We're celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with Future Hispanic History Month, highlighting rising stars who are creating history before our very eyes. Today we honor Axel Alonso, the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.
The son of a Mexican father and English mother, Alonso grew up in San Francisco. He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and politics at U.C. Santa Cruz, then a master's in journalism at Columbia. After spending time in the newspaper and magazine businesses, he took a job at DC Comics in 1994. Six years later, he moved to Marvel, where he has been EIC since 2011. "He became only the third person in 15 years to hold the position," wrote the New York Times, "and one of the few in the company’s history to gain it without tumult or corporate bloodshed."
Alonso's Marvel has recently made two culture-spanning efforts that we'll be talking about years from now. First, a line of hip-hop variant covers that repackage the company's heroes into the art and style of modern and old-school rap album covers. "For me," Alonso told Fuse last fall, "what that did was it confirmed what I always thought was true, which is that a lot of comic book fans are hip hop heads, and a lot of hip hop heads are comic books fans." The initiative was inspired by Alonso's rap-head son, Tito.
The covers are fun, collectible, and nerdtastic, but a much bigger footprint being left by Marvel these days is the long-overdue diversification of its heroes. Before this summer revealed Iron Man's successor to be a 15-year-old black MIT student named Riri Williams, we'd already been introduced to—deeeep breath—a Muslim, Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, a Mexican-American Ghost Rider, a black Captain America, a Korean-American Hulk and a Hispanic and black Spider-Man. Speaking to Fuse about Riri—who went on to claim the name Iron Heart—back in July, Alonso said:
"Ultimately, Riri will connect with fans or she won’t. If she does, it will be because her story is universal. Both Peter Parker and [fellow Spider-Man] Miles Morales are popular characters because their stories speak to a broad audience, not to a specific demographic. The color of Miles' skin does make him a little bit more accessible to a little boy who looks like him, but it doesn’t define who he is. That's the most important thing. I was constantly searching for a Mexican superhero when I was a kid—there ain't none! So I latch onto Black Panther and Luke Cage. And Shang-Chi. That's never been lost on me."
Alonso is well aware of the importance of representation in media. "Our goal is to tell the best, most relevant stories to the widest possible audience," he told us. "And to do that, it’s important that our readers see their own reflection in our characters. Who knows what the next generation of comic book creators will look like because of what they’re reading today?"
Follow all Fuse's Future Hispanic History Month coverage here, and watch Axel Alonso explain Marvel's hip-hop variant covers at New York Comic Con 2015: