Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge.
Welcome to MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE, CBR’s regular interview feature with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso!
An editor with years of experience who’s brought out comics to both critical acclaim and best-selling status, Alonso stepped into the chair at the top of Marvel’s Editorial department earlier this year and since then has been working to bring his signature stylings to the entire Marvel U. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!
This week, a special guest swings on by the column as Axel welcomes up-and-coming artist Ryan Stegman to the party! From his work on the Marvel event “World War Hulks” through a fan favorite run on “She-Hulks” and into the recent “Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula,” Stegman has grown his reputation as an artist with a kinetic, expressive style. Next up, he and writer Chris Yost will relaunch one of the best known (and most hotly debated) Marvel properties of the ’90s with the incoming “Scarlet Spider” ongoing series. Below, Axel and Ryan delve in to what it takes to make it as a Marvel artist, how skills are sharpened in Marvel’s invite-only Artist’s Training Program, what Spidey’s “Clone Saga” meant to each of them then and now and how the “Scarlet Spider” series will provide new characters and new locales for the Marvel U. Plus, Axel speaks on the recent layoffs at the House of Ideas and cancelations of titles like “Alpha Flight.” Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Gentlemen, let’s start today by talking about how you two have connected. I get the feeling from our e-mails setting this up that you’ve hung out, but it seems hard for a freelancer and the Editor-in-Chief to get much face time. Have you met in person, or has it all been through e-mail?
Ryan Stegman: We haven’t met too much. We talked a bit in Toronto and met for a bit at the Artist’s Training Program. But mostly our communications have been through e-mail. For a while, I hadn’t met a lot of the Editorial staff at Marvel, but I’m starting to get to know everybody.
Axel Alonso: Ryan and I aren’t drinking buddies…[yet], but he was on my radar — on a lot of people’s radar — a while back, which is why he was one of the people invited to participate in our Artist’s Training Program. That’s where we first met. Of course, I didn’t expect Ryan’s mug to be so devastatingly, [Cassadayingly] handsome. [Laughter] How could I?
Stegman: I agree with that!
Alonso: Move over, John Cassaday!
Hit the bricks, David Mack!
Take a hike, Paul Pope!
There’s a new dreamboat in town!
Speaking to another end of the good looking spectrum, let’s talk about comics art for a minute. Ryan, like a lot of guys trying to break in, is very much self taught. With something like the Artist’s Training Program, what does Marvel look to get across or develop in artists who are coming up? What skills does it take to push someone over to be a big name guy in storytelling or production or what have you?
Alonso: The Artist’s Training Program was established to teach new artists two things: (1) the tricks of the trade that will improve their skill set, and (2) the day-to-day professional aspects of being a full-time comic book artist: budgeting time to meet deadlines, the importance of communicating with your editor, etc. There’s a big difference between drawing as a hobby and drawing as a profession; a gulf between doodling in your spare time and working on a formal deadline. The transition from amateur to professional is a huge thing, and we take it seriously.
Stegman: Yeah. The two things I’d say I took away from the Artist’s Training Program were, first of all what Axel said — it was interesting to meet the editors and [Tom] Brevoort and [David] Bogart. Axel came in and gave a presentation, and they told us what they expected of us. Because you’re working from home, you’re never told directly, “This is what happens when you blow a deadline,” or, “This is why we need you to be honest with us about your workload and what you can accomplish.” That really put a face to the people that we’re working with so we could understand how to accommodate them.
The biggest thing I took away from the art side of it was that we were working with Klaus Janson and Howard Chaykin, who are both amazing at their craft, and they really drove home how important storytelling is. Basically, before that there were times where every once in a while you’d let the storytelling defeat you. You couldn’t figure it out, and you’d go, “Well, I’ve got to get this done, and I don’t know how to do it.” You’d just let it go. But they drove home how important it is to keep the readers involved and not throw them off with bad storytelling. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessive about my storytelling and clarity. I think that I’m a stronger artist for it.
Ryan, you did a lot of smaller works for Marvel, but the first place I really noticed you, and I think a lot of other people did as well, is when you came on to work on the “World War Hulks” crossover. How does Marvel like to position guys like that? It seems to me that when someone starts to get noticed, editors from Brevoort to Nick Lowe to Mark Paniccia will be itching to sign them on for one project or another.
Alonso: How do artists get noticed? Well, it’s kind of like physical attraction. If you see someone from across a room — either they’re pretty to you or they’re not. You have an immediate, visceral reaction. Which is why any artist has an infinite number of chances to make a good first impression. In Ryan’s case, a lot of people noticed the dynamism of his art, and he got on our radar whenever we were talking about future assignments. Opportunity arose — the “Incredible Hulks” backup stories — and after that, “Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula,” and he delivered.
