November 18, 2007
FoE2: Cult Media

Danny Bilson,
Transmedia Creator

Jeff Gomez,
Starlight Runner

Jesse Alexander,

Gordon Tichell,
Walden Media

Panel moderated by Henry Jenkins, MIT

The live-blogging effort comes from current CMS Graduate Students Kevin Driscoll, Joshua Diaz, and Debora Lui.

Henry Jenkins: Welcome back from lunch to join the Cult Media Panel. Marginal, niche media has fast become part of the mainstream in shows such as Lost and Heroes. Whereas they might have been on the Sci Fi Channel previously, now they are big hits on the major networks. This is precisely the tension that we want to talk about during this session, how this 'niche' content can appeal to many people and across platforms. Transmedia storytelling was something we focused on for FOE1, but this year, we are thinking about this in terms of cult media.

Why doesn't each panelist to describe niche media and what's changing in that space?

Jesse Alexander: He is a writer and producer on Heroes and previously also worked on Alias and Lost. He wrote genre screenplays in Hollywood, especially Sci Fi, and loved Star Wars and Apple II. His first job was writing Apocalypse for PlayStation.

Right now he works on Heroes, managing the writers room, and shaping the content for the show. They work collaboratively. Writing Heroes is similar to a Dungeons & Dragons game. He's very involved in the transmedia content for show.

Danny Bilson: Started in movies in the 80s, such as Rocketeer, Sentinel, Viper Red. He wrote a graphic novel called Red Menace. He teaches at USC, in game-writing. He was previously an Electronic Art-ist. He left to try to get something going in transmedia property.

Jeff Gomez: He was a kid growing up in late 60s/70s in the Manhattan projects, where he felt like an outsider. In order to deal with this, he became involved in Sci-Fi media. He created his own Godzilla content by repurposing mass media imagery found in magazines. As he got older, he began to explore mythology and fantasy worlds, and was floored by the realism of those worlds. He wanted to emulate this, and find a system of rules that allowed him to do that, such as D&D. He needed to find a way to make fantasy worlds accessible to other people in the projects, and he began to get a sense of what the interactive experience was like for non-fans. He had to do a sort of market research on them to get them to play with him.

He became a creative writing teacher after college where he applied these methods. From building this curriculum, he began to self-publish a magazine called Gateways using a Mac Plus. He got national distribution for this, and came into contact with luminaries in the gaming world. He then started looking to BBSes as places to extend the role-playing worlds. He predicted that there would be this kind of ongoing storyline on TV and these would go back into novels or video games, and low and behold this came to be. He began writing Palladium books, and Valiant comics. They asked him what character to pick to make into a video game and he suggested Turok, the Dinosaur Hunter, who ended up becoming a major property for Acclaim. He later brought Magic: The Gathering to Acclaim's attention. Now he heads Starlight Runner Entertainment, which takes intellectual properties and develops fictional world around them. He embraces a 'fractional' methodology, zeroes in on the message of the property. Because they know how to collectively develop these, they help companies do this. They have done Hot Wheels, Disney fairies, working with Coca-Cola, working with James Cameron's new movie.

Gordon Tichell has been in media business 15 years, with 14 years spent on finance side, reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. He now makes family entertainment and adaptations of children's literature. He also works with families and community groups, using movies as a teaching tool. Present work includes identifying groups and niche audiences, creating ownership and affinity for these projects.

Henry Jenkins: What factors account for the shift from niche to mainstream media properties?

Danny Bilson: The argument of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, that is, Star Wars and Jaws represent B-movies which became A-movies. There has been a shift into making genre properties over 'drama.'

Jesse Alexander: There have always been fans and devotees of genre entertainment, but now they have power to connect through the Internet. That has led to mainstream acceptance. Media creators are also getting older and they draw from their childhood affinities for genre material. This is like when the Harry Potter fans become creative writers.

Jeff Gomez: There is magnificent talent applied to niche genres. Before it was the 'hacks,' but now it's where you find really talented maturing artists.

