Comics Entertainment

‘Backchannel’ Writer Tom Akel Shares Memories of Working with Stan Lee

If you ever wondered what it was like to work with Stan Lee, take a gander at our interview with Tom Akel, who collaborated with Stan the Man to bring Backchannel to life. The Stan Lee-created comic web series debuted in October 2018 and will return for FREE on April 9th on LINE Webtoon after taking a hiatus following Stan’s passing, picking up on Chapter 9 with a Stan tribute.

Who are you?

I’m Tom Akel! Writer of the comic series Backchannel created by Stan Lee. Nice to meet you!

What’s Backchannel?

Backchannel is a serialized comic available for free online. It’s the story of Tom Tanner, an average high school kid who gains the power of technopathy. Basically, he can talk to computers with his mind.

When did you first meet Stan Lee?

I first met Stan about 15 years ago. I wrote and directed a series of ringtones for him back when those were still a thing. Anyone remember ringtones? No? Okay, moving on.

What was the first thing Stan Lee ever said to you?

I wore my Fantastic Four t-shirt to the ringtones recording session. He immediately asked, “Is that a Fantastic Four shirt?!” I said, “Yes!” and he replied, “Tom, you’re a wonderful human being!”

How did Backchannel come about?

Serendipity! Stan had mentioned to me that he was tinkering with a treatment he’d written for a series. The story had a technology theme, so I thought it would be perfect as a mobile comic. Andie Tong was the first person we thought of to do the art for the scrolling format, since Andie had worked with Stan on The Zodiac Legacy novels for POW! and Disney. The rest is history!

What makes Backchannel different than other Stan Lee stories?

The difference between good and evil is much less defined in Backchannel than his previous work, which adds more suspense and mystery to the story! Backchannel also has a unique scrolling format that incorporates audio and visual effects, putting you right into the world of the comic. Stan wanted to do something new and technologically immersive. I think it’ll be fascinating for fans to see.

What’s the most Stan thing about Backchannel?

That we’re striving to create deeply flawed characters that the reader can root for.

What was the best thing about working with Stan Lee?

He could critique without ever being critical. It’s rare to work for someone who truly motivates you to bring your best every day.

What’s your favorite moment working with Stan on the project?

It was the first time we sat down to dive into character development. Stan was very particular about how we’ll make the readers care deeply about each of the characters and, what I didn’t expect, was how passionate he was that I’d craft a story that I would enjoy writing.

What was Stan’s best note on the project?

That we need to feel ourselves fall and rise with the hero, not just read about him or her doing it.

What was the process like with Stan? Briefly take us through a Backchannel chapter from beginning to end.

I write something. Stan rewrites it. Andie makes it look good. Repeat.

What Backchannel character is most like Stan?

I’d have to say Professor Whitmore – he’s creative, kind, and a thoughtful mentor.

What’s your favorite Stan alliteration?

Tom Tanner! But clearly, I’m biased. Honorable mentions go to Peter Parker, Scott Summers, and Bruce Banner respectively.

What’s your favorite version of Stan Lee?
A. Young Whipper Snapper Stan
B. Groovy 70s Stan
C. Bearded Mall Shopper Stan
D. Green Sweater Grandpa Stan

Definitely D. Green Sweater Grandpa Stan. That’s the version of Stan I got to know and work with in real life!

Did Stan give you a bullpen nickname?

Yes! He called me “Terrific” Tom Akel.

What’s your favorite Stan Lee catchphrase?
A. Excelsior!
B. Nuff’ Said
C. Face Front
D. True Believers!

D. True Believers! I grew up watching Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, so it was my first memory of Stan’s unique voice and vernacular.

Finish the sentence: Stan Lee inspires me by ____________.

His ability to relate to anyone and his thoughtfulness, which was evident in his interaction with fans and in his writing.

True or False: Stan liked to dunk Oreo cookies in milk while working?

I’ll say… true. I’ve heard rumors about this but unfortunately, I never witnessed it myself. Insert sad face here.

What’s the best piece of advice Stan ever gave you?

“Believe in yourself even when the rest of the world doesn’t.”

What’s your favorite photo with Stan?

What did you do?!

I like to tell people it was a dialogue disagreement, but we were just goofing around after a shoot.

What’s your favorite Stan Lee created character?

The Hulk! He’s larger than life and exciting but can’t control his power. He faces terrible struggles every day but still strives to help others and never gives up hope.

If you could have one super power what would it be and why?

I’d like to have Reed Richards’ or Tony Stark’s intellect. I know that’s not technically a super power but those characters could cure cancer, solve hunger, and have such a positive influence on the world if they existed.

What’s your favorite Stan Lee cameo?

Mallrats. But it was more than a cameo! He had a whole scene! And how sweet was that beard?

What’s your most memorable convention moment with Stan?

I did a panel with Stan at New York Comic Con in 2010 and my son got to come up on stage and meet him. Stan was incredibly kind to him and shook his hand. I clearly remember what he said to him, and 9 years later he remembers all of it. It was such a brief moment, but I can see how formative it’s been to him. He hasn’t washed that hand since.

Have you ever seen Stan without his trademark glasses?

Yes, I’ve been to lunch with Stan many times, so I’ve seen him take them off. Not to bring up the Distinguished Competition, but let’s just say I understand why no one recognizes Clark Kent without his shades.

If you had to describe Stan Lee in one word, what would it be?

Infectious.

Keeping with the one-word rule, can you tease the upcoming storyline for Backchannel?

Emotional.

When is Backchannel returning?

April 9th, and you can catch a new chapter every week from there on out!

Where can fans read it?

Read Backchannel FREE on webtoons.com or on the LINE Webtoon app.