Forging his own path in the comics industry with Web3 technology, Marvel Comics illustrator Sean Chen has moved on from his early work on the “Iron Man,” “Avengers,” and “Spider-Man” series.
For the first time, Chen is not only serving as the producer of a new NFT-focused comic book series, but also the writer, with the help of Web3 startup 247 Comics.
The main characters of “Genesis” are a Chinese-American scientist named Lucas Zhang and his daughter. Their tense relationship is the film’s main plot point. Militarism, megacorporations, robots, and eternal life are just some of the topics covered. Chen’s original characters star in this darkly comedic and action-packed science fiction story, which also includes scathing references to Disney.
The first issue of the story provides a number of vignettes that set the stage. Bobo World, a pastel theme park that conceals darker attractions for adults, presents a stark contrast between its bright and cheery exterior and the grim military scenes of enormous robots controlled by faraway humans inside.
Chen plans to give readers a modern sense of ownership and fandom by releasing Ethereum NFTs of the work’s characters. Chen and Carl Choi, the publishers of 247 Comics, have released one of the characters, a massive gorilla named Bobo, as a fractionalized NFT that grants early access to select issues of the comic.
Over 553 Ethereum Classics, or nearly $900,000, have changed hands in trades of “Biplane Bobo” NFTs alone so far. Chen and Choi predict that more character NFTs will be created, though the vast majority of them will not be fractionalized like Bobo.
Chen has worked for three major comic book publishers over the course of his career: Valiant, DC Comics, and Marvel. However, despite his prolific output and use of some of the most well-known entertainment characters, Chen admitted to Decrypt that many artists still find it difficult to make a living in the traditional comics industry.
“There’s very predictable sales and there’s a very predictable path these things go through,” he said. “And it’s usually not a very pretty picture,” he said.
Chen argued that while comic book publishers benefited from successful film adaptations and lucrative licensing deals, the artists who created those works saw very little of that money. There was a consensus among other pioneers in the field that this was a fundamental aspect of the creative process.
Even when their characters are the basis for successful film franchises, some comic book writers, like Thanos creator Jim Starlin, have fought Marvel for fair compensation. And in 2021, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” screenwriters Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting claimed that all they had gotten from Marvel was a “thanks here or there.”
Chen said: “What really got me is that those movies—obviously everyone’s seen them, and they’re all household names and they’ve done phenomenally well. And they made Marvel and Disney a lot of money.”
“But it was born from ideas from creators who, a lot of times, they’ve aged out [of the industry] now and they can’t afford health care. They’re just in really bad shape,” he added. “A lot of that doesn’t filter back to the original creators.”
Actually, Chen thinks he had a major impact on how Marvel portrayed Iron Man in the movies. During his time at Marvel, Chen wrote a large number of “Iron Man” issues and many “Wolverine” issues that featured Iron Man.
Choi affirms that Marvel Licensing frequently refers to Chen’s Iron Man designs when establishing brand guidelines for potential licensees. Moreover, Chen confirmed that Marvel frequently cites his interpretation of Iron Man as a reference.
Artis said, “My run on Iron Man falls in a sweet spot where much of the classic, iconic look [is] mixed with the modern day aesthetics.”
On Web3 Western
Even though it is extremely unlikely for an artist to succeed in the comics industry, particularly in terms of making a living, Chen acknowledged that switching to Web3 was an important but risky move.
He stated: “I’m in a fortunate position where I don’t really need to desperately work to put food on the table. So that allows me to take the big gamble and do some writing for the first time and actually take control of the project, and then have this bold way of putting it out.”
The estates of several creators, including Marvel legend Stan Lee and “Judge Dredd” co-creator Pat Mills, have come under fire for NFT releases. There has been pushback against NFTs in the comic book industry.
“There’s a lot of resistance from the community,” Chen said. “They really want to cling to the way things were done in the past, which I’m not sure why—because for the most part, it’s not very successful.”
In the same vein as many other musicians, filmmakers, and other artists who are leaning toward Web3, Chen sees NFTs and tokenization as a way to establish a more direct connection between artists and fans.
He went on to say that the model “exploits a lot of the creatives” responsible for the books, and that the traditional comic industry is supported by corporations that are “just a machine.” In this new model, he said, communication is strengthened between the author and the audience.
While Chen agrees that some PFP NFT projects started by others are “cash grabs,” he does not think people should give up on the technology or its potential.
Some businesses, such as the social networking website Reddit, use the term “digital collectibles” to refer to NFTs in a more positive light. “I think most people with a brain can kind of see this is where things are going,” Chen noticed of “digital collectibles” as the synonym of NFTs.
When it comes to traditionalists who prefer printed issues to digital ones, Chen is unconcerned. He has futuristic comics on his mind. He believes his work “looks much better on digital,” allowing readers to “actually enter the space” and become involved with what he has to say.
Comics on the Web 3 are a relatively new market. Although this is the case, Chen and 247 Comics will be up against competition from “The Hunger Games” co-producer Bryan Unkeless and his team who are working on “Runner,” as well as from the Huxley NFT comics created by renowned concept artist Ben Mauro, whose work has so far generated close to $9 million in sales.
Despite backlash from die-hard fans and an uncertain future, Chen remains upbeat about the prospects for Web3 comics.
“This is the first thing that’s a real paradigm shift in the way comics are consumed,” he said.
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