Axel-In-Charge: The '$#@%ing Hilarious' "Howard the Duck," 2 Million in "Star Wars" Sales

Fri, March 13th, 2015 at 2:40pm PDT | Updated: March 13th, 2015 at 2:42pm

Comic Books
Axel Alonso, Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief
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Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso developing storylines as envisioned by Skottie Young

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 Community, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!

After reemerging into the public consciousness courtesy of the post-credits scene in last year's "Guardians of the Galaxy" film -- a considerably more successful outing than the character's last on-screen appearance -- the latest stop on the "Howard the Duck" comeback tour is the freshly released new #1 issue written by Chip Zdarsky and illustrated by Joe Quinones. It's a series close to Alonso's heart, and he explains why -- beyond the simple fact that he dubs it "$#@%ing hilarious." Alonso talks putting the creative team together, and living up the legacy of the character -- created by the late Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, and first seen in 1973. Additionally, Alonso addresses the sheer volume of new "Secret Wars"-related series announced over the past few weeks, along with some of the newest ones -- including "Giant-Size Little Marvels: AvX" and "Squadron Sinister." All that and more, including talk of the new "Groot" series, the possibility that Drax might be the next Guardian of the Galaxy in line for a solo book and your questions, direct from the CBR Community.

Albert Ching: Axel, before we get too far into it, have to ask -- after the response "Deadpool vs. Thanos" has gotten so far, are you tempted to now announce every new Marvel series on Twitter via action figure pic?

Axel Alonso: Yes. And also to push for my dream projects.

Actually, you won't have to wait that long. Luke Cage and Howard will cross paths in a short backup story in "Howard the Duck" #2, written by Chip and drawn by Rob Guillory.

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EXCLUSIVE: A page from Rob Guillory's "Howard the Duck" #2 backup story; Joe Quinones interiors from #2

And speaking of "Howard the Duck," let's talk about that series, as I know you've been very excited about it and it debuted this week. What was it about this book that was special to you?

Axel Alonso: Well, for starters, it's $#@%ing hilarious. [Laughs] And thank God for that, because it had to be funny. [Editor] Wil Moss put together a creative team with just the right mojo. The chemistry between [writer] Chip Zdarsky and [artist] Joe Quinones is off the charts. They've found just the right balance between humor and high adventure, and people are really responding to it.

And it's worth noting that Howard the Duck" joins a string of recent hits –--"Silk," "Spider-Gwen," "Ant-Man," "All-New Hawkeye" -- each of which is strong because it wasn't micromanaged. If you're going to pay lip service to diversity of content and style, you had better really believe in diversity of content and style. It's got to be in your DNA. Otherwise you're just mimicking a play from someone else's playbook, and it'll show in the results. The reason we've got "Howard the Duck," "All-New Hawkeye," "Spider-Gwen," "Ant-Man," "Ms. Marvel," "Squirrel Girl," "Moon Knight," "She-Hulk," "Black Widow," "All-New Ghost Rider" is that we foster a healthy creative environment that allows for many different voices to shape the line.

Zdarsky & Quinones Open "Howard the Duck" Investigations

Might some of the above be a reference to recent DC Comics announcements?

Alonso: Does it sound like it? [Laughs]

Speaking of the success of humor books -- Marvel also has "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" right now, which falls in that category, but is definitely a different type of humor. So not only does it look like humor books can succeed right now, but multiple different types of tone within that.

Alonso: Exactly. "Squirrel Girl," "Howard the Duck," "Deadpool," "Rocket Raccoon" and "Ant-Man" are all very funny books -- although "Ant-Man" is more of a "dramedy" than a comedy -- but for different reasons. They are tonally different -- both for the writing and the art. And in each case, the editor did his or her best to put together a writer and artist that possessed some kind of chemistry. Because it always starts with the talent.

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EXCLUSIVE: Art from "Ant-Man" #4 by Ramon Rosanas

You're a big fan of a lot of the characters that emanated from '70s Marvel -- Deathlok, Shang-Chi -- is Howard the Duck a character you've also been a fan of for a long time?

