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.