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Creators and Consumers On-line

On-line Triple Threat: Babylon 5's Straczynski

In a world where the line between creator and consumer has always been clear, especially when it comes to such items as newspapers, magazines, books, and television shows, perhaps the way that electronic publications like InterText handle feedback is different. In this magazine you'll find the electronic mail addresses of most of our editors and contributors. Readers feel free to comment on every aspect of the magazine, and of course, this issue's readers will often become next issue's contributors.

In traditional media, however, the only real means of feedback has been traditional postal mail or the occasional irate telephone call. But as creators become more on-line savvy, they're beginning to actively discuss their creations with their audience electronically.

Perhaps the best example of this new dialogue is J. Michael Straczynski, the executive producer and creator of the syndicated science fiction drama Babylon 5. A veteran of on-line services and BBSes, Straczynski relates to fans of his show in GEnie's Science Fiction & Fantasy Roundtable #2, CompuServe's Science Fiction & Fantasy Forum, and USENET's While many of the responses Straczynski gives are simple "thank yous" to electronic fan letters, he also tries to explain alleged plot holes and give hints on where his series' overarching story might be leading.

While tantalizing information on the future of a TV series might be reason enough for fans to log on, what Straczynski gets out of his interaction with fans (including wading through hundreds of messages every day) is less tangible. But he says his on-line fans help keep him honest.

"The best thing about the net is that it forces you to ask questions," he wrote on USENET. "The job of the writer is to come up with every possible question about your character and your world, and answer it, giving both greater verisimilitude. Nobody can come up with every conceivable question, but on the nets, you get questions you never dreamed of. Which helps."

Straczynski may be the best example of a creator appearing regularly on-line to exchange information with his audience (though one-time-only live chats on commercial on-line services are becoming a chic phenomenon), but he's hardly the only one out there. While musician Richard Thompson isn't a reader of the Internet mailing list devoted to him ("They're worse than critics," Thompson said of the list. "They're amateur critics."), musician Suzanne Vega is a subscriber to her own discussion list. Bob Mould, leader of the rock band Sugar, e-mails messages to his fans on an irregular basis from an e-mail address listed prominently in the liner notes of Sugar's latest album. Mould's an on-line veteran, too--when asked about rumors that Hüsker Dü, his previous band, had broken up because of a failed relationship between him and drummer Grant Hart, Mould's response was that the rumor was so bizarre he "hadn't even heard that one on the Internet before."

Bizarre rumors and strange characters are, of course, part of the trouble with going public on-line. Straczynski has had several run-ins with on-line antagonists; some creators solve that problem by "lurking"--listening to the talk without making their appearance known.

But for those who can stand the heat--and that number seems to be growing every day--the in-depth discussions with consumers of their art can be valuable for the creators, too.

--Jason Snell