So here we are, another Sonic birthday has arrived (and with it, another In-Depth article…sort of). I don’t know if this year’s happy birthday message will be on the scale of last year’s, but we’ll see. Either way, I’m a bit nervous about this one…
It’s hard to believe Sonic is now 26. No matter how many times I contemplate it, I still can’t wrap my head around it. The brand has been through so much that it honestly surprises me that it has even lasted this long and still manage to get people interested. But just like last year, I always look to the one thing that stares at me in the face: the fans. Not only are Sonic fans supportive of the brand, but with the coming of Sonic Mania, they’re physically keeping it alive too. So I wanted to touch upon one aspect of the Sonic fandom that I don’t think enough people openly support. The creativity. Yes, this includes fan characters.
If there’s one thing that the Sonic community is great at, it is expressing their love for Sonic in very creative ways. Fan games, fan characters, fan sites, conventions, animations, voice acting, musical compositions, the list goes on. People will tell you its fun, and I can definitely see why. Sure, there’s one aspect of that creativity that can get very awkward (and not so family friendly, that’s another story altogether), but things like a simple drawing of a fan character battling Eggman’s forces on the Death Egg? An animation of Sonic running in Green Hill? Nothing wrong with that kind of content at all. Like I said, some will tell you its fun. I think some consider it an escape, too.
But I think the most important thing that we may forget about the franchise is that kids and teens are supportive of it too. And, well, they’re learning. And, for all we know, these kids and teens creating this content could end up with occupations someday at animation studios, or they may someday become professional voice actors like Mike Pollock. There’s a reason voice actors constantly encourage people to give it a shot, offer tips, and they’ve even held workshop sessions at Sonic fan conventions in the past. Even Takashi Iizuka and Sonic Team has no problem with it. They’ve been seeing it for decades:
I’ve been working on Sonic for a really long time, and I’ve been getting a lot fan-mail for a really long time – for like 20 years – and a lot of the fan-mail, even 20 years ago, people were saying, “Hey check out this drawing of Sonic I did,” and “Hey, check out this character I made that’s in the same style or look of Sonic the Hedgehog.” I’ve been constantly receiving these fan drawings or custom-created ideas, so even from 20 years ago, I had this understanding that fans enjoyed creating and existing in this world. I wanted to let people to do that to some extent, but I think the spark started a long time ago when I saw all of these people creating Sonic-type stuff. I understood that Americans like creating their own stuff, so this whole understanding how American fans are interacting with the character was the seed that was planted a long time ago. It just so happens that now we have the skills, the technology, and the team is making a representative world of Sonic the Hedgehog with characters that fit into our world. Players can now go in and make what they want with the format of the series. Fans have been making stuff – we’re very aware of that – and we hope they like the content that has been created. But really, the genesis was a really long time ago, seeing all of the created pictures coming into me.
A lot of other Sonic fans look at these drawings, and they may feel “god this is bad”, “this is cringe”, but, really…where’s the harm in it? I’m not going to tell other fans to not do this. This is a fun, harmless activity for many people. And, as I said, some of these are kids who are simply using their imaginations. Just about all of us were like that at one point. And, to be honest, we still are. We may not realize it, but all of us are still just as creative as we were drawing our little fan characters 10-15 years ago, using our imaginations to create content that expresses our love for a hedgehog that grows older with us. We didn’t think it would take off, we probably didn’t think it was great in quality either, but we didn’t care. We love Sonic, and for a lot of people, I think we still do.
Were it not for fan creativity, we would not have Sonic Paradox, or the Sonic Shorts. We would not have Summer of Sonic, Sonic Revolution, Weston Super Sonic. We would not have fan sites like Sonic Stadium, TSSZ, Sonic Retro, and we would definitely not have Sonic sites that are driven by community content, such as The Sonic Show. We would not have fan games and ROM hacks like Sonic Megamix, Sonic Overture, and we certainly wouldn’t have Sonic Mania being an official product published by SEGA, or SEGA endorsing it for their 16-bit games. We wouldn’t have radio-focused sites like RadioSEGA and SEGASonic Radio. We wouldn’t have collaborations and projects by fan musicians for stuff like OCRemix and for Sonic Stadium’s fan albums. We wouldn’t have talented voice actors, some of which are even making it into the business themselves. We wouldn’t have fan animators, some of which I know have gotten college degrees for, you guessed it, animation. Fan creativity has shaped our lives in ways we never would’ve expected, and I don’t see the problem with that at all. It introduced us to friends. It opened up our imaginations. It inspired us to pursue the field professionally, landing us jobs.
It’s just another reason why this fan base is so great. You feel right at home with a creative community who express that creativity in many different ways. And, again, there is that very awkward side that creates content that’s not so kid-friendly, but that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s a minority. The majority of the fan creativity is innocent, expressive, and I don’t see any problem with that at all. I don’t want to ruin that. I want to see that encouraged, to tell them “hey, the quality may not be best, but keep trying and I know you’ll do it”. Because that will result in brighter futures. And, to be honest, this kind of creativity is part of what being a fan is all about.
So you know what? Go make those fan characters. You have a bigger outlet for it with Sonic Forces, anyway. Go animate. Do a demo of a Sonic voice, and act it. Make a fan site. Make a fan game. And you know what? Ship characters too. Be yourself, and express your love for Sonic the way you want to. It’s not meant to be a realistic outlet. “That will never happen” isn’t an excuse to tell a child to stop drawing things, or imagining what it would be like if these characters got together. It’s fiction. It’s an imagination. For some, as I said, it’s a fun activity, and for others, just an escape from real life stuff happening. And I’m not going to extinguish those flames, and put an end to that outlet of passion.
When it all comes down to it, it really just adds on to what I said last year. It’s more evidence that we are in a fanbase that welcomes diversity and passion on a scale that not many communities can compare to. And it’s more evidence that no matter what your likes/dislikes, you’ll fit in the community just fine. Seeing kids drawing their favorite Sonic character, duking it out with Eggman, reminds me of the days when I was that age, playing 16-bit games and just…being a kid. I loved Sonic then. I love Sonic now. And I assume that you all do the same, in some way. And that’s why Sonic’s still been around, why he’s able to celebrate his 26th this week. It is because of us. And no matter how we express that love for Sonic, we all continue to share a collective interest in a blue hedgehog that runs fast and collects rings. And now that same blue hedgehog has welcomed new generations, just like we were introduced to him so many years ago. 26 years ago.
Happy 26th birthday, Sonic.
This post was originally written by the author for TSSZ News.