Danny Bilson - We all liked stuff because it was cool. Now we are still offering the traditional TV stuff (family and character drama, etc.) which can connect to genre storylines also.

Jesse Alexander - Network TV is a broad medium and having an ensemble cast and more people to relate to (such as in Lost and Heroes) allow people to feel greater affiliation.

Gordon Tichell: With the growth of the DVR and TiVo, people can more easily keep up with genre media.

Jesse Alexander: This was especially true with Lost and Heroes. The themes of hope and community and collaboration between outsiders are common in genre media, and this positivity is part of why so many people connect to them.

Danny Bilson: Does this work with non-serialized content? I've wanted to do a non-serialized show, but networks won't go with it because of the numbers. (To Jesse) The transmedia ancillary products really drive the numbers, since you get non-traditional revenue streams for advertisers.

Jesse Alexander: This was born out of Alias with a very specific fan audience. We tried to saturate the market with all this alias transmedia stuff in order to keep us on the air. We apply these multiple revenue streams on Heroes as well.

Henry Jenkins: We often speak of audience passions. Can you speak to building a hardcore fan base? What is needed for market success?

Jesse Alexander: Being a superfan myself, I approach it from a very authentic place. I think about what I would want for myself. In marketing, it's important to go after early adopters, influencers. It's a great strategy for something like Heroes. It's a problem with servicing this small group and the broad audience as well. But you have to build affinity for both these groups; authenticity for both audiences.

For Heroes at ComiCon, we had to establish presence there at once, with people who I felt would love this property and would be become our most devoted base.

Danny Bilson: In terms of successfully managing the tension between mass and core fan bases, Lost and Heroes both have characters who deal with powerful emotions and agendas as human beings. The transmedia elements, however, try to be deep and complex resources for the hardcore fans to dig into. They could spend anywhere from a few minutes to hours each day on this stuff.

Jesse Alexander: One of the brilliant things about the Heroes characters, is that they are all archetypal characters that a broad audiences would connect to, and genre audiences could see deeper, richer things.

Jeff Gomez: A kid can deliver a piece of extra information on a character because of his hardcore fandom, which they can bring back to their community of mass fans.

Danny Bilson: When it comes to creating this stuff, I don't think about all the stuff we are talking about today (marketing, etc.), I think about what I want to see the most. And that's it. Do the show or video games that you would watch/play. This made me look at film differently, as a piece of the landscape, not the king. I can use a film to do something I can't do in a game, for instance. As a game designer, I can draw from the emotional attachment you form in the film and put it into my game. I don't want to make you sit and watch bad CGI movies with bad voiceover and rubbery lips.

Jesse Alexander: That was exactly my experience with the transmedia stuff on Alias. The writers on the show did that because we wanted to express ourselves creatively; building our story out in multiple media platforms. I then discovered 'transmedia storytelling' in Convergence Culture, and realized that there was already discussion around this. We were just doing stuff that we love. The critical studies work is very helpful though when creating this stuff. We're normally just instinctive and passionate about it. Having thoughtful people, like Henry or Alex Chisholm, talking to us about our process can be extremely helpful in shaping how we work, and getting me to analyze how I create.

Jeff Gomez: Allow me to challenge something you say about this. If you alienate that hardcore audience, you are going to erode everything. Let's look at the X-Files and Enterprise. If the world becomes bigger than the people creating the property, if you stop being the steward or the shepherd to lead this brand, this universe, and start to please yourself a little too much, then hardcore fans will become pissed off and walk away. If they leave, then Joe Average will start to leave and feel disconnected too.

Danny Bilson: I want to say relaunch old media properties for a new generation, but the hardcore fans destroyed us. They knew so much more than us, we were almost assaulted by the hardcore fans and their knowledge of intricate details.

Jesse Alexander: I just wanted to say that you're absolutely correct. The creator may take something that is incredibly popular and to do what they want to do creatively they may alienate their audience. The same applies to advertising, as in product integration. I want to sustain the show creatively and try to organically include the products as a part of the world. In my experience in the past, those needs have been passed down on paper without thought to the creative process of the writers, but now in Heroes we have more creative freedom to make the product placement or new kinds of advertising work.

