Interview With Robert Brown and Francis Tolbert
Brian Sapinski brings us this interview with Robert Brown and Francis Tolbert. For over 3 years, these two men from the Bronx have the greatest writing duo in all of Sonic fandom. They have continued to amaze us with their incredible stories. Originally, their stories gave their opinion of what may have occurred in the Saturday morning cartoon if the show had continued into a 3rd season. Since the time they began, however, their stories have evolved into a universe of their own, one that continues to grow in adventure, excitement, and emotion.
Sonic HQ: How did the two of you first meet?
Francis: Well, by accident really. We went to the same Gym class. However, I didn't find out until the end of the semester that I went to the wrong class. I was suppose to go to Gymnastics (which I didn't ask for) down the hall. Instead, I went to Survey (which I did ask for) and neither I nor the teacher bothered to look at my program card.
Sonic HQ: How did you become Sonic fans?
Robert: Well, I first became a Sonic fan back in the summer of '91. I had graduated from high school, and as my graduation present, I asked for a Sega Genesis. At the time, it came with Altered Beast, but you could send away for a new game called Sonic the Hedgehog. So I did, and I tried it out. Not the best game for me, seeing as I mostly play RPG's, but it was new and rather interesting. At the time, I also suscribed to the Sega Visions magazine. As a bonus, they sent me the first issue of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic. I was intrigued, and I loved it. Then when I heard of the cartoon coming out, I woke up early that Saturday morning, and tuned in to one of the best cartoon shows I've ever seen.
Francis: Me personally, I didn't like the game. It was all right, but it made no sense to me. But then I heard about this cartoon coming out, with Jaleel White, better known as Urkel from "Family Matters" as the voice of this hedgehog with an attitude. I just had to see it for myself. So I watched it and I liked the first episode. I watched the next one, and I found myself hooked. Soon, I was taping all of them off the TV so I could watch them whenever I wanted.
Sonic HQ: In becoming fans of Sonic, has there been a particular video game, comic book issue, or cartoon episode that has become your favorite?
Robert: Well, first things first. We don't follow the comics, especially after what happened in Issue #46....but that's a whole other story. My favorite episode has to be "Doomsday". If it had ended one minute earlier than it did, we'd have nothing to write about. But because of that cliffhanger, it provided part of the inspiration that got us to continue on where they left off. Not to mention that intense liplock Sonic and Sally shared at the end.
Francis: I have two favorite episodes. "Sonic and the Secret Scrolls" and "The Odd Couple". I like the first one because I think it was the first one where they thought Robotnik bit the dust, and the looks on everyone's faces when Sonic flew the plane at the end. The other one was just funny. I mean, Sonic and Antoine as roommates? You knew that was destined for disaster from the beginning. At least, before we got done with them.
Sonic HQ: As you said, the cliffhanger ending to the cartoon is what initially inspired you two to start writing, since it gave you a starting point. Has there been anything else, past or present, that has helped to inspire you in writing your stories?
Robert: Actually, the cartoon gave us the idea to follow up where it left off. What inspired me to start writing was the story "The Power of Love" by Bookshire Draftwood. The story was very well-written. But for the life of me, I could not see Bunnie with Rotor. So I wrote Bookshire, telling him of my idea of Bunnie with Antoine. He encouraged me to put it down in a story and send it in. I got Francis in on it, and well, the rest, as they say, is history. But I do want to add one point. A lot of fans noticed a change in our writing starting with "Crystalline Beauty". I attribute that to Dan Drazen's epic, "Mobius Apocalypse". Since we read that, we've aspired to that level of writing, and I think we came closest with that story and with "Shadows of Evil". But hopefully, that will all pale with respect to our next story, "ARMAGEDDON".
Sonic HQ: So now we know how the two of you got started, and what drives you. How do you guys come up with your plot ideas for your fanfiction, & who is usually the one who comes up with the plots?
Robert: For the plots, we usually know where we want the story to go, and have for a long while. We talk over three or four different ways to handle it and go with the best. I tend to come up most of the general ideas, but it's about half-and-half for everything inside the stories.
Sonic HQ: You mentioned about your feelings regarding Bunnie's relationship. But what about Rotor? While some chose to have him with Bunnie, you chose to give him to Dulcy, and even moreso, to turned him into a dragon. What was the general basis for this set of decisions?
Robert: Well, it wasn't so much that we gave Rotor to Dulcy. Fact is, if you look at the story "Dragon's Heart", you'll see our reasoning in it. Dulcy is a Protector, so she HAS to continue her line. We could've brought in a male dragon, and we did, but not the way people thought. Also, Rotor was starting to fade toward the background, especially when Uncle Chuck got deroboticized, thanks to Sondra and Tails. We figured it was the best way not only to bring him to the forefront, but to also give him new abilities and responsibilities. Rotor had become a character that we had begun to neglect. We didn't want that, so we had to do something. That's when we came up with "Dragon's Heart".
Sonic HQ: What was the inspiration behind some of your original characters?
