MARVEL T&A: Artists, Writers & Events

If it's Friday, it must be time to end your week with a little T&A!

CBR News is back again to present an open and honest Q&A with Marvel Comics Vice President Executive Editors Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso for our regular MARVEL T&A. Aside from being the minds behind the biggest franchises at the House of Ideas, the pair have taken the reins of the editorial staff on day-to-day since the many changes that have upped the profile of both Marvel and the company's senior staff in the past year. So who better to look inside the halls of Marvel and make some memorable reader Q&A?

Each Friday, in addition to our regular Cup O' Joe installments, CBR presents a new interview with the T&A duo covering everything Marvel Comics. This week the pair dive into Axel's personal artistic expression as a springboard for the age old debate of Writers Vs. Artists in mainstream comics, open up the floor for some frank talk on event fatigue and answer your questions on costumes, Vibranium and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, when you were out last week, I asked Tom for a question that might throw you a bit. I thought for sure he was going to say, "Ask him about Nightcrawler. He loves that," or some such thing, but Tom ended up sharing that you were in fact an artist yourself! I knew you'd worked in journalism and for the New York Times before getting into comics, but what can you tell me about your art background?

Axel Alonso: I attended the Academy of Art for a year. It wasn't for me, which is why I went on to get a degree in politics from UC and a Masters in journalism from Columbia University. That said, I know what Tom's referring to. So here's the deal: My love of unicorns is eclipsed by one thing and one thing only: my love of drawing unicorns. I'll let my art and my work speak for itself.

So you're asking yourself, "Why is Axel doing this interview instead of drawing Mark Millar's next Icon project?" Two reasons. One: I can't understand a word that comes out of that guy's mouth - "Blah, blah, blah! It's $%#$%'in' Gdeadt!" Is that even English? Two: I exclusively draw unicorns. I have no interest in drawing anything else but those majestic beasts juxtaposed against my favorite Marvel characters.

I'm sure fans will find that inspiring, Axel. But this does raise an interesting question about how comics are made these days. Like I said, I knew Axel had a background in journalism, and I know that many comics editors come from a writing background - including you, Tom, correct? We hear so much about how after so many years in comics from the '90s and earlier were driven by artists and how the past decade or so has seen the rise of the writer as the bigger influence in the superhero mainstream. How do you guys view your roles in keeping a creative balance between these two vital components of the artform?

Tom Brevoort: Well, to correct you for just one second, I actually have an illustration background. I came through the University of Delaware's illustration program, back in the pre-digital days when everything was done with tools, by hand. So my education is virtually useless in the 21st Century.

I don't think we make any great value judgment of the writing over the art, or vice versa. Both components are crucial to create a truly successful comic book, and both elements have to work together in unison to form an effective reading experience. A good story illustrated poorly will be lacking, and good art in service of a nothing story is just a bunch of pretty pictures that's not at all involving. We want our comics to be as punchy and visual and kinetic and engaging artistically as they can be. We also want that artwork to be built on a framework of good story, good characterization, good setup and payoff and good emotional resonance. So the two disciplines need to work hand-in-hand. But it's all one product that we're shaping.

Alonso: Bad art can ruin a good script, and great art elevate a mediocre script. But the best comics are those where the script and art function seamlessly - and most creative teams need time to build great chemistry.

Oddly enough, while it seems that so many readers following writers these days, when I first started reading comics, I was all about artists. If a comic was drawn by Neal Adams or Barry Smith or John Buscema, I was all in. I didn't care who the character was or who wrote it or what chapter it was - partly because I couldn't count on finding the other parts. I just enjoyed the experience of reading that one comic book and getting what I could out of it that month.

Brevoort: The one statement I would make in terms of what we're looking for is that we're all about storytelling when it comes to both components, the writing and the art. Art that is not in the service of whatever story is being told isn't as effective as it should be. It's just a lot of pretty graphics that are actually subtracting from the whole. Maybe what people have seen as the advent of the writer is more the advent of us focusing on the storytelling. Again, we want our art to be as modern-looking and explosive-looking as it can be, but in the service of something and not just for it's own sake. That's what I think is the guiding principal that we use when it comes to marrying the writer and artist and creating that fusion on the page. It's certainly how I try to approach things.