Jeff Gomez: My response is that I like seeing real products on TV since it's really what I drink, what i see in the real world. Nobody drinks 'Mudweiser' beer.

Gordon Tichell: We get a lot of requests to create products entirely around a product. That is the driving force.

Jesse Alexander: The Starter Wife was sponsored by Ponds, and it was incredibly effective that they did something like that. I think of Ponds now. We did some great things last year with Nissan and we weaved it into the story. Hiro on Heroes always spoke about the Nissan Versa and it became a character in the series in a way that did not became forced. Now the car's popularity has been doing well internationally.

Henry Jenkins: Most of Walden's films have been fantasy, tackling subjects that encounter a lot of resistance in cultural pockets (librarians used to snatch the science fiction out of my hands as a kid, and there have been the protests about paganism and witchcraft in Harry Potter). How do you deal with the genre of fantasy and bring it to families?

Gordon Tinchell: We look for good stories. That's why when the company started, we spent a lot of time researching the reading habits and preferences of kids. We made Holes because of a suggestion by a librarian. The Chronicles of Narnia, is a very powerful story to people for whom a Christian allegory resonates as well as those who have no idea. It is the power of the story that drew both crowds in. We were both very respectful of the Christian perspective as well as not strictly adapting it. There is a delicate balance between being faithful to the book as well as making it appealing to a mass audience.

For the series, we knew that people didn't know about the next book, Prince Caspian, and did a lot of promotion for the next book/story and C.S. Lewis. We were very plain about the fact that this would be a faithful adaptation. You have to be respectful to the original text.

Question from the audience: How much of the revenue of the Heroes comes from international sales?

Danny Bilson: The overseas market is easier for action -- that's the generalization. It's been important for me, though.

Jesse Alexander: It's been important for us too - even through unofficial channels like bittorrent trading. The international revenue is incredibly important. We had fans in France at the Jules Verne Festival before Heroes even aired in France. Serialized stories from the U.S. are internationally accepted (Heroes, Lost, Alias), but a new thing I am creating will be developed internationally at the same time. I'm finding people to develop the show globally who can localize the mythology. Transmedia storytelling has be built in organically with your property.

Jeff Gomez: In 2002, we were approached by Mattel for Hot Wheels internationally. We moved from the comics we made into videos and then make way for a TV series. They approved it. So right away we were creating a transmedia storyline around these toys. It's an $800 million/ year franchise for Mattel. They wrote a race around the world, half on Earth and half in an alternate dimension with like mile high loops. We put in internationally-known landmarks like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, but Mattel was upset with these because their products were sold internationally in countries that would be upset with that. Later, we had to draw a line. They asked us to create a story with over 30 characters, none of whom would be female because the product is sold in nations where women drivers don't exist. Starlight Runner took a stand and said we said we wouldn't agree to this.

Jesse Alexander: Is this 'World Race'?

Jeff Gomez: Yeah, we were told to accommodate this by creating a female racer who gets saved by male racers--in the next episode, she solves a big problem using math. Those middle eastern countries accepted these, they still watch this on their DVD players, so it seems not to be a problem.

Jesse Alexander: We have the same problem kind of with Heroes, with Japanese characters speaking Japanese as well as a Korean playing a Japanese person on the show. But we wondering if this would play with other (Japanese) audiences. But our show has been incredibly successful in Japan! I think it worked because it came from a very creative, pure place and we were trying to appeal to people on this level.

Question from the audience: Dealing with your conversation about taking a social stance with storytelling. I worked with some people with some disabilities and facial amputations and their us and this came up on Monday's episode of Heroes, and. . . I'd like to see some characters with disabilities.

Danny Bilson: We have problems with casting the people who may be really in wheelchairs or Native Americans, but sometimes you want to choose the best actors and people for the part.

