I have in my mitts the first festive issue of Sonic the Comic, dated November 27th1993. It wasn’t the closest issue to Christmas, but it did come with a cardboard tree decoration. Now seems a good time to talk about this issue, the history of Sonic the Comic, and my relationship with Fleetway’s fortnightly publication.
When Sonic the Comic launched, I was on the cusp of becoming a smelly, sweaty, teenager, having just started high school. I can recall excitedly seeing the first issue in a newsagent during the summer of 1993, and buying it instantly. I can also recall seeing issues in the early noughties – at which point I’d finished school, completed three years at college, and started full-time employment.
It ran for nine years, although the last few years mostly comprised of reprints, featuring just one new strip per issue. While the US Archie Sonic comic ran for even longer still (1992 through to 2016!) nine years is still quite the accomplishment for a licensed publication.
To put this in a different perspective, when the comic began, Sonic 2 was the newest game out – with SEGA readying Sonic Spinball, Sonic Chaos, and Sonic CD for winter 1993. Yes, Knuckles wasn’t around when the comic launched. When the run ended in 2002, a recent storyline tied into the Dreamcast’s Sonic Adventure, with one late cover featuring the watery villain Chaos.
While it’s true that SEGA aimed both Sonic and the Mega Drive at a teenage demographic, Sonic the Comic appeared to be written with the 8-12 age bracket in mind – as evidenced by the letters page, which mostly comprised of sloppily drawn fan art, and such banal questions as “How old is Sonic?”
In its early days the magazine ran strips based on Shinobi, Golden Axe, and Streets of Rage – ideal for gritty, 2000AD-style capers – but were largely sanitised for a younger readership, with violence kept to a minimum. Later issues focused more on Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles – although strips based on Eternal Champions, Kid Chameleon, Marko’s Magic Football, Sparkster, Mutant League Football, and Shining Force did feature within early issues. Decap Attack had the longest non-Sonic run of all, with one editor reportedly being quite attached to it.
Video game content was also featured, including the UK chart (which is perhaps where my fascination with the UK top 40 began), SEGA game reviews, upcoming game news, and a cheat section where readers could write in for help. In the pre-internet era, this was more useful than it may sound today.
My relationship with Sonic the Comic can be compared to that of a general level of appreciation for Sonic 3D on Mega Drive – I neither loved nor hated it. I was neutral yet appreciative of its existence.
I never felt that I fitted within the comic’s supposed age group, occasionally mocked for taking copies into high school. That wasn’t my main concern though. The problem was how inconsistent it was. One issue would feature an attitude filled, slightly edgy (by 1993 standards) Sonic strip with nicely drawn artwork; the next we’d be back to slapstick humour, egg puns, and Sonic and Tails looking a bit squiffy. The front covers also wildly varied – issue 2’s cover looked like somebody tried to recreate the launch issue’s artwork, but only had felt tip pens at hand.
Later issues – especially from 1998 onwards – were seemingly more consistent with the writers ‘knuckling’ down to pen multi-issue story arcs. The final couple of years had some great-looking covers too, although, by this point, I had long moved on – I think I only stuck with Sonic the Comic for around a year. I can recall kidding myself that it was worth buying for the video game content, but this wasn’t exactly pushing boundaries.
The team reviewed a handful of games per issue, and scores were noticeably generous. Most reviews followed a formula of covering the plot or premise, discussing the difficulty level, controls and graphics, before summarising who would enjoy it. Being a fortnightly publication, it does make you wonder now how long was spent playing a game prior to reviewing. The news section covered the latest exciting developments in Sonic merchandise, along with small previews and occasionally the latest release schedule for upcoming games. Many previews were of first-party titles and games developed within the UK.
The first Christmas issue (issue 14) was a bit of a cop-out when it comes to celebrating the festivities. The front cover was dedicated to a free gift – a cardboard Sonic tree topper, featuring Sonic holding a stocking and a Christmas pudding. The introduction page – starring spokesperson Megadroid, who resembled a Mega Drive controller – duly informs how to fold and tape the tree topper, while sharing some festive cheer. And that was it for yuletide fun. The rest of the issue was business as usual.
This issue saw Sonic enter a ‘Hero of the Year’ award show in disguise and bash a few badniks, while part two of the new Ecco strip entailed the daring mammal escaping the claws of a dinosaur, being curiously light on text. The Golden Axe and Decap Attack strips were more substantial, being more text-heavy and featuring better-drawn artwork than that found in Sonic and Ecco.
In the reviews section, Thunderhawk, Chuck Rock 2, F1, The Ottifants, and Masters of Combat – a late Master System release, now worth hundreds of pounds – were covered. The lowest score handed out was 70% for the TV tie-in The Ottifants. Based on a German cartoon, The Ottifants was tipped by gaming mags to be huge, making comparisons with The Simpsons, only for it to remain in Germany after a lack of interest from UK TV stations. A tie-in with no show to tie into.
The news section revealed a new range of Sonic crisps – priced at 15p a packet – a line of Sonic bicycle helmets, Sonic watches from Intercity Watch, and a quick look at upcoming games from SEGA, including Eternal Champions, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron. Shame the rapping aliens were never immortalised in a Sonic the Comic strip.
If you’re thinking the following issue was bound to be more Christmassy, you’re sadly mistaken. Issue #15 featured Sonic on a biplane – a nod to the second game – on the cover. Issue #16 however had a street date of 25th December, and featured the story ‘Happy Christmas Doctor Robotnik’ along with a Christmassy cover. Here, a robot impersonates Robotnik, spreading Christmas cheer. Tails believes the rotund antagonist has turned a new leaf, but Sonic remains skeptical, eventually discovering the truth from a “drunken” robot – resulting in the doppelganger being thrown off a cliff. A party then ensues, with plenty of grub and fizzy pop. Sloo!
To critique Sonic the Comic in this modern era isn’t entirely fair. It was a fortnightly publication that, for most of its lifespan, cost less than £1.50 per issue – often with a free gift attached. The team likely had tight deadlines and budgetary constraints. SEGA imposed limitations on how characters could be depicted too, clamping down on violence in particular. If you were a pre-teen gamer in the ‘90s, it was likely part of your childhood – whether it was just for a few months, or many years.
In the words of an unwaveringly British Sonic, have a ‘cool yule’ dudes…and watch out for robot imposters!