Adding Artists & Variants To Marvel NOW!

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, Axel discusses some of the more hotly debated aspects of modern comics publishing from the delays hitting early issues of "Uncanny Avengers" and how that impacts which artists are chosen for fill-in arcs and issues to what makes a good variant cover on titles like "Young Avengers" and how Marvel decides to make those variants contingent on ordering levels. Plus, Alonso pulls back the curtain on the Brooklyn Nets official superhero "The BrooklyKnight," checks in with early NOW! reader response and answers your questions on fan favorite characters, events and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, earlier this week we got some news about a cast expansion in "Uncanny Avengers," but what most of the fans have been asking about with that book of late have been the shipping delays. Are we right to assume that so far, this is just a matter of giving John Cassaday some more time to get the issue completed?

Axel Alonso: Yep. We put together an...aggressive production schedule because we really wanted "Uncanny Avengers" to be the opening shot of Marvel NOW! We knew going in that it was going to be real tight because Cass had some other commitments. So what it boils down to is, we don't want to rush it.

You've talked a lot leading up to Marvel NOW! about the importance of keeping these creative teams on the books for the long haul. When you're in a position with someone you know is unlikely to get 12 full issues done in a year, what's your guiding principal in how the fill-in artists will be used and how often?

Alonso: Multi-shipping books will utilize rotating art teams, anchored by the core artist -- the artist that launched, and defined the look of, the book. Each Marvel NOW! series is rooted in the long-term vision of a writer, paired with an artist who'll draw as many issues as possible in a calendar year -- Stuart Immonen on "All-New X-Men," Esad Ribic on "Thor: God of Thunder," John Romita, Jr. on "Captain America," "Mark Bagley on "Fantastic Four"... With each series, we're striving to bring the same sense of artistic cohesiveness that benefirted some of our more successful recent launches -- say, "Daredevil" or "Uncanny X-Force." The goal is that complementary artists will build a long-term visual identity for each title.

And with a book like "Uncanny Avengers" where with issue #5 we're getting an expansion to the core cast yet drawn by a guest artist in Olivier Coipel, can we assume that you are having the core artists like Cassaday take a little more of the lead in terms of designing the characters or setting the mold that the others will step into?

Alonso: [Artist] John [Cassaday] is defining the visual sensibility of the book, in conjunction with [writer] Rick and [series editor] Tom [Brevoort] -- and a huge part of that is defining the look of the initial team and the vibe the book has on the shelves, staring with the covers. One of John's many skills is that he knows how to put together a cover that telegraphs what a book is about. I mean, how about the cover to "Uncanny Avengers" #1? That said, how [the team] divvy up the rest of the designs, I don't know. If they decide to bring Hit-Monkey onto the team -- that's not actually happening, people! [Laughter] -- and they decide Frank Cho is the man for the job, God bless 'em.

I wanted to ask about variants, which is something I feel like we're returning to a lot lately. Or more specifically, I wanted to ask about one variant. Marvel announced a Bryan Lee O'Malley cover for "Young Avengers" #1 which achieved the rare status of being a variant cover with a lot of buzz surrounding it. Then this week, you announced that rather than being a cover that could be ordered on its own, that variant would only be available after retailers had cleared a number of orders on the standard cover equal to what they'd done on "AvX: Versus" #6. What's led to that move, and what kind of principal do you apply to rolling out buzz-worthy variants on these kinds of launches?

Alonso: That's more of a question for David Gabriel than for me so ill let him tackle that one.

Gabriel: Sorry for any confusion--the cover was always tied to an incentive for retailers. We're very excited to see Bryan bringing the Marvel characters to life in his very unique, awesome style and glad to see fans equally hungry to get their hands on this cover.

Do you feel that when a variant is used to help up orders on a first issue for a title that there's a correlation between how many issues make it to the stands and how big the readership is for that title long term?

Alonso: A retailer's ability to move units of a variant on a book says something about the popularity of that book. It's hardly an industry secret that issue #1s are a magnet for attention, but it's not until issue #5, 6 or 7 that you know where a series is going to level off in sales. Typically, there's a drop between the first and second issue, but you can see an uptick by issue #3 or 4 if the series catches heat. Variants are utilized to create buzz and interest around a launch or a significant story. You can strategically use them -- like at the beginning of a new arc -- to keep the heat on a title. There' s no guarantee that it will work, but it oftentimes does.

Oh, and let's not forget that when retailers sell those extra variants, they're increasing their own profit margins for the week, which helps make them stronger in the long run. People seem to forget this part of the equation and tend to "tinfoil hat" the reasoning behind variant programs.

Switching topics to something completely different, I wanted to ask about the latest Marvel NBA promotion with a custom "BrooklyKnight" comic you made for the newly relocated Brooklyn Nets team. How did that come about, and does this put Marvel firmly on the side of the Nets as opposed to the Knicks?

Alonso: No, rest assured, I'm one of just a few hoopheads at Marvel and my team is [the] Golden State [Warriors]. [Laughter] The Nets wanted to create a new mascot for the team when it moved to Brooklyn, and they were thinking outside the box -- starting with us. They told us they wanted to take their mascot in a totally new direction. In several meetings, they laid out their team mission statement, their organizational priorities, what they wanted the team -- and its mascot -- to stand for to the people of Brooklyn, and we took notes.

