There are no more Stan Lee cameos left for Marvel movies, with the late comic book legend making his curtain call in Avengers: Endgame. That’s not Stan Lee’s last word, though. Quite literally. One of Lee’s projects in the works before he passed is an original story for Audible. Lee even recorded the introduction for Alliances: A Trick of Light.

Alliances: A Trick of Light tells the story of Nia, a woman in hiding using the internet to connect with the world, and Cameron, a teenager who develops powers tied in with social technology. Yara Shahidi reads the story of Alliances: A Trick of Light, which was created by Lee, Luke Lieberman and Ryan Silbert.

Lieberman and Silbert spoke with /Film by phone about the project and collaborating with Stan Lee. Alliances: A Trick of Light is available on Audible now. 

Stan recorded the intro to Alliances: A Trick of Light. Did he get to hear any of the finished production?

Lieberman: The manuscript was finished in the summer of 2018. The arduous production phase of this began more recently this year.

Was this series something Stan didn’t feel should be an illustrated, visual comic?

Lieberman: Being able to create an immersive audio experience was a new experience for Stan. And then work in every medium under the sun, so I think he was just excited by the opportunity to innovate. And one of the things in particular he loved about the Audible storytelling is that the listener becomes your collaborator. The listener becomes the artist and the illustrator because they’re visualizing it. It allows them to create their own personalized version of the story. 

Silbert: We really live in the golden age of audio right now. A Trick of Light on Audible allows the listener into the experience and to actually collaborate with Stan’s words in a way that’s really unique to this medium. We joke about this but it brings the listener in to collaborate almost as if they are the Ditko or the Kirby. They’re bringing the illustrations to life in their head and really unlocking the power of their own imagination and bringing that to the story. That really completes the circle of storytelling in a way that only through an Audible experience you have. It’s specifically designed for audio. 

Lieberman: I think Stan really liked the elemental nature of audio storytelling and how it kind of harkens back to the radio serials he used to listen to when he was a young man.

Audio has fewer constraints than print as far as space and page count. Were there still notes you had to give and edit?

Silbert: What’s nice about audio is it actually lends itself to what Luke was saying earlier. It harkens back to a medium that Stan drew a tremendous amount of inspiration from in his own comic book storytelling with serialized audio radio serials. In a way it actually is primal to Stan’s working method which is character focused work. And with audio specifically, it was very important to be immersive and to get inside of the characters’ heads in A Trick of Light Nia and Juaquo and Cameron and to see their points of views on the world and to really allow a listener into what it would be like to feel like one of those characters. In terms of development and how we specifically design these characters, or how designed characters for audio, the idea of being able to be inside of a character’s head was very, very integral to that process.

Since there is a manuscript, was there ever any talk of having a print version as a companion piece?

Lieberman: Yes, there’s more than talks. There will be a book out later in the fall. 

Do Nia and Cameron’s great powers come with great responsibility?

Lieberman: [Laughs] That’s actually a great question. The answer is yes. I think these two characters and their connection, Nia and Cameron, there is definitely promise but also danger to their abilities and they learn the hard way as to what the danger might be. They have to figure out how to take responsibility for themselves. Whether or not it’s their first choice to be engaged in the threat and the danger of the world, they’re the only people who can deal with this so they’re the ones that have to. 

Silbert: And to harken back to what Stan said in the introduction, which is actually the organizing principle behind A Trick of Light, it goes back to a Marvel publishing term that  he was very much a part of, which is the question of what if? In this case, for A Trick of Light, the question we asked is what is more real, the world we are born into or the one we create for ourselves? Of course when we live in a world where we have that ability, both in our own world but also in the fictional universe in A Trick of Light, that comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. So I would say yes.

Is it still connected to the Marvel universe, because Cameron knows about Thor and Asgard?

Silbert: One of the great innovations of Stan and his early collaborative storytelling in the Marvel Age was setting all these characters up in a world that we would recognize. It was such an incredible thing to live in the ‘60s. I was not there but I can only imagine when you were used to reading fictionalized superhero stories about cities that don’t really exist in the real world, but then when Stan started working on them, he set them on Fifth Ave. and you could see the street that Spider-Man’s swinging above. Similarly in A Trick of Light, our world is now very much infused with pop culture. A massive part of that is the Marvel comics that Stan brought to the world. Our characters are keenly aware of the real world. I just want to clarify, our story is not set inside of the Marvel universe which is its own universe. Stan mentions that we’re about to embark on a journey to a fantastic new universe.

