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, our ongoing all-star guest run continues as "Avengers Vs. X-Men" writer Jonathan Hickman joins the fray. Below, Alonso and Hickman discuss the writer's role as the non-Avengers, non-X-Men writer of Marvel's Architect team, explore the importance of world-building in books like "Secret Warriors" and "Fantastic Four," tease upcoming storylines for Hickman's many books, new and old, and share their thoughts on breaking into comics with big ideas and ambitions. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Jonathan, welcome to the column! Let's jump right in and talk about "AvX". One of the most frequent comments and questions from readers since the announcement of the five-writer team for the event has involved the fact that, of all the guys working on the series, everyone has some experience with either the Avengers or the X-Men franchise except you. What was your response when the offer to be a part of the team came to you? Did you think "Where do I fit in to this story?"
Jonathan Hickman: Well, I'm writing "The Ultimates" over in the Ultimate line, and while that's not our 616 Avengers, my head has been in that general space. I grew up reading those X-Men books, man, and all of those other guys have gotten to write this stuff. While it's true I haven't yet, I think that in some ways makes me more excited to work on this project. I've turned in two scripts so far and I think they're fairly strong. I've just had a blast doing this.
Axel Alonso: I don't think anyone was under-equipped to be involved in this event. Yeah, Brian has years of experience writing "Avengers" and Jason with X-Men; so they ended up playing a foreground role, but no one was a fish out of water. We knew we wanted Jonathan involved because he thinks big and, well, when he writes something, he always has a plan -- believe me! [Laughter].
Jonathan, what part of this story proved the biggest draw for you? Had you been wanting to tackle some kind of event comic as a writer, or was there a piece of the story from the Phoenix Force on down that you really wanted to play with?
Hickman: I think probably -- and obviously we have to talk about some of this stuff in the abstract since issue #1 hasn't even hit yet -- there was a specific issue as soon as we broke the story down that I wanted to write. I felt like I had the appropriate voice for it, and it was right in my wheelhouse. I asked for that issue, and everybody agreed that it was the issue I should do. We're already seeing art for it, and all I can say is that Olivier Coipel can draw like a madman.
The other writers have talked to us about how the process of breaking out the stories major beats came together. What during that story conference stood out to you most in terms of everyone getting in and contributing to the broader whole?
Hickman: I think in regards to how we all work together and what we're looking to get out of this, #1 we want to tell a great story. But immediately after that, there's a sense that you want to one-up the guy right before you and right after you. It's just accepting the challenge of working on the project.
Everyone mentions how you break out a lot of these notebooks full of your ideas at the summits. For the "AvX" #1, did you bring a few extra notebooks with nothing in them just as an intimidation technique?
Hickman: Well, I think there's some world-building going on in this story that I was pretty suited for. But everybody agreed to let me take that part of it, so it's appropriate that I got to write that chapter. Beyond that, the thing that needs noting is that I think the world of these guys. Yeah, they're peers, and they're all extremely talented. But over the past few years, and coalescing with this project, we've gotten to all be pretty close. So, the biggest thing I get out of this is doing the project with them and beyond that, working with some amazing artists I've never had the opportunity to before. It's coming together to be a special thing. As far as my role in it, I'm just looking for us all to put out a great book. It's not really about me.
Alonso: For the record, I'm pretty sure Jonathan brought one notebook.
Let's talk a little bit about Jonathan's work at Marvel leading up to this. As an independent creator, you had total control over the worlds you made, and then you had to come into the Marvel U, which has a long established history. Since your first big book was "Secret Warriors" with Bendis, I was wondering how you reflected on that writing relationship now that you'll be working with Marvel newcomer Sam Humphries on "Ultimates." Marvel often teams two writers together on a book at first to have a creative handoff happen. What's the value in that kind of writing apprenticeship?
Alonso: Part of the challenge for working at Marvel is you have to tell stories that function as part of a larger picture. You have to be aware of how your story functions as part of a larger, ongoing narrative, and has implications for other stories. If you're new to that experience, that's where having a seasoned writer show you ropes can be helpful. It's Hickman's relationship with Brian [Bendis] or Cullen Bunn's relationship with Jason [Aaron].
Hickman: I think Marvel does a really good job of looking at talent, seeing where they should be positioned and trying to put individual guys in the best possible place. Of course, it doesn't work out every time, but I truly believe that Talent Management's heart is in the right place. What I got from Bendis mentoring me was realizing what that position meant for him and what it meant for me. At that point in his career, it was really another assignment in a seemingly endless string of high profile assignments, and for me, it was a really a life-changing opportunity. Beyond being extremely talented and having a strong authorial voice, Bendis is really just a good guy. He stepped out of the way and wanted me to be me and do the best job I could. With Sam, I'm trying to do the same thing. It's not really about Sam following what my plan was perfectly. I'm really more interested in Sam being Sam and being the guy whose talents got him in the door at Marvel. That's what I took from it.
"Secret Warriors" was one of the rare mainstream superhero books that was working with a lot of brand new characters, and that's even more rare considering it was led by a new writer to the company. Does having a name like Bendis on board help bring in readers on the ground floor for untested ideas?
Alonso: Yes. Writers with fan bases bring those fan bases to what they write. If Brian decides to write a smaller character -- a character who doesn't guarantee @$$&$ in seats -- he can help put some @$$&$ in seats. Ditto for Jonathan, whose work on FF gives him credibility for his next project. Ditto for artists. John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel, Adam Kubert -- all those guys have fans. When we deploy them, it means we're serious. We love the characters in our catalog, big or small. A large part of the reason I'm so excited about Nova and Ant-Man in 2012 is the creators involved.
Hickman: I think it's really important, too, to treat the job like it's your only possible chance: treat it like it's the last book you'll ever write at Marvel, even though it's your first. I think you have to throw everything into those projects at every opportunity. Sometimes guys play it safe, and that's always the wrong way to go.
Alonso: I couldn't agree with that more. A writer should treat every job like it's his last. Nothing irritates an editor more than knowing a writer just phoned it in. And readers know the difference between a first draft and a finished script, trust me.
Jonathan, are there any characters at Marvel that are a bit more far afield that you want to tackle? Like, do you really want to do the Shroud or something like that?
Hickman: I don't even know who the Shroud is. [Laughter] I suck so bad! But yeah, there are plenty of characters I'd like to write. I have a really killer Imperial Guard pitch that I've got in my back pocket. Maybe I'll get to that soon.
This would be the event to do that with! Well, the last thing I wanted to talk about is "Fantastic Four." As much as that is the original Marvel comic and one of the classic, unbroken series in the publishing line, I get the sense that in today's market, the FF can be viewed as a bit less essential. Even when big name creative teams were brought on, it had a harder time getting a big foothold in the market until recently. What do you make of the response to that book now? It feels like Jonathan's run has been all about putting more muscle behind that comic as a big part of the Marvel U and the Marvel line.
Alonso: The success of the "Fantastic Four" has everything to do with the fact that it's well written and well drawn and it has swagger. Jonathan's found the perfect blend of mind-bending science fiction and family drama, and all the artists -- Steve [Epting], Dale [Eaglesham], Barry [Kitson], Nick [Dragotta] -- brought their A-game. It was the death of Johnny Storm that really put FF over the top, though. We never guessed that it would inspire such a reaction from fans -- let alone the general public. And it all came down to how it was rendered. The death scene had weight. It got people's eyes welling up. It worked.
Hickman: Yeah, I think a lot of credit has to go to the editorial on the book -- specifically Tom Brevoort. I had written just a few issues of "Secret Warriors" at the point he asked me about taking over. [Laughs] Obviously, that was a gamble on his part, in that I really wasn't anyone at that point. But then to let me be me and pitch a three year story? That's just ridiculous. I know now in retrospect how ridiculous that was. But Tom bought into it, and the marketing department at Marvel bought into it. Everyone at the company really got on board, and we did our part writing and drawing the book at a pretty high level. But again, I think it goes back to having the right attitude when you get on something. You put everything you have into it, and you treat it like that book is the most important thing. You're not going to succeed every time you do that, but if you give that kind of effort, I think the fans and the readers and the people who have been following the book for a long time will get it. They'll know when you pour your heart into something, and we did that.