Ken Penders is a former main writer of the Archie Sonic titles.
Making his debut in Sonic the Hedgehog #11, Ken was one of the many creatives that defined the early Archie Sonic universe, focusing particularly on Knuckles the Echidna and The Chaotix. While best known as a writer, Ken was also involved in nearly every aspect of the comic, regularly contributing art and being the only person to have ever filled every non-editorial role in the creation of a story (Sonic the Hedgehog: #93) in the history of the series.
He officially stopped working on Archie's Sonic series prior to the release of Sonic the Hedgehog #159, with his final contribution (as Inker and Letterer) appearing in Sonic the Hedgehog #169.
Ken is well known for his legal disputes with Archie Comics and Sega, his grievances with the former being one of the key causes behind the series' 2013 reboot. All characters created by Ken or directly inspired by his stories have since been excluded from the series.
Although often considered a major influence on Archie Sonic's established universe and easily one of the most involved creators to work on the franchise, several of Penders' decisions when writing for Archie, as well as several of his recurring writing habits, have been the subject of criticism from fans. Notable criticisms include the glut of characters introduced in his stories, his disregard for story elements established in the series' source material, his penchant for secret family members and monologue-ing, and a lack of distinguishing features between characters he created.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics):
- Main series: Issues #11, #13-22, #24, #27-28, #31-36, #38, #41-50, #53, #58-65, #67-69, #79-82, #84, #88-102, #106-109, #114-118, #120-124, #131-144 (Mobius: 25 Years Later), #145-152, #154-159
- Knuckles The Echidna Miniseries/Full series - Full series.
- Princess Sally Miniseries - Full series.
- Sonic Live
- DC Comics' Star Trek: The Next Generation vol. 2 (four issues, two specials)
- Malibu Comics' Star Trek Deep Space Nine (two issues, one special)
- The Lost Ones (one issue)
- The Republic (planned live-action series, currently in Development Hell)
Some tropes about Ken Penders and his work. Obviously, these tropes are about his work and views, not about himself.
Tropes featured in his work:
- Abusive Parents: Unintentional example. Ken Penders wrote the father characters in Archie Sonic (namely Locke and King Maximilian) as "father knows best" type. They knew what was best for their kids, they possibly made mistakes but it was for a good reason, and the children needed to understand that and love them for it. When Ian Flynn became the writer of the series, he deconstructed this mindset with Knuckles openly calling out his father, making Locke realize what he did and sacrifice his life to make amends.
- Armed with Canon: Ken openly admits to not bothering to use characters or following plot lines from other creators during his time at Archie. When Karl Bollers left the comic, Ken threw away the old storylines and started his ones, retconning anything Karl Bollers did with the Echidna or other characters. When he left the comic, Penders openly criticized Ian Flynn for using his characters rather than his own and called him an idea thief; he never read any of Flynn's contributions, and would declare them non-canon if he ever returned to the series.
- Author Catchphrase: Penders' run on Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) can be recognized by all characters' peculiar overuse of "I've", such as "I've only one chance!" instead of "I've got only one chance!", which sounds kind of oddly refined for an unruly blue teenage hedgehog. A small quirk, but an identifying one.
- Author Tract: Ken is very open about his beliefs, which materialized in his work.
- Ken is open against the use of weapons. In Issue 148, he wrote Rotor as openly hating guns, with him saying "The Freedom Fighters never use guns. Never have, never will." Continuity mistake aside, he also wrote in issue #72 that the Mobians forbade contact with the Overlanders and had contempt for guns after prince Emerson Acorn was killed accidentally with one.
- Drugs Are Bad. Issue #13 is about Charmy's friend dying from a drug overdose after eating tainted food. The drug is named Lemon Sundrop Dandelion (LSD).
- Clueless Aesop:
- Ken Penders's run tended to try to cover really heavy themes (fascism, colonialism, genocide, abuse, drugs) that the comic just could not handle. These ideas would be tricky in any story, and a major uphill battle in a Sonic comic, but Penders tended to not help by waffling between horribly tasteless real-world imagery and cartoony adventure logic. One arc involved a paraphrasing of "First They Came", but with actual persecuted groups replaced by echidnas and hedgehogs, but then just twelve issues later, had Knuckles trusting the Nazi-analogue group completely and defending them so they could team up for the greater good.
