There are two men who are generally regarded as creating the look and style of Sonic the Hedgehog. Of course, Naoto Ohshima is the man who originally dreamed up and created the blue blur, but it was the late Greg Martin who, along with SEGA of America’s marketing department and Denny Moore, tweaked his look to be more attractive to American audiences.
It was Martin’s work that graced the original Sonic the Hedgehog box you saw sitting on store shelves, as well as other promotional material coming before its release. He also went on to illustrate many other Sonic the Hedgehog covers and other SEGA titles like Shining in the Darkness, for example.
It’s been widely known that many members of Sonic Team weren’t initially thrilled when Martin and SEGA of America gave Sonic the makeover we’ve come to know. Years later, however, Yuji Naka softened his stance and said it was the right choice and helped Sonic succeed and become the popular character he is today.
Because Ohshima’s and Martin’s work on Sonic the Hedgehog are so intertwined, we reached out to Ohshima to get his reaction and thoughts upon hearing about Martin’s unfortunate passing. The following is our full interview with Naoto Ohshima, the executive vice president of Arzest.
SEGA Nerds: We recently learned of the unfortunate passing of respected video game cover artist Greg Martin. He was responsible for creating art for several SEGA games, including many Sonic the Hedgehog titles. What was your reaction upon hearing Martin passed away?
Ohshima: I never met him in person, but I knew of his illustration work. And I was able to know of him passing away thanks to this interview. I feel very sorry for it. I pray for his happiness in the afterlife.
SEGA Nerds: As an artist, what did you think of Martin’s quality of work and art style?
Ohshima: The culture is different between the United States and Japan. I think what Greg did was supplementary for us. The way he drew Sonic’s bowed legs has influenced my own style.
SEGA Nerds: In your opinion, what is Martin’s lasting legacy on the video game industry and SEGA?
Ohshima: I don’t know that so well because I am in Japan. However, I think his achievements remain in the minds of the fans.
SEGA Nerds: We think it’s unfortunate that Martin wasn’t more widely known for his amazing work throughout his career. Do you feel illustrators and artists sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve?
Ohshima: Yes, even I don’t remember what I was given when being evaluated by companies in particular. However with the support from all the fans, my heart is filled.
SEGA Nerds: It’s been well documented you and the rest of Sonic Team didn’t like Martin’s re-imagining of Sonic, but Yuji Naka has later said he thinks it was the right decision and helped Sonic succeed. Looking back, do you think it was the right decision?
Ohshima: Not only Sonic Team in the beginning, I wanted him to become a character brought up from more artists. Not in Mickey’s defense, but an innovative Sonic. Some of the characters he draws were different in interpretation, but anyone can see is Sonic. I think SOA’s staff decision to believe in Greg and Sonic was successful.
[Editor’s note: SEGA initially wanted Sonic, as project, to become the company’s own Mickey Mouse] SEGA Nerds: Many SEGA fans hold both your and Martin’s Sonic artwork in very high regard. What is your message to those SEGA fans out there?
Ohshima: If somebody protects it, and without love for it, both characters and art would easily disappear. People and SEGA protect him now, and the players who still love him. I thank you all very much.
SEGA Nerds: You have since moved on from SEGA but are still very closely connected with the story of Sonic the Hedgehog. Once you’ve moved on from the video game industry, what do you hope your lasting legacy will be?
Ohshima: I don’t know of something I would leave in particular. Will everybody judge if what I did remains or disappears; please? I want to keep doing games and characters that people will treasure. I thank you all!
We would like to thank Oshima for accepting our interview, and you can look forward to more features and commentaries about Greg Martin’s life and legacy throughout the week right here at SEGA Nerds.