Jesse Alexander: Tim Kring (the creator of Heroes) originally wanted to create all different kinds of people, multiple ethnicities, multiracial couples, etc. What we found was that people really loved that stuff, but in terms of being locked by the form into a specific group of ensemble characters, it's been challenging to introduce new characters actually. We created Heroes Origins to help bring in these new characters and creatively explore these other stories.

Tim's vision of the show was a very humanistic idea about people around the world coming together. He's very into that hopeful message. When you're dealing with a serial, it will take you into directions that are hard to break away from.

Question from the board: How is transmedia storytelling impacted by media consolidation?

Danny Bilson: If you can show everyone all these revenue streams, you run into movie divisions that care about themselves more than everyone else. They are interested in protecting their properties and their careers! One of the questions here is 'Where could transmedia come from?' I think in the future, it's not from the media company, I think it will be from the other way - the fans, like it has been. Maybe we have to give them more tools, it's important to give them the tools and let them do what they do. We have to build worlds where people want to go.

Jesse Alexander: In terms of the corporate convergence, does it make transmedia storytelling easier? The rhetoric that Danny is using is correct. The media companies, there's a massive infrastructure, there are multiple different departments doing the same thing. Maybe they don't know each other and there is a lack of synergy, and that is frustrating when trying to be creative together. However, companies are looking more towards synergy and how this might be an important thing.

Gordon Tichell: In our company, we all get together on a monthly or bi-weekly basis to discuss our properties and spin-offs, etc.

Jesse Alexander: I think Disney does get it in many ways. Hopefully within that infrastructure there is a way to connect the executives with the creative people. That is the location of the massive disconnect in many companies now. The brainstorming about the transmedia stuff isn't connected to the creative people.

Danny Bilson: There is a difference between an established franchise that already has a fixed audience and therefore revenue. When you take something from the start (like Heroes), I'm wondering if you have to spend more money on advertising than making it; starting from zero and rallying the corporate people into getting that this is a huge deal.

Jeff Gomez: The producers guild is trying to create a new understanding of the transmedia producer. Some of these huge corporates don't talk to each other. It's true even in the case of a planned trilogy like Pirates of the Caribbean. But don't you want an evergreen franchise so that people come back and build more? The only way to facilitate this is create a transmedia experience that goes on and on. The fun thing that Starlight Runner does is that we create strategies behind how the story jumps between one medium to the next and supports the vision. We are the third party in many of these instances and we have to have a huge amount of diplomacy. Our secret sauce is that we become the shepherd in this process. A task force can be assembled from multiple divisions in order to implement this.

Danny Bilson: What about the brand management, turning that over to a 3rd party?

Jeff Gomez: Companies look at us and say, 'I want that - what they're doing with X property over there!' And they let us implement that. I'm hoping that in symposiums like this a continual community will help other people open their eyes about transmedia content.

Jesse Alexander: In our show, there are individuals from their companies who really get it, who are young and open to risk, who will feel attached to our goal and the transmedia storytelling. We found people within the organization in a very task force type of situation. but for them to flourish into this space, they need some brand manager who can oversee and connect the people and implement the transmedia concepts.

Danny Bilson: Transmedia storytelling is hot and sexy - hot and sexy! - to executives, but what are the metrics to measure this? We can do it now cause it's cool, but what about that?

Jesse Alexander: NBC has metrics they show to advertisers to get money for these transmedia departments. If they are bringing money and creating 'Transmedia Departments', then they probably have a metric that tells them that it's the right thing to do.

Danny Bilson: If you deal with a Fortune 500 company who wants to do that, it's a little trickier cause advertising is limited to their company, so they need to have different metrics for that. I know they're trying to build these to sell to themselves and outside.

Jesse Alexander: CIA and ICMS are also trying to do this now. I think almost any successful property or brand that can will incorporate transmedia concepts.

Henry Jenkins : So far only professionally developed properties have been discussed. What about fan developed properties, especially in terms of rights and revenue distribution, etc.