- A particular example was the case of Locke. Penders claims that Knuckles's relationship with Locke, his Disappeared Dad, was meant to be a study of the difficulties involved when someone's relationship with their parents isn't perfect, having based it on his own issues with his father. Unfortunately, this doesn't really pan out when the comic doesn't really explore the difficulties of that relationship; Locke is Easily Forgiven and Knuckles interprets his actions as having been wholly good, leading to most readers getting the opposite impression.
- Creator's Apathy:
- From Penders' side. By his own admision, Ken is not a gamer. During his work with Sonic, he saw the character as a comic character first, a gaming icon later. That being said, Ken did show interest in non-gaming material, such as the Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) cartoon, introducing Lupe to the comics and taking notes on the lore for his stories, and the Sonic OVA before it was dubbed, mostly due to Knuckles's Nice Hat.
- Ken Penders claims that in stark contrast to how mandate-riddled the later comics got, Sega were very hands-off with the early comics and gave him very little direction on what to do with them during his run note and were reluctant to share any reference material that would have helped him out story-wise (for example, the Archie staff had to import their own untranslated Japanese copy of Sonic Adventure for story reference and wing it based on whatever they could make sense of from the games footage)—he was effectively given carte-blanche on the Knuckles solo comics specifically because of this lack of communication on their part. He said the closest he got to it was receiving a copy of the Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) Series Bible by the time he was writing the Endgame story arc.
- Creator's Favorite: Knuckles the Echidna is Penders's favorite character from his work in Sonic. He named his studio "Floating Island Productions" after Knuckles's Angel Island.
- Dedication: Issue #143 of Archie Sonic, Father's day, is dedicated to Kenneth Penders (1934-1982). The issue deals with Locke, Knuckles's father, final moments as he is dying because of cancer. There's some Reality Subtext in it, as Ken wrote Knuckles's words from personal experience.
- Development Hell: After obtaining the rights for his characters from Archie, Ken announced The Lara-Sue Chronicles in December 2011; Chronicles would continue the plot lines of the Echidna (now known as Echyd'nya), with Lara Su as the protagonist. As of August 2021, nothing ever came of it asides some drawn pages on his Twitter account. Ken has stated that he has been working on a Graphic Novel (around seven volumes worth of content) and then an App, but you have to take his word for it.
- Exiled from Continuity:
- Because of the lawsuit against Archie Comics, Ken legally owns the rights to the characters he created for Sonic The Hedgehog. Among these characters are almost all Echidna sans Athair (created by Michael Gallagher), most of the games cast extended family (Elias Acorn, Matilda, Rob o' the Hedge, Jules and Bernie; the name of the king, Sally's father, is also his, leading to a rename in the post-reboot), Geoffrey and Hershey St John, and most importantly, Robo-Robotnik (Robotnik's counterpart from a universe he won, and became the series Big Bad after the fist doctor's demise) and Anti-Sonic and his world (who is more known as the popular Scourge the Hedgehog after Ian Flynn took over as head-writer). Despite "owning" the last two, he legally cannot use them without Sega's approval.
- A misconception built out of the post-reboot is that Penders own all the characters, which includes Mina Mongoose, Mammoth Mogul, Finitevus, Monkey Khan, among others. This is not true. They were phased out to avoid further lawsuits by other creators inspired by Penders, which did happen with Scott Fulop. Fulop tried to take Mammoth Mogul with him in 2016, but lost the case against Archie. Ian Flynn characters remained in the post-reboot.
- However, this does not apply to the characters of Sonic Chronicles, who were inspired by the Echidna characters created by Penders. His lawsuit against Bioware was thrown out of court twice. Sega, in turn, legally owns Shade the Echidna and the Nocturnus Clan. They don't use the characters is due to multiple reasons (the lawsuit, a change in direction in the franchise, Bioware closing its handheld development team). Ken can boast he owns Shade (who he claims is Julie-Su, rather than a Expy of her), but he doesn't actually do so.
Anonymous, Robotropolis, 3228: "During Doctor Robotnik's takeover through roboticization, the Swatbots came for the foxes, and I did not speak up because I was not a fox. Then they came for the rabbits, and I did not speak up because I was not a rabbit. Then they came for the squirrels, but I did not speak up because I was not a squirrel. Then they came for the hedgehogs, and I did not speak up because I was an echidna. Then they came for me, and by that time nobody was left to speak up."
- Being a huge fan of Jack Kirby, Penders named a historian character after the king during his run in Archie.
