Thursday, June 23, 2011

20 Years...

20 years ago, my family and I lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn. My earliest memories are of this place. When I was really young my mother says I enjoyed playing "Shoot the Duck" on Nintendo (aka Duck Hunt). The NES was my sister's system, and we both got quite a bit of mileage out of it. We played a ton of games on there together: Ducktales, Mickey Mouscapade, The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout, the Super Mario Bros. series, etc. Quite frankly, I can hardly remember them all anymore, save for the Mario series and a bit of Ducktales (probably because my sister just has to remind me of the embarrassing songs I made up to go with the game's BGM... I was three, dammit!).

Childhood fandom: Not for resale.
So by the time I was introduced to Sonic the Hedgehog, I was no stranger to the world of video games. I don't remember the timing, I think I was in kindergarten when I discovered Sonic, the cool blue dude who has continued to be a part of my life nearly two decades. It was at a cousin's birthday part, he showed me and my sister Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on his SEGA Genesis, and immediately I was hooked. He punched in the codes for level select and debug so we could play as Super Sonic. It was a blast. I think Chemical Plant Zone was the first Sonic level I vividly remember, and it's still one of my favorites (that music!) I don't really remember much else, but later that year, I got my own Genesis with Sonic 2 packed in for Christmas and so began one nerd's lifelong obsession.

At present, I'm a 22 year old college graduate trying to mentally prepare myself for the next stage of my life. I'm not really going anywhere at the moment, which is probably the only reason I'm finding time to write a blog post celebrating a fictional character's birthday.

I suppose now is as good a time as any for me to answer the question: Why am I still a Sonic fan? It's a good question. Why am I still fan?

The reason is because Sonic was one of the main reasons I even pursued the path I'm on. As a kid, I was so in love with the world of Sonic the Hedgehog, I'd long since wanted to be a part of it–as an artist. It sparked my imagination with vivid imagery and worlds filled with secrets for fans like me to discover. The characters, much like the Looney Tunes of old, were alive to me. This was even more true with the old cartoons (the Saturday morning rendition in particular) and, of course, Archie's comic book series.

As a kid, I went nuts at the idea of there even being a Sonic comic book series; I loved it! My first issue, I will never forget, was issue 27*, which featured a story written by Ken Penders, and illustrated by Art Mawhinney (pencils) and Rich Koslowski (inks), that involved Sonic losing his memory temporarily and being recruited by Dr. Robotnik to seek out and take out the Freedom Fighters. What was really exciting about this issue though, was the preview for Archie's upcoming adaptation of the then brand new Game Gear title Sonic Triple Trouble. I knew right away I would have to get this issue; at the time, I didn't have a Game Gear and was excited to read a comic based on a new game (humorously, I initially called Fang the Sniper, aka Nack the Weasel, "Triple Trouble." I'd like to go back in time and slap myself for that one!). Among the older Archie stories, this Triple Trouble special is still one of my favorites. Actually, I wore out my original copy from reading it so many times, but I luckily picked up a replacement a few years after the first printing (which is now preserved in a polybag, while I just crack open my copy of Sonic Select vol. 1 when I want to review that story. Speaking of reviews...).

*Ironically, I did forget when I started writing. I thought it was issue 29. Doh!

The artist that really blew me away though, was Patrick Spaziante, aka Spaz. His work on the Sonic book over the years, primarily his covers, were such a huge inspiration to me that I always wished I could be like Spaz. I still do. I'm not at that level yet, and I'm convinced that my drawing style is probably headed in a completely different direction from where he is, but I learned some important lessons over the years from artists like Spaz–do what you love. Walk your own path. Above all else: have fun. I learned the same lessons from the Sonic series itself.

Spaz is still an active artist in Archie's stable. And is still putting it down with excellence.
While my dream to be part of this series is still just that, I keep on drawing and keeping up with the comic book series, hoping one day my portfolio is at a point at which I'm satisfied and confident that I can make a worthwhile contribution to the world's most way past cool comic. Hopefully I get to that point soon...!

So that's all well and good, but what about the games?

I still enjoy playing them to this day. Sure, the franchise has seen more than its fair share of low points, it hasn't been all bad. At the very least, I've always managed to have some fun with most of the games I've played. I always try to look at any game objectively, and try to see what it has to offer and whether or not it can stand on its own merits; for me, it's all about the experience, not the hype or the nostalgia. I suppose that's how I've kept myself from getting jaded. If nothing else, the games alone have offered near infinite material for discussion, regardless of where your fandom may lie. You can easily have pages and pages worth of forum topics just talking about the characters. Or maybe you're more technical and want to dig into the guts of the games themselves. Or maybe you want to talk about the comics or the cartoons. Or the music. Or the merchandise. Whatever you dig, there's always something there to talk about.

I suppose that's why I'm still a fan: the conversations I have had, and the connections I have made with others, all because of a mutual interest in a video game. While I can easily say this about any other fandom, of the ones I'm interested in, Sonic always seemed to offer the most, and still has more to give as the years go on and new games and media are released. This blog surely would not exist otherwise.

It's hard to believe it's been 20 years, and it's even harder for me to believe that Sonic has remained a relevant interest in my geeky life for almost as long. It's been a long haul for the blue boy, and the road had plenty of bumps along the way (eight years worth, in fact. 1998-2006), but he's still running. And, honestly, that's all that matters to me. I don't know if Sonic will ever permanently disappear, meaning SEGA goes under and the franchise goes with it, but with the huge following the franchise has gained over the last 20 years along with its rich and diverse history, it'll never truly go away. The fans will keep it alive. I'm sure of it.

Happy birthday, Sonic.

Keep on runnin'.

Sonic still goes on evolving...
Be sure to read BBC's retrospective on Sonic! Check it out here.

1 comment:

  1. cool story bro :)

    I never actually grew up with Sonic, but if I did, I probably would've become an instant fan. That look is sleek and the old games were awesome.

    It's really cool that you were inspired to be an artist because of Sonic. Good for you man. Run with that to the stars and never look back.