Axel Alonso: Meet the New Chief

We sat down with new Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso to explore his history and his vision for the future.

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By Ryan Penagos

New Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso
Earlier this week, we announced that Executive Editor - VP Axel Alonso had been promoted to Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief, allowing then-EIC Joe Quesada to focus solely on his duties as Chief Creative Officer. While the suddenness of the news surprised the industry, Axel's ascension to the top spot at Marvel Comics has been seen as a no-brainer by everyone.

Since joining Marvel Comics over a decade ago, Alonso has worked on an immense number of characters, including Spider-Man and the X-Men, while also introducing a wealth of new talent and ideas to the mix. Shortly after the world learned of Alonso's new gig, we sat down with him to explore his origins, uncover his favorite Marvel characters, reflect on the state of the Marvel Universe and more.

Marvel.com: Just to start, lay down your career in comics from where you began to where you were right before this.

Axel Alonso: I started at Vertigo at DC Comics, I think in ’93. I responded to an ad in the New York Times and I got an interview mainly because the editor, the now deceased Lou Stathis, recognized my name from a byline on an article I had written. It was for Newsday [Long Island] or the Daily News [New York]—about a guy who just so happened to have stolen Lou’s former girlfriend and who came across looking like a buffoon in the article…So Lou, remembering my uncommon name, wanted to talk with me. It wasn’t really an interview, we just chatted and then he said “Do you want the job?” I realized I had just done an interview without even knowing it. I stayed at Vertigo through late ’99.

Marvel.com: So your background was journalism prior to comics?

Axel Alonso: Journalism, yeah.

Marvel.com: You studied that in school, but did you have any creative writing experience as well?

Axel Alonso: Undergrad, I worked for the college newspaper, and then when I came out of school I did a lot of newspaper reporting and stringing. I did mostly feature pieces, like the world’s greatest handball player, or portrait of a blind boxer, or a pimp who’s also an inventor.

Marvel.com: Wait, how has that not gotten into the comics yet?

Axel Alonso: I don’t think you can Google any of this stuff, either. I tried to find some of this stuff; it’s not around. But the long and short of it is, I wrote a lot of uncommon stuff and I worked for a lot of different newspapers and magazines here and in California. Then I went to Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. I graduated from there, and I came out and responded to an ad in the New York Times for a comic book editor.

Alonso spent years steering Garth Ennis' Punisher

Marvel.com: So let’s move to ‘99—what was your position at Vertigo at that time?

Axel Alonso: I was a Senior Editor at Vertigo. I was editing a bunch of monthly titles. Karen Berger was my supervisor, and I enjoyed it. I had a really great time at Vertigo, I worked with a lot of great people. I was contemplating a move to a book publisher at the time, mainly out of economic [motivation] more than anything. I was invited by Joe Quesada, who I knew casually, to come to the Marvel Knights dinner because Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon--who were two creators I worked with closely--were going to be there and I might have some fun. So I went, and it was at that dinner that Bill Jemas, who was then publisher, started to just ask me questions about Marvel. Whether I’d be interested in working at Marvel, which seemed more hypothetical than anything. And I was not interested in coming [to Marvel], and for Bill that made him want me to come even more. [laughs]

So that’s really kind of what happened. I had a conversation with Bill, Joe already had a bead on me and what he thought I did, and when Bill offered me the job I was very reluctant until I found out, ahead of time, that Joe was going to be Editor-in-Chief. Really, it was Joe coming here that made me come here. I just thought, I will kick myself if Joe turns this around and I was offered a front row seat. Marvel at the time was very vulnerable. The stock price was $1.50. We didn’t know if we were going to be open next week, it was kind of crazy. I sound like I’m making it up, like it’s the Wild West, but it really was like that. I still remember the first time [Marvel CEO] Ike Perlmutter came into my office, I think I got my first gray hairs. [laughs] He fixed me with a stare and said, “So you’re the guy,” and then left before I could respond. And that’s that. It’s been just an incredible 10 years, to the moment when Disney bought us. Just an incredible 10 years.

Marvel.com: Now let’s talk about some of the highlights of those 10 years. You’ve worked on a slew of books in a ton of areas, and you’ve also brought in a lot of talent that hadn’t worked at Marvel before.