Alonso: I came to Marvel at the same time as Joe [Quesada]. When I was considering the jump, one of my biggest concerns was whether or not I'd be compelled to use the whole "plot-dialog" method that Marvel was famous for at the time. I really wanted to continue working in "full-script" style, which allows writer, artist and editor to get full optics on the story. Tom, am I mistaken or was that more or less the time that Marvel made the formal shift to "full script?"

Brevoort: Yeah, it was around then. We do still have a couple of guys who work plot-script, but it was around that time that we switched primarily to full script, because Joe was more comfortable with full script, and [then President] Bill Jemas was more comfortable with it. That was give or take nine years ago when we made it official, which has probably also give rise to the notion that it's all about the writer.

I'm not even sure that there's a real reason for this, but at one point there were guys like Axel mentioned who more often wrote and drew within the superhero mainstream - the John Byrnes and the Jim Starlins. This generation seems to have that work divided more. Do you attribute that to getting more talent from other media or seeing people come in who want to do specific jobs on this material as folks generally interested in cartooning have a healthier indie scene to work in or something else entirely?

Brevoort: I don't think anybody will be surprised when I say that the overall quality of writing in comics over the last ten years has gone up dramatically. The level of fundamental writing craft being employed in the field right now is greater than it was ten years ago, overall. That means if you're an artist who wants to write, the bar is set even higher. By the same token, if you're a writer who also draws, that bar has always been set very high. So I think it's been very difficult outside a couple of cases. There are certainly people who can both write and draw and are good enough to compete with the best in both disciplines, whether it be someone like Alan Davis, or whomever. But by and large, it's just tougher to be good enough to do either, let along both.

I think particularly in the '90s, especially as the marketplace began to crash, Marvel and everybody else tried a little bit of everything. And it was a "throw everything at the wall" time. "Why not let this guy write his own book if it keeps him happy and gets us good graphics on the art side?" That's less likely to happen today unless the artist in question has the chops to write independent of whether he can illustrate.

Alonso: Two of my all-time favorite artists/writers are collaborating right now on "DeadpoolMAX": David Lapham and Kyle Baker. David Lapham's "Stray Bullets" is one of the best crime comic books ever ever, and Kyle Baker is one of the most talented people I've ever met. Truth be told, either of these guys were a one-stop-shopping option, until I realized that they were both actually interested in collaborating. So I rolled the dice and prayed for good chemistry. Well, the first two issues are drawn and their collaboration is seamless.

I wanted to bring up Mark Waid's well-publicized Harveys keynote speech for a minute. I know a lot of what he talked about there was piracy and file-sharing, but one other interesting aspect was his kind of call to arms for publishers of comics to meet that new market and its challenges on a content level. How much have the gang at Marvel talked internally about creating comics content that's specifically intended to work online or on mobile devices or wherever that isn't simply printed panels on a page?

Brevoort: We've experimented with every iteration of this that you could imagine. In point of fact, we did a series of Spider-Man web comics by Bob Gale and Pat Olliffe that, while we did end up releasing them in print later, on the website they used click-through technology to change aspect ratios and do some very basic animation from one frame to another frame - things you couldn't do in print because it's a solid state medium. So we've been looking at doing all sorts of things with all sorts of people. I don't think that anybody quite knows all the answers in this arena yet. I think it's clear that everybody sees this as the next great horizon for comic book publishing and what we do. At Marvel, we're racing at it whole hog. I suspect that the time is not far off that some of the projects we do will be solely for digital form, whether it be for the Marvel Comics App or the MDCU or some combination thereof - and that those projects will immediately move to a trade paperback or hardcover format and bypasses a serial print release entirely. I don't how much we're going to do of that, but quite honestly somebody - whether they're at Marvel or somewhere else - is going to crack this. Somebody is going to find a model that works, and when he does, it's going to be the gold rush. Everybody is immediately going to go, "Ah-ha! That's how you do it!" and there'll be 5,000 of them the next day. We'll hopefully be the first, but if not we'll certainly be the second.

