Sonic the Hedgehog: Ian Flynn Talks Comics, Working With Sega, and What Comes Next

The Sonic the Hedgehog comic from IDW is swiftly approaching a major milestone. Sonic the Hedgehog #50 is set to serve as the culmination of the series’ story thus far when it releases in June. Ahead of that, had the opportunity to talk with longtime Sonic the Hedgehog writer Ian Flynn all about the future of the comic, Sonic in general, and everything from working with Sega to Sally Acorn.

Here’s the official solicitation for Sonic the Hedgehog #50 from IDW, which releases on June 22nd and sees Surge and Kit from the Imposter Syndrome series taking on Sonic and Tails: “Sonic the Hedgehog #50 is here! To celebrate, this issue features two Sonics! And two Tails! Wait… One of them is green… And the other has tails made out of water?! Imposters! And they’re working with Dr. Starline?! After assembling a squad of bad guys, kidnapping Belle, starting a forest fire, and causing chaos in Central City, Starline is finally ready to unleash his monstrous imposters: Surge and Kit! Will his meticulous planning be enough to defeat Sonic and Dr. Eggman? The throne is only big enough for one!”

Additionally, IDW provided with two covers from the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog #50. Below, you can see Cover A by Sega’s Sonic Team:

And then there is the Retailer Incentive cover by Nathalie Fourdraine for Sonic the Hedgehog #50. Notably, this is the 50th Retailer Incentive cover that Fourdraine has done for the series, making them the only artist to have done a cover for every single issue of the ongoing series so far:

Have you personally been keeping up with the Sonic the Hedgehog comics from IDW? Are you looking forward to the release of Sonic the Hedgehog #50? Let us know in the comments, or feel free to reach out and hit me up directly over on Twitter at @rollinbishop in order to talk about all things comics and gaming! And keep reading to check out the full interview with Sonic the Hedgehog comic writer Ian Flynn!

The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Congrats on the new milestone! Sonic the Hedgehog #50 has been stated as the culmination of the entire series story thus far. How does it feel to reach this point with IDW?

Ian Flynn: Kind of surreal. I mean, I’m very happy, of course. The response from the fans has been overwhelmingly positive, and I really appreciate them embracing the book so enthusiastically, and I’m happy to have been part of it for so long.

Now, obviously, #50 isn’t out and I believe #49 isn’t even out. I spent the last week, just absolutely churning through everything that’s been published so far by IDW, and I think it goes #48, Imposter Syndrome #1, #2, and #3, and we’re waiting on #49, but what can you tell us about #50?

I don’t want to spoil too much, because as you said, this is kind of the culmination of everything that Evan [Stanley] and I have been working towards since the last major story arc ended. There’s been a lot of individual personal character arcs that have been slowly percolating and building up to this point and a lot of tension mounting. So, #50 is where everything comes to head.

Obviously, you’re not alone in getting to this point, comics are extremely collaborative. Over the years, what have you learned working together with artists? Like, for example, Evan Stanley.

There is a degree of acceptance that you have to have where artists are never going to agree on one particular vision. And sometimes the way that you envision something coming about will be rendered completely differently than somebody else. And that’s very rarely a bad thing. All the artists I’ve worked with have taken my scripts and elevated them to new, amazing levels that I could never even hope to achieve.

It also has taught me to be as clear and succinct as possible, because these people work hard. They work really, really hard. The amount of art within a single page is astounding and the fact that they have to turn this out so much and so fast is mind-boggling. So with the script, it’s my job to take out as much guesswork for them as possible. I don’t want them looking at the script going, “What does he want me to do? What is this scene supposed to mean? What?” So being able to convey the action and the events and the setting and such, in such a way where they can easily grasp it and go straight into work is the most important thing on my end, I guess.

You mentioned how often there can be surprises about how your vision is then interpreted into actual art and that it’s usually a good surprise. Are there any particular standout moments from your IDW run that you can mention specifically?

Gosh, I’m kind of spoiled for choice, because everybody’s done such a good job on the book. Maybe the one that immediately springs to mind maybe because it’s the most fresh is in the last arc I did, “Zeti Hunt” where the Deadly Six, a group of bad guys have come out of the woodwork and have ambushed Sonic’s friends. He thought he was going to ambush them. They played him like a fiddle and it’s this just four-panel sequence done by Tracy Yardley of Sonic pouring on the speed, just blasting across the landscape and you can feel the speed of it. Just the visceralness of it. This isn’t your usual Sonic, happy go lucky. He is a man on the mission, and – ah, good stuff!

At this point you’ve been working on Sonic the Hedgehog as a franchise for roughly half as long as Sonic the Hedgehog has even existed. It really feels like the character has hit a major peak of sorts right now though with the movies despite the franchise’s age. And I think especially in the English-speaking world, you’re maybe uniquely positioned to answer this question. What is it about Sonic the Hedgehog that’s so enduring, do you think?

He’s just cool, he’s accessible. You look at the fandom and how many permutations they do on just the core element, how many different franchises they transplant Sonic into and he fits surprisingly well. Sonic is just this brilliantly designed character that is simple and elegant and can be modified to give us this crazy cast of characters that we’ve gotten. The story is inherently simple and charming, but it has enough nuance to it that you can really spin it into something more complex. It’s just this really beautifully designed bit of weirdness. I say this, because you know, you step back and you look, it’s a blue cartoon animal man, who fights a fat dude with robots. Where’s the appeal, where’s the universal audience for that? But it works! Something about it just works.

