With Sonic's 25th birthday this year it seems only fitting that Summer of Sonic makes its return in 2016. The once annual convention of all things blue hedgehog related returned with a blast on Saturday, 6th of August and RetroCollect's resident Sonic fanboy was there to experience it...
My girlfriend, myself and thousands of other Sonic fans descended on ILEC Conference Centre in Earls Court, London. We lined up around not one but two corners eagerly, but patiently, waiting to step inside. The hold up, it turned out, was the ILEC's rotating entry door. While it was a shame that we weren't able to enter the actual con (we had to pick up our goodies bag and wrist bands after navigating the spinning-turbine-door) until about 5 minuets into Dr. Eggaman's...er, I mean voice actor Mike Pollock's Q&A Panel no one seemed upset at all. Rather, we into a room of smiling faces and happy fans.
Something we noticed right away was just how well the con floor was set up. With the main stage up one end of the hall and the merch stand at the other with the games and signing booths on either side it was very easy to make your way around. While Mike continued his discussion we headed first to the merch stand, not wanting to miss out on any of the goodies. We made our selections at SonicMerchandise.com's tables who had brought a slew of apparel and toys from Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing and Sonic Boom. From here we moved on to Artists' Ally where we were able to ogle at the amazing art of Archie artist Tyson Hesse, many Sonic The Comic alumni and Duncan Gutterride who created the beautiful painterly style covers of many Sonic paperbacks from the 90s. If you were after some quality Sonic art for your wall, this was the place to be! Having grabbed all the gear we wanted we settled down for a round of Never Mind the Buzzbombers.
Indeed, the amount of panels that were presented at Summer of Sonic was very impressive. Following Buzzbombers we were treated to a jam session with Crush 40's Jun Senoue who rocked out several favourite Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 tracks while videos of the games played on the big screen in the background. This was followed up with another Q&A session, this time with none other than Sonic Team leader Takashi Iizuka and the father of Sonic himself, Yuji Naka. While this Q&A did feature some age-old questions like "what inspired Sonic," there were a few that had fans cheering, such as Naka suggesting that he might, one day, return to working on Sonic. We also had the chance to sing "Happy Birthday" to Sonic himself, which was a personal highlight.
We were treated to a presentation from Hardlight Studios on Sonic Jump, an art and cosplay contest for fans (the winner of the cosplay contest, a rendition of Perfect Chaos from Sonic Adventure, was amazing), a dance-club session featuring remixes of songs from Sonic's adventures and, to top it all off, a brilliant performance from Crush 40. But that was only the main stage. On the second stage were panels on the Sonic community, Sonic the Comic, and the history of Summer of Sonic. In short, attendees were not left wanting.
Of course, as with all cons, fans had the opportunity to meet the big guests of the day. Mike Pollock, who kindly signed a special 25th anniversary print I had bought, was very kind and seemed genuinely happy to meet fans. Both Jun and Johnny Gioeli of Crush 40 were mobbed by devotees (sadly I missed them) while Mr. Naka and Mr. Iizuka had two signing sessions! I had the absolute pleasure of meeting both men during their final signing session at the end of the day. I had to feel for Mr. Naka as while Mr. Iizuka seemed to still be going strong, Mr. Naka appeared absolutely drained. But who could blame him after all the activities he was involved in?
While I'm not sure on the exact number of attendees at least 1000 must have filled the ILEC hall that day. And even so it was not crowded or stuffy. Thanks to the aforementioned layout there was plenty of room to move about, see everything and even take a breather against a wall or on the floor in front of the main stage. The foyer area, where the food stand, toilets and entry were located, was also open to folks wanting to take a bit of a breather from the excitement of the con. This was very welcome as in my experience you usually have to leave con venue completely to get some fresh air. It was so lovely to sit down, have a cuppa, and then head straight back into the lights and sounds of this wonderful convention. Even with one or two technical hiccups there was nothing at all that lessened the fun of the day.
If I had to make a criticism though, it would be about the merch. However, I must state I'm talking about the main merch stand here, not the artists. While I understand that merch is not the main reason folks attend these things I still would have liked to see a larger selection. As mentioned there was only really t-shirts and Boom items available. Anything that was not related to either of those felt like it was simply left over stock that SonicMerchandise.com wanted to move. This probably had nothing to do with Summer of Sonic's organises and more with SonicMerchandise.com themselves, but it still would have been nice to see a larger selection, especially for someone like myself - and I imagine many of the con attendees - who are collectors.
Hailing from Australia and only having come to the UK this year, this was my first experience of Summer of Sonic. Of course I was aware of past Summer of Sonic cons, it's hard to be a Sonic fan and not hear about them, but I really was not sure what to expect. What I experienced was one of the most enjoyable, well run conventions I have ever attended. It was professional, it was wonderfully presented and everyone was made to feel more than welcome.
Something I feel is also important to mention is the Sonic community. The Sonic fan community has something of a...reputation for being unpleasant and at times hostile. While it is true that a handful of unscrupulous people online do give the community this reputation I'm very glad to say that at Summer of Sonic I experienced none of this. All of the fans I taked to were friendly and excited, just happy to be among fellow fans. My girlfriend, who doesn't consider herself a Sonic fan but has fond memories of playing the games on the Mega Drive, was never made to feel out of place or uncomfortable. In fact she had just as much fun as I did!
The two men behind Summer of Sonic, Adam Tuff and Svend Joscelyne, as well as the many other staffers who were there, made the day an absolute blast. To be able to pull in people such as Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Naka to a convention that is organised by fans is no small achievement.
Summer of Sonic 2016 was by far the best convention experience I've had, and having been a comics fan for 27 years I've been to my fair share of cons. The professionalism of the people behind the scenes and their dedication to presenting a quality show was admirable. But what really made it, at least for me, were my fellow fans. Too often fans of Sonic, and video games in general, are labelled as outcasts; strange, anti-social beings who can not quite function in the "real world." What something like Summer of Sonic shows, however, is that if you give those people a chance and you engage them in something they love they can be some of the most passionate, kind, welcoming folks you'll ever meet.
And that's what being a fan is all about. That is what makes Summer of Sonic.
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