Robert: Well, this is one of the questions we get asked most, so we were waiting for it. Let's start off with Princess Sondra Acorn. She came about for four reasons. First, I wanted a girlfriend for Tails. Second, Sally needed to have another way to keep grounded. What better way than a younger sister? Third, I always wondered how Sonic would act as a female. That's Sondra in a nutshell. But finally, and probably most important, we needed a way to get King Acorn and Naugus out of the Void. So we made Sondra as a creation of the Void to turn against it and ultimately destroy it. As for her powers, the Void was crystalline in every aspect. It only seemed natural that she herself be given crystal powers.
Francis: Next, I guess I'll go into the Kavenoff. When we were thinking about "Sonic's Journey", a thought came into my head...Why haven't they left the swamp to see if the war had ended yet? We went brainstorming, but nothing could explain why they ('they' meaning Sonic's parents) were still away from their son. So I came up with a psychotic and demonic creature called Kavenoff (A sick cross between Psycho Sid and Mankind) that took the host of whoever killed it and thrived of misery.
Robert: My turn. Tanis Shi-rat. The inspiration for him comes in part from the movie and TV series "Highlander". In "Highlander", no fighting can occur on holy ground. With the war raging, both sides would need a place they could go and relax without having to look over their shoulders. That's when I created Sanctuary. As for Tanis himself, Mobius in this day and age is a world of science and technology, much like our own. But in our past, there was magic. It seemed logical for Mobius to have a similar one. And no, this does not mean we think Mobius is a future Earth as is reportedly in the comics. Getting back to business, the use of magic, as with Lezar, would be very sought after, so there had to be some sort of check. That check came when I decided that the Holy Ones were bound by a covenant of non-interference. Thus the covenant of Tanak' Shi-rat was born, which also explained the ruling family of Acorn.
Francis: Tanis was bound not to interfere. I wanted someone who actively kept the balance. That's where Donovan came in. There had to be a reason, so I came up with 1. him somewhat being brung up by Tanis, and 2. Robotnik holding his parents over head. When thinking about "A Difficult Choice", we needed a way for Bunnie to change her limbs back and forth, I came up with the 'Gem of Enchanted Dreams' which gave Donovan his wish. In order for Donovan to know about the Gem, I had Robert make up Fiorar, which also explains how Donovan so much about computers and fighting.
Robert: Which brings me to perhaps our most controversial character, Nadia. Nadia started out as just a sassier version of Nicole, much as Sondra's a sassier version of Sally. But once Nadia and Donovan met, I knew it was going one of two ways: they were going to hate each other, or they were going to love each other. I wanted the latter. But that posed an interesting problem; how could a live squirrel and a computer really be in love? Then came the idea for the "Race of the Emeralds". As soon as we assigned powers to the Emeralds, I knew what I wanted to do with the Life Emerald. And that's when Nadia was truly "born" and the rest is history.
Sonic HQ: When it comes out, do you plan on incorporating any aspects of Sonic Adventure into your stories?
Robert: In a word, no. Our stories have always been solely based on the original ABC Saturday morning cartoon series. Yes we bring in some facts from the games and the comics (those universally agreed upon), but the storylines are only based on what we think would happen after Doomsday. Sonic Adventure is a totally different universe/ timeline. I don't see any of it showing up in our stories.
Sonic HQ: Overall, who would you each put down as your favorite character, both in and outside of your stories? In other words, who's your favorite of those characters we all know, and is there another favorite among your original creations?
Robert: I'll answer this question in three parts. In the "official" Sonic universe (i.e. the Sat AM cartoon), my favorite has to be Antoine. Not that there's anything wrong with Sonic, but I saw something in Antoine that we brought out in our stories. No one else did until we showed it to them. The story of my life basically. As for our characters, the nod goes to Tanis. He has so much power, but he has the self-discipline not to use it unless he's supposed to. And to give up your love for your duty....I don't know how many people you'd find like that today. As far as people in other people's stories, I'd have to say Sally Alicia Acorn II, granddaughter of Sonic and Sally in Dan Drazen's "She Knew the Hand Was Upon Her". She combines all of the best of all the characters in the series.
Francis: I'm sorry to say that personally I don't have ready access to any of the other Sonic FanFics, so I don't have a favorite in that category. From the Sonic cartoon (ABC, Sat. morning...not the other crap), my favorite is also Antoine. He just made me laugh. As for our favorite creation, I have to say the Kavenoff. He was more evil, ruthless, and WAY more psychotic than Robotnik.
Sonic HQ: As a final note, I know several people that are trying to start their own fanfiction, including myself. Since you two have such an established track record, what advice would you give to aspiring fanfic writers (or writers in general)?
Robert: We get asked this a lot. To tell you the truth, the best advice we can give is just to get out there and write. After all, you never know what you can come up with and how far it'll take you. We're a great example of that, because we had only planned on doing about six stories at most. And here we are, just finished our 28th. You get better with practice, and if you show your work to your friends, they can help point you in the right direction. Thanks for choosing us to be interviewed. And though "Armageddon" has come and gone now, we haven't. Look for more from us in the future. Till then, like I always say, Happy Reading!
Francis: And like I say, Peace, see ya later.