How does you working with IDW, which is working with SEGA, actually work? I’m sure there have to be some sort of constraints. I believe in the FAQ on your site, you mentioned how SEGA basically signs off on everything, but especially given the tangled history of legal disputes with the Sonic the Hedgehog comics?

It’s a multi-tiered process. When it comes to the comics, I mostly work directly with IDW. I pitch them the ideas, I send my scripts to them, and they, in turn, speak with SEGA, and Sonic is SEGA’s product. It is their thing. So of course they’re going to have oversight on how their thing is going to be utilized. And so we get notes back from them on what they want to see in the product, whether it’s they don’t feel like this character is being true to what they want at the time, or there’s a bit of an incongruity that they want us to fix. But in terms of the creative content, the stories and such, we largely have a great deal of freedom. Speaking with other folks who have worked on other licensed books, they’re a bit jealous honestly of just how much latitude we get on Sonic. So, I count my blessings.

I was going to say, even like classic Sonic issues aside, in the IDW comics, you’ve introduced a number of new characters to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. And as you said, this is SEGA’s product. Is that a more complicated process to put characters like Tangle and Belle into the comic?

I wouldn’t say any more complicated because it’s at the core of the same idea. You’re pitching the idea and it’s our job to when we are creating new content to make it fit with the license. The comics of old were a special case and very much of shaped by the circumstances of the time, back in the ’90s, the idea of a tie-in franchise comic lasting more than a couple years was unheard of. It was a quick cash, something for some cross-promotion and then it’ll die on the vine. But we are now living in an age where multimedia cross-promotion, IP support is global, it’s well understood, and it’s a major part of a lot of IPs now. So it’s a completely different mindset. And the team that IDW has working on these books, I think understands Sonic a lot more than back then, but then again, we’ve also all had 30 years to learn who the character is. So it’s apples and oranges in a lot of ways.

What do you think personally about Sega using characters like, I don’t know, Whisper in video games? Is it just this sort of weird “pinch me” moment whenever you see it crop up?

Oh, it’s thrilling, it’s vindicating, it’s, [high-pitched, excited voice] “Look, look, my baby girl’s all grown up and gotten into video games!”

Would you ever want to see a full-on Sonic comic video game?

Yes and no? Yes, because again, that would be just super freaking cool. Like if they adapted any of the arcs that we’ve done into a game, that would be crazy awesome. But I don’t know how well some of them would translate versus others because with comics, what you have is the story as the main driving force, the narrative is what carries you from month to month. And you can tell your stories in these episodic formats. With a game, depending on the game, of course, but with Sonic, it’s primarily an action platformer or an action title. So the vehicle that is carrying you is the gameplay. And if you’re focusing on high-speed action, you don’t really have the capacity to also get a deep, winding narrative. You don’t want to sit there through multiple cutscenes, getting all of the story, when what you want to do is go back and play more game. It doesn’t quite mesh. So I would love to see elements from the comic embraced and brought into the game space, but I wouldn’t want the games to be limited and forced into a comic style of storytelling. Likewise, I wouldn’t want the comics to be forced into something that would be better suited for a game story. Use the mediums to their best advantage, is what I think.

That said, the Sonic Mania-style stuff from the 30th Anniversary Special was pretty good in the comic form.

OK. So that one was actually kind of a stealth soft pitch for a classic game. So that one works a little better, but in general, in general.

You know, I have to ask, because I feel like I would, do you ever get tired of people asking about Sally Acorn and the Freedom Fighters?

[laughs] I share their frustration, ’cause I grew up on them too. And they didn’t go out on the high note that you wished they would. But at the same time, they have the greatest longevity out of any spinoff material. They enjoyed a long, long time. So it’s OK that they’re taking a break. I do want to see them back. I champion for them where and when I can. And it will be interesting to see if they come back, how they come back.

Without spoiling anything, what do you feel the future of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic holds?

Mm. [laughs] Let me weigh my words carefully.

It’s a tricky question to answer. I mean, you’re the one setting it, right? Or at least helping it to be made, so.

The way I’ve approached a lot of my Sonic writing is… what comes next? You see the characters on the field, you see their present circumstances, and you say, “OK, what happens next?” And they go on adventures and they face their adversaries and they win the day and things move forward and you reach your conclusion. It’s like, “OK, what comes next?” So #50 is this big culmination. There will be a lot of confrontations that folks have been wanting to see for months now. And it’ll happen. There will be some dust ups and some shake ups. And once all that dust settles, it becomes a question of, “What happens next?” Because nothing is going to be neat and tidy. There will always be the lingering issue of, “OK, well, if that’s resolved, what door does it open?” The heroes may win the day, but what did they not notice? What is still on the horizon? What do they have to contend with next? So it’s this ever-expanding exploration of Sonic’s world and his characters.

And most importantly, right? Gotta go fast.

Oh, yeah, that’s just understood!

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your work on the comic, #50, Sonic in general?

I’m just thrilled that I’ve been able to be part of this franchise for so long. I grew up on Sonic and it’s been a privilege to be as deeply involved with his stories for as long as I have. And now that my friends are all having kids and they’re growing up and they’re the next generation of Sonic – they’re growing up on the movies, they’re growing up on the new cartoons, and comics, and games, and such. It’s fun to see that next generation pick up the torch, and I get to be the fun uncle or fun godfather. Who’s like, “Hey, you want a free Sonic book? You want a new Sonic book? You want some new Sonic things? Oh yeah. Tell me about why Sonic is so cool. Your uncle understands. He absolutely understands. Tell me everything you love about Sonic.” It’s a really fun and refreshing look at the franchise.


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