To wrap our discussion, I know that Labor Day has just passed, and with it the unofficial end of summer. It occurred to me that for the past few years, we were talking about a lot of the big comics events from "Civil War" on in terms of them being "Marvel's latest summer event." Do you really think of the schedule in terms of that big tentpole idea, or did a lot of those things just hit in the summer months because that's how they fell on the table?

Brevoort: I don't know if that sort of timing is quite as important as it once was. 25 or 30 years ago, when the books were on the newsstand, you could see a very clear uptick in sales during the two weeks around Christmas and during the summer as more kids were out of school and had more disposable income to buy more comics. After the shift over to the Direct Market, those upticks aren't quite as severe as they once were. The playing field is more level across the whole of the year, in general. Typically, it's no great surprise that as we're looking to do whatever big story it is we're doing, we keep an eye on the spring-to-summer months, but that doesn't mean we won't turn around and do "Siege" in December and January if that's where it happens to fall best in our publishing line. That allows us to tee up The Heroic Age for May and the summer months and then "Second Coming" into June and July thereafter. Fortunately, we have enough things going on that there's always something on the calendar that warrants the attention. But I don't think there's been any great need to go, "We've got to hit May and June with this...can we dance for a few more months to get there?"

Alonso: Typically, we'll have a spreadsheet or chalkboard where we'll map out the upcoming story arcs for the various families, see how they intersect on the calendar. It provides us with the Big Picture of the Marvel Universe. We'll find out, for instance, that "Second Coming" is going to conclude at about the same time as "Siege," and we'll consider the implications of that - both in terms of story and marketing.

As far as specific months, I usually put a pin in July - I usually try to make sure I've got something big coming out around SDCC - and I am always mindful of November and December. But like Tom said, I can't remember any meeting where we've been going, "We've got to stick October!" It's never really been like that.

Brevoort: Any time we've gotten remotely that dogmatic in our thinking, and it's begun to affect the quality of the storytelling, Dan Buckley has been the person to jump in and say, "Guys, you're rushing it. Let it be next month or the month after so if can all flow organically, and the story can be the best it can be. That's what's going to give us the biggest bang and the biggest numbers." And even when we were already into it, that's what allowed us to stick to our guns on "Civil War" and carry the story to its conclusion in the best way possible.

Alonso: I have broad optics on the next year and a half of X-Men, but I don't know how it will break down exactly from month to month. As Tom and I exchange information, we'll begin to see how our stories map out against each other.

Well then, for the next few months what are the books that have fallen into the pipeline for the fall that seem to be carrying the load creatively?

Brevoort: The three that come immediately to mind in my area are that we're about to move into the "Three" storyline in "Fantastic Four" that's the culmination of everything Jonathan Hickman has been building up to in the series so far. It's going to be far more catastrophic and world-changing than I think people expect it will be - expect to feel some pain and anguish along the way, and get your torches and pitchforks ready. We just sent the first issue, #583, to press so it'll be in stores in a few short weeks. It's a huge game-changer that will affect the FF and by extension the rest of the Marvel Universe throughout the next year.

The second one would be the second story arc in "Avengers" with the Red Hulk and the Illuminati. It starts in issue #7 in November. That too will be a big storyline with a lot of impact on a lot of places as you'd expect as it's brining the Red Hulk onto the Avengers team and into their world. And for people who've been wondering when we'd get back to the Infinity Gems that the Illuminati wound up with a few years ago - this would be your answer.

