SXSW Wrap Up, Digital Initiatives and Marvel's New #1s

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 overseen both critically acclaimed and best-selling comics, Alonso stepped into the spot of Marvel's editorial department in early 2011, and has since worked 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!

After a one-week Tom Brevoort takeover, Alonso is back on the column, and back from his trip to Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest Interactive festival. Alonso opens up about Marvel's various digital initiatives at the conference -- including the arrival of adaptive audio on select Marvel Unlimited offerings, the "Tales to Astonish" documentary series and a new "Ultimate Spider-Man" Infinite Comics series -- plus the return of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost to the X-books, the new "Secret Avengers" #1 from Ales Kot and Michael Walsh and "Captain Marvel" #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez, and the freshly announced "Savage Hulk" anthology series.

Albert Ching: Axel, first off, how was Austin?

Axel Alonso: This was my third SXSW rodeo, and it's always great. The crowd is big and enthusiastic, and we get incredible media coverage for our announcements. Plus, there's the BBQ.

For comic book fans who may not be very familiar with SXSW, from your perspective, what makes it a good place for Marvel to be? And how valuable is it to get to shows like that that are obviously different than comic book conventions?

Alonso: SXSW is an annual conference that covers a huge span of pop culture -- music, film and interactive media -- that we just so happen to span as well, so it's valuable. Marvel is a publisher, a studio and an entertainment company that has always been at the forefront of interactive media; SXSW is a way for us to remind people of that, and the way our characters resonate across all those platforms. Maybe that's why our panel always draws a standing-room only crowd.

Let's talk the announcements coming out of SXSW, starting with adaptive audio on digital comics in Marvel Unlimited. In its first form, that was announced a year ago under its previous name "Project Gamma," and the final product is now out -- what's your estimation on how that turned out, and how it can be applied in the future?

Alonso: Let's just say that Project Gamma won over the skeptics. The response has been incredible. And just like we get better and better at telling stories through the format of Infinite Comic, I have no doubt that we'll get better and better at utilizing audio as a component of storytelling. For me, this is exciting because it hearkens back to when I was a little kid reading a comic book with music blasting in the background, and suddenly the words and pictures and music converged perfectly, if only for a few seconds. It's a feeling most of us have experienced. This is an attempt to duplicate that feeling.

Reading an Infinite Comic is an interactive experience that hovers somewhere between print in animation. The familiar tropes of the comic book are all there -- panels, balloons, caption -- and the reader controls the pace of that reading experience, but there is a sense of motion unavailable to the comic book page, and a wealth of "special effects" that can be brought to bear on the story. When you add adaptive audio, you add another dimension to that experience. It's another breakthrough in the language of how we tell comic book stories.

RELATED: SXSW 2013: Marvel Brings New Formats, Video & 700 Free #1s

Marvel has discussed in the past how it's important to not make these digital initiatives gimmicky and take away the inherent experience of what reading comics should be. Do you find you ever have to use your position to say, "we might need pull back the reins a little, this is kind of taking away from what a comic book should be"? Or are both sides usually in sync at Marvel?

Alonso: I think that we've demonstrated a lot of discretion in regards to these initiatives. We're not afraid to make mistakes -- it's part of the learning process -- we also want to go out there with our best stuff, to deliver what we advertise. In that regard, I think that we're hitting on all cylinders.

Also announced was the "Tales to Astonish" documentary series -- what's your take on that? It certainly seems like an ambitious project for Marvel to take on.

Alonso: As someone who was in the room when we came up with the high concept for "Civil War," I'm amazed how this documentary captures and crystallizes that moment in time -- what was lurking in the back of our brains and the way it resonated beyond our comic audience. The best Marvel stories confront the issue of the day and at the time, the wounds of 9-11 were raw, and public debate boiled down to a simple question: How much freedom are we Americans willing to give up for more safety? To see this slice of Marvel history documented is very satisfying.

Also at SXSW was the announcement of an "Ultimate Spider-Man" Infinite Comic series, which seems like a natural move to attract younger readers -- "Ultimate Spider-Man" the animated series has huge appeal with kids, and the Infinite Comics format seems much more likely for them to pick up than a print comic book. What kind of potential do you see from this in turning on a younger fanbase?

