Testing OGNs From "Castle" To "Season One"

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, we take a look at Marvel's just released "Castle" original graphic novel to see what it tells us about how the House of Ideas selects new projects and, more importantly, what it means for the future of OGNs at the publisher. What does the format offer Marvel that it's never had before? What makes the talent behind the "Season One" line the right creators for the job? Will Marvel pursue more OGNs sooner or later? Axel answers it all below while also talking up reader response to new initiatives and teasing the future of Hawkeye, "Avengers Academy" and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, our readers may not know that each week when we get ready to chat there's some e-mail back and forth involved, and this week you mentioned having an Acquisitions meeting to head to before our call. I know in book publishing, Acquisitions involves the process of buying a new title and finalizing contracts. Is that what you were up to today -- green lighting some new comics we haven't heard about yet?

Axel Alonso: Possibly. The Acquisitions Meeting is where we talk about third party properties that we think would work well in comic book form -- properties that we're interested in acquiring or we're in the process of acquiring.

How often do these meetings take place with I'm assuming you, Dan Buckley, David Gabriel and the senior most staff?

Alonso: It's not a weekly meeting that's locked into the calendar with, yeah, Dan and David and [SVP for Development & Planning, Print, Animation & Digital Media] Ruwan [Jayatilleke]. It's part business, part brainstorming.

I mention it out the gate because we saw this past week a new kind of project from Marvel in the "Castle" graphic novel. This is obviously some synergistic work with another Disney unit in ABC, but how did you guys go about setting up that project, and when along the line did the talent get matched to the pitch?

Alonso: Were any fans of "Castle" surprised to see that it had synergy with Marvel Comics? Andrew Marlowe, the show's creator, is a huge Marvel fan, and this was another endeavor by him to bring Castle's "fictional world" to life for fans of the show. Talent was brought in during creative discussions, and that really helped seal the deal. Brian Bendis and Kelly Sue DeConnick -- both big "Castle" and Nathan Fillion fans -- were the perfect fit. There's a certain comical flair to Castle's dialog, which Bendis and DeConnick maneuvered beautifully. The only hurdle was explaining the concept of "writer's block" to Brian.

In the past, I spoke a lot with Joe Q about the solo graphic novel and that format's potential at Marvel. For a long time, the going rate was that there were no financial benefits to doing something that wasn't serialized. With a project like this where you experiment launching it in print and digital, are those economic walls breaking down? Are you looking to do more original graphic novels?

Alonso: Personally, I love the OGN format. But when you're talking about the material we publish, the periodical format is still our best option.

The enormous marketing and publicity afforded to us by being a part of a national television show was a great help in garnering high sales on the "Castle" OGN, and we've been thrilled with the results. But at this time, [SVP for Sales & Publishing] David Gabriel informs me that there are no imminent plans to create any kind of OGN program, or even to look at doing any more OGNs.

Do you hear from the creators or the editors that they have an itch to play in that format unencumbered by serialization?

Alonso: Absolutely. The periodical format affects the way that you tell a story. A writer knows there are only so many pages in a comic, so he's got to create a budget for each scene at the outline stage. The advantage of the OGN, of course, is that you have more latitude to let scenes breathe, and there are less times you need to compress or cut scenes to make everything fit. So yeah, there are times when writers and editors pine to work in this format. That said, the standard comic book format sure seemed to serve Stan Lee and Jack Kirby well -- and they were putting out 19-page comics. [Laughs]

How does the Season One initiative fit into this whole scheme? When they were announced, Tom mentioned some potentially different revenue streams. Any new details you can share on how those will roll out?

Alonso: We're not ready to announce that yet, but look for the hardcovers to start hitting stores in February, and check out the free "Season One Guide," in stores now.

Season One feels like those books have been tapping different creators than are normally working up the monthly comics. How have the results been significantly different in your eyes?
Alonso: The challenge of this initiative was to reintroduce readers to classic stories and beloved characters through a contemporary lens. A lot has changed since the '60s, when Lee and Kirby introduced readers to the X-Men, so it was important that these stories take place in the world outside the window of today's reader. To accomplish this, we decided to go outside the usual Rolodex and tap some fresh voices -- guys like Dennis Hopeless, who came with Jason Aaron's highest recommendation, and Jamie McKelvie, whose fresh and youthful sensibility was tailor-made for a story about super-powered teens. We told them the framework they'd have to work within, and said, "Go for it." They did. The results exceeded my expectations by a long shot.

