When former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada added the duties of Chief Creative Officer to his plate last year, it became widely known that the responsibilities for overseeing Marvel’s Publishing division fell on two of his most senior editors: Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort. But even with the “T&A” team at the helm of the day-to-day operations at the House of Ideas, there was no doubt for readers that the company’s output still firmly represented the Quesada era.
With this week’s word that Alonso had been called upon to fill the Editor-in-Chief chair, the round of congratulations sent the ten-year Marvel Comics veteran’s way were accompanied by a new question as well: what does this mean for Marvel’s future? With Quesada still a guiding force at the company, how will the newly minted head of Marvel Editorial make his mark on the fictional universe that remains home to Spider-Man, the X-Men and the rest of the Heroic Age icons?
To kickstart the conversation on what an Alonso era will mean in earnest, CBR News spoke to the man himself about the transition from right-hand man to top of the editorial pyramid. Below, Alonso opens up on his own expectations for the task ahead, the ways he views his job as a unique and challenging one given the circumstances of his ascension, what his personal take on the Marvel Universe will be and what talent, staff and standards he’ll bring to the entire line of comics in 2011 and beyond.
CBR News: Axel, let me be the 8,435th person to congratulate you on the new job. I think the first question here would have to be: have you moved into Joe’s office yet?
Axel Alonso: [Laughs] No, I’m still in my office — one to the left of Joe’s. So physically I have not moved in to his office.
What has this week been like for you? It felt, looking from the outside, that you came in from the holiday break to be offered the Editor-in-Chief role. Did you see that or any editorial changes in the cards for the new year at Marvel, or were you completely taken aback when this was brought to you?
I wasn’t completely taken aback because this had been suggested to me before in exploratory conversations. That had given me enough time to know that I wanted the job or that I was up for the job. But of course, nothing can quite prepare you for the offer. To be in a room with Dan [Buckley] and Joe and Ski [C.B. Cebulski] and know that they have the confidence in you to do the job…it’s humbling, let’s put it that way.
We also spoke with Joe this week, in a conversation to be published later today, and one idea that came up was that of career trajectory and whether he’d originally set his sights on the Editor-in-Chief job since he came from a freelance background. You’ve always been in Editorial, so was this something you planned or hoped for, or did it just come as a progression from years on the job?
It’s the latter. It’s a progression. With all due respect to the title, this was not something I had seen in my future and coveted. I certainly didn’t rule out the possibility that this day might come, but I never expected it to come. Obviously, whenever I pondered the possibility, I had to think, “Would I want it?” The long and the short of it is that I do want it. I am excited and daunted in equal measure, but I’m very excited about the challenges ahead. Obviously, being so involved in Joe’s tenure as Editor-in-Chief — coming in to Marvel because he was hired and literally only a few days after he was hired was when I started my job — it’s a big moment both for him and for me. I joke about it as the Jordan/Pippen thing. Jordan’s retired, and now Pippen’s got to take the Bull’s to the championship again…and minus one Hubert Davis fudged foul, he probably would’ve, but anyway. [Laughter]
Almost every other Editor-in-Chief that’s come into Marvel has come on the heels of someone else getting canned, for lack of a more eloquent term. That seems notable in that those guys were able to come in with a mandate to do things differently and to have their own take on the job. With Joe stepping away after years of success, is there a draw for you to say to yourself, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or do you see ways you want to change things up from how Joe did it, even though you’ve been working with him all these years?
You sort of put the words into my mouth. I do always take a kind of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, but you have to be very, very honest with yourself about what’s broken and sometimes reassess what the word broken means. Certainly, I’ve been involved with and supported and acted as a consiglieri to any number of decisions that Joe made during his tenure. This isn’t an instance where you’ve got a Democratic president leaving and a Republican president coming in. By the same token, I do have goals. And I do know that in the upcoming retreat in February, I do look forward to talking to our writers — all of whom I have relationships with. I don’t look as this as being, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” or as an instance of radical change. There’s going to be a middle ground here, without a doubt.
One thing that people have always identified with you is a certain editorial point of view. There are comics people point to and go, “That’s an Axel book.” Over the past few years, you’ve also been able to step out from focusing on single books and shape a whole line with the X-Men. Are there ways in which the point of view you’ve had is being challenged now that you’re looking at all of Marvel? Or are you trying to find a way to take what you’ve done in the past and retrofit it to a larger group of titles?
Well, you’re right that acting as group editor for the X-Men line was a good warmup for my responsibilities now. I know that as X-Men group editor, for starters, I was not editing every title. In fact, I was editing one or two, tops. But I had optics on all the books and was involved in the long term planning of all the titles and the direction the books were headed. But one of the things I did learn — or maybe instinctually knew out of the gate — was that this was not about hiring writers that all hit the same notes. Part of managing the line was making sure that there’s diversity of approaches and philosophies or what have you. I’ve always kind of had that philosophy. I think “Preacher” is a very, very different book from “X-Statix,” is a very, very different book from the Straczynski “Spider-Man,” is a very, very different book from “Uncanny X-Force.” The goal of an editor, I think, is to find people who have something to say, put them on the right work and then get the best out of them. As someone who will be stepping back from line editing, I think part of what I’ll be doing is what I’ve been doing: making recommendations for editorial choices and helping editors get a handle on the roadmap for their books through feedback.
