from an entirely different dimension and you have to use the MacGuffins to bring her over and why she's making the trip and so on. So, let's have a character that can easily go on Sonic adventures and be cool. She was inspired by the prototype Sonic design back in the day. One of the concepts for Sonic was a rabbit that could use his ears to pick up and throw objects. That style of gameplay was too slow to show off the power of the Genesis, so Sonic the Hedgehog was chosen since he could roll into a ball and go down slopes, shoot up into the air, and so forth to show off how fast the processor could be. The rabbit character mutated into another game called Ristar, which needs a sequel!
But the idea of a character that can reach out and grab opponents stuck with me as a neat idea, so that morphed into Tangle. Now, what if she were in a Sonic-style game? What would her gameplay be like? You got the general running and jumping down, but the tail is like a grappling tether like Sonic meets Bionic Commando: Something engaging that'd be fun to play with a character that's rowdy and vivacious. Someone who can keep with the pace in Sonic's universe that's fun to watch.
With Rough and Tumble, you need more villains than just the big bad. You need some small fry to mix things up, and I think they're going to fulfill that role. They're kind of nasty guys that are a lot of fun.
They sound like a close duo...
Yes. Yes, they are.
Would you like to see video game properties crossover with the relaunched Sonic like what happened with your stint on Mega Man?
[Laughs] IDW loves its crossovers, so I'd say it's a foregone conclusion. It just depends on the licensers and if they want to play ball. With the Sonic and Mega Man crossover, I especially loved that because Capcom approached Archie about it. We said, "Sega, can we go over to Capcom's house and play?" and Sega said, "Sure." Okay! Just drop this right in my lap!
Was it hard to connect the two universes?
You have two mad scientists! All you need to do is open up a portal between dimensions and you're good. Eggman and Wily have so much to bond over: they like to build robots, are underappreciated geniuses, have blue guys always getting in their way - it just wrote itself. As for IDW, I've been writing some of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle line by them, so being familiar with that and Sonic, I'd love to have those two meet. Just about any video game franchise would be interesting to see how they'd mix with Sonic.
Cover A for Sonic The Hedgehog Issue #1 by artist Tracy Yardley.
What are some other properties you might like to adapt to comics?
I could write you two years of Star Fox comics right now! I'd love to play in Metroid's sandbox. I know exactly how to approach that. Mario would be the most challenging, but I wouldn't mind that feather in my cap. I'd love to return to Mega Man, whether that be classic, X, or Beyond. Heaven help me, I know what I'd do with an Animal Crossing book. Don't ask me how but I figured it out. I'm actually doing a graphic novel line for ARMS with Dark Horse. Overall, whether it's Shovel Knight or Splatoon or Pokémon, I love it all.
There's a lot of crossover between comic book and video game fans. Why do you think those two mediums attract the same kinds of people?
I think it's because these two mediums are able to explore fanciful notions and stories and themes without any kind of restriction. Video games are a more interactive media, but you never stop and say, "You can't do that in a video game. Video games have to be westerns or platformers." They can be anything. Just the sheer depth of western RPGs alone - never mind JRPGs - is staggering. Comics are the same way. They're more narrowly focused in the West, but graphical storytelling is boundless. There's freedom to just "do," and for those who are visually inclined, it's immediately more understandable than straight prose. With so many tools coming out to make game-making more accessible these days and comics being a comparatively easier medium to jump into as a fan - if you see something you enjoy or want to do in a different way, you can. The explosion in the indie game scene proves that with titles that address new topics with interesting stories and artwork. There are people saying you can't do that, but they're wrong. You can just create and the audience is there.
Overall, what should all interested readers expect from the new Sonic comic?
The new Sonic book is made by Sonic fans for Sonic fans, and if you're not, we will convert you because it's a fun book. You don't need to know anything coming in. Just that Sonic's blue and goes fast.