Danny Bilson: We had this show The Sentinel with all these women fans who were writing fanfic, being hardcore fans. They really loved it. Back to my Sims example, we have to give them tools and have them create on their own. We are still talking a lot about this. How do you organize this or add value to your show? That is definitely still a challenge.

Jesse Alexander: It is kind of like how I used to create my own things out of Star Wars, but we have to create the 'gaps' where people can play. There are hardcore people that will play with these, but we always have to get mass audiences to get involved too. Tim had a great idea where people created their own characters. So now we have this tool where they can create their own hero, based on location, powers, etc. it's a casual gaming relationship but also powerful. Mark Warshaw is building a game into this-- like a trading card game. After that, we'll take the one character that wins and try to use it perhaps in a webisode series. We have to find a way to give that character value, to make them part of the canon.

Jeff Gomez: Let me tell you what my vision is for the future of entertainment! When I was a dungeon master, I was creating a world with my players-- there was a spark of magic. And I, as a storyteller, was valuing and celebrating your participation in this world. And then gave you a challenge that you could overcome so that you could get more value. I am hoping that everyone in the audience in their own small way, can be validated in this way, in creating canon, not just a character with a webisode or a cameo. That's one step, but eventually, at some point, with maybe some of the tools we are trying to develop, that you will move closer to the center of the action through your actions, your cleverness, your passion.

A transmedia experience. A living breathing operating fictional world.

Danny Bilson: You're a game designer, but you need a rule set. It's not just virtual reality.

Jesse Alexander: That's awesome, but the real challenge to that is creative collaboration. That's the perfect analogy to how we created the last season of Heroes. We all sat together in a room to create and collaborate on that story. We've learned tremendous lessons from this process. Though collaborative creation is very challenging, but how would this look without the audience interactive space?

Danny Bilson: In games (unlike TV or films) we all sit together and come up with ideas and no one is a core visionary who directs the action and implements it.

Jesse Alexander: That team approach, functioning as a group we do rapid prototyping, which allows us to stay ahead of that production curve.

Danny Bilson: However, you have multiple threads so you can more easily work collaboratively.

Question (Jason Mittel) - D&D is cool. But it's a micro-medium, and how do you scale that? There's a gap there...

Jeff Gomez: It's a design challenge, not a gap -- do you play MMOs? There are people who wander in the back alleys of MMOs that people never talk to or see. They are not validated personally for their investment and exploration. But with the developing technologies, we can improve this situation. I'm not just talking about a game experience; it's an enhanced fan experience.

Audience: Could data mining help with this? Wearing something on your body that tracks you, for example.

Danny Bilson: Well, we're working on something like that. Engineers are working on a theme park that would be like a live-action MMO.

Audience Q: Approaching between fantasy and actuality, running up against history. How do you do history? Like the people behind Inconvenient Truth, who went on tour, or in the CS Lewis properties. How are you trying to bridge from the escapism of fantasy into reality?

Jeff Gomez: Before I got here, I had some hard knocks. I think often about my peers, the kids I left behind, who didn't make the choices I made and wound up in dark areas. Everything I do is talking back to them and reminding me. There is a social message in what I do, and I look for messages in the universes I create. If there is no message, the whole thing falls flat, no matter how many millions of dollars you throw at it. It's a requirement for there to be a message! That's what Narnia got, Heroes got. That's what made them successful. This can be made more powerful and overt and not to the point where it's didactic.

Jesse Alexander: Tim Kring created Heroes from a pure place - trying to tell a story. The success of the show is tied to the fan community showing support and love. He really believes that the success of Heroes comes from the fan community, from ComicCon to now. He's spoken about (on some level) this idea, so I'm safe to talk: he wants to use Heroes as a transmedia brand to be more of a positive force for good in the real world- bringing community together and finding out what they care about, trying to bring positive social change in the world. Tim and I have been working on this, talking to people at MIT, Silicon Valley, to use pop culture entertainment to demonstrate the power of things like philanthropy, social awareness. It's difficult to do this without being overbearingly didactic. That's all i can say, but check out Invisible Children, a transmedia project that provides grassroots fundraising for kids in Ethiopia, to let people know how they can affect a very real-world situation. elegant tools, Web 2.0, podcasting, real-time metrics.

