Off Panels include a series of comic strips featured in the letter columns across various Sonic the Hedgehog comic book titles released by Archie Comics Publications. These strips feature self-contained stories about the length of a strip to an entire page. These stories focus solely on comedy, often with emphasis on fourth wall breaking, and are thus not canon to the titles' ongoing storylines.
The Off Panel was first seen in Sonic the Hedgehog #12 as a series of untitled illustrations about the Archie Comics staff. This version of the Off Panel was briefly known as "The Adventures of Scott & Paul" after editors Scott Fulop and Paul Castiglia. It ran semi-regularly starting with Sonic the Hedgehog #25 before eventually being discontinued in Sonic the Hedgehog #42.
The feature returned in Sonic the Hedgehog #67, now under the title "Off Panel". This version of the strip, like the previous version, ran irregularly. It also focused more of its humor on the core Sonic cast interacting with Archie Comics employees, usually with Sonic or Knuckles bugging the current editor about the comic's production and stories. Three backup stories (seen in Sonic the Hedgehog #126, #147, and #158) acted as extended Off Panels. The final Off Panels written in this style were featured in Sonic the Hedgehog #170.
Starting with Sonic Universe #1, the Off Panel returned in its third (and current) form. Instead of focusing on the real world Archie Comics staff, these strips were jokes told in-universe featuring characters from the issue the Off Panel was printed in, usually about the issue's story. Off Panel began a monthly publication schedule starting with Sonic Universe #13 and Sonic the Hedgehog #205.
Deadline was a character featured solely in the Off-Panel story for Sonic the Hedgehog #126. Apparently an aspiring writer, he sent in his story ideas in the hopes that they would be published. When this failed to occur, he used his magical "horror glass" to speed up the deadline for the comics, resulting in the comics becoming low quality. However, the editor managed to defeat him by calling upon every then-current and past member of the comics staff to bury him beneath an "onslaught of talent!"
List of titles with Off Panels
- Sonic the Hedgehog ("Sonic Grams" columns)
- Sonic Super Special ("Sonic Grams" columns)
- Knuckles the Echidna ("Fistful of Letters" columns)
- Sonic Universe ("My Sonic Universe" columns)
- Sonic Boom ("Sonic Boom Blast" columns)
- Earlier predecessors to the Off Panel series can be found in the earliest issues of the Sonic comics' run, as well as the original mini-series; the short stories, pinup posters, and activity sheets have the same comedic focus and irreverent tone as the Off Panel. Unlike their successor, the canonical status of these features is questionable.
- The Mega Man comic series has its own equivalent to the Off Panel strips, entitled "Short Circuits", which serve the same purpose. The Sonic characters appeared in these strips during the Worlds Collide and Worlds Unite sagas, and vice versa.
- Momma Robotnik from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog television series makes frequent appearances in the Off Panel, fitting in with the humorous nature of the strips. However, she has yet to be featured in the comics' main storylines.