Rob Feldman would not stop laughing.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Okay,” he said, before unraveling into another fit of giggles. “Okay. Wooh!”

Feldman is a comic book author. He’s spent well over a decade trying to get television adaptations of his comics off the ground—a feat that hasn’t proven so easy. But on a foggy Monday morning recently, the writer and animator sat in a recording studio in Burbank, watching the actor Jon Gries finally bring a character of his creation to life. 

Feldman marveled as, on the other side of the recording booth glass, Gries improvised a series of Spicoli-inspired cackles to embody Cuda Cano: a diabolical, extraterrestrial surfer. Cuda features among an ensemble of wacky aliens and SuperEarthlings in “Cyko KO,” an animated television pilot based on Feldman’s long-running comic of the same name. 

Jon Gries prepares to record his role in "Cyko KO." Photo: Eric Thayer

The laughter was contagious, apparently. Or maybe Feldman was just having a hard time concealing his sheer giddiness at the occasion. 

It wasn’t just Gries who lent his vocal talents to “Cyko KO” that day. The veteran actor, perhaps most currently recognizable for his two-season stint on HBO’s critically adored series “The White Lotus,” also played the jockish Tupperware salesman Uncle Rico in the 2004 film “Napoleon Dynamite.” Feldman managed to secure almost every core member of that cult classic’s leading cast to voice his pilot.

Feldman (left) directs Gries. Photo: Eric Thayer

That accomplishment is notable for two reasons. One, the “Napoleon Dynamite” cast has never, as an informal rule, reunited on a project, save a short-lived animated reboot of the film that aired on Fox for one season. And two, perhaps more crucially: Feldman’s pilot had no backing by a Hollywood network or studio, nor even by a traditional production company. 

That’s near unheard-of in television, where production budgets can rapidly spin out of control, and you can count viable distributors on your fingers. But thanks to a few factors, including novel Web3 fundraising strategies, “Cyko KO” is coming alive without the support or consent of an entity like Netflix or Hulu. 


As the day carried on, more “Napoleon Dynamite” alumni trickled their way into Feldman’s recording booth—Tina Majorino, better known as side-ponytailed outcast Deb; Efren Ramirez, the man behind one of film’s all-time legendary class presidents, Pedro; and Napoleon himself, Jon Heder. 

Jon Heder (left) and Efren Ramirez catch up between takes on "Cyko KO." Photo: Eric Thayer

The gathering felt a bit like the reunion of a high school friend-group: equal parts exhilarating and familial. 

Ramirez sat in a corner of the green room at one point, dissecting the “Cyko KO” script with four pens and three highlighters, each a different color—his customary prep for a new character. In “Cyko KO” he plays Lil Kahuna, the pint-sized sidekick to Gries’ surfer villain Cuda Cano. 

“I imagine that Skeletor was my father who left me, so I take the carbon copy of him—which is you,” Ramirez explained to Gries of Lil Kahuna’s origin and motivations. “I want full power at the end. But the truth is, I'm hoping to get my father's love one day.”

Gries, who had walked straight into the recording booth from the parking lot earlier that morning, rolled his eyes. “He’s going deep on this,” Gries deadpanned to Heder. 

Gries and Ramirez. Photo: Eric Thayer

The three of them—Ramirez, Gries, and Heder—remain close to this day. They routinely travel the country together, hosting local screenings of “Napoleon Dynamite” followed by informal jam sessions and heart-to-heart conversations with the film’s die-hard, enduring fan community. 

The bonds between “Napoleon” cast members, and between the cast and its fandom, run deep. The film, an ultra-low budget indie shot in rural Idaho by industry outsiders that went on to earn a staggering $46 million at the box office, succeeded largely due to the vigorous word-of-mouth support of its startup fanbase.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence at fan screenings these days for audience members to share that the film, with all its idiosyncratic charm, kept them going during periods of exceptional trauma and pain—or even saved them from suicide.


“I am still alarmed at the fact that I did one small film that could make that much of an impact on people's lives,” Ramirez told Decrypt.

Heder (left) watches his Verified Labs co-founder Justin Winters voice a "Cyko KO" character. Photo: Eric Thayer

So it makes sense the “Napoleon” cast is cautious about toying with the film’s legacy. They’ve avoided reuniting on another piece of media for almost 20 years now, besides the short-lived official animated series. But something about “Cyko KO” felt different. 

“Typically, I'm kind of protective of the ‘Napoleon’ world,” Heder told Decrypt. “We love each other. We're like family. But this was a chance for us to work together again in a capacity where it didn't feel like there were any expectations.”

Heder, the group’s informal ringleader, is no stranger to the blockchain. In 2021, he co-founded Verified Labs, a Web3 art and entertainment studio. “It started simply with art,” and a means to distribute it, Heder said of his relationship to crypto.

Numerous Verified projects are powered by Theta, a layer-1 network that facilitates the streaming of decentralized media. It just so happens that Feldman uses Theta, too; last week, the author published a collectible compendium of Cyko KO comics on the platform via NFTs. It was through Theta that Heder and Feldman first came into contact, and Feldman took the opportunity to pitch the actor on “Cyko KO.” 

The series, a Hanna-Barbera-esque episodic centered on the titular Cyko—a stunt motorcyclist tasked with saving an interplanetary human colony—did not risk infringing on the quirky and quotidian coming-of-age territory of “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Because of that, and perhaps also due to the project’s ragtag, grassroots origins, Heder soon signed on to star as Cyko with Verified Labs co-producing the series. He then got the core “Napoleon” cast, including Haylie Duff, to come aboard as well. 

Image: Rob Feldman

Armed with that star power and the novel hook of a “Napoleon Dynamite” reunion, Feldman was able to sell NFT access passes for “Cyko KO” that offered holders exclusive access to view the series’ first episode, once produced. The sale raised over $118,000, enough to create a 12-minute pilot.


That method of producing—tapping into an organic fanbase to realize a creative vision, instead of depending on the external, centralized power of Hollywood—resonated with Heder. 

“‘Napoleon’ was very similar,” Heder said. “‘Napoleon’ couldn’t have gotten its success without those original fans. It was taking that journey with them. Nobody knew where it was going.”  

Ramirez, Feldman, and Gries joke outside of the recording studio. Photo: Eric Thayer

The fundraise was unlike anything in Feldman’s decades-spanning creative career. The author and illustrator had spent years painstakingly building a body of work independently, often at great personal expense. Eventually, he’d parlayed that reputation into multiple development deals with major studios. But as is so often the case, none of his projects were ever actually produced. This time around, Feldman took matters into his own hands. 

“This takes a poor sap like me, and says, ‘You know what? We actually have a voice,’” Feldman told Decrypt of the Web3 film fundraising process. “We can raise money, we have a community, and we can make this thing either way.”

Heder loosens up in the recording booth. Photo: Eric Thayer

Feldman hopes to shop the “Cyko KO” pilot to networks after its completion later this summer, as a proof-of-concept that will cut through the development process. There’s no guarantee that approach will get “Cyko KO” on a major streamer; but even if it doesn’t, the fact that Feldman now gets to spend his days creating—instead of waiting—may have permanently changed his outlook.

“I used to be enamored with the idea of being under option, of getting this film deal,” Feldman said. “And if [‘Cyko’] goes to Netflix, or if it goes to series, that's amazing. But honestly, I could probably live out the rest of my life just doing this.”

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