You hear often from reviewers and critics -- I actually hear this a lot around Superman, but in general it applies to all origin stories - the idea that, "Oh God, not another retelling of the character's roots again!" What do you feel is the best way to tackle that question of priming a new audience to meet the characters without rehashing everything over and over?

Alonso: New readers constantly cycle into our monthly books so our challenge is to keep the titles fresh. Case in point: Just this morning, I was riding the subway today, and I saw a guy with his nose buried in "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2." He was totally engrossed. Had he read the series before [Miles Morales became Spider-Man]? My guess is no -- Miles Morales was an entry point for him. He was eating up Mile's origin story the same way people ate up Peter Parker's origin story in [Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley's] "Ultimate Spider-Man" #1.

How has digital changed that conversation with the creators? We've heard a lot of talk about the idea that the trade reformatted how comic stories were told a decade ago and now digital may swing the pendulum back to more single-issue storytelling. Have you been looking at ways to keep things fresh in a single unit model for digital the same way you've thought about OGNS?

Alonso: We have endless conversations about the possible effects of digital media on our medium, but the horizon is like the Wild West -- it's impossible to predict the new innovations that might change the landscape in, oh, five minutes from now. [Laughs]

Bottom line: I believe that handheld media is the game-changer for our medium -- a new canvas that artists and writers are just beginning to understand, and a new newsstand that will complement the direct market. I really, really, really don't see digital comics replacing comics and OGNs -- there's a special pleasure you get from holding a comic in your hands or tucking the "Old Man Logan" hardcover onto your shelf that digital comics can't duplicate. Digital comics simply provide another avenue for people to discover, and fall in love with, comics. Publishers are just beginning to understand how to use them to drive new foot traffic into stores, and writers and artists are just beginning to understand how they can exploit the unique canvas of the tablet to tell stories in a different way. It's #$%$ing exciting. Can I say #$%$?

I'm certainly not stopping you! One last bit of Marvel business that's been around this week are these post cards with your message of "It's Coming" at New York Comic Con. I know the point of this teaser is that we'll learn what's what at the Cup O' Joe panel, but can you give us a hint of what category this falls into? New project? New format? New character?

Alonso: Nice try, Kiel...

Foiled again! Moving on to fan questions then, board member jmac had a query about one of the more old school methods of comics distribution. He asked, "Hi Axel, I have a question for you about subscriptions. I talked to Marvel Subscriptions today trying to subscribe to Ultimate Comics: Ultimates, Ultimate Comics: X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. I was told Marvel is for now only releasing these titles in the stores. Will that change anytime soon? (And why this decision?)

I'm also a long time subscriber to Uncanny X-Men and was told that as of now, the fulfillment house hasn't been told whether our subscriptions will carry over into the rebooted title or not.

As someone on a limited income, these subscriptions are the difference between me buying some of Marvel's more expensive titles and passing. Any thoughts?"

Alonso: While those subscriptions weren't offered yet, they will be in the future. Check back in about two months.

Regular questioner Spidey616 chime in this week, asking, "Was disappointed to see Jim McCann's 'Hawkeye & Mockingbird' series come to an end, especially the World Counter-terrorism Agency characters he created. Any chance of seeing the WCA again in the near future?"

Alonso: Glad to hear you liked the "Hawkeye & Mockingbird" series, Spidey 616. While it might be a while until you see the WCA in action, rest assured that they are working away between the panels, protecting you from terrorist forces. As for Clint Barton, check out his new role as a faculty member of "Avengers Academy," starting in issue #21.

Finally, we've got a bit of story shuffling from SpideyCzar who wondered, "Axel how do all the events(Spider-Island, Fear Itself, X-Men Schism) currently going on lineup chronologically? Just curious, enjoying all three my OCD just needs to know."

Alonso: You'll need to wait a few more weeks before we're ready to spell everything out for you, SpidseyCzar. If we specify the sequence of events before all the stories have concluded, that'd undercut the drama of each story, and the real jeopardy each cast of characters faces.

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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