This transcript was transcribed by RemiRemi of the Bumbleking forums! So for those of you who couldn’t make out what Penders was saying, or don’t have access to YouTube, here’s the entire interview in it’s written form:
Jason: Hey, it’s Jason Berry here from Sonic Stadium. I’m here with former Sonic writer Ken Penders. He’s got a few new projects in the works. Uh, one of them is “The Republic.” Can you tell us a little bit about that one?
Ken: “The Republic” is an online webseries starring Marc Singer and Sean Young and it’s going to premier in four fifteen-minute episodes, and we’re looking to go beyond that once we get past that sort of stage of production there.
Jason: Alright, now uh, on “The Lost Ones: The Movie,” how’s that coming along?
Ken: Uh, “The Lost Ones Movie” is coming along really well. We’ve done a number of test shootings and various special effects. We have — as you can see by our board there — we have several actors already cast. The costumes are made by Mike Philpott, the same gentleman who made costumes for “Spiderman 3,” and uh, mostly we’ll be working on one of the costumes for one of Marvel’s upcoming movies as well. He also did costumes for “Night at the Museum” and several other features, so…we got some really high-quality talent working with us on “The Lost Ones.”
Jason: Great, now um, you started on the Sonic books back in, say, around issue eleven, correct?
Ken: I started submitting stories back in October of 1993, and the first of which saw print in issue eleven, correct.
Jason: Now, when you first come on it was when Mike Gallagher was writing it, and it was a little sillier back then, full of cheesy puns, and I guess you wanted it more like the “SatAM” cartoon?
Ken: Well actually…actually, no. What really happened was, editor Paul Castiglia had contacted Mike Kanterovich, ’cause he and Mike had been hanging around various comic conventions together, where they knew each other from…and Mike didn’t have a clue what Sonic was. But he knew I did, so he came over and we started batting around some ideas. And we submitted them, and we were told to orient our stories into eleven, six, or five page format, so along the lines of what Mike Gallagher was doing. And it wasn’t until editor Scott Fulop came on board that I made the suggestion to him, having discovered the Saturday morning cartoons, that we should make the comic more adventure-oriented – you know, more in-tune with the Saturday morning series than the weekday series, and he was very agreeable with that, so…
Jason: Well, was it very hard getting around a lot of the Sega mandates? Like I imagine they wanted a certain place for their characters to act or behave?
Ken: Uhm, I was never really given that much direction with regards to any of the characters. The only thing that we were told was Sonic is Sonic, he had to be cool, he had — you know — he had to be fast, just like with, you know – he had to have attitude, okay. That was probably the only direction we got with Sega. For example, when we – Mike and I – submitted our initial story ideas, we submitted like four story synopses, and only one was rejected. And the one that was rejected was because, we did “Sonic versus the Mario Brothers” type of scenario – and instead of plumbers they were dentists. And Sega said, “Nah, let’s not go there.” But beyond that, uh, they never really told me what stories to do or how to treat the characters.
Jason: One of the ones that surprised me was Knuckles. I mean, his official game canon is, he was the last of his kind, he’s, you know, alone on Angel Island…and when you came along you introduced, eventually, a whole hidden city, tons of echidnas, all the other Guardians…Sega didn’t have any problems on that one?
Ken: Well, you see, the thing was with Knuckles – the history with Knuckles in the comic books was this: Mike and I were directed to do an adaptation of the “Sonic and Knuckles” game, uh, for a story introducing Knuckles which saw print in Sonic thirteen. Actually, it nearly didn’t see print because just as we were going to press with that issue, Sega started having second thoughts, ’cause they really weren’t certain what to do with the character. And it was only because we were right there on the presses, and said “Lookit, we’re gonna miss an issue if you don’t go along with this.” They backed off, let us go to press with it, and then they wanted to sit and think what they wanted to do with Knuckles. And because originally, the first miniseries Mike and I were supposed to work on was a Knuckles miniseries, but they decided they wanted to go with Princess Sally. So shortly after we did the Princess Sally miniseries, editor Scott Fulop called me up and he said, “Start coming up with some ideas what to do with Knuckles as a series,” you know, “Sega has no idea what they want to do with the character. Let’s see what we can do with this.” So I started developing several concepts – what to do with the series. The problems with the games were, okay, there was not enough material whatsoever to base a series on, okay, and I decided that I wanted to set up a scenario where we get to explore the character and his environment and his history – how did this character come to be, okay, to be the last of his kind? And in setting up the elements to explain how he was supposedly the last of his kind, it turned out he really wasn’t. And they pretty much let me run with it, you know, as they saw the stories starting to progress and develop. Nobody told me what to do whatsoever with Knuckles, never. That was purely my concoction. And it worked. You know, people seemed to gravitate to it and it became a strong seller for Archie.
Jason: Alright, uhm…who is your favorite character of the Sonic series?
Ken: (Laughs) That’s like asking a parent, you know, who’s his favorite child? You know. There are so many! I mean, I love Geoffrey St. John, I love Julie-Su, I love Locke! I would have to say those are my three favorites but I could easily just as much gravitate towards Archimedes or Lara-Su or Dimitri or Lien-Da or Kragok or…you know, it all depends, but…there’s just so many!
