Marvel's ALONSO & GABRIEL Talk 'ALL-NEW... NOW' Branding, New Launches & the Reasons Behind Renumbering

Marvel variant covers for April-May
Original Sin #0 by Paolo Rivera
Credit: Marvel Comics
Iron Fist #3 variant by Jerome Opena & Dean White
Iron Fist #3 variant by Jerome Opena & Dean White
Credit: Marvel Comics

Not sure if you noticed, but Marvel Comics likes the term marketing “All-New” … almost as much as the like the term “Marvel NOW!”

Hell, sometimes then even like to use them together.

The NY-based comic book publisher has announced a rash of Diamond sell-outs/second printings over the last several months, and in press releases seemingly attribute the run in part to the positive reception their ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ market brand has received from both comic book retailers and readers.

We recently played Q&A with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Senior VP, Sales & Marketing David Gabriel about their ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ initiative, why in their view it’s hitting home with readers, what makes the current way of ‘NOW! launches unique, and why the pace of Marvel relaunched/renumbered titles has accelerated in recent months.

Wolverine and the X-Men #3  Jorge Molina variant
Wolverine and the X-Men #3 Jorge Molina variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spoiler Alert – it doesn’t sound like that pace will be slowing down anytime soon…

Newsarama: Gentlemen, it seems apparent Marvel really believes in not only ‘Marvel NOW!’ as a brand, but in the marketing power of “All-New” as well. When placed on a new title nobody has read yet, what do you think the appeal of those branding messages are? To retailers and/or readers?

David Gabriel: It sends a loud and clear message to fans and retailers that this is something new and worth getting excited about. Whether it's an existing title that made the jump into ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ or completely new titles like Ms. Marvel, All-New Ghost Rider, and Magneto – it tells you that between our covers is a comic that's unlike anything else on the stands.

Calling it anything but ‘All-New' would have been a disservice. ‘Marvel NOW! 2’ would’ve sounded like something less or a derivative of the original ‘Marvel NOW!’

Amazing Spider-Man #1 Ed McGuinness variant
Amazing Spider-Man #1 Ed McGuinness variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: You’ve been announcing a lot of sell-out issues of recent launch titles of late, do you attribute the power of those brands to this recent run of apparent success?

Gabriel: We haven’t seen many second printings since the start of the first ‘Marvel NOW!’ To me, it’s less about the brands and more about the strong creative teams Axel and Editorial have put together. With ‘All-New Marvel NOW!,’ there was a greater focus on second-tier characters like Captain Marvel, Moon Knight, etc. and new characters like Ms. Marvel. Each title is unique and brings its own voice to the market and the second printings prove that.

Since we started ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ we've had nearly 50 second printings in less than three months. To us, that shows the supply isn't meeting the demand. Fans want these books, and they're going in to comic shops to get them. Retailers aren't ordering enough copies to keep them on the shelves

New Avengers #18 Christian Ward variant
New Avengers #18 Christian Ward variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Axel Alonso: These sellouts are a testament to the fact that the books are just plain good. I’m proud of each and every one of them. Virtually all the launches have had second prints, and many of those extended to the second issue.

Nrama: Axel, is sales/marketing merely adding the branding to titles you were otherwise already developing when appropriate, or are the brands now directly influencing creative decisions and editorial direction?

Alonso: All of the new series were born in editorial. Sales/marketing is there to communicate why each of them is exciting, and they do a great job of that. Indeed, Sales/marketing picked up early on the emerging trend of female-lead series so it definitely added fuel to the fire.

Gabriel: Sales and marketing has worked closely in tandem with editorial to craft the entire ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ initiative but editorial has final say on what titles make the cut.

Nrama: Has some sort of light blub or ‘ah ha’ moment occurred for you and your editors and creators since the brands were developed?

X-Men #12 Gerald Parel variant
X-Men #12 Gerald Parel variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Gabriel: Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye was definitely an eye-opener. It proved to us that there’s a place in traditional superhero comics for titles that are bold, different, and offer something unique. The demand for that book has been huge, and continues to be huge. With ‘All-New Marvel NOW!,’ we took a look at that appeal, and took some chances on books that might not be what you’d expect – and we’re very happy with the results.

