Interview: Marvel's Axel Alonso Talks Digital Comics, Diversity, And Comic Movie Fails

Interview: Marvel's Axel Alonso Talks Digital Comics, Diversity, And Comic Movie FailsInterview by Justin Monroe; Photography by Ryan Pfluger

Why do you think the comic industry has been so slow to reflect the diversity of its readers?
We’re very mindful of this, and I think we’ve made incredible inroads with it. One thing that people don’t know is how well-represented Hispanics and blacks are, at least in the artistic ranks. There are so many incredible Hispanic artists in this industry right now, from Humberto Ramos to Paco Medina. Joe Quesada’s Cuban, I’m half-Mexican, and it goes without saying that we’re interested in having voices represented from across the spectrum. We certainly have more female writers than we’ve had in the past, but the key thing is these people need to emerge. We need to believe in them, and we need to be able to sell them. I finally got my Mexican superheroes, the luchador-inspired Zapata Brothers (right), a few years ago, and that felt good. But it has to come organically. It’s not something you can force.

You have a reputation for being great managing writers and artists. What is the key to that?
The most important thing is that you have each other’s trust, that you [as a creator] understand when I’m coming back to you with notes, I’m doing it because I’m aiming the same direction as you, to make this thing the best it can be. I like to go into it as egoless as possible—best idea wins. The best relationships I have are people that trust that type of feedback and trust me that I’ll back down when I realize that I’m wrong. If I can’t take a bullet for you, maybe I shouldn’t work with you.

Are there creators for whom you think you’re a bad editorial fit?
There are creators in this industry who I have enormous respect for who I don’t think I have any business editing. I don’t think I have anything to bring to them. And quite frankly, I may not have the right type of references, literary, pop culture-wise, to be able to really give them the type of feedback that they need on their work. I think it’s important to realize what your weaknesses are as well as your strengths.

I didn't like any of the Punisher movies. Tony Scott’s Man on Fire is more in line with what the Punisher is about.

Do you largely avoid divas?
There will always be divas, there are plenty of divas we work with, and I love some of our divas. That’s part of an editor’s job as well sometimes, to allow someone to be a diva, but I think the key is to put them on the right stage to be that.

You’ve brought a lot of indie creators like Matt Fraction and crime writers like Duane Swierczynski to the big leagues at Marvel. What are your concerns when you do that?
The main thing I can say is, you don’t want to give them a poisoned chalice. I really believe what you wanna do with a writer—with an artist as well—is take into account their body of work and what type of genre they’re most comfortable with and play to their strengths, not their weaknesses. You don’t wanna just give them the first job that comes across your desk, you don’t wanna solve your problem of the day with them. Chris Hastings, who writes The Adventures of Doctor McNinja...call me crazy, but his first job ain’t gonna be PunisherMAX, you follow me? Deadpool, yes. PunisherMAX, no.

As EIC, you can’t be as hands-on editing individual books as you used to be. Do you miss that?
The hardest part of becoming editor-in-chief was giving up my babies, my books. Giving up PunisherMAX, giving up Deadpool—that was difficult, because I really enjoyed doing that. I’ve been told that there are a couple people who’ll be deputized to keep me from sneak-editing on the side. That said, I don’t think my days of editing are behind me. Where there are new writers, especially, I think I’m going to have to roll up my sleeves and get involved to help them transition, if nothing else, to the way we do things.

Universe-wide event stories like Civil War and Fear Itself (right) tackled zeitgeist issues like the sacrifice of civil liberties and fear mongering. Are there any other societal issues you want to address?
We’re aware of things like the recent spate of teen suicides. And there have been a number of stories pitched to comment on it. We haven’t published most of the stories because we didn’t think that they were appropriate; they didn’t handle the subject matter in a manner that we thought was the Marvel statement, and that will be coming. But again, being topical for the sake of being topical, that’s bullshit. Be topical because you have something to say, or—even better—because you feel that you may have something new to say. Again, the solution to a problem like [teen suicide] can’t be found in a superhero beating up a bully. The message is something fundamentally different than that.

Marvel’s first collaboration with another Disney company since being acquired by the Mouse was an NBA preview pairing NBA icons and superheroes together for ESPN The Magazine. What else might the Disney relationship produce?
I hope that we just continue dialogue with sister companies the way we have. We have our own catalogue of amazing characters, then you’ve got Disney with theirs, then we’ve got Pixar out there. I was surprised that our first endeavor was with ESPN, but it was a perfect marriage. NBA icons and superheroes, it just fit hand-in-hand. Honestly, I don’t know right now what’s going to happen. Maybe one day there will be a Deadpool Vs. Goofy: This Time It’s Personal. Who knows! I’d love to see it.

Tags: marvel-comics, axel-alonso, shotcaller, the-punisher, fear-itself
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