Sonic the Comic Con, an adventure 20 years in the making.
Everything about this should not work…. “A comic convention for a comic which has been out of publication for over 13 years based on a video game series will be holding a fan convention for the first time in the city of York on a Sunday. ”
Everything about it shouldn’t work, everything about it should mean it was going to disappoint or something would go wrong in some way. So how did it go?
Well in a nutshell? Actually it went really well and was one of the best conventions I’ve been to in a long time.
I should probably say three things before I start. I am writing this mostly from memory and I started to write this on Monday night, a good 48 hours after the con started with no notes on my conversations, if I have made an errors or misquoted anyone who worked on STC here, please let me know and I’ll amend the article.
Secondly… I don’t particularly want to compare this to Summer of Sonic, but the comparisons are going to be inevitable, if only for understanding what the day was like or how things went. But let me say from the outset, STC-CON is an event which is strong enough to stand on its own accord and merits.
Finally, I spent the day with a fellow SSMB member (Lucky) and we had a blast, just in case you wonder why I keep jumping between ‘I’ and ‘we’ during this article. No I’m not possessed or have an alien parasite who wants revenge on Peter Parker.
Well… let’s get started.
Taking to the streets of York early that Sunday morning, walking through those twisting castle streets, we bumped into a few of the Summer of Sonic Vanguard and off towards the venue we went, it was then we all saw something that instantly put the whole ‘will anyone turn up’ fear to rest, two people, dressed in full cosplay, one as Fleetway Amy Rose, the other as Captain Plunder, a Fleetway exclusive character.
It’s now you have to remember, there was no advertised cosplay contest, there was no cosplay contest at all, these people had just turned up in full cosplay for fun, little did we know they would not be the only cosplayers on the day.
Standing outside of the Merchant’s Adventurers Hall, with less than an hour to go, the crowd slowly grew, it was a small gathering of like minded individuals, forget cases of the world’s longest lines at Summer of Sonic, or lines running around the block, this was a small gathering in a small courtyard of fans all eager to get inside.
When the doors opened at 10am, we were all a little ‘is this all there is?’ as 20 people turned up for the opening we all gathered inside. Greeting us were the Sonic the Comic Online guys and our first free treat of the day. A special printed issue of Sonic the Comic, complete with its own free gift. What was that gift? Well… it could only be one thing.
If you didn’t read Sonic the Comic, odds are you will not understand why this was picked. At one point you’d be forgiven for thinking that STC was owned by Chewits and not Fleetway, decades later die hard collectors would be faced with removing the now rotting sweets from their comic or risk leaving them on their issues.
Picking up my comic and pack of Chewits, I turned to the waiting line held them up which prompted everyone within eyesight to cheer at the realisation that Chewits were this issues free gift.
Heading upstairs, I received my free T-Shirt, a rather epic Fleetway Super Sonic design on my choice of either blue or yellow, taking my blue shirt I was then drawn to a series of tables which sat a number of familiar faces and some new faces who I would soon call friends. Being around the 4th person to enter the venue, I was quite lucky with the length of the lines at this time so I figured it would be best to head to Richard Elson first.
This meeting would set a precedent for the whole day, that being that the meeting was relaxing, fun and enjoyable. Whilst I had a bunch of comics to sign, the first thing I did was have a conversation with him. This is how every single meet with one of the former STC staff went.
With regards to Richard Elson, I first thanked him for a sketch he drew me some months ago, and I also told him the reason why I bought one of his works over a year ago. I was not a fan of the strip, nor was the page a favourite of mine, but the artwork is quite something. I love the strip because, even if you take the dialogue and the text away from the page, you can still understand what is going on, the artwork on the page is so good it tells a story. Mr Elson thanked me for my kind words and shook my hand.
I then noticed he was selling a bunch of original artworks, signed by both himself, Nigel Kitching & Nigel Dobbyn, knowing that I was unlikely to get this moment again, I decided to purchase one for myself.
I then said hello to an old friend, Nigel Kitching. I’ve met Mr Kitching at a number of Sonic events in the past so this one was very much like all the others, we exchanged hellos, asked how the other had been and I asked if he was willing to sign my issues.
However, unlike previous meetings, I was with someone else who had a small Sonic the Comic related mystery that they wondered if he could solve. We showed him the evidence to hand and asked the question “Was there a planned cross over with Sonic and Judge Dredd?” his answer was quite surprising for several reasons, but that’s for another TSS article.
At this time, the comic staff announced that a quiz would be taking place, 8 out of 10 caterkillers, probably STC-Cons answer to NeverMind the BuzzBombers, the setup was similar, two team captains and an audience member had STC and STCO trivia pitched to them. Both contestants ended up with prizes in the form of some one of T-Shirts with the quiz logo on them. Just a nice little prize for a brief rest bite in the days activities.