Alonso: I think this demonstrates our commitment to growing the largest audience possible. We're looking to develop a storytelling language that is appealing and accessible to an audience we must grow -- kids. Speaking as the father of an 11-year-old who just got his own iPhone, I know the relevance of handheld media to his life. It is his window into reading, music, pop culture. It's the way he connects to comics. So I think this initiative is extremely important. That's why we are offering it for free, and translating it into at least 10 languages right out the gate.

Elsewhere at Marvel this past week came the announcement that the writing duo of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost are coming to "Amazing X-Men" in June -- it's the first time the two of them have been back on the X-books since you were still X-Men group editor. How excited are you to see them back in the X-world, especially on that major X-book?

Alonso: I'm very excited. Craig and Chris were key players who attended my first X-Men summit, as Group Editor, back when we concocted the "Messiah Complex" event that set in motion the end of the "No More Mutants" era. And I edited their first comic collaboration, the first "X-23" limited series that told her origin. From "New X-Men" to "X-Force" they're top-notch writers who know their X-Men.

RELATED: Craig Kyle & Chris Yost Take Over "Amazing X-Men" From Jason Aaron

This week saw the debut of a new "Secret Avengers" #1. Marvel released a prior "Secret Avengers" #1 about a year and a half ago during the original Marvel NOW! initiative, and current series writer Ales Kot has been co-writing the book with Nick Spencer for a few months now. Why was now the right time to launch the book with a new #1, and get more attention on the series?

Alonso: We took advantage of the opportunity presented by "All-New Marvel NOW!" to draw attention to this bold, crazy, fun new direction Ales and Michael are giving the series. The original plan was just to have Ales take over "Secret Avengers" by himself after the end of the arc he co-wrote with Nick. As we discussed Ales' plans for the series, and brought Michael Walsh on board, we realized that the look and tone of the series were changing dramatically. Enough to warrant a new issue #1.

Also out from Marvel this past week was a new "Captain Marvel" #1 -- from your perspective as a comic book veteran, how rare and unique do you see the following that book has developed? It's clear how passionate fans are about that book, and how many first-time comic book readers it's brought to the medium, which seems like a rare thing for a superhero comic book. How valuable is it for Marvel to have a book like that?

Alonso: I remember attending Toronto Comicon shortly after the release of "Captain Marvel" and seeing a five-year-old girl who'd come in a handmade Captain Marvel outfit with her hair moussed up - and I totally got the need for this book, for this hero. Someone who looks like her, and acts like her. So, in a way, "Captain Marvel" helped pave the road to the expanded role of female leads. "Ms. Marvel," "Black Widow," "Elektra," "She-Hulk," the all-female "X-Men" book -- female heroes anchoring their own series have never been as prevalent in the Marvel Universe, and there's more to come. There's a thirst out there for strong female characters, and it's not just female readers who crave them. Marvel readers want a good story, that's all.

Last bit of a news to touch on this week is the announcement of "Savage Hulk," which appears to be Marvel doubling down on the anthology concept, along with "Savage Wolverine." For the last few years, it seemed like anthologies fell out of fashion across the industry, but now we're seeing Marvel recommitting to it -- what makes it the right time to revisit that format with two different titles?

Alonso: Well, I have no doubt this series will sell because of the all-star line-up of writers and artists who are going to contribute to it. There are two types of anthologies. One features multiple short stories per issue -- like the Warren anthologies, or the ones I used to edit at Vertigo, or even "A+X" -- and that's the one that can be a hard-sell long term. The other type features limited-run story arcs by different creators, and that's what we're talking about with "Savage Hulk." Just like "Savage Wolverine" offered story arcs by Frank Cho, Joe Mad, Jock, Phil Jimenez, Richard Isanove - all, top-tier creators - "Savage Hulk" will offer an all-star lineup of writers and artists, kicking off with Alan Davis, followed by Jim Starlin.

RELATED: Davis, Starlin Smash With "Savage Hulk" in June

Let's dip into the fan questions starting with the veteran Spidey616: "Don't suppose there are any plans for a new iteration of Defenders in time for the Netflix series next year?"

Alonso: Possibly.

Then vin31 asks, "Now that 'Avengers A.I.' will end in April, do you have any plans for the Vision and Dr. Pym?"

Alonso: Yes.

Have some questions for Marvel's AXEL-IN-CHARGE? 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 Executive 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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