At the same time, there’s a way that people identify the Marvel comics — a core to the characters and the books as they’ve been for decades. Do you have a specific view of how that fictional world will best run?
The last thing you can afford is to let things get stagnant and too comfortable. Marvel comics excel when they use the vocabulary of guys in tights flying around and punching each other to tell stories that matter — to tell stories that readers relate to on a visceral level, whether it’s small and emotional stories or something political. I think what we try and do is make sure that the books combine that widescreen thrill, that two-page splash, with the small moments. Those have been the aspects of the best runs in comic books. What really makes Marvel comics tick is their ability to be pertinent to the real world. Our superheroes live in the same world that you do.
What does it feel like to be looking at a job where you’re not having to edit books one-on-one anymore and where you’re not spending your days calling up guys to ask where your pages are at? Is that a relief?
Oh yeah! [Laughs] I’m looking forward to regaining some of my black hairs, let’s put it that way. Yeah, I think this is certainly going to be an adjustment period for me, and I know for certain that Ski and Dan are making sure that there are people around me who will force me to relinquish some of my responsibilities…not the least of which is Tom [Brevoort], who will be kicking my ass if I don’t give up some stuff. [Laughter] Without a doubt, I’ll miss that. But without a doubt, I think I’m prepared to do that better now that I’ve had the long term experience of being a group editor. I look forward to, as hokey as it sounds,Â learning what this job is all about.
Another thing people have associated with you over the years is being a good manager of talent and a good recruiter of talent. In recent memory, you’ve brought in a lot of crime writers to comics, from Duane Swierczynski to Victor Gischler to make their mark on the Marvel U…
Or Matt Fraction who I’ve loved since “Last of the Independents,” or Rick Remender. I’ve long had an eye on the indie comics world. I was a big supporter of Robert Kirkman here because I was a huge fan of “The Walking Dead.” I just mention this because I look as much to the indie world and the self-published world as I do to outside media platforms.
Do you think that’s the kind of activity you’ll still be pursuing as E-i-C? Looking for new talent from wherever you can find it and bringing them to your editors?
Absolutely. Again, there’s a couple of people that I’ve been looking at over the last six months where I was just looking for the right project, and we’re beginning a lot of those discussions right now. That said, I want to walk a line here because as Editor-in-Chief, you don’t want to be cramming talent down editors throats. You want to make sure that they’re simpatico and get or agree with what this writer or artist is all about. That’s certainly even more true with writers.
On the flipside of that, you’re also known for your long term relationships with certain talents — Garth Ennis and Brian Azzarello come to mind immediately. Now that you’re Editor-in-Chief, can we be expecting a few faces who haven’t played in the Marvel U in a while to come back?
Yeah. In fact, some of them have reached out to me. I certainly am excited about re-cultivating some relationships with people and assuring them that there’s a place for them at Marvel. I find, oddly enough, that this morning I was talking to David Bogart about how there are so many people working at Marvel who don’t even know how much I like their work and how hard I advocated for them to get on a book. You can’t really call them up and say, “Dude! Guess what? I was really in your corner!” It just sounds like you’re full of shit. [Laughter] But there are so many people here that don’t know what a big fan of theirs I am. I’m a huge Stuart Immonen fan, and I haven’t worked with him since “Hulk,” back in the day. The list goes on and on. There are so many people that I never directly edited, but I’m so happy they’re here at Marvel, and a lot of them will be hearing from me over the next few months.
You already mentioned the February retreat, where a lot of the big name talent will be coming to Marvel to work with you, but as for the here and now, what is your first goal in the job? What do you want to get done this week, this month, this year?
Well, I’m only 48 hours into the job, so the main thing now is meeting with the staff and talking to people. I want to make sure they know this ain’t all about me. There’s very much going to be redefined roles for a number of people at this company, starting with Tom Brevoort — my fellow T&A columnist — who’s really the heart and soul of the Marvel U. He is essential to whatever success I have as Editor-in-Chief. It’s very important for me to continue to reap the benefits of the expertise of the people I work with and in certain cases go to key editorial staff,Â some of whom are getting promoted,Â to let them know how — and many of them know this already — but to let them know exactly how much I respect them and how I may be harder on them in the next year as I expect more out of them.
Speaking of being hard on someone, do you know when the next convention is when you have to stand at the podium in a room full of fans and say “I’m Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics”?
I don’t know, no. That’s not been put forth yet. I know I’m going to WonderCon, but probably they’ll send me to something before that.
Have you thought about your role as a public figure at all? It’s a role Joe really embraced in the job and something that goes back to Stan Lee in so many ways.
Without a doubt I’ve thought about that because it’s, in fact, one of the things that makes you go, “Gulp!” One of the things Dan Buckley was very clear with me about was that to do this job, I can be myself. He assured me I can be myself. Because I have to be. I’m not Joe, just as Joe wasn’t any of his predecessors. We each have our own style. I think being a public figure may be the toughest aspect of the job for me, but that said, I’m not a wall flower. As long as I can come out with my entourage of dancers, I think I’ll be fine.
Check back with CBR later today for our “Exit Interview” with departing Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada.