Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: What Is it About That Little Blue Hedgehog That Girls Love So Much?
Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.
By Scott Shaw!
San Diego’s 42nd Annual Comic-Con-International came and went a few weeks ago and I’m finally settling back into my normal routine, which includes writing this column. As always, the massive event was a lot of fun and fortunately – since I’ve never missed a single day of Comic-Con since its inception, I oughtta know what I’m talking about – it seemed to lack that dread Day Of The Locust vibe I sometimes get overwhelmed by there. I had an especially good time at Gilbert (Wonder Wart-Hog; The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) Shelton’s drawing demonstration for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Gilbert’s one of my biggest influences) and (as always) really enjoyed participating in Quick Draw! with Mark Evanier (The Garfield Show; Crossfire), Sergio Aragonés (Mad magazine; Groo The Wanderer) (looking feistier than ever) and our terrific guest-drawer, the great Keith Knight (The Knight Life; (th)ink; The K Chronicles), and my “Sex, Drugs And Rock ‘N’ Roll” edition of Oddball Comics Live! drew a very appreciative, SRO audience.
But oddly enough, none of those were the high point of my SDCC1 ’12 experience…
One day during the convention, during a rare quiet moment at my exhibit hall table, a young lady from Rhode Island named Jade approached me. After confirming my identity, Jade – who seemed strangely emotional about meeting me – revealed that, although she still looked like a teenager (and Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’s P.J. Soles), she was in fact 29 years old and was a high school art teacher who was also a fine artist. So why was she so excited to meet an old cartoonist like me? Well, it turned out that the issues of the first Sonic The Hedgehog miniseries I drew back in the early 1990s for Archie Comics are what inspired her to become an artist and, in turn, inspire her students to follow their own creative muses. Jade then went on to explain to me exactly why she loved my Sonic stories so much – the expressions, posing, staging and sense of appeal — and it quickly became obvious that she knew what she was talking about in regards to my approach to cartooning in general and that speedy blue hedgehog in particular. One aspect that particularly pleased me was that Jade didn’t care for the manga/anime-style Sonic; she dug my version because she thought it was a warmer, more traditional approach. To say I was floored would be an understatement, and I immediately envied Jade’s students for having such a smart, sweet and passionate teacher. I drew a nice color shot of Sonic zooming along that she could show to her classes.
Yeah, I’m one of those guys who believes in “passing it on”. With professional cartoonists such as Gene Hazelton (The Flintstones syndicated comic strip), Bernie Lansky (Seventeen, a syndicated comic panel) and Jack Kirby, how could I not want to keep their positive energy rolling with a new generation of young cartoonists?
But beyond meeting Jade, I also saw a few other young female cartoonists at SDCCI ’12, all who seem to share as an inspiration, those issues of Sonic The Hedgehog I drew back in the early 1990s. I enjoyed my stint on Sonic, but I never would have guessed that it had an effect on certain readers until only recently. One of them, Heather, is by now off to college on a full scholarship to study to become a brain surgeon. (When you’re a cranky old cartoonist, it never hurts to have a fan who’s also a brain surgeon!)
But I’m still humble enough to know that I didn’t create Sonic, I was just the first person to draw funnybook stories starring the little blue speedster. (Sonic The Hedgehog was co-created by Japanese video game designers Hirokazu Yasuhara and Yuji Naka over twenty years ago.)
So what is it about Sonic that makes him so appealing? I was drawn to the character because his design reminded me of Felix The Cat, one of the most enduring cartoon characters ever. Like Astro Boy, Sonic is cute but not too cute. He’s a series of circles and ovals but has some pointy angles; Sonic has super-speed but his limbs are still of the “rubber hose” variety, like many early animated cartoon characters. Between his pleasing design and his cocky attitude, boys seem to like Sonic as much as girls do. But as I can now attest, some girls and young women don’t consider Sonic to be just another video game character; to them, he’s an icon.
Archie Comics has done quite well with its Sonic The Hedgehog ongoing comic book (at 239 issues and counting; it’s by far the longest-running comic book series based on a video game) and a variety of Sonic The Hedgehog spin-off titles, including: Sonic & Knuckles; Sonic The Hedgehog Archives; Sonic The Hedgehog Firsts; Sonic Legacy; Sonic The Hedgehog Triple Trouble Special; Sonic The Hedgehog, The Beginning; Sonic The Hedgehog: In Your Face! Special; Sonic Universe; Sonic Vs. Knuckles “Battle Royal” Special; Sonic X; Sonic’s Friendly Nemesis Knuckles; Sonic Quest: Death Egg Saga; Super Sonic VS. Hyper Knuckles; and a number of original Free Comic Book Day special giveaway editions of Sonic. In fact, Sonic The Hedgehog has been Archie Comics’ best-selling comic book series for quite a while, and the first issue of the first Sonic mini-series (No. 0, which I drew) had a special 16-page giveaway edition that was printed in the millions of copies and distributed to Toys “R” Us toy stores. Holy hedgehogs, that’s a lotta funnybooks!
(In an attempt to catch a similar bolt of lightning in a bottle, Archie Comics has been publishing a Mega Man comic book series for a year or so, but let’s face facts, the Mega Man video game franchise doesn’t seem to have remotely as many followers as Sonic does.)
So, if Sonic is such a popular character – especially with young females – why aren’t there more comic books out there that contain similar, perhaps original, non-video-game-derived material? Aren’t other comic book publishers aware of the phenomenal success that Archie has had with Sonic The Hedgehog for nearly twenty years? If you boil down Sonic to his basics, he’s a “funny animal”, a genre of humor that was a solid-selling staple of the comic book industry for well over three decades but one that withered and died with the exit of Western Publishing from comics in the mid 1970s. If comic book publishers are still interested in providing content to attract young female readers, perhaps the genre of funny animals deserves revisiting.
Disney’s Perry The Platypus Comics, anyone?
– Scott Shaw!
Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange photo-animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become… The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for KaBOOM!