Marvel's Graphic Novel Growth

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 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, Marvel made plenty of news on the original graphic novel front, and Axel explains the changes in policy that led to Warren Ellis and Mike McKone's "Avengers: Endless Wartime" as well as the new "Once Upon A Time" tie-in to ABC's hit series. Plus, the creative changes on "Nova" and the birth of "Avengers AI" get discussed as well as your fan questions. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, this week started out with some surprising Marvel news on the original graphic novel front with a new OGN by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone called "Avengers: Endless Wartime." This is a different project for Marvel as in the past, the only Marvel U graphic novels that happened were the Season 1 origin books while most people over there would say that the financials of going straight to trades/hardcovers wasn't feasible at Marvel. What turned the page on that?

Axel Alonso: We were just ready. The OGN initiative is just an extension of how we're broadening the way we tell our stories. The success of our early forays into the OGN format was a factor in our decision, but the main thing is we came up with a project -- and a strategy -- that we were confident about: an OGN featuring the super-team with the world's biggest Q-rating, written and illustrated by a top-flight creative team, released strategically close to a Marvel movie premiere.

Tell me about how the team came together here. Was Warren pitching this idea on his own, or were you looking for an Avengers product that fit in the line differently than Hickman's ongoings?

Alonso: We pitched Warren, not the other way around. We are always looking for new formats to tell stories -- as our advancements in the digital arena show -- as well as ways to play to the skills and interests of our talent. In the years I've worked with Warren, he's made no secret of his desire to tell stories outside the constraints of the serialized comic book format, so I figured it was worth going to him first. Truth be told, if I'd been offering him an "Avengers" limited series, he'd probably have turned it down. But to write Marvel's first original graphic novel -- a story that he could sculpt like a novel or screenplay, unencumbered by the constraints of the serialized comic book format -- that held some appeal.

Warren was a very logical choice for our first OGN because he has a very loyal fan base that carries into order of trade paperbacks and collected editions of his work. The fact that he's got a best-selling novel right now is just serendipitous.

And at this point, what can you say about the story Warren developed for Mike? I feel like a project like this needs something that makes it stand out from the monthly books.

Alonso: We pretty much said to Warren, "Avengers OGN. Accessible evergreen story. Be you." That was it. He came back with a great pitch, we batted around titles and discussed artist options. Mike stood out, he had chemistry with Warren at the conceptual stage, so that was that.

On the other side of the OGN equation, you've got a "Once Upon A Time" graphic novel based on the popular ABC fantasy series. This seems an extension of that synergistic Disney relationship that started with the "Castle" graphic novels. How did this grow with the comic-friendly creators of that nerd-friendly show outside the general corporate associations people will draw from this?

Alonso: You've pretty much answered the question yourself! [laughs] Yes, this was an instance where there was a natural creative bridge: We had a relationship with folks at another "nerd-friendly" show, and saw the possibility of creative synergy. I mean, anyone who's watched "Once Upon A Time" can see how it would lend itself to a comic book story, right? So corporate synergy certainly didn't hurt -- but it didn't begin there.

Look, our track record with the "Castle" OGNs and our other third party ventures - "The Dark Tower," "The Stand," etcetera - proves we're a great synergistic partner. The upcoming "Dexter" series, an original story written by Jeff Lindsay himself and illustrated by Dalibor Talijic, will hammer this home, bringing the unique tone and sensibility of a Lindsay novel to the comic book format. And we have plenty more to come -- including one that represents one of the most natural creative bridges I can think of.

Corinna Bechko is writing this book for you guys, and she's a newer talent to a lot of readers, though her work on "Planet of the Apes" and soon "Star Wars" fit in that same licensing sweet spot as "Once Upon A Time." What about her skill set makes her a good fit for this project?

Alonso: Aside from doing some impressive creator-owned projects, Corinna's no stranger to working in an established universe with distinct voices and characters. Her work -- which includes working on the original "Planet of the Apes" movies -- impressed [editor] Mark Paniccia, who thought she captured the essence of the property and could deliver an engaging story. He recommended her, the people at ABC agreed she had the skills and voice needed, and it's turned out to be a great collaboration.

Overall, what's the challenge like of preparing writers to play with the graphic novel format on its own? I feel like there's a rhythm and style to the monthly books that doesn't 100% lineup with an OGN. Is there a learning curve to explore with some of the talent if this format starts rolling at Marvel more often?

Alonso: There's both freedom and challenges. The freedom is that the writer doesn't have to break his story into 20-page increments that affect story structure and pacing. The challenge is the writer must take extra pains to make sure the whole story is there -- that the world and its characters are adequately introduced and the whole story is tied up with a red ribbon by the end of the book. When you write an OGN, there is no issue before to use as a crutch, and no issue after to tie up dangling plots threads. In that sense, writing an OGN is more akin to writing a movie script: You introduce the world from scratch -- the characters, the conflict -- and bring everything -- the plot, character arcs -- to a satisfying conclusion by the last page.

So, yeah, there might be a bit of a learning curve, but the writers we're tapping for our first wave OGNs know the drill.

The other news of the week is that Zeb Wells and Paco Medina will be taking over "Nova" from Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. And I don't mean to always beat this drum on the Marvel NOW! creative teams, but how these books are managed long term seems to have become a central theme of our talks of late. What led to this handoff having to take place now? Alonso: Believe me, If Jeph could've stayed he would've.  But it quickly became clear that writing a monthly -- even one that he loved this much -- wasn't possible.  Remember, Jeph is deeply invested in this character -- he and [artist] Ed McGuinness created Sam Alexander, his backstory, everything -- so walking away from "Nova" isn't easy.  Which is why he channeled his energy into bugging Steve to get "someone like Zeb Wells"  to write the series after he left.

Finally, we just learned about "Avengers AI" coming as a new ongoing that launches out of "Age of Ultron." I think this finally answers the wave of fan questions we've been getting about where the Vision shows up next! But how did you decide to add on to the Avengers franchise with another ongoing series?

Alonso: "Avengers A.I." spun right out of "Age of Ultron." The concept just crystallized in the editorial summit. A lot of time that's how it happens. "Uncanny Avengers" grew out of the retreat. Rick Remender threw out an idea, we batted it around, and before we knew it, we had a team composed of Marvel superheroes and X-Men with a specific mission statement. In this case, "Age of Ultron" provided a great opportunity to put together a team composed of super heroes who straddle the increasingly thin line between two worlds -- the organic and the synthetic. Hello, Vision! [Laughs]

Well, now that we've got the Vision question answered, let's move on to some other fan questions starting with one from a UK reader named Chris Wing. He asks, "It's great to see Death's Head in recent issues of Iron Man - was it luck or judgment that caused him to appear in this *and* Avenging Spider-Man? Also, what are the chances of Death's Head getting a dedicated title?

Alonso: Luck or judgment? A little of both, Chris. Kieron is a huge Death's Head fan and he had a great opportunity to bring him into the story, so he did. As for a dedicated "Death's Head" series, there are no current plans, but, hey, you never know...

And to bring things full circle, Spidey followed up with: "Will the Savage Wolverine title be featuring a new creative team with each new arc or is a regular creator team in place once Zeb Wells/Joe Madureira finish their upcoming Spidey/Wolverine/Elektra storyline for the book?"

Alonso: "Savage Wolverine" will be home to top-flight creative teams telling no-holds-barred stories. We think you'll be excited by our line-up. I sure am.

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