Axel Alonso: Yeah, when I came to Marvel from Vertigo there were a lot of people I worked with who I continued to work with. And like when I was at Vertigo, I continued to have an eye on emerging talent--writers and artists either in indies or in other media. There were people like a young Matt Fraction--whose Last of the Independents I absolutely loved--who ended up coming over, and certainly I was one of the big proponents to get Ed

Wolverine writer Jason Aaron came to Marvel under Alonso's watch

Brubaker over here. I had worked with him at Vertigo. Garth Ennis continues to be one of my favorite people to work with, and he’s done a lot of work [here]. And there are new people now, [such as] Jason Aaron, who won a Marvel talent contest and I voted for him. He wrote the magnificent Scalped for Vertigo, and when I found out he had a fanboy bone and knew these characters I was all too happy to get him over here. Rick Remender…y’know, the list goes on of people I really like working with.

Marvel.com: What’s your fanboy bone? Did you read comics as a kid?

Axel Alonso: I grew up as a kid reading comic books. I wasn’t a [singular] Marvel or DC guy. I always laugh at that. I’m a Marvel guy now because I work for Marvel, [laughs] and I believe the Marvel character list is just unsurpassed, but I grew up reading a lot of everything. I loved the Charlton book Yang. As a young kid, I bought comics when they were 20 and 25 cents on the rack. I loved the Avengers, Defenders, X-Men were in reprints at the time, so there wasn’t much to like about X-Men at the time. You know what I mean, it just seemed like it was over. For DC I liked the Unknown Soldier and Kamandi. I usually went after a comic book because of the art. Whether it was Neal Adams or Jack Kirby or Jim Steranko or John Buscema—I love me some Conan—I went after it. Contrary to popular opinion, I’ve always loved super heroes. [laughs] I mean, you don’t work in comics as long as I have without loving super heroes.

Marvel.com: You talked a lot right there about the artists, but before that you talked about a lot of the writers you’ve worked with. Do you find yourself now where you are in your career as more of a writer guy or artist guy, or does it all kind of blend in together for you?

Axel Alonso: It’s all part of the same thing. It’s a little bit easier for an editor to find an artist because the proof’s there in the pudding. It’s kind of like beauty.  Someone is either attractive to you or they’re not – no one can convince you that someone else is attractive, doesn’t work that way. It’s the same thing with artists. You see somebody’s work, [and] once you’ve looked at it at length and it still holds up, you know there’s somebody who appeals to you, then it’s just a question of what the right assignment might be and working through the mechanics of storytelling and

Another Alonso favorite, Jerome Opena, on Uncanny X-Force

any number of other things. When Rick Remender first showed me Jerome Opena’s art, Jerome Opena blew me out of my seat. Ditto for Eduardo Risso. I saw his work overseas and searched for him for a year before I even found him. There are people that just leave an imprint on you. Esad Ribic is another. I don’t know what’s in the water in Croatia, but between Esad Ribic and the late Edvin Biukovic, Goran Parlov and Dalibor Talajic, Croatia’s onto something.

Marvel.com: Now how did the EIC gig come together? Joe obviously over the last year has been more and more absorbed in CCO stuff…

Axel Alonso: The transition was very organic. With Dan and Joe being more and more involved in other facets of our company, a lot more fell on the shoulders of myself, Tom Brevoort, David Gabriel, David Bogart and, of course, James Sokolowski. So we sort of learned on the job how to cover for these things, whether it’s sign off or making the big decisions about storylines. Joe’s always been around, Joe has been Editor-in-Chief, he just hasn’t been as hands on as he has been in the past. This was a gradual thing.

Marvel.com: I think for our fans, they read Editor-in-Chief and they have this picture of Joe in their mind, and there’s not a concrete skill set whereas a straight editor or executive editor working on the books, there’s a much more closely defined role. How do they differ?

Axel Alonso: I think I’ve begun to learn that over the last few years in my Executive Editor role, and I think I’ll continue to learn that as Editor-in-Chief. I will certainly be a lot less hands-on with actual books, but just the same way as X-Men group editor I’ve been deeply involved in the planning of that line and in the assigning of talent to the line, and I’ve been aware of the numbers for that line and the launches and all the rest. I’ll begin to do more of that now. Throughout the years, whether it’s been Civil War or what have you, I’ve been there in the backdrop but I’ve never been there down deep in the trenches with someone like Tom [Brevoort], who’s really the point man for the Marvel U. So I’m going to learn, I guess.

Alonso has seen the X-Men through Second Coming and more

I think at the end of the day editors are paid for their taste and their judgment to find the right people for the job. You’re always going to hear loudly from people when they don’t like what you do, and you have to listen all the more closely to those people whose opinions really matter to you, and of course the sales being the ultimate arbiter. When I look at Jason Aaron on WOLVERINE or Rick Remender on UNCANNY X-FORCE or Victor Gischler on the new X-MEN, those were decisions that were anything but slam dunk decisions, but I’m very happy with how the numbers held out. All three of those books debuted at number one, and I think all three writers and the artists who collaborated with them are very deserving of the attention they got. But there was nothing going into any of those scenarios that was guaranteed. I was as amazed as anyone by their performance.

