Over the decades, Marvel Comics has depicted in the pages of its innumerable titles many ongoing mysteries that after years and years have slowly been unraveled. Some of these include the true identities of characters like Spider-Man's enemy the Hobgoblin, New Avengers member Ronin, and the third Summers brother, Vulcan. However, one of the biggest Marvel mysteries still remains unanswered; what exactly do editors do? In an effort to help shine some light on the subject, CBR News brings you a series of interviews with Marvel's Senior and Executive Editors about their backgrounds and what they do at Marvel day-to-day.
Today, we kick off FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK with a conversation with Executive Editor Axel Alonso.
Like many comics fans and professionals, Alonso's first exposure to comics came when he was a child. The first comic book to really stick and resonate with him was issue #7 of Jack Kirby's "New Gods" series. "It had everything a seven-year-old could ask for: gratuitous violence, massive property destruction, and a man riding a giant red dog," Alonso told CBR News.
Despite his childhood love for comics, Alonso never intended to pursue a career in the industry. He earned his bachelor's degree in sociology/politics from U.C. Santa Cruz and earned his master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. "I also received the coveted 'Best Camper' Award from St. James Nursery School in San Francisco," Alonso joked. "I worked as a journalist and magazine editor for years before I entered comics. One day, I saw an ad in the New York Times for DC Comics editors and thought it would be fun to interview. I never thought I'd actually be offered a job."
Alonso worked for DC throughout the '90s, primarily as an editor for the Vertigo imprint, where he worked on such highly acclaimed books as "Hellblazer," "Preacher," and "100 Bullets." "The main thing I learned at Vertigo was that the script is the foundation," Alonso explained. "A good artist can elevate a bad script only so far."
In 2001, Alonso moved over to Marvel, where much of his work as an editor was on titles relating to Spider-Man and the X-Men. Alonso feels a common mistake creators make when working on these titles is allowing internet chatter to sway their creative paths, and believes the stories work best when creators embrace the characters' misfit aspects. "Spider-Man is probably the superhero who folks most easily relate to: he's humble, personable, usually broke, perennially down on his luck, crashes on his Aunt's couch a few times a week," the editor remarked. "Ditto for the X-Men. If you've ever felt like an outsider, there's somebody in the cast for you."
During his tenure at Marvel, Alonso has worked on a number of projects that he's very proud of. "Joe Straczynski's run on 'Amazing Spider-Man' and Garth Ennis' run on 'Punisher' are both up there," he said. "But sometimes, it's the surprises that really make you proud -- the idiosyncratic projects that strike a cord with the general public and fans, books like 'Rawhide Kid' and 'Truth: Red, White & Black', and 'X-Force'/ 'X-Statix.'"
Alonso enjoyed "X-Statix" so much that he was very disappointed when the series' four year run came to an end. "That book was pure fun -- the first superhero comic to get a review in the New York Times Book Review, and a glowing one at that -- and its fan base was hardcore," Alonso said. "When we killed Edie Sawyer (a.k.a. U-Go Girl) -- the letters we got for that one. Hell, when I read the script, I was like, 'Damn you, Pete [Milligan]. You always kill the ones you love!'"
A variety of titles fall under Alonso's current aegis as Executive Editor. He's Group Editor of the X-Men line, oversees the Marvel Knights imprint and the MAX mature readers line. "And then I either directly edit or supervise on several Marvel Universe titles like 'Moon Knight,' 'Ghost Rider' and 'Punisher War Journal,'" Alonso said. " So there's a lot on my plate."
A team of editors and assistant editors help Alonso with the various tasks related to the titles he oversees. "I supervise two editors, Nick Lowe and John Barber, assistant editors Daniel Ketchum, Will Panzo and Jody LeHeup, as well as a part-time assistant Michael Horwtiz," Alonso explained. "C.B. Cebulski is a consultant to the X-office. And editor Warren Simons regularly contributes to MAX and Marvel Knights. And yes, we talk every day and hold one weekly meeting."
Alonso's duties as Executive Editor don't involve the traditional tasks people often associate with "editors," like copyediting. "I guess some people think editors are there to spell-check and make sure the pages are in the right order, but that's not what an editor usually does -- well, most of them," Alonso said. "My job is to be proactive, to find the right talent to keep the characters vital and alive."
Finding the right talent means Alonso sometimes looks beyond superhero creators to both indie comics luminaries as well as writers from outside the comics industry altogether. "It usually starts with me liking something they've written," Alonso said. "I'd had my eye on Matt Fraction since his graphic novel with Kieron Dwyer, 'Last of the Independents.' I contacted Charlie Huston because I loved his first novel, 'Caught Stealing.' With Gregg Hurwitz, I dug 'The Kill Clause.' With Duane Swierczynski, I loved his first two novels -- 'The Wheelman' and 'The Blonde.' And with Mike Benson, it was his work as lead writer on one of my favorite TV shows, 'Entourage.' Mike penned the line, spoken by an old school Hollywood producer whose time had come and gone, that should qualify him for an instant pass to Heaven: 'My maid's still a looker, but you should have seen her back in the day. Those legs. Brando used to come by the house to #### her ###### ###... and that was before it was fashionable!'
"I'm currently looking at a few promising new writers -- some indie comics guys, some novelists, a couple of respected screenwriters -- but it's too soon to mention names," Alonso continued. "Except maybe Victor Gischler, a crime novelist who just made his comics debut with a tidy Punisher one-shot called 'Little Black Book.' He's got an upcoming arc on 'Punisher' that's just sick."
Many of the new talents Alonso helps bring to Marvel often have little or no experience creating comics, so he'll work closely with them to help ease them into the job. "With writers, that means working closely with them on plotting, beat-sheets and dialog. With artist, that means reviewing thumbnails to troubleshoot storytelling problems," the editor explained. "With veteran talent, I usually take two steps back, sometimes three."
For Alonso, there really isn't a "typical work week." "Each one is like a wave," he said. "Sometimes you catch a real beauty, sometimes you're always at the edge of wipeout. And you're always looking out for sharks. My intern, Adam Szymczak, has drawn up a diagram."
Alonso finds the most difficult aspect of his job to be managing people to meet sometimes merciless deadlines. The most enjoyable facets are the bonds he's developed with the creator fellow editors he works with, as well as the chance to discover and work with some of the superstar creators of tomorrow. "With writers, that would be Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, Mike Benson, Paul Cornell, Marc Guggenheim, and Duane Swierzynski," Alonso remarked. "And then there's this one guy --a five-year-old named Tito Alonso. Here's page one of his Spider-Man short illustrated by 'Mini-Marvels'' Chris Giarrusso, 'Spider-Man and the Goblins.'"
"You go, Spidey! As for artists? Well, I was surprised by how many people got their first exposure to Frank Cho's work through 'Shanna, The She-Devil,'" Alonso said. "I'd been a fan for years when I convinced him that maybe -- just maybe -- he'd be a good fit for a jungle-girl series. Currently, I'm very excited about Laurence Campbell, Roland Boschi, Jerome Opena, Jefte Palo, Lan Medina, and my favorite Croatian curmudgeon Goran Parlov."
Many developments are in the works for the titles Alonso edits, particularly with respect to the X-Men. "I'm very excited about the X-Men's move to San Francisco -- which just made the cover of USA Today," the editor said. "I grew up there, and I think it's a great place for the mutant race to stake its claim for the future. I know quite a few folks in SF -- some in entertainment, some in politics -- who are very excited that SF is going to have its very own super hero team, and its ramifications for the city. This move will carve them a more central place in the Marvel Universe."