Jason: Okay, things have certainly changed around this year. I know, like, in the past five years after you left Archie, you just kept – you hid it to yourself, you didn’t wanna kick anybody else’s stuff and everything, but…this year, along with a few other things, you decided to let your points be known. One thing you said was, “At this point if I were to go back to working on something like Sonic, I’d pretty much pick up where I left off, ignoring everything that came after since…” Now are you saying you’d ignore the past five years of continuity, or you would start where the other writer left off, and continue from there?
Ken: Okay, first off, my comments are not meant as a sleight to the creative team on the book. It’s just that I’m at a point in my life where I only want to work on my own material. I’m not interested in anybody else’s, in terms of storytelling, okay. It’s why I wouldn’t pursue something with Marvel or DC, because they have their own established mythology, okay, so…
Jason: So you’re not interested anymore in working on somebody else’s franchise?
Ken: Nah, not, not really, no. I mean, if I – if they said, “Here, we’d like you to come back and do Sonic” – it’s hardly likely at this point, but – but if that were to happen, um, I would be so inclined to pick up right where I left off, because whatever direction anybody else took the characters in, it’s not the direction I would have done. But it’s just a difference in opinion.
Jason: What is your favorite story that you wrote yourself?
Ken: That I wrote myself? Wow, uhm…that’s a real tossup because I – “Brave New World” would have to be up there…I would have to say “Knuckles – The Dark Legion” was definitely up there…I would say “The Forbidden Zone” was another one…”Father’s Day.” I would have to say “Father’s Day.” That was an intensely personal story for me to write. Uh…yes.
Jason: Okay, what would be your favorite story that someone else other than you wrote?
Ken: (Laughs) You know, that is really tough because Karl wrote some good stuff, Mike Gallagher wrote some fun stuff…and to be fair to Ian, I haven’t read ANY of his stuff – I really haven’t followed the book at all, since I got off it. As a matter of fact, the only reason I followed Mike’s or Karl’s stuff primarily is more a matter of, I had to know some of the things, working on my own stories. Otherwise, I tended to stay away from being too close to anybody else’s material. Uh, if you noticed, Mike Gallagher really didn’t rely on my stuff, you know, any more than I relied on his…you know, as well as Karl. Karl didn’t really…you know, he had his own thoughts how he wanted to do things as well, so…
Jason: Yeah, it’s kind of with the comic trait that when you’re dealing with a franchise, a lot of times you have to pick up where somebody left off on a story. I mean usually a story will end but, as far as the canon and continuity goes, it usually still goes in that direction.
Ken: Well, yeah, but the thing was, I was establishing a lot of the canon and continuity. For example, Prince Elias. Yeah, he was strictly my character. I started him up in “Tales of the Freedom Fighters,” where – establishing the lead-up to the Knuckles story “The Forbidden Zone,” where I actually bring the character on stage. And thus I set him up for Karl, to run with him in the pages of Sonic. So that’s pretty much where I was in the continuity. Hand in it? I was DEVELOPING most of it. Like “Brave New World,” okay. That was a result of “Endgame.” “Endgame” came about primarily because around when I was writing the script for issue 36 or so, editor Scott Fulop gave me a call, told me that the Saturday AM series had just been canceled. And he anticipated, based on his previous track histories of other comic series, based off of a TV show or toy or any other, you know, medium, that the Sonic title was probably gonna be canceled within six to eight months once the cartoon went off the air. So, I was essentially hoping for the series to run at least to issue fifty, and “Endgame” was essentially designed to be the final battle – the ultimate battle between Sonic and Robotnik, if we close out the series with issue fifty. Funny thing happened on the way to issue fifty however, is once the cartoons went away and the video games were coming out very irregularly, that the comic book became the only game in town…and the sales went up, and people took a second look, they said “Whoah, this is really selling,” you know. “We’re not going to cancel it!” So here I had submitted the “Endgame” storyline, and Princess Sally was killed off, in the storyline, and all of a sudden there became this big debate: what’s going to happen now that we’re going to continue the book? And so, it was agreed that Sally would still be kept alive. I was going to do “Brave New World” to set up the storylines that would introduce the next era for the book, where the Sonic stories were gonna go, because we were essentially…at that point we were considering going beyond, you know, beyond season two. This was like our season three. Could you hold for a second, please?
Ken: (Runs off briefly) Kay. So, I was doing the assignment to “Brave New World,” to essentially take Sonic in a new direction, and it was at that point that they also decided they wanted to do Knuckles as a series. And I decided at that point, I would rather take something like Knuckles and build it from the ground up rather than work round-robin on the Sonic book with other writers like as had been done up to that point…you know, every now and then. It was just, they didn’t want to rely on a single writer on the Sonic book whereas Knuckles I would have complete freedom so I said, “Gimme that book!”