Before we could go see another artist, the organiser of the event, a certain TSS staffer by the name of T-Bird asked us if we could follow him. You see, we had both picked the top tiers on the kickstarter campaign, and there was one part of our reward pledge that we hadn’t yet received.
We were ushered towards Ferran Rodriguez who had a surprise for us. Ferran recognised us both from last year’s Summer of Sonic and was very pleased to see us again. You see, part of the kickstarter reward was for a one of a kind commissioned piece of artwork… and what artwork it was. First, Ferran showed us the pencil concept sketches of the artwork, and then explained the changes he made and the reasons why, then the produced two unique works of art. And when I say work of art… I mean works of art!
The images speak for themselves, but both of us said afterwards that we were not expecting that, both of us were very pleased and very grateful with our rewards. In fact one girl was nearby and saw the artwork, she then gasped and said “Did you buy those from him!? If not, can I!?” Other people asked to see the artwork, everybody seemed quite amazed at what Ferran had produced.
So after having another chat with Ferran and reminiscing about the last year, he also signed our issues of Sonic the Comic and asked us to share photos of our artwork once we got back home. We agreed and then he asked if he could pose for photos with us! I was quite surprised at this, Ferran is such a nice guy and one of my childhood heroes, surely I should be the one asking him to pose for a photo!?
We then waited to see Carl Flint, this was a meeting which had been over 10 years in the making for myself. I had previously emailed Carl on a number of occasions in the past, it was really nice to finally put a face to the name. As before I asked Carl to sign some issues and he was most pleased to do so.
Next to Carl was Kev Hopgood, now if you search for Kev Hopgood, odds are you’ll find the words ‘creator of War Machine,’ and very little on Sonic the Comic, however, he has a rather big contribution to Sonic the Comic history. That being he created the cover of issue 1.
Having a conversation with him, he too greeted me and was a very pleasant fellow to talk too, it must have been a strange experience for him, odds are most people know him for his work on Marvel Comics, yet here he was at a convention where everyone knew him for arguably his most obscure work.
Next on the agenda was Jon Haward, this was one of the most interesting conversations of the day due to the amount of information Jon gave with regards to how he worked and what went into making his Shinobi and Eternal Champion comic strips. On top of this, Mr Haward was able to solve a mystery regarding who it was that did the unaccredited artwork on the original Sonic Yearbooks, a mystery which to my knowledge has never been resolved. Which… I’ve… forgotten… note to self, ask Mr Haward to remind you who it was.
But one of the most interesting pieces of information to come out was how Mr Haward did the illustrations for both Shinobi and Eternal Champions. Mr Haward would later elaborate more on this during the Q&A session, however the long and short of it was that in order to accurately convey the intensity of the fights and to help accurately recreate some of the martial arts move, he would send Jon clips from various Jackie Chan movies along with a time stamp on the video with notes such as “Make it as intense as this fight” or “See the move he does at this point in the film.” Jon would also receive photographs of the writer actually performing certain martial art moves in order to accurately convey the moves he envisioned Shinobi performing in the story.
Another small bit of triva regarding the Sonic yearbook, was that Jon was not the only one responsible for the artwork in that books Shinobi strip, he and his brother both worked on it. Another unaccredited mystery solved.
It was then time for the Q&A session between Ferran, Carl, Jon and Kev. This was a great little section of the day, a lot of information was found out regarding the development of the comic and working practices. Jon Haward also revealed that he’d love to work on the comic again if it were still around and even take on more modern Sega games, to which I couldn’t help but yell out “Yakuza & Shenmue cross-over!”
After the Q&A session, Nigel Dobbyn returned from his art class and we decided to say hello. Nigel recognised me from previous Summer of Sonic’s and from also the fact that he’s joked about me being his number one customer, as well as asking me if I was mad when I told him I really wanted to buy his original artwork of ‘The Spice Maidens’ a parody which apparently generated a lot of complaints from fans of the comic.
During this time we also conducted a little business with Mr Dobbyn, we noticed he was selling some of his artwork, and being a fan of his colouring I couldn’t resist but pick up a piece. After the business I informed him about the My Favourite Fleetway series I’m writing for this site. Dobbyn thanked me for the praise I gave the issue and for the next few moments we just talked about classic horror movies and how Nigel felt that he may have included some horror references into his works that even he hadn’t realised that he’d included. After a while we shook his hand and left his area.