The third one, which I almost overlooked because it's not right on my desktop, is the change "Amazing Spider-Man" will undergo, also in November. We'll be reducing our release schedule to only two issues a month with a single writer, Dan Slott, and a tight, dedicated art team, including Humberto Ramos, Stefano Caselli and Marcos Martin. Each issue will also be oversized, with related back-up material, so it's almost as much Spidey material every month as the thrice-Monthly "Amazing" gave you. That promotion is called "Big Time," and it also includes the "Osborn" series that Kelly Sue DeConnick is writing and the launch of the new "Spider-Girl" monthly by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry. That's a whole bunch of stuff clustered around all those months. So hopefully, Axel, you've got nothing going on at all in September, October and November. [Laughs]

Alonso: Unfortunately, I do have "Uncanny X-Force" launching in October by Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña.

Brevoort: That's a good-looking book!

Alonso: The opening arc - "The Apocalypse Solution" - puts the team of killers on a collision course with a threat from their past. Guess who? The twist is, he's not exactly what they think. There are major conflicts amongst the team members, bigger conflicts with Apocalypse's new Four Horsemen - who you've got to see to believe - and a truly killer ending that will cast a shadow over the team for some time. Shortly after that, we'll be introducing a couple new team members into X-Force that absolutely no one will see coming. These characters fit X-Force like a glove.

Brevoort: It's not the Red Hulk, is it?

Alonso: No. The all-new, all-different Burnt Sienna Hulk. [Laughter] I'm also very excited about adjective-less "X-Men," which is off to a great start with "Curse of the Mutants," and for which the second and third arcs are already underway. I'm excited about the slow repopulation of the Mutant Nation and what it means for the X-Men. And I think Tom and I are both excited on some level about the way that the X-Men are going to become more integrated into the Marvel U. We'll be seeing some more communication in the future.

Oh, and read "PunisherMAX" by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon. Dang! [Brevoort Laughs] It is a good book! It doesn't "count." It's not part of Marvel Universe continuity. But it is gooooooooooooood. [Laughter]

Brevoort: We only do hits here at Marvel!

Alonso: And all you fans of "Marvel Universe Vs." holler because "Marvel Universe Vs. The Punisher" is only one chapter of the story! Keep your ears peeled.

Brevoort: There's one thing I want to ask the readership before we wrap things up this week. At the Baltimore show I held the "Marvel: Your Universe" panel on Sunday, which is our casual conversation panel where we solicit feedback to see what our fans are thinking and feeling about our stuff. And one of the things I came away from that panel with was that a great number of our fans seem to feel that, rather than doing fewer events, we're doing nothing BUT events. From my point of view - and I don't think Axel feels any differently - we shifted away from the model of doing one massive, concentrated event as we moved from SIEGE into The Heroic Age, with the idea of making every individual title its own event. And in some cases, every little subgroup forms its own event that's a little smaller, a little easier to digest and a little easier for fans to get their teeth around. But at least judging by the casual reaction I got in Baltimore, the message they're picking up from that is "Oh my God! There are events everywhere! I can't read anything!"

So I'm curious as to what people are thinking about "Second Coming" and "Shadowland" and "Chaos War" coming up, or "Three" and the first arc of "Avengers" - all these smaller so-called events that we're doing. We've very specifically stayed away since the end of "Siege" from doing any one, big, massive event. And yet, that doesn't seem to be the message people are taking away from us. So I'd like to get a sense as to how people are feeling about what we're doing right now - what they like, what they don't like and how we could be doing things better.

Alonso: But we only want to hear positive stuff, folks - okay? [Laughter] Show of hands for an "Alonso Unicorn" variant? Jason Aaron, I know you want one!

On to fan questions! MarvelMaster616 went to the fashion side of the Marvel U with this query: "I know there have been a number of uniform changes over the years for the Avengers, the X-men, and Spider-Man. But it feels like the uniforms haven't changed much in quite a long time. Do you think the uniforms of some Marvel heroes are overdue for a makeover? I'm sure you saw how much buzz Wonder Woman's new look got. Why not try a little fashion overhaul in the Marvel Universe?"

