By Jevon Phillips, Los Angeles Times
Former Marvel Comics editor in chief Axel Alonso is not one to hold his tongue when discussing the comic book industry’s problems diversifying characters and creators. “Ultimately,” he says, it “comes down to the cowardice of the big companies.”
The man who helped make it possible for a biracial character named Miles Morales to wear the Spider-Man suit and Muslim teen Kamala Khan to become Ms. Marvel continues to support new voices and characters after leaving Marvel to form Artists, Writers & Artisans, or AWA Studios. The media company, which he co-founded in 2018 with fellow former Marvel Comics executive Bill Jemas and Fandom culture platform co-chairman Jon Miller, is launching a comic book centered on Latinx superheroes and created by actor Al Madrigal, former correspondent of “The Daily Show.”
“Primos,” written by Madrigal and drawn by Carlo Barberi, brings together three distant cousins, bound together by their ancient space-faring Maya lineage to the historical King Janaab. Their mission, of course, is to save the world. In introducing three Latinx superheroes, Madrigal and AWA Studios are venturing into territory that has been shunned by most of the big comic book companies. But comic book fan culture is just as big in the Latinx community as it is anywhere else, and Madrigal hopes to capitalize on and honor the culture.
“There’s so much inspiration to draw upon here, from the myth that the pyramids were built by aliens, to the success of the Mayan civilization and culture and the mystery around their cities’ collapse,” wrote Madrigal in an email to The Times. “However, the main inspiration was King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal’s rule from 603 to 683. It was a great building block for the ‘Primos’ mythology. I hope to be able to dive further into Mayan culture as I continue the series.”
For Alonso, it is another example of his ongoing mission to try to introduce characters who look more like him. He and Madrigal are of Mexican heritage and, as Alonso points out, there are very few prominent Latinx, especially Mexican, superheroes.
“While there are [popular] Black and Asian superheroes, Hispanic superheroes are very, very few. And let’s look at Mexicans — the two [most prominent] Mexican superheroes are Blue Beetle at DC and White Tiger at Marvel. Who? Exactly,” says Alonso. “It’s been very important to me for a long time to do Latino characters because they’re not represented well in comics at all.”
There are a few other major Latinx characters like Robbie Reyes (Ghost Rider), America Chavez and Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern), but not many. Which raises the question: Why haven’t there been more? Alonso believes there are many reasons, but two stand out.
“It starts with a company’s conservatism in terms of getting behind new content. They back the biggest characters for the most part. Batman, Superman, X-Men, Avengers — at the expense of new stuff,” Alonso says. “And it’s also about the talent pool. Who’s out there? What do they want to do? So many people, when I came up in this, aspire to do Batman or Spider-Man. Not a small character or something new.”
Alonso made sure to reach out to writers and artists of diverse backgrounds while at Marvel, and continues that practice in his role at AWA Studios. With an emphasis on diverse faces coming into view the last few years, especially at Marvel and DC, there is more of a sense of purpose in reaching out to all parts of their audiences — the people who read and buy their product.
“I feel great [now] because as a Hispanic kid, I grew up reading comic books and looking at characters like Shang-Chi and Black Panther who were all left of center as my heroes. Because I felt ‘other,’ you know what I’m saying? And I didn’t relate to Captain America and the Hulk,” says Alonso.
“We’re going to get out there with a big book steeped in Mexican culture and Mayan mythology and have a lot of fun. Like a Mexican ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’”
AXEL ALONSO, CO-FOUNDER OF AWA STUDIOS
“With ‘Primos,’ we’re ahead of the curve, I think. We’re going to get out there with a big book steeped in Mexican culture and Mayan mythology and have a lot of fun. Like a Mexican ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’”
With characters from Mexico to South L.A., Madrigal also believes that the time is right for “Primos.” His earliest foray into comics was “The West Coast Avengers,” a Marvel comic that ran roughly from 1985-94. It was easy for him to get into because it was a new book, without all of the daunting history behind it that others had. It also featured Jim Rhodes as Iron Man, a definite draw for Madrigal. But, again, there wasn’t much in the way of Mexican or Mexican American characters. He believes that the fandom across the border is just as fervent and deserving as any other.
“Having just returned from Mexico City, I can say without a doubt that Mexicans are ‘all in’ on whatever they’re into, whether it’s music, movies or comics. Latinos are massive consumers of media in both countries. Mexicans and Mexican Americans are super fans and they need to see more of themselves on the big screen and in comics.”
Creating content for fans also extends to fandom gatherings like San Diego’s Comic-Con, just minutes from the Mexican border. The convention, which just concluded a scaled-back “special edition” event over Thanksgiving weekend, works with the Counsel General of Mexico to bring attention to the arts scene and community there, though those recent efforts have been dampened by COVID-19 and border-crossing difficulties. There are no real numbers indicating how many people cross the border specifically to attend Comic-Con, but with fans from the region being “all in,” it would seem plausible that many do. Alonso also sees a bigger picture.
“[Comic-Con] should be welcoming to all fans. It’s a hop, skip and a jump from Mexico so it’s easy to get to. But I think what’s really important, more than anything, is that people want to read stories that reflect the world they live in and they respond to stories that they feel reflect a perspective they can relate to.”
“Primos” will be available Feb. 2, 2022.
Bold Original Stories Spanning Genres