Alonso: The success of Hawkeye just confirms my belief that it’s all about finding a creative team that has something compelling to say through a character or characters. It was because we thought outside the box in terms of casting, branding – everything – that we ended up with this series. That’s the lesson we’ve learned.

Nrama: David – from your non-editorial perspective, have you identified any common thread you think characterizes what I imagine you’ll describe as a successful run of titles lately?

Iron Man #24 Mike Perkins variant
Iron Man #24 Mike Perkins variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Gabriel: Taking chances on bold new stories and offering something the marketplace hasn’t seen before. Every title is different, unique, and exciting in its own way. We’ve also had a huge response from retailers from putting a “#1” on the cover of titles to mark the start of an arc.

Sure, we didn’t invent it, but word from retailers is it has their customers talking – and their customers are paying attention to titles on the shelves they would’ve walked right past otherwise. Anything that helps our retailers gets fans reading more comics is something we strongly encourage. And it is something we believe more publishers should be doing.

Nrama: We’ll get to the ‘#1’ thing in a few moments, but do you think the quality of the recent titles is indicative of a long-time consistent level of quality and the brands are helping you attract attention better than before, or do you think there as been a noteworthy improvement in the quality of titles lately, and if so, why?

Iron Man #24 Captain America team-up variant
Iron Man #24 Captain America team-up variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Gabriel: Three years ago, before we launched ‘Marvel NOW!’, we noticed a lethargy in the industry. It needed something new. Something to get fans excited. Editorial really put their nose to the grindstone and tasked creators to come up with the best possible stories they could. With ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ we wanted to bring that same level of quality, but hone in on some different areas of the Marvel Universe and take some new chances.

Alonso: Exactly. ‘Marvel NOW!’ was a line-wide game of musical chairs amongst our top titles and talent that provided a door into the Marvel Universe for new readers, and a breath of fresh air to old ones. ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ created new doors into that universe through exciting new titles and talent. It added to the line.

Nrama: Onto the ‘#1‘ thing.

Marvel NOW!’ and ‘All-New’ both seem to be about influencing retailers and retailers to sample new titles, and while you’ve also added the suffixes like .NOW (‘Marvel NOW!’) and .INF (‘Infinity’), renumbering/relaunching titles has certainly been a tool you’re using and the pace of which titles are being relaunched and renumbered is accelerating in recent months/years.

Thor: God of Thunder #21 Ron Garney variant
Thor: God of Thunder #21 Ron Garney variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

This is a perfectly obvious question but we want to hear your answers anyway: why is Marvel now renumbering/launching titles so (relatively) frequently compared to the past?

Gabriel: We actually spent a lot of time talking about this at our last editorial retreat. People consume their content much differently these days than in the past. Renumbering titles offers us an opportunity to provide readers with an easily digestible chunk of content, not unlike a season of a television show.

Renumbering has its critics, but at end of the day we’re much more focused on making good stories than where they fit in a longbox. If you look at the numbers, books sell better after a relaunch. And even if the numbers eventually settle back to where they were after a year or two – that’s still 2 years of retailers selling more copies and 2 years of more Marvel comics in the hands of fans.

What If: Age of Ultron #3 Declan Shalvey variant
What If: Age of Ultron #3 Declan Shalvey variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: You both are aware that while numbers are hard to quantify, as you say David, there are critics of renumbering. So to play “fanboy’s advocate” for a moment, what do you say to the common argument that if the quality of the titles was there, publishers wouldn’t have to renumber in order to boost or maintain sales?

Gabriel: Quality doesn’t always mean big sales numbers. Any publisher will tell you that. Daredevil is a perfect example. Nobody would argue that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s title is lacking in quality with all the awards they’ve won. It’s not selling poorly by any means, but relaunching the title for ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ has almost tripled the numbers on a title that was nearly universally critically acclaimed. And to us, that’s putting a critically acclaimed comic into the hands of more readers.

Nrama: Is it indicative of a flaw in the marketplace that publishers need to relaunch to get worthy titles attention wherein past decades they did not? Or is that just a unique characteristic of the marketplace?

Gabriel: I wouldn’t say it’s a flaw. More of where the market for all entertainment has moved toward in the past five or so years. People want their content immediately, and in digestible chunks.

Captain Marvel #2 J.G. Jones variant
Captain Marvel #2 J.G. Jones variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Alonso: You see it across all media platforms, particularly in TV, where each season offers a chapter of a larger story that offers at least partial closure for the viewer.

