I did it. I read it all.
What the Fuckles indeed. Can I get my time back, please? In the time it took to read through this thread I could have written, drawn, and published my own comic book (which, actually, is something I need to get back into!).
…but in all seriousness, this has been a mesmerizing read for a number of reasons. The phrase, "Dis guy… is un-fuckin-believable!" comes to mind. Now I practically grew up with the Sonic the Hedgehog series, having owned a SEGA Genesis as opposed to a (Super) Nintendo. Hell, I even bought the damned 32X add-on (and I still laugh at the fact that 32X Doom's credits end with a C:\DOOM>_ prompt). So, being an American fan it wasn't long before I started watching The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), and read Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comic book series (beginning with issue #¼ that I received as part of a promotion for staying at a Howard Johnson's). I only received a scant handful of comics until convincing my parents to get me a subscription… that was right around the time Endgame was occurring and I was hooked; doubly so when Knuckles received his own spin-off series!
So, it's safe to say, I was a big fan of Penders in my youth… at least at first. While I enjoyed the first dozen issues or so, with "Moses Knuckles" being my favorite story in all truth, I honestly can't remember anything beyond that. Like… anything. I think that was around the time Manny Galan stopped illustrating the issues?, 'cause that was also a big reason I was a fan—loved the art.
That's why seeing Penders reduced to… this… is so depressing. What happened?
Now I'm not blaming the guy for wanting credit and royalties and such for the characters he created; it's natural to want recognition for the hard work you put into something. It also doesn't help that Archie was so terrible at backing up their contracts, apparently (at least more so than a mere photocopy, I understand?). Likewise I can't blame the guy for wanting to do more with those very same characters that he's made.
…but this is so not the way.
He needs to sever all ties he had with Archie and Sonic, give himself a fresh start, not hang so desperately onto the past. Look, when I was in high school I made Sonic fan characters… well, mostly it was just the cast dressed as characters from other games, like Knux Lao (Knuckles as Kung Lao from Mortal Kombat 3), Ruby (Fiona Fox as Jade from Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3), Sal-Li (Princess Sally as Chun-Li from Street Fighter II), and others. I even used to have a GeoCities website (and Lithium and later ProBoards forum) called "MK-Sonic's Hidden Forest" (Sonic as Smoke from UMK3, though I never could come up with a better name combination; as such his super form was "Ultimate MK-Sonic"). It was all in fun, but the difference was…
I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL!!
Now don't get me wrong; there is a world of difference between a professional writer/illustrator and some punk kid in school doing this for fun… except that's not what I'm seeing here. What I'm seeing is no different than your typical amateur-hour Sonic fan art. Hell, going through this whole thread I've seen imaginative reinterpretations of Penders' characters that go above an beyond mere Sonic expies—when other people can draw your characters better than you can, there's something very, very wrong. I mean it really doesn't help when a character is basically "Knuckles in a wig" or "Knuckles' Darth Vader cosplay."
It's also not helping him when hey's laying claim to "original concepts" like "Evil Sonic" or "Robo-Robotnik." Hey, Ken, question—if you took Sonic the Hedgehog out of Evil Sonic the Hedgehog, or Dr. Robotnik out of Robo-Robotnik, what are you left with it?
That doesn't mean he has to abandon everything, though; just ditch the ties to Sonic and Archie, like the "Princess of Acorn." Or if you have to have her, don't make the name sound so damned blatant! She could be the… "Matron of Artisia," thrust into a position of power and responsibility with the loss of her mother in the last, great war. She may not be ready but she'll damn well give it her all to aid her people in their time of need. There. You take Princess Sally, strip off what identified her as "Princess Sally," leaving just the bare-bones concept of a young political/royal figurehead living in times of trouble, and build something original off of that! She doesn't have to be a princess, per-se, her kingdom doesn't have to be called "Acorn," and she certainly doesn't have to be an anthro-chipmunk.
From what I've heard, 50 Shades of Grey started off as a Twilight fan fic. Now I've never seen the film but from what I can tell the author's done a good job of distancing the story from its source material, so the idea of taking his Knuckles' characters and creating something unrelated to its source is not impossible.