Gordon Tichell: With every one of our films, we try to find a social goal. We recently set a goal with Toys for Tots and got 28,000 lbs. of toys.

Jesse Alexander: We talked to Nicholas Negroponte, about One Laptop Per Child. It's tied in to Heroes. It's empowerment, changing individual lives as a group. Masi Oka (Hiro) is a spokesperson for OLPC, it's thematically consistent with our brand, and I hope we can work together.

: 10 years ago we built tech to put people into videos; that was possible with rotoscoping. As creatives, are you willing to open up your content and do 50 clips that are green-screened so people could extend their universe?

Jeff Gomez: We won't need to-- in a year or so, people will be able to rip apart a scene from Heroes and cut it together.

Jesse Alexander: I'm gonna say no, we won't give you our characters, but we'll give you a few characters, we wanna make sure that this can remain consistent. For Heroes, we were looking at all the stuff that was being created for YouTube. However, we had to give them a ruleset about what clips they could use because of legal constraints . . . it would have been better to give fans freedom and say 'send in cool stuff that you're making' but we just couldn't.

Danny Bilson: EA tries to do that, with games and youtube . . .

Jesse Alexander: Yeah-- we shot an amazing handicam thing where someone hits Claire with a car and it's very real-- too real, we couldn't put it out there, it was too imitatable. You'll find people out there-- someone in NBC even-- who was willing to put resources into making this stuff, but they take it up the food chain and people say "No way, are you crazy?"

Henry Jenkins: Top question on the board -- what will it take to convince the corporations that transmedia isn't just clever advertising, but it's own original content?

Danny Bilson: It's not just taking swords and playing around -- high school musical counts too. it's not just geek stuff, maybe it's a different kind of geek. But it's a genre, it has a passionate audience.

Jeff Gomez: High School Musical points to the future. These things are evolving into things that appeal to young women. but there has to be things that exemplify it.

Danny Bilson: My guess is when some executive envoys transmedia like we do, then they'll get it. Until then, it's just promotional. Now that CEOs are gamers, we can start talking about games. I think games are a really important transmedia piece. My whole career is to get you in the movie somehow. But people have to understand it from a user point of view -- not revenue, not flash. I do it from a user POV -- because I love to play games. I love star wars toys, me and Jesse would love to write star wars show.

Jesse Alexander: I was just at Skywalker Ranch.

Danny Bilson: That is so neat.

Jesse Alexander: We've been talking about transmedia from a corporate media-based place. I experimented with the web on Alias, just doing it myself. I would argue more than many other media, the tools that are available to individuals outside the structure are all out there for you to exploit. Some people involved in ilovebees or other ARGs are now creating their own games! That's one place where we'll see crazy new things. Maybe you know the guy who created Afterworld? He got people he knew to use CG and do a story, he built it online himself and with his friends and money he could get together. The garage games/fanfic idea of transmedia is gonna show me how powerful this can be.

Danny Bilson: All this fan-generated stuff is a feedback loop! Like in theater, the audience responds and you adjust. In TV, you're going like a maniac, you can't adapt. You lose the forest for the trees, because you're making it for fans! But you forget-- the last season of The Sentinel, we were influenced by the fans, so we could give them the mythology. It's better than crappy focus groups, you can filter that out yourself.

Jesse Alexander: If we got bad feedback about the new characters, but it's too bad, we're too far ahead and can't change it!

Jeff Gomez: You're that far ahead?

Jesse Alexander: Yes but dealing with fan response, their input, is so valuable. People who have the time to think about this are so valuable in shaping how it works, how I do it. Media studies people, like fans, give me input to make alterations in the future.

Gordon Tinchell: In Narnia, there were fans who put a blog together called narnia fans. They wasn't posting anything from Disney or Lewis...they had a much higher unique user rate than the official website, because it was a 2-way communication. We had chats on our side, but it wasn't the same.