The Nets stressed a couple things. First, that it was important that the team mascot be an inclusive character who summed up the spirit of an extremely diverse borough. A borough that has waited a very long time for a team to call its own. Second, that they really felt that there was something special about the ground upon with the Barclay's Center was being built. For one thing, it was once earmarked to be the site where the Brooklyn Dodgers would play -- that never happened, of course. For another, it's a literal stone's throw from the Atlantic Avenue subway station, which is the heart of the borough, its arties the subway lines that snake in from all over the borough and Manhattan. Now, I travel through it every morning, so I know that to be true, and I also know that to call Brooklyn a multicultural borough is kind of like saying Michael Jordan was an okay basketball player -- virtually every type of person lives there.

For the team working on this -- Custom Comic Editor Bill Rosemann, Senior Editor Steve Wacker, Project Coordinator A.J. Fierro and our invaluable consultant, Jon Harris -- a portrait emerged that was rooted in all of this. We quickly abandoned the notion of a mascot that was a furry critter, bird, lizard or anything like that -- instead looking to create a mascot that was cast from the mold of a hero. We knew that this hero would have to be someone who anyone could relate to, so assigning him a race, creed or color was counterintuitive -- hence, the mask or face-plate. And we knew that the mascot had to have some sort of profound physical relationship with the ground on which the stadium was being built -- hence the armor. And -- BAM! -- the BrooklyKnight was born. A protector, forged of the steel and stone of the stadium itself, that is summoned by fans' cheers to emerge from beneath the floorboards and protect his arena. The origin story can be found in "The BrooklyKnight" #1, which was provided to fans who attended the Nets' home opener. I'm sure it will pop up somewhere else.

Finally, we're at the point now where a ton of the Marvel NOW! titles have finally made it to the stands with more on the way every week. "Deadpool" and "Iron Man" hit last week, and "Fantastic Four" and "All-New X-Men." After spending so much time putting these books together, what are you noticing most about the response from the readership?

Alonso: That it's connecting with readers. People are talking, people are going into the stores, and the numbers bear this out across the board. No one could have predicted the numbers on "Uncanny Avengers"! But the bottom line is that the creators are delivering on our promise: I just read a make-ready of Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley's "Fantastic Four," and it was everything I knew it would be. Not thought -- knew. They're just one example of the creative pairings that make this initiative special. Whether it's Brian [Bendis] and Stuart [Immonen], Jason [Aaron] and Esad [Ribic], Rick [Remender] and John [Romita Jr.] or Kieron [Gillen] and Greg [Land], there's no substitute for good chemistry.

And, while we spent a lot of our attention making sure core titles -- "X-Men," "Avengers," "Captain America" -- would hit big, the pleasant surprise has been the performance of titles like "Deadpool" and "X-Men: Legacy," whose numbers are way up, and have a lot of buzz. We rolled the dice on them -- new mission statements and rosters, off-beat creative pairings -- and they're turning up winners. I have no doubt that "Avengers Arena" and "Thunderbolts" will do the same -- they are gooooood books.

Jumping into fan questions for the week, KurtW95 asked the following before this week's "Uncanny Avengers" news hit: "Will Nick Fury Sr, Wonder Man, Wasp, or the remaining New Mutants be used in Marvel NOW?" Of course, we know the answer for two of those characters. Any word on the other two?

Alonso: As you already know, KurtW95, the Wasp and Wonder Man will join the roster of "Uncanny Avengers," beginning with issue #5. As for the other two, well...we can't tell you everything this early...

Following up on part of what we were discussing earlier, Spidey616 asks, "LOVING the variant covers by Skottie Young and the recent A-Babies vs X-Babies one-shot, so what do readers have to do to get a mini or ongoing series?"

Alonso: Yes, we will have more Skottie Young variants. We love them as much as you do. And you're not the only one who's been asking about more stories like this, so who knows what might develop?

darkxmen wonders, "I was just wondering with all of these new announcements of new Marvel Now books, (which i am really excited for) I reall miss my Hercules and the Greek gods, will they be making a comeback? Also will Blackwidow be getting her own book?"

Alonso: Black Widow will be a player in assorted Avengers titles -- "Avengers," "Avengers Assemble" and "Secret Avengers." And she's a big part of "Winter Soldier." But we have no immediate plans for a new solo series for her, or for Hercules.

T.M. Anthony opened up the event comic idea wondering, "Are you planning on letting these new Marvel NOW! titles carry narrative momentum for the MU in place of using line wide crossovers?(Like Fear Itself and AvX?) Or should we get used to the idea of an annual line wide crossover? It seems like, despite their financial success, readers are getting event fatigue, especially over hero vs hero affairs."

Alonso: We intend to let the Marvel NOW! series travel their own road, unless the creative teams decide that road takes them into the heart of an event. There will be no decree to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming unless you feel that your series has a place in whatever event wracks the Marvel Universe. That said, to kinda quote Mark Twain, rumors of event fatigue are greatly overrated. They have become a rite of summer because they encourage community, underscore the fact that it's a shared universe, and encourage the kind of water-cooler debates that keep everyone on their toes.

Lastly, JaggedFel had an interesting take on Marvel event stories, asking, "Are we going back to separate Avengers and X-men events or is it joint events from here on out?"

Alonso: While the Avengers and the X-Men will have their own problems to contend with in their own titles, we will find ways to remind you, time and time again, that they live in -- and fight for -- the same universe. It starts, but does not end, with "Uncanny Avengers."

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!

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