Marvel.com: What influences and inspires you and your taste that you now bring to this job?

Axel Alonso: I’m influenced by a lot of things. It certainly starts with comics and the comics I read as a kid, the comics I continued to read as an adult. There’s a lot out there that we publish and other people publish that I think is as good as anything that’s been published in the history of comics. Of course I came of age during that era where Alan Moore and Frank Miller were at their zenith as well, so I know how good those comics were and how they pioneered new ground. But there are a number of people out there right now who are doing amazing work, both personal and mainstream. Like anyone, I go to the movies and read fiction and non-fiction books. I think it’s very easy to draw inspiration from what you see in the news.

There have been occasions, [such as] with TRUTH: RED, WHITE AND BLACK, the black Captain America story, where you just started with an image in your head and an idea that you could take a look at the mythology of a character through a different type of prism. RAWHIDE KID started as a joke--what type of cowboy wears black leather and a white kerchief? So you can draw inspiration from a lot of different things, such as literature, pop

Alonso helmed the story of an African-American Captain America in Truth

culture or a night on the town drinking with your friends. And my son Tito, yes. He’s very influential, he has a lot of million dollar ideas I am definitely going to implement.

Marvel.com: What about some that have gone into recent play?

Axel Alonso: Let’s just say his fingerprints on Hit Monkey are definitely there. The idea of a monkey with two guns—how would he shoot? He doesn’t have thumbs. These pressing questions definitely led to the birth of Hit Monkey.

Marvel.com: We’ve talked a little bit about this, but you’ve been seen as the edgy editor coming from the Vertigo background and all this stuff. How does that inform you as EiC? Do you still carry that?

Axel Alonso: I think that’s dated. I’m no edgier than anybody down the halls. The long and short of it is, I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the continuity of Marvel characters, and sometimes people hold that against me. But what I do know, I know and I love. I, like many people, was heavily influenced by what I saw coming out of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. That was a very pivotal moment in my reading experience. It was a moment where comics were treated like literature. So it’s possible that there’s remnants of that. But I like myself a fun, bouncy comic book as much as the next guy. I edited Spider-Man for eight years, I’ve edited Hulk, I faced my greatest fear in editing X-Men and becoming group editor, which honestly was more fearsome to me ever than becoming Editor-in-Chief.

Marvel.com: Why?

Axel Alonso: Because I never read those books. But I’ve since come to love those characters. I’ve got to say honestly that, as I step further back from the trenches of X-Men, that’s going to be hard to do at this point because I’m so thoroughly invested in the journeys of the characters now, most notably Cyclops.

Marvel.com: What about Cyclops appeals to you?

Cyclops: One of Alonso's favorite characters

Axel Alonso: The pathos of his story. The fact that he managed to achieve that which neither of his fathers, Xavier or Magneto, were able to in unifying the mutant race. That he was able to march the mutant race through a dark tunnel when it was staring at its own mortality and when it was willing to do anything it needed to survive, he was able to march them into the light. They emerged into light [and] he can’t. He’s damaged. He’s been through a lot, and I think it’s a fascinating place to be. I feel for him, and in an odd way maybe I relate to him. I never expected that to happen when I said yeah, I’ll take over X-Men. That was a process that I guess always happens whenever an editor builds a relationship with a character.

Marvel.com: Stepping back and looking at the whole picture, what do you see as the state of Marvel Comics right now?

Axel Alonso: I think you’re looking at a period now where you’re going to see more of a shared universe between the families. I definitely predict that you’re going to see the X-Men universe, which has largely been treated as its own sandbox, merging with the larger Marvel U. and we’ll see how all these characters live in the same world. I know the one thing I and my group have grown tired of in the X-Men universe is the stories always being about mutants having to defend themselves from yet another threat to their existence. The analogy is they’re different, therefore they’re hated, therefore they’re under siege. But the idea that the X-Men can be out there proactive, and that in this mode they can encounter new problems and, indeed, seek out new problems to solve, is fascinating to me. And seeing if the Marvel Universe is big enough for them and the other characters to co-exist will be something we’ll determine, over time.

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9 comments
dioklecijan
dioklecijan

Yes, I know some of them, Esad T. Ribi?, and Dalibor Talaji? -Talaja inperson and Goran Parlov and Edvin Biukovi? by their works,Edvin seen last time in Zagreb's 101 CRTANI ROMANI Å OU (1.st ZAGREB,COMICS FESTIVAL,CROATIA....).Here is so many talented comics authors...you cant believed....and nobody publish,because of recession.