I see, so he knows Thor from the comic books, not from Thor’s visits to our world.

Silbert: Yes.

Are these powers still unique ones that Stan hadn’t explored yet?

Lieberman: Yeah, the characters are unique and their abilities are unique. Ultimately for Stan, it all comes down to the characters. What he would say is if you care about the characters , if you’re invested in them, you will follow them anywhere. And if you’re not invested in them, it doesn’t really matter what happens to them. Um, and he managed to take characters to some very far out places and in A Trick of Light, the characters go to some very interesting places, but it’s really about more connection with the character and the characters’ connections to one another. That’s the beating heart of the story and I think it’s been the beating heat of all of his best stories.  

Does the heading Alliances suggest there can be many more in this series?

Lieberman: Well, as Stan said, we’re being introduced to a new universes and universes tend to expand. 

Did Stan create any other characters for Alliances before he passed?

Lieberman: Yeah, this is a long, multi-year process. Before it was determined that the initial story that he wanted to launch with he wanted to be a longform, and then ultimately as a longform audio project, there was a big world building initiative with ideas, storylines, characters and things of that nature. I guess what I can say is not all of them made it into the story.

During the years of developing A Trick of Light, how many times did you get to meet with Stan?

Lieberman: Stan was integrally involved from the beginning. His office is actually a few blocks down from mine so I could just kind of go over there. It actually began less formally because I had a long relationship with him and then once we started picking up steam, it  started to become a more kind of formalized process. The kind of irony of it all that we’re writing this story about technology and the way it connects us and half of the collaborative team is on the East Coast. So we created this kind of digital bullpen that allowed us to kind of go back and forth.

Silbert: With Stan, there’s no greater collaborator. I cannot wait for Audible listeners and all the listeners around the world to hear this because this is a true Stan Lee story. It’s just exciting to be able to bring it to listeners. 

Is this Audible’s play to get into the original content world?

Silbert: I can’t speak for Audible but I can say that for us, we’re living in the Golden Age and as storytellers, being able to work with Audible and Audible originals is incredibly supportive and exciting to be working in a technologically advanced medium that harkens back, like I said earlier, to the elemental, most primal side of storytelling which is the oral storytelling tradition. It’s such an exciting place to work. 

People used to sit around the radio and listen to these stories. Now people will probably hear this in their car or at the gym. Have you thought about it plays to audiences on the move versus stationary audiences?

Silbert: I listen to audio in every form in every environment. I think what’s beautiful about audio is that the environment that you listen to it can bring its own sort of element to the experience. If you’re outside or you’re indoors or you’re in a special place or you’re listening to a moment in a book on a park bench, then that park bench because part of how you remember experiencing that story. There are so many different ways to experience audio now and I think that’s what makes it such a dynamic medium. I know that Audible is a leader in that and one of the best places to experience audio storytelling.

When you got Yara to read it, did she really relate to Nia and Cameron?

Lieberman: First of all, it’s a privilege and a pleasure to have her on the project because she brings such a unique, she’s such a unique performer and she brought so much energy and enthusiasm to this, and she was a fan of Audible. But one of the things that was interesting for us as an authorship group is that she was one of the first people outside of our group to read it. She was one of the first people to see the manuscript and just her reaction to it and how enthusiastic she was about the project after reading it made us all feel like we did something right. 

I understand the purpose of this is to explore the potential of audio, but if Hollywood liked it would you object to a movie adaptation?

Lieberman: Oh, I would throw them out of my office. Actually, because you were talking about people reading it, hearing it and the differences when you used to listen to it around kind of the campfire, the radio. What allowed Stan to just work on so many different platforms and media is that I think his basic premise is a good story is a good story is a good story is a good story. And if it’s a good story, it can be adapted into any medium.

How did you two meet up?

Silbert: Luke was a longtime friend and actually the roots of this are for me at Comic Con where I met Luke. For a while we were just good friends and then we started working together. We started finding shared interests and started collaborating on this.

What other projects with Audible or in other media are you developing?

Silbert: At the moment w’ere just focused on A Trick of Light and bringing that out to listeners and letting them into, like I said earlier, complete the circle and bring their imaginations to this story that we’re excited to bring to fans.

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