Stegman: The [“World War Hulks”] backups are where I felt like things started to pick up. I started getting notes from Jeph Loeb and all kinds of stuff that had never happened before. [Laughs] I guess it was just a progression up to that point of getting better as an artist, but the backups were the first opportunity I had to draw female characters. And people seemed to like the way I do that. Not all artists do that well, and so I think that opened up people’s eyes to me, and as a fan growing up, those were my favorite artists — guys like J. Scott Campbell and Michael Turner. But that was the first time I got to do what I think I do well: pretty girls and lots of action. Once people saw that, they started to talk about me more.
Alonso: The key for any aspiring comic artist is to catch an editor’s eye. Do that, and you’ve a shot. If you can deliver on schedule, there will be more assignments. It’s that simple. That’s why we do the Artist’s Training Program: to help the artist succeed with that talent. When an editor backs a new artist, there’s always risk involved. Will their draftsmanship and storytelling hold up when they’re working on deadline? Will they meet their deadline? Ryan’s backup stories proved he could — and put him in a position to do “Scarlet Spider.”
Let’s talk about that series. This character is someone who, for a few years, has been getting requests on the boards from fans for a comeback, and the response has often been, “Not quite yet.” Since now is the time that that idea is getting a legitimate chance, I wondered what each of your backgrounds was with “The Clone Saga” story that launched the Scarlet Spider. Ryan, I assume you read some of those books when you were younger, but did you really know the story before getting this assignment?
Stegman: It was definitely more fresh to me now. I first got into comics when I was about 16. “The Clone Saga” was about halfway through then, and all I remember is that I used to read “Wizard” magazine obsessively, and they’d bag on it pretty hard. So I never wanted to pick it up. But since Steve Wacker contacted me and asked me to do this project, of course I’ve gone back and read as much of that stuff as I can. Now looking back, to me it’s a fun, interesting story. But at the time it changed things so dramatically that it got people upset. But to me, it’s just a lot of stuff to use that’s fun, so doing “Scarlet Spider” right now is exciting because people can look back and enjoy it for what it was rather than as the earth-shattering story of the Spider-Man universe.
Axel, you came on to edit Spider-Man comics not too long after the original “Clone Saga” ended. At the time, did the other guys in Editorial pretty much say, “Let’s not worry about this”?
Alonso: Yeah, pretty much. When I was offered the job by [then-Publisher] Bill Jemas, I hadn’t read a Spider-Man comic in more than a decade so I did a lot of research — hours and hours of reading that included the “Clone Saga,” of course. And I’ll admit that I read that story arc with prejudice because I’d heard so much of the negativity surrounding it — particularly the fans. While it didn’t stand out as one of my favorite Spider-Man stories, and I didn’t want to address it anytime soon, I always figured it could be mined in the future. “Scarlet Spider” is a good example of that.
We’ve seen the Spider-Man line expand over the past few months with books like “Venom” and the “Spider-Island” tie-ins. How did you collectively respond to the challenge of making “Scarlet Spider” work in the line in terms of it not just being “Ben Reilly is Peter Parker in a hoodie”?
Stegman: Well, we did redesign him. [Laughter] And the mystery is still out there as to who’s behind the mask. But Chris Yost came up with the story arc, and it’s absolutely unique. First of all, we’re in Houston, which may as well be outside the Marvel Universe since everything takes place in New York City. Because of that, we get to create all kinds of new characters. Spider-Man is my favorite character to draw, to read — growing up that was always my favorite character. Doing this gives us a chance to tap into all of that with an entirely different cast of characters. I loved the original Spider-Man because of his cast, but it’s really exciting to be able to create the people that will surround the Scarlet Spider — more so maybe than working on characters you’ve seen. It’s going to be a different take and a little darker I think. And it’ll be fun because people do complain quite a bit about not getting new characters in the Marvel U, and you’re going to see a ton in this book.
Alonso: As they say in real estate — it’s all about location, location, location. The change of venue has a profound effect on the story — and [Spider-Man editor] Steve [Wacker] stressed this from day one. I think people are going to like this book. There’s something special going on with Spider-Man right now. From Dan Slott and crew’s excellent work on “Spider-Island” to Rick Remender’s wicked take on “Venom” to Miles Morales in the Utimate Comics Universe, we’re looking at a Spider-Man renaissance. I have no doubt “Scarlet Spider” will be another fantastic addition to the line.
To wrap on this book, Ryan, can you give us a tease of what’s been the most fun parts of the first few issues for you to draw?