With that said, don't make them furries! You want them to be aliens, Penders? Make them aliens! Don't pull this "oh they just coincidentally happen to look like Earth animals" bull shit! Or if you have to make them furries, and considering his desire to give them more human-like proportions (relatively speaking), drop the Sonic aesthetic! You're not helping yourself by making your damned "Echy'dnyas" look like SEGA echidnas. "But they're not echidnas! They're aliens… named 'Echy'dnyas." Fuck you! Stop trying to pass off Future Knuckles as your damned "Praetorian." "K'nox" my ass! You really couldn't come up with anything better than that? Even the damned hat's not original, considering it originated with that Sonic anime movie. "What?, they're not using it!"
Look, I'd be amiss to say that I've never referenced other work in my own artistry. I gave a (then antagonistic) character yellow eyes because Skut Farkus, the big bully from A Christmas Story, had yellow eyes; but that same character, Morgan Powys, has her own history—an heir to a prestigious family who's parents left the stuffy atmosphere and overbearing grandfather figurehead to start life anew, brightening their home with twin siblings… only to have her lose her parents at a young age, leading her to effectively raise her siblings as a surrogate mother, making up for her lost childhood by becoming a party girl (so now less of an antagonist for another character of mine, and more "she's not bad, she's just drawn that way" type). Yeah, the pressure and responsibility gets to her, and while she's imagined what it'd be like without having to take care of her siblings… in the end she wouldn't give them up for anything.
Or a little closer "on-the-nose" is a cutesy devil girl of mine, Karen 'Akamu, who was heavily influenced by Kelly Kapowski from Saved by the Bell. Her appearance is still somewhat familiar, albeit taller and much, much curvier, plus she has a cheerful, bubbly personality and has a very late 80's/early 90's New Wave fashion sense… well, that's also why I've considered the character to be a bit on the one-dimensional side and so has been reduced to just "for fun" drawings now and then.
……okay, that was a bit of a tangent, but I think my point was there's a difference between a reference or influence and a blatant copy/paste. Penders, keep your Praetorian… just strip Knuckles from it. I believe he's gone on record (in at least one of his Tweets, anyway) saying that the Praetorian's personality and demeanor are different from regular Knuckles, being a father and a figurehead in a war-torn age. Fine! Use that! Just slap that onto a more original design! Don't just make it look like "Knuckles fan character #23849 …but he's different 'cause he's got a backstory!" Speaking of backstories, it wouldn't kill him to give his characters some flaws, make them more believable. I'm a fan of Dungeons & Dragons and while I don't care too much for 5th Edition I will applaud it for dedicating part of character creation to personality traits, ideas, bonds, and flaws—they're often just one or two sentences long, but that's often enough to get a good feel for what the character's like and how well-rounded that character can be. Say, Geoffrey St. John is certainly skilled but he's a stubborn hot-head that makes him difficult to work with!
I was thinking about how he could handle the first story—Lara-Su is a brash teenager who grew up in a relative paradise, never knowing the harsh realities that her parents had experienced, and thus doesn't give her responsibilities the care they deserve… to the point that she bets away her "praetorianship" …and loses! Not only is this a huge wake-up call for her, but as it turns out the one she bet against, the one she lost this responsibility to… ends up no worse in the position than she might have been. So she leaves, goes on adventures, helps people in need, grows as a character, grows to be the "praetorian" she should have been… and perhaps down the road some cataclysm strikes her home and she's called back, offering her aid and showing her family and friends how she's changed. Maybe the rival praetorian passes the title back to her and maybe she accepts or maybe she doesn't, but I'd like to think that's enough of a story base to work off of (fuck, and here I stopped working on my own ideas because I have a hard time starting a story).
Well, I think I've run out of gas for this post and have said probably all I could say without going over certain points in more detail. I'm keeping my eye on this thread to see what'll become of Penders and his work in the future. No joke, I actually considered buying one of his Praetorian iPhone cases… and I don't even own an iPhone! I'd just look at it and be reminded of what not to do.
Don't do what Donny Don't Ken Penders does!