Jesse Alexander: Building fan communities, we took lessons from Joss Whedon on Buffy, then applied that to Lost. We had someone who had connections to that fan community, so we built an official-unofficial place, so people had a place to communicate. We did that with 9th wonder (the Heroes comic book) too, we tried to have it in place. If we were doing it on our own now (like we did with Lost), we'd be in control. But now NBC or whoever has control over the space, who moderates, who gets paid. In the future, if i might create my own property, I might create the space myself, so nobody else has control over the fans.

Jeff Gomez: Right now I'm paid by the marketing divisions of these companies. What we're pushing for though is to move from that to transmedia storytelling, which is more development/production than consumer product. It will be an art form, it will be something that emerges from visionaries, it will not be paid for with marketing dollars. I'm impatient, but that's what has to happen next.

Jesse Alexander: That's something that's challenged us: as a Star Wars fan, I want that other stuff (t-shirts & toys) and I want it to extend the story. For example, I met with someone who wanted to make a replica Hiro sword. Maybe we can create a special comic on the back on the box that is canon to add narrative value to that product. It's very challenging to try to do that in a company because of the filtering and way product deals are setup.

Jeff Gomez: We're creating a Pirates of the Caribbean prequel for Disney. We used the channels that allowed us to develop a mythology to make our story canon. It's an interactive story for tweens and it's gonna be animated. I can't go into it more but it's international and trying to get backstory.

Henry Jenkins: What do comics add to the transmedia landscape?

Danny Bilson: I met with a company the other day that just build intellectual property. They build it, you market it. I'm approaching the question this way, because . . . comic books to movies is stupid. I like them, but..get it in a graphic novel form and they'll like it better. Use a comic book as an extension, that's important to me. But comics don't penetrate the market -- to seed the hardcore, then build out. I'm working on something now, I mean I'm a comic writer, but I'm doing it because I love it.

Jesse Alexander: But the digital component to that -- comic store comics are tiny. DC and Marvel mostly build IP out of their base. But on Heroes, we release these comics nightly. They give you backstory, futurestory, original story. Those comics are incredibly successful. They won't give me original numbers, but it's huge. In Brazil, they found the comics before the show! That kind of graphic storytelling can reach a lot of people, and the opportunities on the net are just beginning.

Jeff Gomez: From a marketing standpoint, the fortune 500 companies-- because of the legitimacy of manga/comics now, they're looking at producing comics that allow them to advertise. They're leveraging them through their own distribution systems. If you're a giant soft drink company, you can get everyone to see a comic.

Danny Bilsonit's really property dependent.

Jesse Alexander: there are so many different genres of manga! Western audiences are finding what they love in Manga, not just super hero stories. As soon as we see more of these online stories, we'll see a bigger spread in the stories they like.

Danny Bilson: I have this theory that the masses don't want to read because it's not instant, like all this other stuff. Having the comic available for Heroes, if it weren't a TV show, it would be in the same boat as all the other comics.

Joshua Green: I think it's too easy to say people aren't reading! People are reading all over the place, just not where you might think.

Jesse Alexander: Comics are great for reluctant readers. You can tell a comic story that incorporates text and other stuff too in the computer. Someone made a comic of metal gear solid that incorporates interactivity so well . . .

Danny Bilson: The last thng I'll say if you give all the tools to everybody, only a percentage will make great stuff. We have the privilege of writing this stuff, and we kinda know how to do it. What percentage of YouTube videos are good? What percentage of Hollywood videos are good? This has happened before, but talent is always important.

Jeff Gomez: To the students you are the next generation. It's vital. I've seen you egghead types. You're inside, building your structures, building your engines, but when you get out, I don't want you to become a cog in this machine. You need to have that message within you that will propel you to help us make these changes. You need to communicate to people with us, who have experience, who can help you get in here. You have enormous passion. Please contact me!

Jesse Alexander: Dialogue and this conference are so important, this is a really critical time. Thanks Henry and everyone at CMS for putting this together!