C2E2 EXCLUSIVE: Alonso Reloads Marvel's "Young Guns" with New Round of Artists

Marvel first launched the "Young Guns" promotional initiative a decade ago at Wizard World Chicago 2004, with then editor-in-chief (and current Marvel chief creative officer) Joe Quesada spotlighting rising artists Jimmy Cheung, Olivier Coipel, David Finch, Trevor Hairsine, Adi Granov and Steve McNiven. Two subsequent Young Guns crews followed, including artists like Simone Bianchi, Leinil Yu and Daniel Acuña.

Ten years after the program's inception, Marvel is back in Chicago for C2E2 2014 to announce the latest class of Young Guns at Saturday afternoon's "Next Big Thing" panel. It's been a decade, but the goal remains the same -- to put a focus on Marvel's picks for the industry's next superstar illustrators. And they're pretty big names already: "Wolverine and the X-Men" artist Mahmud Asrar, "Guardians of the Galaxy" artists Nick Bradshaw and Sara Pichelli, "Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man" artist David Marquez, "New Avengers" artist Valerio Schiti and "Wolverine" artist Ryan Stegman, who joins "Inhuman" in July with issue #4.

All six new Young Guns are individually illustrating a variant cover to July's "The Legendary Star-Lord" #1, and will appear June 14-15 at ReedPOP's new New York City convention, Special Edition: NYC. CBR News has the first interview with Marvel's Axel Alonso on the inaugural Young Guns group of his tenure as editor-in-chief, why the branding is back after five years and the significance of Stegman's move to "Inhuman" after original series artist Joe Madureira.

CBR News: Axel, it's been more than five years since the last time Marvel had a "Young Guns" initiative. Why is now the right time to bring that branding back, and what's the significance of it to you at Marvel?

Axel Alonso: Well, we brought it back because we're so busy, we forgot about it. [Laughs] C.B. Cebulski at a meeting said, "You know what, we've got a lot of great artists now, they've all connected with fans, they've got unique styles, and we should really do something just to remind people of them, and remind them of this new generation of artists that have come to the fore" -- Mahmud Asrar, Nick Bradshaw, Sara Pichelli, David Marquez, Valerio Schiti and Ryan Stegman are all artists who have really connected with audiences for the last two, three years, which in comics is no time. We said, "Look, let's get out there, let's promote them, let's remind people of how Marvel is always on the lookout for new talent." I think that the diversity of these artists should also cement the fact that we don't have a house style here. All of these artists have very distinct and dynamic styles. They're all very different from the next one. Really, it's as simple as that.

What's the criteria of picking these artists as Young Guns? All of these artists can still be seen as being on the rise, and getting bigger with each project, but they've all been around for a couple years, at least, and have an established reputation already. Is that the idea, that middle territory of not brand-new artists to fans, but artists who have already made a name for themselves but are still climbing?

It cuts a swath. We limited ourselves to six. We originally started with five, but we had to expand. We had to cap it at six, so it's arguable that there are names that didn't make the list who we should have -- and we will. The criteria was really just us taking a look at artists who we thought had unique and dynamic styles, that we think have really connected with fans over the past, say, two to three years. Obviously someone like Mahmud Asrar is newer to town than Ryan Stegman, who might be a little newer to town than Sara Pichelli. They haven't all been around for the same duration of time, they haven't all been associated with a particular tier book or a particular level of sales. But we think that all of them have made dynamic contributions to the books that they've been on, and the books that they've launched, and to some degrees have been inseparable from the books that they've worked on. Really, it just came down to that.

And Ryan Stegman is joining "Inhuman" in July?

Yes. Ryan Stegman is coming on to join "Inhuman." We're thrilled to have him follow. He's very excited, he's a huge fan of the characters. We think that this should demonstrate, as well, to fans and retailers, our commitment to the Inhumans, and the long game we're playing with them -- their relevance to the Marvel Universe, not only in comics.

How do you view the legacy of the "Young Guns" program, which has included names like Steve McNiven and Olivier Coipel? There aren't a lot of flameouts in the past iterations -- they're largely people who have stayed on their path, and for the most part gotten bigger in stature.

I think our previous Young Guns artists' track record is extremely good. They've all gone on to bigger and better things since we did that campaign. Most of them are still at Marvel -- I don't know the exact percentage.

It's worthwhile. Marvel is about characters, writers and artists. These are the things we promote. Our writers and artists are very important to us. When we pick a writer, we pick a writer not to write a story we want them to write, we pick a writer to write a story. And we're there to be their first reader. With artists, we pick artists that span a range of styles, and we think it's a very generous span. We look for artists who we think have a unique style that we, in our gut, feel will connect with readers. Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong, but we go for it. We don't sit around saying, "Well, that's not the way comics should be drawn." We understand that there are fans out there who enjoy Humberto Ramos on the one end, and Steve McNiven on the other end. From stylized, to more representational. It's all about the swagger and style of the artist or the writer. And that's why we put them on the cover. And that's why we do Young Guns.

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