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Effingham Magazine

Tracy Yardley! Visual Storyteller of Sonic the Hedgehog (and more)

Tracy Yardley! Visual Storyteller of Sonic the Hedgehog (and more)   

Story by Cindy Reid 

Photography by K&R Studios

Rincon resident and comic book artist Tracy Yardley! was featured in Effingham Magazine back in 2016, but we thought it was time to check in and see what he was up to these days. Wow—has he been busy! Tracy has continued as an important contributing artist with IDW Publishing’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic book series, and he has also been drawing several new and exciting comic books.

Tracy and Sonic have been hard at work. One big project was Sonic the Hedgehog 2: The Official Movie Pre-Quill, a one-shot comic book special published by IDW Publishing as a collection of five prequel stories to the 2022 film Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Tracy did ten pages of art work for it and it has been extremely well received. He was happily surprised to see it included with the Sonic movie DVD set at Walmart recently!

Tracy also drew the cover for the Sonic the Hedgehog 30th Anniversary /Free Comic Book Day 2021, IDW Publishing, commemorating Sonic’s 30th Anniversary. The cover was also one of the many unlockable bonus illustrations in the June 2022 video game, Sonic Origins, which was just released on all major game consoles.

Finding His Way

“I really didn’t read many comics as a kid, “says Tracy, “but I was into animation. I liked Ducktales, Transformers, really anything on TV.” The Lord of the Rings book series and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books were also his big favorites.

From South Illinois originally, Tracy came to Savannah to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which he chose for their comic book and graphic novel art programs.

After graduation he worked on several independent comics and was taking one around to the conventions. His association with the Sonic franchise was born at one of these appearances.

“At one convention, an acquaintance from SCAD saw me sketching Sonic in my notebook,” he says. “He knew someone who was looking for new Sonic artists and gave me a number to call, which I did. They asked for samples of my work, which I sent, and after that they gave me a chance.”

Tracy’s Sonic Debut

Tracy’s debut issue was Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog #160, in 2006. “You don’t get hired with resumes or interviews. You get a job because you draw in advance, then you meet other people and show people in the industry proof that you are good and somewhere along the way someone will remember you and call.”

Sonic the Hedgehog comic books were originally based on SEGA's video game character Sonic the Hedgehog. Tracy was a Sonic fan long before being hired by Archie Comics. In fact, the reason he professionally spells his name with an exclamation mark is a tribute to Scott Shaw! one of the first artists who worked on Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog, who does the same.

Tracy has been a regular artist and occasional writer for the Sonic comic series and its various spin-offs, at both Archie Comics (2006 – 2017) and IDW Publishing, (2018 - present). He did two issues of Sonic last year, #42 and #44, and just last month he drew three covers for IDW Publishing.

At this point “Drawing Sonic is mostly second nature. It varies year to year, who you are working with, which is interesting,” he says. “The movie book was a little different. I had to simplify and get their likeness from the movie, and the real world scenes were an interesting challenge. I think it turned out pretty well.”

The Art of Creating Comic Books

A new comic book starts out as a written script without pictures. Tracy says the process is an assembly line. “Comics go from the editor to the writer to the penciller, which is me. Pencillers interpret the story visually, which then goes to inkers. After the inker, the page goes to the letterer who adds in the dialogue. The colorist is last. The process is mostly done digitally, which brings speed and convenience.”

 “I print out the script and create a thumbnail sketch, starting on page one, panel one. I need room to draw, and I also need to think about dialogue. Just to get started I draw this part ‘sloppily’ at first.”

Tracy says the goal is to “Pump out a book as fast as you can. Turnaround, working on a monthly book, is less than a month because they need time to make corrections.”

They work three to six months ahead of production time, which is six months to a year ahead of publication. He says it’s important to know when a drawing is finished and not belabor it, as others are waiting for the drawing so they can do their part. “Finished is not perfect, but more importantly it’s done.”

One of Tracy’s first original comics was Nate and Steve, and in addition to Sonic the Hedgehog, he has produced art for other comic series, including:

  • Cosmo the Mighty Martian, Archie Comics
  • Hero Cats of Stellar City, Action Lab Entertainment
  • Riding Shotgun, Tokyopop
  • Felix the Cat, Source Point Press

In addition to comic book art, Tracy also takes commissions (which are closed at the moment) from individuals looking to have a drawing made of a character they created. He says he would like to branch out to storyboarding for animation however it is very competitive, and he is grateful to continue to be working in the comic industry.

Advice for Aspiring Comic Artists

“I tell kids the basics never change. Learn to draw things. Get a sketchbook and draw, fill three to five pages every day. A comic might have a diner, or a tree or something sci-fi, you never know what you will have to draw. Basics, that’s the point of the sketchbook, the foundational ability to draw specific things.”

Tracing is also a perfectly legitimate way to learn drawing because “it trains muscle memory to draw smooth lines, and then you can add in your own style.”

Tracy says, “My advice is to have a lot of work ready to show. You have to put in the work and put yourself out there. Not everyone is willing to do it. You have to be self-motivated. “

And that includes having the discipline to work from home.

Tracy’s wife Megan is a full time Special Education teacher, and they have five children and an elder aunt who lives with them.

“We got married very shortly after I got the job and had a family right away. The first ten years I would work by staying up at night. I was caregiving our kids, cooking, and cleaning during the day. I used to work in the bedroom, at night after the kids went to bed. I slept two to four hours a day. Then I created a personal zone by cutting a desk in half and putting it in a walk-in closet. After 11 years in our house, my wife and I finally have an office.”

Still a Video Game Fan

Not surprisingly, Tracy likes to play video games. “One big reason I drew Sonic originally was because I like the Sonic games,” he says, “I like games with stories, goals to achieve and puzzles to solve as well as simple arcade games. I like more old school games than my kids play.”

Tracy says he has collected a few Sonic items over the years, but he primarily collects video games. He has more than 300 Nintendo Switch games and more than 100 PS4 games, both digital and physical.

A Blessed Family

For family fun, they took a trip to Orlando this summer. He says, “We went to Disneyworld recently and we had a blast! Our kids are from high school age to ten years old, so it was perfect. A highlight was the Galaxy Guardians, it was actually a roller coaster, and it was amazing. A really great family vacation.”

He says he is fortunate to be where he is because it takes a lot of work and a lot of luck.

“I have been able to work in comics for a long time and make a living from it. I have gotten to see my kids more throughout their entire lives more than most parents because I work from home. I am glad I have been able to be there and be a big help to my wife. Things have worked out for us. I have faith. I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe God has provided much of what we have. We are blessed.”