Jason: Okay, I wanted to talk a little bit about artists — a few different ones. One of the things that’s most mentioned on your site is uh…you were saying that, oh, “One (aspect) of the criticism of Ian’s run I find highly disturbing is laying the blame for the book’s current weak sales solely at his feet. Artist Tracy Yardley is due for his fair share of commentary as is cover artist Sanford Greene, based on the criticisms relayed to me by various retailers and readers. As this is a comic book, art plays an important part in attracting a readership, and I don’t believe neither measures up to the standards of many of the artists who previously worked on this book. Neither would be my choice of artist if I were working on the book today.” Now, I’m all for you on the Sanford Greene. I do not care for his covers. But, personally myself, I love Tracy Yardley’s work since he’s been on it, and I just want to know, what is it about Tracy Yardley’s art you don’t really care for yourself?
Ken: Well, first of all, you have to understand, okay, I come at this from a very different perspective, say, than Sonic fans. I have seen Sonic fans tear apart EVERY artist who has worked on the book. I mean, I’ve seen – I’ve even seen Spaz come in for criticism.
Jason: Yeah, Spaz is absolutely my favorite.
Ken: But he has coming for – there have been fans who’ve said, you know, “He’s terrible!” They were making it sound like J. Axer was better than he was! And, knowing how the book is produced, I greatly differ with those sentiments, you know, as well. So, from my perspective, there were – I had two favorite artists that I worked with for a long time: one was Spaz, and one was Art Mawhinney. And, this is not to denigrate any of the other artists I worked with, like Jim Valentino, Jim Fry, or Steven Butler, ’cause I thought all three were top-notch artists.
Jason: Steve is still on the book, too.
Ken: Steve was a lot of fun to work with. Steve and I were supposed to do Knuckles together, had it gone beyond issue thirty-two. So I really regret we never got to that chance. But, the thing is, given the demands of production, okay, when I wrote certain stories I usually had them with either Spaz in mind or Art in mind, and then once it went beyond that I would gravitate to either Steven or James Fry. And, because these guys deliver what I wanted for specific stories. For example, when I did “Sonic – The Director’s Cut,” and we had that round-robin of artists there, okay? When it came time to insert the page of Sonic kissing Sally, the only artist I wanted for that shot there was Art, simply because I knew he was going to give me the emotion that shot needed. And this is not to take away from, again, from any of the other artists, it’s just that each artist has their own strengths and weaknesses, and I would tend to play to the artist’s strengths. Uh, Tracy…this is not to say I think he’s a bad artist, okay, it’s just that having worked with the other artists…I – just, I have a preference, simple as that! The other thing too, is, back when I was working on the book with the early issues, Sega had more of a say. You know, you had to actually submit samples to Sega for their approval before you could even become an artist on the book. And then…oh, I’d say about the time James Fry’s work came on, nobody was submitting samples to work on the book.
Jason: Yeah, I still find just that, uh, Fry’s is – where I think it’s the closest to SegaSonic next to Spaz. And it looks like they’re trying to keep it that way, like Bunnie Rabbot looks almost like Cream the Rabbit in the… (points to ears) sort of way. Speaking of artists, uh…well I guess you already said which one, who your favorite was, is Art Mawhinney and Spaz. And least favorite, you’re not gonna make any mention of that…?
Ken: Ehh, you know, everybody has a bad day.
Jason: (Whispers something about Ron Lim)
Ken: I am not saying, you know, no…no, that wouldn’t be fair. Actually, it would surprise you to be somebody else, but no.
Jason: Now, beyond the fact that people like to visit your site and other Sonic sites, how do you feel about people who are inspired by your work and do, like, fan fiction or fan copies?
Ken: I’m still…not used to — it’s been so many years. I have people coming up to me all the time, “I was inspired by you,” “I got into Nickelodeon because you inspired me as a kid” or that sort of thing, and I’m still having a little bit of a problem dealing with that because…to me, I was just doing the story and I never thought about, you know, who was reading them or how it was affecting them or anything like that. I just hoped that they were having a good time, you know, getting their money’s worth going to the stores.
Jason: Alright. One more thing: what happened to your little mustache there? (Laughs) It’s disappeared now!
Ken: (Laughs) That was more a personal thing for my mother, more or less. She absolutely hated it, and…I said “Fine, you know, whatever,” and this was shortly before she passed away, so…
Jason: I had the same thing with my aunt (Pat?). Before she passed away, she couldn’t stand my little goatee, so when we went to the funeral I just shaved it off for her.
Ken: And the thing was, you know, once I got into producing and directing “The Republic” I just kept it off and now it seems to be my new “image,” you know, quote unquote.
Jason: Speaking of, how soon do you think we’ll be seeing “The Lost Ones”?
Ken: Right now, uh, we’re putting together footage showing both story and special effects, how it all pulls together, because we’re gonna need a considerable budget to really pull off directing. You know, I’m not talking a hundred million dollars by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re gonna need SOME bucks, you know, especially when you consider the budget that we filmed “The Republic” from. And we have nowhere near the amount of special effects that we’re gonna need for “The Lost Ones” – nowhere near the stunts, number of costumes and everything, so…it’s gonna need a considerable budget. And so, we’re hoping that with “The Republic” out there, and we see the reel that we’re putting together for “The Lost Ones” that we should be able to fund the – uh, to go on to make the finished feature film.
Jason: Alright, well thank you so much for your time!
Ken: It was a pleasure, Jason.