Week of June 14th and June 21st - Sonic's 30th Anniversary
When I was seven or eight years old, my mom took me to a babysitter’s house. He was an identical twin, and I hung out in his room with both him and his brother.
They were playing Sonic the Hedgehog. It was the first time I saw it. The colors of the game, the brightness of Green Hill Zone, just caught my eye a game never did before.
The following year, my father opened his first retail shop. Because I was a good boy that helped them clean up the retail space, helped them prepare for the grand opening, my parents took me to the local toy store down the block, and got me a Sega Game Gear. My first Sega system.
I played the heck out of it. Both Sonic and Sonic 2 adaptations were in it, but I was very, very upset that I couldn’t play with (or as) Tails in the Game Gear version. So every now and then, my Dad would rent a Sega Genesis at Blockbuster for me so I could play that version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Eventually, around 4th or 5th grade, I got my own Genesis for my birthday. And while I would rent Sonic 1 and 2, Sonic 3 would be mine to keep!
But that’s not all. I would read the Archie Comics’ Sonic The Hedgehog series. I would get the mini-series for Knuckles, Princess Sally, Tails, through mail orders. I would collect the comics with my Nintendo Power. I would get Sonic & Knuckles to play the real version of Sonic 3! The game wasn’t done until I had all of the super emeralds, both for Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles.
I would wake up early (even as a child, I wasn’t a morning person), just to watch Sonic the Hedgehog (Blue streaks, speed by…Too fast for the naked eye…). I would download the most terrible quality version of Sonic’s anime movie through IRC channels (YouTube? What’s that?), I would draw Sonic fan art all the time. I even made a comic series with a grade school friend called the Adventures of Spunky and Stinky (It was… Knuckles and Stimpy from Ren and Stimpy, shut up, I was 10).
Back when Dreamcast was about to come out, Hollywood Video (remember that place?) had a deal to rent the Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure before it was available to purchase. Am I remembering that correctly? I think so, but the point is, I might’ve not been able to get a Saturn, but dammit I got a Dreamcast for Sonic Adventure, Soul Caliber, Code Veronica, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, Sonic Adventure 2… It was a good system. I remember being in high school and just reading online that EA games dropped support for the system and was like, “That’s the end of that.”
But Sonic wouldn’t die! Oh no! My college friends and I would play Sonic together, we’d draw Sonic fan art, still, while in college, catching up on the now convoluted Archie comic series while in the hotel room for San Diego Comic Con 2004!
And time went on. I graduated college. I would still get Sonic games for Nintendo and Xbox systems. I got work at Rockstar Games. I worked at Apple. I eventually got freelance work for magazines and children’s books. Time marched on, and by 2012, Zen Monkey Studios was born. I had a meeting with a person who I grew up with in grade school and middle school that became very, very successful. He asked me what I think was necessary for Zen Monkey to grow as a company. I said we needed to make licensed products.
We have to thank Jim Henson Company to be the first company that gave us a shot with their license.
And then Justin Roiland met us at New York Comic-Con. It was an unorthodox way to get a license, but once a Rick and Morty license was signed and paid for, everything changed.
We began going to the licensing expo every summer in Vegas. And even at the first year, where we didn’t know how to even get meetings, we would pop our head in with Sega. Signed our names and left a business card, in hopes they’d want to talk to us. The next year came, we learned we had to reserve meetings online before the trip. But we couldn’t get a meeting reserved… But there were people at Sega who began looking at our stuff when we visited the booth, get excited, and tell us to come back.
The following year, we got a meeting! The guy we spoke to got a little nervous if we got rejected, we’d be mad or difficult. I said “I’m going to be a Sega fan with or without a license, don’t worry.” He liked that!
And then nothing.
So we go back the next year, and try again. “This is it! This is the year! We love the pins you guys make! Let’s get things rolling!”
And then nothing.
So the next year, we go back, and then we recognized a name from when we worked on properties like Ace Ventura. She got hired by SEGA! She recognized us, thought we did a great job for Ace, and said, “Yeah. Let’s do this. Let’s finalize it.”
And then nothing!
Sonic the Hedgehog’s movie came out, and you better believe I saw it in theaters…
And then the rest of 2020 happened. No expo in Vegas---but it was online. And Sega set up a zoom meeting with us, went through their presentation with me, and said, “I’m going to really try and get it rolling with you guys. I know it’s been years, and we appreciate it.”
Then finally… Finally…We got the license for a property that gave me so many memories. But they are extremely protective of their characters, good. While I want to offer the world everything I could think of for Sonic fans to collect, Sega keeps us in check, but also listens to us. Our anniversary pins was an original idea of ours, similar to what Nintendo did with Mario’s anniversary pins, but I wanted to make it feel a little bit different. And Sega allowed that.
I’m just a fan that is trying really hard to offer some real cool things. That are official. But to realize I’m now part of Sega’s history, even if it’s as simple as little 1.75 inch pins to collect and trade, means so damn much to me. I just want to offer more and more.
Happy Anniversary Sonic. I can’t wait to share you when my son joins this world in a few short months.