Nrama: Okay, so to get very macro on you, why do you think sales attrition is the norm for the Direct Market, requiring new #1’s and marketing brands like ‘Marvel NOW!’ to boost and/or reset sales of deserving titles?

Gabriel: It’s a lot easier to start at the beginning of a story than in the middle isn’t it? A new #1 provides existing readers with a point of entry into a title they may not be reading but aren’t able to just jump into. Better yet, it’s a signpost for a new reader that says “you can start here!” If ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ has gotten one new person to start reading comics, we’ve done our job. We’re proud to say that we’ve had considerably more than just one person checking out these new launches.

Nrama: Okay then, to put a bow on this line of questions – where do you see this model going? Given what you describe as the success of ‘NOW!’ and the relaunches, would it make sense to continue accelerating towards a yearly season-volume system?

Gabriel: We’re not quite there yet but I think that’s where the industry is headed. Take BBC or Netflix as an example. The BBC has been utilizing this model successfully for years and we’re just starting to see the massive successes of Netflix’s original programming.

She-Hulk #3 Kris Anka variant
She-Hulk #3 Kris Anka variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Switching gears, from experience, publishers don’t like to talk hard digital sales figures, but can you do anything to describe the relative place digital sales will have in your bottom line in 2014?

Gabriel: Digital is an important space for us in 2014 and we think it’s instrumental in the overall growth of the comic industry. Digital devices are the spinner racks of today. They afford us an opportunity to reach fans of Marvel characters who’ve never experienced comics before and provide an easy distribution model to reach lapsed fans. To answer your question more directly, digital has about the same place in our bottom line as trade sales in the Book Market did about 10 years ago.

Digital distribution started for us in earnest about two years ago. And those two years have seen print sales increase and have been two of the strongest years ever for us overall. And to be clear, print sales have increased while we’ve reduced the number of titles we put out month over month.

Nrama: Given you seem to be increasing the number of free digital codes you give out with titles, can we assume you regard there to be little crossover between people who mainly purchase comics digitally and those who buy in the direct market?

Gabriel: There’s no hard data on that one way or the other from where we’re sitting. It’s all just anecdotal. Our digital numbers are up and print numbers are up. To us, they’re subsets of each other.

Original Sin #0 by Paolo Rivera
Original Sin #0 by Paolo Rivera
Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Circling back and closing what began this conversation, David, Axel, are there any recent titles you’re particularly happy with and/or any titles coming up you think best personify the ‘NOW!’ brand?

Gabriel: Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of the Invaders. Getting a writer like James Robinson to breathe new life into those Golden Age characters in All-New Invaders has been a real treat for me.

Alonso: There is no one title that personifies the ‘NOW!’ brand – and there shouldn’t be. This initiative thrives because of its diversity on every level: characters, creators. She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, All-New Invaders, Black Widow, All-New Ghost Rider – they’re all very different books. There is no house style, no house sensibility, I didn’t give my editors strict directives about how to “do it right,” and I’m not writing any of the series. [Laughs]. And while I can’t pick a favorite series out of the lot, I will say that the biggest surprise was All-New Ghost Rider. Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore have created a thoroughly compelling story that doesn’t look or feel like anything out there. I can look at each and every page for minutes.

Nrama: Finally, because you guys know it’s always what readers are looking for, can you tell them one thing about a Marvel upcoming title, project or event they don’t already know?

Gabriel: Original Sin is going to be unlike any Marvel event you’ve ever seen before – in terms of both story and structure.

Alonso: I’ll second that. The core series is an action-packed murder mystery that spans the Marvel Universe – and the victim is someone that readers really give a $#!# about, so there’s a real consequences from his demise. The tie-in series are self-contained dramas that rock the world of the title character.

Nrama: Ah, since you mentioned it one last thing - you mention the Original Sin "core" series. You guys solicited a bunch of titles in June under the Original Sins (plural) umbrella. Anything you can tell readers about that?

Alonso: I can’t say much about Original Sins just yet, but much like what we had done with AvX: VS there was a lot going on that we couldn’t fit into Jason’s main Original Sin series or the self-contained tie-in issues. We’ll be announcing more about Original Sins very soon so stay tuned.

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