Monsoon28
Monsoon28

Just wanted to disagree with Sindri, less Gambit is needed. I seriously never understood the interest in him. Granted not everyone one loves the same characters. But I'll agree with Sindri about Cyclops he's far from my favorite character, he isn't even my favorite Summers! Give me more Havok! Also, I'm glad to see the use of Longshot and Northstar.

Ersk
Ersk

Congratulations Axel.I actually remember you speaking passionately about Cyclops in 2009 at NY Comic Con; I think it was the Xmen panel wherein Fraction was debuted as taking the helm of Uncanny. That made quite an impression on me as a fellow Cyclops fan and what you said regarding the pathos of the character...well, I'm not sure I could have said any better. To me he is hands down the most fascinating character in the X side of Marvel right now and his growth has been tremendous over the years.As a writer myself, I find the development of his character to be very much in-character - though many fans decry otherwise - and very natural in response to the circumstances that he has had to deal with.Whatever your hand in that, kudos, and I look forward to even greater development of the myriad of characters under your watch as Marvel heads into 2011, and beyond.Continue to make Marvel really feel like my universe,Ersk (Making Mine Marvel since learning to read)

Max.ER
Max.ER

An editor who's a big fan of Cyclops? This makes me very happy. Maybe he can get Cyclops in MvC3? JK JK.

Sindri82
Sindri82

i agree with nate, like wolverine, next guy in line is cyclops, more gambit is needed for sure, or beast,

marvelfannumber1
marvelfannumber1

What's woth all the pointless spam? Can someone please ban these people?

natejoseph09
natejoseph09

ugh please stop shoving Cylops down our throats, their's other X-men you know like Storm, Gambit etc, who are 10 x more interesting.

Dusty.
Dusty.

Hello, Alex, I'm Dusty, and I'm a bit of a messageboard legend. I don't kiss up and speak my mind in a very blunt way. If I like something, you'll definitely know about it, and if I don't, you'll know about it even more! I like what you said about Conan, as I consider the Roy Thomas/John Buscema run to be among the best comics ever produced. I hope you see the value in a long term collaboration like that, which, sadly, Tom Brevoort never fully has. I would like for you to make time to read some of the greatest runs in Marvel history. I think you owe that to the fans and yourself. Simonson's Thor Omnibus is the greatest work in the history of the medium,and would be an excellent place to begin. Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four, as well as Byrne's (who needs to be working at Marvel!), Lee, Ditko,and Romita Jr.'s Spider-Man, Roger Stern, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer's Avengers, as ell as Roy Thomas', David Michelinie and Bob Layton's Iron Man runs (both!), Claremont and Byrne's X-Men, Byrne's Alpha Flight, X-Factor by Louise and Walt Simonson, Stern and Byrne's Captain America, as well as Gruenwald's from 332-385, 80's Spider-Man by writers like Stern, Defalco, Michelinie (especially with McFarlane drawing it), and Peter David (the Death of Jean DeWolff is awesome!), and Revenge of the Living Monolith, which is the greatest superhero story ever produced! Lot's of that was done in the 80's, and once you read those, you'll understand why the 80's is regarded as the best and produced the most character defining runs by far.Finally, please get rid of the boys' club that JQ created. It has hurt Marvel, as well as ended the careers of many longtime and very qualified writers. Matt Fraction is just not as good as Roger Stern is, so why employ the lesser of the two? Andy Diggle is no Christopher Priest, so why isn't Priest writing his dream book, Daredevil? The boys' club culture has pushed away every legend in the industry besides Claremont and Peter David, and I'd love to see Byrne, Miller, Simonson, Starlin, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Shooter, and Roy Thomas treated like they deserve, instead of with condescending contempt and like they are outsiders. Marvel would only benefit.Thank you for your time!

Bane
Bane

Axel Alonso: I think I’ve begun to learn that over the last few years in my Executive Editor role, and I think I’ll continue to learn that as Editor-in-Chief. I will certainly be a lot less hands-on with actual booksBest news Spidey fans have heard all day!!! You mean you don't want to be like Quesada and kill characters in the name of soap opera? Marvel characters lately have been tossed out like old clothes. Only to be replaced with a watered down version of themselves. It's sad and the characters we love are just getting killed off and replaced. Can we go back to a time when heroes saved the planet and didn't depress the audience? Wait till I tell the children they killed off a memeber of the Fantastic Four. That'll go well....