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Published by Fleetway from 1993 to 2002, Sonic the Comic began as a simple cash-in aimed at fans of the burgeoning video game franchise, but quickly developed into an impressive and intensive labour of love for its dedicated writing staff and artists. The UKs official Sega comic was released every fortnight, beginning life at a friendly 95p but escalating to a final price of £1.35 in its bleak final days.
The comic was aimed at young readers, as is customary in the UK, and this was especially noticeable in the early issues, which featured brief, inconsequential adventures for the blue hedgehog and his associates. Things took a turn for the epic as soon as writer Nigel Kitching began multi-part adaptations of the Sega video game storylines (yes, those brightly-coloured 16-bit things did have plots), which in turn blossomed into original ideas and spin-offs that kept the comic fresh and creative even during the late 90s, when Sonic video games were few and far between.
The comic would usually consist of four comic strips, the first titled Sonic the Hedgehog and starring the popular character. Writer Nigel Kitching (who also worked on the less successful Red Dwarf Smegazine among other publications) created a Sonic that was set apart from the characters other incarnations in cartoon series and print; STCs protagonist was a little flippant and aggressive, taunted his buddy Tails and could lose his temper at times, which occasionally led to him unleashing his own Mr. Hyde in the form of the yellow-hued and practically indestructible Super Sonic, cleverly adapted from the video game appearances. The most popular aspect of the comic throughout its impressive run, the Sonic stories fit snugly into the Sega canon while venturing out to increasingly creative realms.
The early years of the comic featured story adaptations of other prominent Sega MegaDrive games of the time, including Golden Axe, Shinobi and Streets of Rage, but as the popularity of the console dwindled it became apparent that most people were buying for the Sonic storylines, and a decision was made to feature more stories based on characters from Sonics world. These featured a combination of existing characters from the games, such as Tails, Knuckles and the nemesis Dr. Robotnik (the planets tyrannical ruler until he was finally deposed in the celebratory 100th issue), but equally popular were characters created within the comics universe itself. Most of the non-Sonic stories were written by Lew Stringer, whose approach was somewhat more light-hearted and comical than Kitchings serious adventure stories. People who enjoyed Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, the Roadrunner-style cartoon series based on slapstick humour that had little or nothing to do with the Sonic franchise, would probably prefer Stringers work, although it had a lot less going for it.
In addition to the comic strips, which were each five pages in length apart from the Sonic features which boasted seven, the comic devoted time to addressing the real world of Sega video games and the readers themselves. Every issue (in the early years) was hosted by MegaDroid, the fictional representation of the editor who was intended as a robot built out of Sega MegaDrive parts. This character would introduce each issue briefly as well as answer reader queries in the insightful Speedlines page at the end. The self-explanatory Review Zone reviewed contemporary game releases on Sega consoles, ending with the ill-fated Sega Saturn, while Q&A was a double page feature helping players to cheat their way through favourite games. Recurring features alternated at random, but included Gallery Zone, which either featured photos of readers with varying degrees of hedgehog obsession, or their artwork. There were also a number of centrefold posters. These features vanished without trace in the new millennium, when the comics decreasing readership led to its fate as a reprint mag comprised entirely of recycled material from past years.
STC was the highlight of the fortnight for my eight-year-old self (and a few years thereafter, although Im not going to admit how many). The stories were aimed at a young audience, but constituted fairly epic sagas, the like of which is rarely seen in the medium today, or in modern cartoons (there are a couple of exceptions). The power duo of writer Nigel Kitching and artist Richard Elson was largely responsible for the comics appeal, developing the on-going story intelligently and with often surprising results. The lack of any new material from Sega hindered the development a little, leading to a few too many alternate-dimensional plots, but surprisingly there was no noticeable drop in quality from the first serialised story The Sonic Terminator in 1993 to the saga based on the Sonic Adventure video game in 2001. The comic arguably reached its peak sometime between 1994 and 1995, when the release of the games Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles gave Kitching and Elson a wealth of material to work with, adapt and improve.
Fleetway attached free gifts to the comics cover at regular intervals, which may have encouraged a few people outside the fan base to take a look. Some gifts were extremely fitting in their relation to the Sonic franchise, such as packets of Sonic stickers from Bandi or a Sonic Frisbee, while others represented blatant sponsorship deals with Rowntrees and other producers of sweets. For the initial price of 95p the comic was well worth the money, printed on glossy paper in full colour, but the quality did wane towards the end, even as far as the no-longer-glossy paper.
The Sonic franchise was effectively dead after the disappointment of the Sega Saturn, and a loyal hardcore readership wasnt enough to convince Egmont (the new Fleetway) to continue with the unprofitable publication. Sadly, things began to take off again as soon as the comic reached its end, with the well-recieved Sega Dreamcast releases paving the way for the even more successful GameCube titles that continue today. Running for over two hundred issues, Sonic the Comic had served its purpose and outstayed its welcome. The wealth of new material from Sonic games led a group of the comics more dedicated fans to start an online continuation at stconline.co.uk, an unofficial e-zine that has nevertheless been endorsed and praised by Nigel Kitching and other important figures from STCs past. Its unknown whether the continuing popularity of the Sonic games will lead to further Sonic comics, as it has done for the franchises animated spin-offs, but it doesnt seem likely that STC will return.
The entire run of the original comics has been archived for free download by obsessive people who never dared grow up at sites such as http://stc-archive.gue-network.com/ & http://sonichq.mobiusforum.net/newsite/comics/images/stc.php
A comic series (now in reprint) that lasted over 7 years with some very memorable stories and great art.