Realising I met everyone, I headed downstairs to the merch and art tables. Merchandise wise there was a huge table full of Sonic the Comic’s all bagged and boarded along with a small selection of merchandise, ranging from plushies to other bits of media such as a Japanese Sonic 3 VHS tape.
Art table wise, a few people were taking part in some of the art competitions which were running throughout the day. But otherwise, this area was noticeably quiet compared to the main hall.
Returning to the main hall, we found ourselves socialising with a number of old and new friends. It was nice to catch up with the friends I’ve made over the years, both from various fansites and past conventions. From speaking with people, I found out a few interesting things about a number of the people attending the convention.
First of all, not everyone here had read an issue of the comic, this was very surprising, a number of people commented on how they had never read an issue of the comic before and that the comics they had purchased at the convention were the first time they had ever picked up an issue. A few people said that the main reason they had come to the convention was to meet friends that they hadn’t seen for over a year.
I could understand this, one of the main reasons I keep going to SOS is to see my friends who I don’t get to see anywhere near as often as I’d like. Finding out the majority of your friends are attending a cool party is a hard thing to pass up.
Though it did make me wonder for possible future events, would Sonic the Comic see a form of renewed interest from people attending future events just because their friends were attending?
Wait… stop… am I the only one who see’s the obvious here?
We’ve just had a convention, for a comic which has had a cult following for the best part of over a decade, there’s just been a convention for it which made over £1,400 in not even 24 hours, which made a total of £3,674, over 150 people attended the convention, which was held on a Sunday in the North of England, some came in cosplay despite not advertised cosplay competition. Which saw some people buy their first Fleetway issues for the first time, some people attended were not fans of the comic, but left as fans of the comic.
Yet the only way for these new fans to get access to these issues is to try their luck with the second hand market. Original fans of the comic book have to fight one another for mint/good condition issues in order to complete their collection, and for mega rare issues this is becoming less and less likely.
Am I the only one who see’s this? That there is an obvious market here for these issues? Why is this not happening? It’s not like Egmont (who owns Fleetway) can’t do this, they’ve done it with other comic books they once published, Sega cannot be completely oblivious to this comic or how successful it was back in the 90′s.
We’re not asking for the comic to be re-activated, or a complete re-release of every issue. But why are some of the sagas not in trade paperback form? Run a kickstarter yourself if you’re afraid there’s no demand.
Anyway, tangent over…
The final big event of the day was a Q&A session with Nigel Kitching & Richard Elson. Now this was advertised as a Q&A, though it probably should have been advertised as a comedy double act. As informative as it was, there was a lot of laughs to be had here as the banter between the two was hysterical at times. I hope someone has this on video because it really was a great end to the day’s events.
To finish the day, we went around each of the various former STC staff and thanked them for coming. Which reminds me, earlier in the day when we spoke with Richard Elson, we asked him about a very obscure piece of sonic history, and then did a bit of a deal with us. It’s going to take some time, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait, but that’s for another time.
So overall how was the day? Well.. to compare it with Summer of Sonic, this was… very relaxing. According to STC-Con, around 150 people attended. But, there were no long lines to see people, it was very easy to move around, and temperature wise… it was good.
It was also a very sociable event, it was quite easy to strike up a conversation with anyone, this was probably down to the fact virtually everyone there had one thing in common, that being the comic book.
In fact, it was incredibly laid back and relaxing. Typically at these conventions I’m running around doing things, it’s almost like a military operation. This though was so laid back and relaxed it took me by surprise. You want an example of this? I normally video a ‘tour’ of the venue and take some other video of the events. Only this one was so laid back and relaxed, I just didn’t want to, I just wanted to enjoy the day. There is some video of the event, hopefully other attendees took more, but nothing that extensive this time.
The biggest lesson here, you do not need to have something on the epic scale of Summer of Sonic in order to put on one hell of a good event. You just need an idea which has some appeal, the finance and the team to put it into place. You do not need to have special or exclusive announcements, nor do you need to rely on special VIP guests from overseas. Your convention will be a success without those things.
You just need a good idea, the money and the team to make it a reality.
Should STC-Con return some day? It would be nice to see it come back, though next time it would be great to get more non Sonic artists/writers on board. Jon Howard was a welcome change to it just being ‘another Sonic convention,’ whilst a convention like Summer of Sonic is slightly restricted, STC-Con does have a slight advantage in this area.
STC-Con can be considered a success, everything about it shouldn’t have worked, but it did, and it surpassed expectations. There are things which could have been improved, though I suspect the organisers are already aware of them, having times by the day’s schedule would have made planning the day much easier for guests. But for a first convention, this one was pretty good.
I just hope I don’t have to wait another 20 years!