Stegman: Let’s see. There’s been a lot of action, which is always a blast, and — I’m trying to figure out what I can say without giving everything away! [Laughs] I’ll say this: my favorite Spider-Man growing up, the thing that drew me to Spider-Man, was the Todd McFarlane Spider-Man. That was a little bit of a darker, edgier Spider-Man, and it’s been a lot of fun to play in that type of world. I did an issue of “Amazing Spider-Man,” and it was a lot of fun, but I didn’t get to play all of my tricks — the ones I’d learned from reading those books obsessively back in the day. I’ve had fun with different types of storytelling. I’ve gone outside the box of what I normally do. I’ve had a lot of fun with it.
Alonso: It really shows in the pages. This is definitely Ryan’s best work so far. A quantum leap. You can see the McFarlane influence, but what Ryan is doing is far from derivative. “Scarlet Spider” is a much darker, edgier, broodier book than any of the other Spider-titles — lots of deep blacks burned into the pages. And Ryan has found a way to blend clear storytelling with an uncanny design sense. You keep finding new things, little details in each page.
Stegman: I should add that the McFarlane influence is something where I could never do it the way he did it because at the time you could get away with a certain amount of flash which overrode the storytelling. What I’m trying to do is exactly what Axel said — combining that influence with a very clear, straightforward sense of storytelling. I want to bring the thing I love in while I still want nothing more than for the story to be as clear as possible.
Thanks for stopping in, Ryan! Axel, we’ve got a bit more to discuss this week as there’s been news out of Marvel in the form of some layoffs that included three members of your Editorial team. For everyone who’s just read the reports online, what can you say about this turn of events? What does this mean for Marvel, and how will the staff work moving forward?
Alonso: Last week was tough. You develop deep personal relationships doing what we do for a living. That said, I don’t think this industry has seen the last of those editors. And the editorial staff will persevere, as it always does.
We’ve also seen a number of books cancelled this week including the news that “Alpha Flight” won’t make it past its original eight-issue mini series commitment and that “All Winners Squad” will end before its planned mini series run. What can readers take away from this? Is it that much harder to launch and sell a title successfully at Marvel Comics today?
Alonso: It’s challenging, sure, but remember, for every title that’s cancelled, there’s another that’s still going strong — like “Venom” or “Journey Into Mystery” — or poised to launch — like “Scarlet Spider” or “Defenders.” And it’s not just Marvel Universe, either. “DeadpoolMAX” just launched a second season and details of Garth Ennis’ upcoming “FuryMAX” series will be revealed very soon. We’ve got plenty of Icon books, including [Brian] Bendis and [Mark] Bagley’s “Brilliant” and [Mark] Millar and JRJR’s “Kick-Ass 2.” And our licensed line is going strong; “Dexter” is just the beginning. So yes, the current market is tough, but there’s still plenty of room to launch new series — we just have to be extra-canny about how we play our cards. Accelerating the shipping schedule of our key monthly titles — books that retailers know they can sell — provides a foundation upon which to build. And our coming event — which spans the entire Marvel Universe — will present us with more opportunities to get new series, and characters, in play. We have lots coming. And remember, folks, “It’s coming.”
Moving on to some fan questions, Spidey616 had a query I was wondering myself the other day. He asks, “With acclaimed writer Paul Dini working on the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man and Hulk and Agents of S.M.A.S.H. cartoons, I was curious if we’d be seeing him write any Marvel comics in the near future?”
Alonso: All I’ll say is, I’m a big Paul Dini fan.
Keeping in Spidey’s world, Drew@616 asked, “Any plans for Spider-woman next year?. I think that she earn other opportunity for solo series.”
Alonso: No plans for Spider-Woman as a solo character in the near future, but she’ll be appearing regularly in “Avengers.”â€¨
Finally, following up on an announcement made at New York Comic Con, Hypestyle asked “Dear Mr. Alonso: How will the Dexter adaptations deal with the ‘rated R’ material of the TV series?”
Alonso: That was a pretty exciting announcement, wasn’t it? I spoke to the series editor Ruwan Jayatilleke and here’s what he said:
Jayatilleke: Hey, Hypestyle thanks for the question! Actually Jeff Lindsay, who created the series of best-selling Dexter novels which spawned the TV series Â is writing an original Dexter comic book story within the book’s continuity-not the TV show’s. It will definitely be a mature-rated series with all the things we love about America’s favorite serial killer-dark humor, killer instincts, and most of all, a bloody good time!
Have some questions for Marvel’s AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the CUP O’ Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Universe forum. It’s now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!