Alonso: Sure. I was a little boy when the original series came out. The first time I saw him was "Howard the Duck" #3, which I snatched up only because he was the "Master of Quack Fu" in that issue, and I was a big Bruce Lee fan. I read pretty much every issue of that run 'til it ended.

"Howard the Duck" was way ahead of its time. Steve Gerber was deconstructing comics, parodying pop culture and politics and just plain bending your mind with his stories. If we were going to relaunch this series, we had to pay respect that legacy, but also be willing to carve new ground. And that's what Chip and Joe are doing.

Oh -- if there were ever a time for people to free download the Marvel app and dip into our AR [Augmented Reality] apps, it's to see what's in "Howard the Duck" #1. Chip does a dramatic reading of "Howard the Duck," and what ensues is piss-your-pants funny. Right down to production values and cinematography, this one's next level $#!%. [Laughs]

Speaking of Chip Zdarsky, I wanted to talk about him specifically -- most people know him as an artist; though he's done writing in the past, it's his first Marvel monthly book. What kind of potential did Marvel see in him as a writer?

Alonso: It was [editor] Wil Moss that suggested Chip Zdarsky write this series. I'd read "Sex Criminals," and I figured it was a very collaborative book -- that Chip did a lot more than just sit down and draw -- so I was more than open to getting a pitch. Chip pitched, and we loved it. We had a few notes, he worked with us, and we were off to the races. Wil followed his gut, we took a chance on Chip, and it worked out great.

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Art from "Star Wars: Kanan" #1 by Pepe Larraz; EXCLUSIVE: Salvador Larroca's "Darth Vader" #4 cover

Weisman Explores the Past in Marvel's "Star Wars: Kanan"

Also, word came this week that "Star Wars: Kanan" #1 hit more than 100,000 copies sold at Diamond. Given that's the first of Marvel's new Star Wars titles that doesn't star the instantly iconic characters of the original trilogy, was that an unexpected number to hit?

Alonso: It wasn't that unexpected, to be honest. It was more of our target. We've sold more than 2 million "Star Wars" comics since January. "Darth Vader" #1 was the top dollar share book in February. [Editor] Jordan D. White and C.B. [Cebulski] have done a superb job procuring the right talent and telling the right types of stories, and David Gabriel and his sales and marketing team have done an astounding job promoting this.

Wanted to touch on some of the new "Secret Wars"-related series announcements this week, but before we do, it's striking: Each week for the past few weeks there have been around six or so announcements of new "Secret Wars" books. It's a lot, and they're all launching at around the same time. Is there a concern at Marvel that readers might feel some intimidation in encountering this amount of material all at once?

Alonso: David Gabriel and his crew have done a lot to make sure retailers understand the event itself, and where individual titles stand under the umbrella of the event. That said, it falls on the editors and creative teams to make sure that every issue #1 is extremely new-reader friendly. We told every writer to take full advantage of the flexibility of this event to tell the biggest, craziest stories and bring the coolest new things they could into the Marvel Universe, and to treat each issue #1 like a new jumping-on point. So if you pick up something vaguely familiar at the store, like "Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows," you don't have to be a reader of "Amazing Spider-Man" to hit the ground running. And if you pick up something completely new, like [Gerry Duggan and Doc Shaner's] "1872" or [Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo's] "Weirdworld," you will feel like the curtain went up at the movie theater and you don't need to know anything before the opening credits.

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Every series will stand on its own two feet -- whether it offers a deep dive into Battleword that illuminates the core series, or explores a corner of Battleworld to tell a unique and self-standing story. Our goal isn't to compel fans to read everything; we just want to make sure there are plenty of appealing flavors so they have the option to go a la carte and gorge on whatever looks good. Hankering for a Western? Try "1872." Dark fantasy? Try "Weirdworld." Martial arts? Try "Master of Kung Fu." Want to see a pterodactyl eat a biplane? Try "Where Monsters Dwell." But remember: Each of these series provides a building block for the new Marvel Universe. Everything counts.