Brevoort: That's funny, MarvelMaster, in that I look around the Marvel Universe and see very few mainstay characters who are sporting their classic looks. Practically the only characters still in their quintessential costumes are Spider-Man (who's got some new attire coming as part of "Big Time") and the Fantastic Four (whose outfits are similarly about to change - if only to replace those 4's with 3's...) But almost everybody else - Cyclops, Wolverine, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America (both Bucky and Steve Rogers), Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, etc, etc - is wearing something at least somewhat different these days. Unless you're looking for radically different uniforms for our mainstays, I feel like we're already there.

But what do I know? I haven't changed my look since 1982.

Alonso: Call me crazy, I'm curious to see what could be done with Ghost Rider's outfit. And as much as I love Deathlok's classic look, he's kinda like an 8-track tape in a digital world. His aesthetic is the product of the '70s imagination of the future - I'd like to see him reflect the future we imagine now. Also, I'd kind of like to see a new look for my son's second favorite character, War Machine. Our concept of what those two words - "war" and "machine" - has changed so much over the years. How might his look reflect that and how might he gain aesthetic difference from Iron Man.

DamonO was wondering about one of Marvel's legacy heroes, asking, "Are there any plans to do anything with Tom Foster, nephew of the now-deceased Bill 'Goliath' Foster? I don't think he's been seen since the last Damage Control limited series, and it seems like he would be a natural for Avengers Academy. Thanks for your time."

Brevoort: No immediate plans for Tom Foster that I'm aware of DamonO. But there's some story material relating to his uncle Bill Foster in the "Ant-Man And The Wasp" limited series, on sale soon. As for "Avengers Academy," while it would be easy for us to fill it to the brim with pre-existing legacy characters of one stripe or another, we're going to be continuing to focus on our regular cast for the time being, if only to avoid some of the pitfalls we experienced in "Avengers: The Initiative," where the cast got so large it became unmanageable.

I love the way nuclearpriest worded his question: "Why has someone who is an acknowledged master of crime noir comics like Ed Brubaker not written a Punisher arc?"

Brevoort: Because I keep him too busy writing "Captain America" and "Secret Avengers" and other stuff like that. (You know, the Punisher would make a good "Secret Avengers" guest star...) And I do that mostly to vex Axel in his "Punisher" plans.

Alonso: It all comes down to Ed's schedule. He's got an open invitation. I'd love to see him tackle either book - "Punisher" or "PunisherMAX" - but especially the latter.

Frequent questioner Comicbookfan had a question on one of Marvel's more infrequent marquee ongoings, asking "What is the status of the 'Astonishing X-men' ongoing series? is it canceled or in limbo as the creative team changes?"

Alonso: Look for an announcement soon about the next story arc and next creative team.

To wrap, we've got a round of Black Panther questions spinning from recent events in his adventures. I'll start with "Silver Zeal" who as far as I can tell is a whole pack of Panther fans from East Africa. They asked, "Did Black Panther/Tchalla's actions (inertia wave) affect only refined and processed vibranium? And does a SACRED GREAT MOUND/ MOUNTAIN OF RAW AND UNTAPPED VIBRANIUM still exist in Wakanda and was it affected by BP/Tchalla's actions? It had better not."

Brevoort: Yes, Zeal, all of the vibranium in Wakanda and most of it elsewhere in the world has been wiped out - making what little vibranium remains extremely valuable. You'll learn more about the extent of this situation in the upcoming "Klaws Of The Panther" limited series that Jonathan Maberry and Gianluca Gugliotta are working on.

RolandJP had a follow up on the very same topic, asking, "Did Black Panther kill X-Men's Gentle and take away Warpath's Vibranium knives, when he destroyed all vibranium?"

Brevoort: Warpath's knives are gone, don't know about Gentle. Axel?

Alonso: Well, losing the Vibranium certainly didn't make Gentle feel good. Maybe the X-Club will figure something out for him?

Have some questions for Marvel T&A? 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 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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