- During his writing of the Knuckles The Echidna mini-series, Penders paraphrased books about fascism to be about Mobius's events. Issue 22, quite infamously, rephrases Martin Niemoller's poem First They Came, which involves victims of The Holocaust, to be about hedgehogs and echidnas. He personally doesn't see it as bad taste, and excuses himself with Archie's owners at the time of publishing being Jewish.
- Inspiration for the Work: Ken Penders is a fan of James Bond, the works of Jack Kirby, and Superman, and this materialized in his work.
- The character of Geoffrey St John, along with being based on a minor character from SatAM, is inspired by James Bond.
- The society of Echidnas, as written by Penders, is based on Kryptonians. The way the female characters are named (Julie-Su, Lien-Dan) is inspired by the Superman Theme Naming (Kal-El, Ab-Kar). Knuckles and Superman are the last survivors of their species, so presumably this is why the inspiration kicked in.
- Only the Creator Does It Right:
Im hoping my story [The Lara-Sue Chronicles] inspires the next generation to do their own thing as opposed to playing in someone elses sandbox. I never saw Sonic as playing in someone elses sandbox because Sonic didnt exist when I began working in comics. I didnt grow up with the character the way todays kids did. From my point of view, I was one of the players building the sandbox others wanted to play in.
- Ken Penders has a specific view on characters, stating that only the original creator's work is valuable, and every interpretation done by different writers should be ignored. This is why he avoided using others's creations during his run in Archie, and why he's so insistent on his dislike towards Ian Flynn, who used Pender's characters, incluiding Locke and Geoffrey St John, who Ken is very fond of.
The big problem with Jack Kirbys Fourth World creations is that no one but Jack can do them justice. The work is that personal, that no other creators take will ever measure up to the standards he set. Its his unfinished symphony.
- This has been expanded on outside discussions, where he sees Ed Brubaker's take on Bucky Barnes as a bastardization of the character, and Brubaker should have created a new character; he likewise is very insistent that any material using The New Gods are a bastardization of Jack Kirby's personal story. Needless to say, this take is not one's fellow comic book creators agree with.
- Status Quo Is God: Averted. Penders is the first writer of the Archie Sonic series to take the world of the hedgehog seriously and make it more akin to its television counterpart. He introduced the tone and stakes the series is known for, and one of his most important contributions is the death of the original Big Bad Doctor Robotnik in issue #50 in what was supposed to be the series finale. Robotnik would remain dead for the rest of the series, with Robo-Robotnik (Doctor Eggman) taking his place; Robo-Robotnik is also a creation of Penders, being introduced in issue #19, but reintroduced in issue #75 by then head-writer Karl Bollers.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: Archie Sonic Super Special Issue 7, a crossover issue that has Sonic and his pals join multiple heroes from Image Comics, is also a backdoor pilot for Ken's original comic at Image, The Lost Ones, with the issue's original characters Particle and Dr. Ian Droid. The Lost Ones only lasted one issue.
- Tuckerization: Penders named Sonic's mother, Bernie, after his partner.
- What Could Have Been: Ben Hurst, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), wanted to find a way to make season 3 a reality as either a new season or a movie. Then Ken Penders told Sega that Hurst was trying to co-opt the series, which led to Sega rejecting his deal. Penders would later try to pitch his own movie to Sega, but this never came to be.The next day, I got a call from Ken Penders, who had been alerted by his contact in their office that I was interested in getting a Sonic movie going. I generously offered to include him in the effort and told him my strategy. Get SEGA to become invested in the idea by hiring us to interview their creative game designers, execs, etc and see if we could develop a story line that would fulfill the third season - and simultaneously give them creative ideas to develop new games. A win-win, situation.
Then, I called SEGA back, but I was shocked when the exec "lit" into me, telling me, "People pay US to develop Sonic product, we don't pay them!" Then she hung up on me. Obviously, Penders had related my strategy to them in a less-than-flattering way. Thanks for the knife, Ken.
So, I gave up. Later, I was informed by friendly fans that Penders had written in his message board or some such place that "Ben Hurst doesn't know how movies are made in Hollywood." (Hey Ken, read "Adventures in Screenwriting" by William Goldman and get some humility) Then he dropped hints that HE would be the writer for a big Sonic Feature Film. That was three years ago.
- Write What You Know: Locke was partially inspired by Penders's own father, Kenneth Penders. According to Penders, he had a rough relationship with his father, and he only managed to make amends with him at the very end of his life. The death of Locke in the Mobius 25 years later timeline in issue #143 was dedicated to his father.