Comedy Central Producer Tom Akel isn’t just taking you anywhere; more specifically, this November, in conjunction with Arcana Studios, he’s bringing readers a comical look at super hero comics called Anywhere. Set in Akel’s "Heroverse," Anywhere is a six issue mini-series which follows the misadventures of two unlikely heroes, Wormhole and Dust, as they schlep across the globe as a not-so-dynamic pair of slacker-superheroes.
Newsarama contacted Akel to talk about the merits of underachieving, alternative methods of saving the world involving hours of playing videogames and the fact that the would-be-heroes of Anywhere can think of a million ways they’d rather spend their time than saving the world from despair and destruction.
Newsarama: Tom, before we get started, could you introduce yourself and fill Newsarama readers in on your background and your interest in comics? How did you become involved with Arcana Studios?
Tom Akel: Well, my interest in breaking into comics is purely an excuse to write off the comics I blow all my money on come tax season. Greatest. Perk. Ever.
I met Sean O’Reilly from Arcana at the first New York Comic Con back in 2005, I think he stole my drink at the indie party. But it took Alan and I a while to get Anywhere to the point where it could really be formally pitched and understood (a lesson I learned early). In the meantime, Sean and I just had a lot of crossover in terms of interests and work in various fields and wound up working together on an animated series, Red Lotus. Arcana’s interests in multi-media really make them a great fit for what I’m trying to do outside of the books. I should clarify here, the intention is to create comics and digital content that makes sense and is additional to the comic experience, not to option IP for films.
A core principal of Heroverse is to engage our readers outside of the comics with meaningful digital extensions that are equally important to the content of the books. The comic audience is online and on mobile. They engage the properties they love in games, film, and television, yet comic publishers have yet to embrace digital media as anything but a marketing tool. I can read plenty of comics online, but why can’t I experience them or dive deeper into the worlds in which they live? Arcana is onboard with this philosophy.
I think it’s ludicrous that as we approach 2010 there’s still no dailybugle.com or dailyplanet.com where writers can seed stories, cover aspects of the universe that don’t make into the books, introduce new characters or just provide Easter Eggs for hardcore fans; particularly when the principal characters from both of those universes work for those publications.
I recently read about the old Archie character the Web, who goes on missions based on submissions to his website. When I visited the site I was redirected to DC’s site. Talk about a missed opportunity.
You’ll never see that in any Heroverse book. If there’s an occasion to further engage the reader in another medium while extending the story in an organic way that contributes to the narrative we’re going to do it every time.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Anywhere? Who are your principal characters and what are they like?
Akel: Anywhere is the type of content I like to refer to as brainchild afterbirth. It was almost a good idea. The series is centered in Hell’s Kitchen, NY and stars a handful of roommates, two of whom have super powers. Jon, who goes by “Dust”, is sort of the straight man, or more accurately, the sober man, who can turn all or part of his body into dust, which allows him to reshape himself to some degree. His BFF Mitchell, aka “Wormhole”, can create wormholes (shocker) at any size. So between the two of them they have the powers to go anywhere.
Other regulars in the series include “What’s Up,” a gay hero with stretching powers who works across the street from their apartment at a chain coffee shop, Mary, their bi-polar actress/model roommate, Hans, their German roommate who gets possessed by an alien head lice symbiote, and a handful of baddies. The best place to keep up with the activities of all the characters in Anywhere is the Hell’s Kitchen Gazette, http:hkgazette.com, the online newspaper for everything happening in their world, which will be live by the time the first issue hits stands.
Nrama: Where did you find the inspiration for characters like Wormhole and Dust?
Akel: The bottom of a bottle.
Nrama: What sorts of misadventures will readers be privy to in the pages of Anywhere? Is this project purely a satirical look at superhero comics as the dominant genre of the medium?
Akel: Wormhole is a borderline alcoholic and most of the action in the book spins out of something he did on a binge. So if you take your buddy who spends all day playing video games, add lots and lots of booze, and the ability to create wormholes, these are the “adventures” you’d get.
Satirical whabity-wha? This comic is in no way, shape or form a commentary on anything and I’ll date your mother if you suggest otherwise! By the way, did you see our one-of-a-kind Barack Obama cover for issue 3? We think it rocks!
Nrama: What has been the biggest challenge in your pursuit of creating comics thus far?
Akel: Keeping my sanity. Next question.
Nrama: What sort of interaction did you have with series artist Alan Quah? How well have the two of you worked together producing Anywhere?
Akel: It’s cliché, but we’re like an old married couple at this point. We started this so long ago that we’ve become very close friends and even though he’s in Malaysia we do occasionally finish each others’ sentences. Alan even illustrated my wedding invitation. That’s right kids, my wedding invite was a comic book! How cool is my wife?
In terms of process, I send him a script, he reads it, I pray he doesn’t quit at that point, and then he sends me brilliant artwork.
Nrama: Do you feel that Anywhere could translate well into other mediums? Or were you more concerned with creating a good comic book first and foremost?
Akel: Though I think it could make an interesting animated series I’m really just concerned with putting out a quality book. Now, my definition of quality and yours may differ (mine means I finish it and get to put my name on the cover). As I said earlier, it will have a strong digital presence but I don’t want to spoil everything just yet.
Nrama: What sorts of comics were you interested in as a kid or as an adult? Do you have any creators that you are a fan of?
Akel: I grew up reading most DC books, a sizable amount of Marvel, and anything else I could get my hands on; 2000 A.D., Marshall Law, Lone Wolf and Cub, Nexus, TMNT. I mean, if my shop carried it, I would read it.
These days I read anything with "Warren Ellis" on the cover and am a big fan of JMS and Gail Simone. My greatest influences growing up were Giffen and DeMatteis, and you’ll see a nod or 2 to those guys in Anywhere.
Nrama: Beyond this comical look at superheroes, would you like to try your hand at other genres within the comic book medium? Or do you already have other projects on the horizon?
Akel: My interests are pretty varied so if there’s an opportunity to tell a good story the genre is really secondary to me. Currently I really enjoy playing with the sub-genres of superhero books and seeing where that leads but I’d love to eventually take on a pure fantasy, sci-fi or western.
On the immediate horizon are several other books from this universe that I’m working feverishly on; Dragonfire, with art by Steven Babb, and MACHINE, with art by Brandon Palas are the next to release. They’re taking longer than I had anticipated due to the extensive digital work involved but anyone who wants to can keep up with updates on our site, Heroverse.com and facebook page.
Nrama: Before we close up, Tom, what would you like to tell readers about Anywhere? What sort of reader would be attracted to your project?
Akel: Buy this book. You’ll definitely regret it but it’s so much better to have things to regret in life, it’s what shapes us as human beings.