Comic Watch: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us here at Comic Watch. To kick things off, what was your first experience that got you into comics?
Axel Alonso: I was a reporter. I saw an ad in the New York Times. DC Comics was hiring an editor. I thought, “Why not?” and sent in my resume. They called me in for an interview. I was greeted by an Editor at Vertigo named Lou Stathis who said, “I’ve been wanting to meet you for some time.” I figured we had a mutual friend or something, but it turns out he’d read an article I’d written for The Daily News or something and he remembered my byline: Axel Alonso. Uncommon name. So, it turned out that Lou had a major beef with one of the people I’d interviewed in my piece – an article about the cannabis leaf in popular culture – and that guy had come across as fool, based on his quotes. Lou fist-bumped me and then looked at my resume and said, “Are you sure you want to work in comics?”
It was destiny.
CW: How did the idea of AWA Studios come about in general? I know you and Bill Jemas were at Marvel together, how did you two hook up with Jon Miller as well during the creation of AWA Studios?
AA: After I left Marvel, Bill reached out to me and encouraged me to meet with his friend, Jonathan Miller, to discuss a business proposition. I knew of Jonathan because we share a mutual friend, Mark Millar, so I said, sure. When Bill and Jonathan asked me to be the third partner in a new publishing company, I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
CW: You assembled an all-star cast that makes up the Creative Council at AWA Studios. How did the formation of the council come about and what is the collaboration process like working with the creative teams of books and shaping the stories?
AA: To build a new company and to create a brand new shared universe, I knew I wanted a team of top creators, each of whom had a big footprint in both comics and other media – people who saw how everything connected, how comics are an increasingly vital part of the cultural conversation. To create a shared universe that was rooted in and relevant to today, I knew I needed a Grand Architect – someone with vast experience in creating complex, nuanced universes with staying power, and my shortlist had one name on it: the guy that created Babylon 5 and Sense8, Joe Straczynski. Joe had done spectacular work for me at Marvel, and he’d retired from writing comics, but I figured it was worth a shot to ask him.
As for the collaborative process, Joe and I had several discussions about how best to lay the foundation for a shared universe for the 21st Century – one that spoke to today’s hopes, fears and dreams. We agreed that we wanted the universe to be born in the aftermath of a global tragedy, and that’s when Joe said, without hesitation, “It should be a pandemic” – an instinct that turned out to be astoundingly prescient. Once we had enough to bring to the group, everyone met at Joe’s palace in L.A. for a lively discussion, then we left Joe the $%#$% alone to work his magic. And The Resistance was born.
CW: Are there any plans for other imprints for AWA Studios that may concentrate on a certain approach to comics similar to what we saw at Vertigo and Marvel Max?
AA: Without a doubt. I think the market needs those kinds of books. And I think a lot of our releases so far occupy that creative space, provocative entertainment: Archangel 8, Year Zero, Hotell, Red Border, Old Haunts, Devil’s Highway, Bad Mother, and Grendel, Kentucky, which is out next month.
CW: You have had a stellar career in comics. Can you talk about some of your favorite moments that you consider your mantelpieces of what you are most proud of?
AA: Preacher, 100 Bullets, the Vertigo anthologies, Joe Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man, Robert Morales & Kyle Baker’s Truth: Red, White And Black, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Statix, Garth Ennis’ Punisher Max, Reggie Hudlin’s run on Black Panther, Marvel’s Hip-Hop variants, Deadpool’s return from cancellation to top seller, the Black Panther’s rise as an A-list character, and the creation of characters like Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Riri Williams, Spider-Gwen and Jane Foster/Thor. A lot of creative moves that occurred during my tenure as EIC put me in the crosshairs of some hardcore fans, but seeing them explode in movies and TV is pretty validating.
CW: When mapping and molding a project at AWA Studios do you find yourself giving advice from your own past experiences with Marvel and DC, not necessarily steering them away from their ideas but dispensing wisdom from lessons learned?
AA: Of course. Every job is a series of learning experiences. And you learn the most from your bruises.
CW: Are there any desires for AWA Studios to possibly do in-universe crossovers in the future?
AA: Of course.
CW: With Devil’s Highway jumping off the shelves, there’s great excitement over titles like Bad Mother and Grendel, Kentucky. We are seeing great creative teams come together and produce top-notch content. Can you talk about how teams came together, and how the submission process works at AWA Studios?
AA: Thanks. My approach is simple: Start by talking with talented people and try to put them in the best situation to succeed.
CW: Do you have a preference between miniseries and monthly ongoing titles at AWA Studios and do you feel it keeps things simpler when just dealing with miniseries or is the extra length of ongoing series worthwhile?
AA: I love taking the seasonal approach to publishing. A limited series introduces the characters and world in Volume One or Season One. Season Two elaborates on that world. Et cetera. That way, you avoid the problems that come with the monthly grind: late ships, fill-ins, never-ending plotlines. You can always bring your best stuff to market.
Our series are built to last. Volume One of Year Zero concludes in a few months, but Volume Two is completely written, almost completely drawn and will hit comic shops hit on its heels. Volume One of The Resistance is halfway done, but Joe has already written Volume Two and it’s being drawn, and a spinoff series called Moths is in deep production.
CW: Without giving away too much, can you give us any information on new and exciting projects from AWA Studios that fans should be looking forward to?
AA: Well, for starters, we’ve got amazing series ahead from Straczynski, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Ben Percy, Mike Deodato, Kaare Andrews, Reggie Hudlin, Dan Panosian.
Make sure you stay up to date with everything AWA by visiting:
There and Back Again: The Creation of AWA Comics. Comic Watch talks with AWA’s Axel Alonso!
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