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This week Marvel announced threee new "Secret Wars" series"Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvX," "Squadron Sinister," and "Years of Future Past," as well as a "Groot" ongoing series

On the subject of diverse offerings: Certainly Skottie Young's work is always visually distinctive, and he's writing and drawing "Giant-Size Little Marvels: AvX." It appears he's taking the spirit of his beloved variant covers from the last couple years and doing a narrative story with them -- is it pretty much as simple as that?

Alonso: More or less. We're giving the people what they want. Our toughest, most adorable heroes are going to throw down. Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wolverine -- they're all there, they're all badass, they're just a lot shorter. [Laughs]

Then there's the "Squadron Sinister" series from Marc Guggenheim and Carlos Pacheco, which is something of a surprise since it's been a little bit since readers have seen the Squadron Supreme characters together at Marvel. They've been in a lot of very important Marvel stories over the years -- did it seem like time within Marvel to revisit those characters?

Alonso: Without a doubt. Battleworld gave us a big white canvas. We're bringing a lot of new stuff into the Marvel U, and we're back bringing some old stuff, tweaked to surprise. "Squadron Sinister's" one of them. We wanted to bring in some high-powered villains into the Marvel Universe, and here they are. And it's a lot more fun this way. Another Domain full of heroes, and you kinda already know what they're going to do. But a Domain ruled by and run by villains -- well, now, that's interesting!

"Secret Wars" Resurrects a Mutant Nightmare in "Years of Future Past"

"Years of Future Past" was announced this week, written by Marguerite Bennett and drawn by Mike Norton. Bennett is certainly gaining a high profile at Marvel, between this series, co-writing "A-Force" and her current collaboration with Kieron Gillen on "Angela: Asgard's Assassin." What do you see in her work that's contributed to her being such a rising star at Marvel?

Alonso: Let's see... She's got an ever-replenishing imagination, self-discipline, works well with others -- all of which led to us to hire her on these different books. Marguerite is relatively new to the field, but she's already got the type of assured voice that allows her to tackle books as varied as dystopia-set X-Books, super hero epics, and a Gaiman-esque fantasy, and none of them "sound" the same.

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EXCLUSIVE: Art from "Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man" #12 by David Marquez & Justin Ponsor

Comics Newcomers Declare "I Am Groot" With New Marvel Spinoff Series

One more new series to touch on -- the "Groot" solo series from Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger. As popular as the Guardians of the Galaxy are, and as specifically popular as Groot is -- this book still doesn't seem like an obvious choice. What can you share about the development of that book, and the process of figuring out what Marvel wanted to do with this high-profile character?

Alonso: Rocket and Groot -- and their incredible bromance -- are incredible characters. We've mined creative gold with Rocket, so we figured we'd go digging with Groot. And with Groot, his weakness is his strengths. The limitations posed by the character -- how the $#@% do you do a series with a lead character that says only three words? -- are both a challenge and an opportunity for the creative team. They need to create a universe around that character, a supporting cast of allies and antagonists and -- who knows? -- love interests that brings him into sharper focus. And that's what this team is going to do.

So that leaves only Drax without a solo series.

Alonso: We're on it. But first, we want readers to get a dose of Nicole Perlman's "Gamora."

We'll wrap with a couple questions from the CBR Community: Lady Warp Spasm asks, "Are there any plans for Moon Knight after Cullen Bunn's run?"

Alonso: There are.

Then gurkle asks, "You said a while back the Scarlet Witch would be 'a buzz character' this year; can you give us any more hints about what she'll be doing?"

Alonso: I dunno. Anyone out there up for a solo series...?


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TAGS:  axel-in-charge, marvel comics, axel alonso, secret wars, howard the duck, chip zdarsky, joe quinones, deadpool vs thanos, kanan the last padawan, giant sized little marvel avx, squadron sinister, years of future past, groot, marguerite bennett

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