The new publishing company of former Marvel publisher Bill Jemas and former Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso kicks off this week with the release of The Resistance #1 by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Mike Deodato Jr. Formed with the idea to tell stories with "high concepts and art," AWA Studios will launch The Resistance and three other titles in March - with another new title planned to debut every month going forward.
Announced titles include: John Lees and Dalibor Talajic’s Hotell; Michael Moreci and C.P. Smith’s Archangel 8; Jason Starr and Will Conrad’s Red Border; Peter Milligan and ACO’s American Ronin; Frank Cho’s Fight Girls; Benjamin Percy and Ramon Rosanas’ Year Zero; and Christa Faust and Tim Bradstreet’s Bad Mother.
On the evee of their debut, Newsarama talked with AWA's CCO Axel Alonso about expectations for this launch, the origin of the company, and what they see as their path forward.
Newsarama: Axel, after Marvel, what led you to reconnecting with Bill Jemas for what would become AWA?
Axel Alonso: Bill reached out to me shortly after I left Marvel and we had a nice chat in which he described what he wanted to do in broad strokes. I was intrigued. Then, he encouraged me to meet his friend who was going to be in town for a couple days. That man was Jonathan Miller, about whom I’d heard great things from our mutual friend, Mark Millar.
The more I talked with Bill and Jon, the more I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I couldn’t pass up. We could fill a gap in the market. We could bridge the chasm between work-for-hire and creator-owned. We could offer creators the best of both worlds.
Nrama: Once a partnership was made and funding procured, how did you go about casting a net for creators and stories?
Alonso: I reached out first to the creators that I trust most. There’s a lot of gossip in this business, and I wanted to stay under the radar.
Nrama: What were you looking for - and what were you looking to avoid?
Alonso: I was looking to work with people that I respect and trust – Joe Straczynski, Garth Ennis, Kaare Andrews, Peter Milligan, Reginald Hudlin, Gregg Hurwitz, Frank Cho, Margaret Stohl, Ben Percy, Victor Gischler, ACO, Ramon Rosanas, Laurence Campbell, Dalibor Talajic, Rahzzah, Jeff Dekal, Tim Bradstreet, Keron Grant.
And creators that I think are poised to explode – Christa Faust, Michael Moreci, John Lees, Jason Starr, C.P. Smith.
And creators that I just plain wanted to work with – Tommy Lee Edwards, Ales Kot, Ollie Masters, Rob Williams, Al Madrigal.
When one of the creators I most coveted, artist Mike Deodato, publicly announced that he was going to pursue work in creator-owned comics, starting with the excellent Berserker Unbound, I leapt at the chance to work with him. I consider Mike to be one of the finest artists in the business and one of the finest people in the world.
Nrama: From the outside, this feels like a melding of what you did at Marvel as E-i-C to back what you did at Vertigo as an editor. Are there things from your Vertigo days you're utilizing here?
Alonso: You pretty much nailed it. The books I’m curating sit at the intersection of “NuMarvel” – when Bill, Joe [Quesada] and myself were changing the way Marvel made comics -- and Vertigo at its peak, when creators like Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Ed Brubaker, Peter Milligan, Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis, Bill Willingham, Brian Azzarello, Sean Phillips, Eduardo Risso, Duncan Fegredo, Pia Guerra, and the late Steve Dillon were making truly revolutionary comics that paved the road for today’s creator-owned comics.
Nrama: You know full well about how busy the comic book racks are - how do you see AWA being able to stand out?
Alonso: It starts with high concepts and art. When I was a kid, it was the movie poster that made me want to see it, the book cover, the colorful cover. An image, a title, and a killer concept can capture people’s interest. Executing on that promise keeps their interest.
Nrama: Is AWA focused exclusively on comics, or do you see AWA branching out to other media?
Alonso: Our focus is comic books and graphic novels, but we will experiment with formats for storytelling - in print and digital.
Nrama: What type of stories does AWA want to tell?
Alonso: We want to tell new and original stories that span and blend all genres: action, horror, espionage, science fiction, western, thriller, combat, romance and, of course, super-heroes. We want our stories to be entertaining, unpredictable and challenging. We want them to make you think.
Nrama: How do you feel like your time at Marvel and even as a reporter has helped you develop the company?
Alonso: I think everything I’ve done as a reporter, Vertigo editor, Marvel editor and Marvel Editor-In-Chief has prepared me for this moment. From Preacher to X-Statix, I love creating comics that defy expectation and categorization, that advance the medium and build our audience.
Nrama: Can you give us a tease about the titles from the first wave?
Alonso: We’ve got a wide range of material. J. Michael Straczynski and Mike Deodato’s The Resistance lays down the foundation for a new super-hero universe that’s rooted in the 21st century.
Frank Cho’s Fight Girls is an adrenalin-fueled science fiction action romp that’s The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games.
Michael Moreci and C.P. Smith’s Archangel 8 is a supernatural espionage thriller in which the title character is part Frank Castle, part John Constantine.
Jason Starr and Will Conrad’s Red Border is a crime thriller set on the U.S./Mexico border that abruptly veers into extreme horror rooted in today’s political headlines.
Ollie Masters, Rob Williams and Laurence Campbell’s Old Haunts is a mob story that pits gangsters against vengeful ghosts.
Peter Milligan and ACO’s American Ronin is a hallucinatory spy thriller featuring genetically-enhanced black bag operatives who’ll stop at nothing to win their war.
And Ben Percy and Ramon Rosanas’ Year Zero, takes a global look at the zombie apocalypse. When the dead walk the earth; what do you do...if you’re a Yakuza assassin on a big job? ...a translator for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan? ...a homeless boy on the streets of Mexico City? ...a 35-year-old Incel who’s been preparing for the zombie apocalypse his whole life?
Nrama: When the books are released will you be trying to release titles on a weekly basis to start?
Alonso: We will launch with four more monthly-shipping titles. We will add new titles every month, and only launch a series when we know it’s going to ship on time.
Nrama: How have you been starting to build a relationship with retailers?
Alonso: My partner Bill Jemas, our CEO, can better speak to this, but the idea is to empower retailers to make informed decisions about what they order. We want to help them help us help them sell books. A key component of our plan is our preview book, Upshot Now.
Nrama: To wrap, what challenges have you faced launching a publishing company from the ground up?
Alonso: The biggest challenge was building a business model that would allow us to offer creators what we think is the best deal in comics: to allow creators to bet on their original idea without putting it all on the line. The Creative part has been nothing but fun. I mean, every day we are filling a blank canvas. No rules, no fear. What could be better than that?