Innovation That Matters

Julian Rowe on how NFTs are revolutionising art

Wise Words

Julian Rowe, creator of the comic Bored Apes Enter the metaverse, on why NFTs are appealing as an artist and how scarcity, community and art come together in the NFT space.

Cryptocurrencies are redefining the 21st century art market. NFTs, known as non-fungible tokens, are perhaps most easily understood as “bitcoin for art”. Just as Bitcoin allows people to spend and save digital money without any centralised authority, so do NFTs for art. NFTs provide a format for images, videos, music, and anything else that can be digitally portrayed, to be bought, sold, stored and authenticated without the need of a gatekeeper. Moreover, NFTs can be digitally traced forever, and because they cannot be duplicated, they hold similar prestige to original artwork.

In March, a virtual auction at Christie’s sold an NFT for €59.44 million. The spotlight piece was Everydays: The First 5,000 Days, by digital artist Mike Winkelmann, or more commonly known as Beeple.

To understand more about why and how NFTs are revolutionising the world of art, we spoke to cartoonist and NFT artist Julian Rowe who will soon be releasing his new NFT comic based on the trendy Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT series. The first issue of Bored Apes Enter the Metaverse was released last week on 21 August. All 9,999 copies of the comic’s first issue have already sold out. 

Speaking to Springwise, Julian highlights the three driving forces behind NFTs: scarcity, social capital created through community, and art.  He also sheds light on one of the major controversies surrounding NFTs as contributing to planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions, providing some hopeful insight into how NFTs and cryptocurrency might play a role in the adoption of renewable energy. 

1. Why are NFTs appealing to you as an artist and what are some of the benefits?

NFTs make the distribution of art insanely easy for artists and very advantageous for collectors. If I wanted to sell a painting before NFTs, I would have to contact a gallery, have a show or list my artwork on a 3rd party website, then package and ship the art. With NFTs, I’m just doing this all from my laptop, and instead of having maybe 50 people at my gallery show, I can have thousands of potential collectors looking at my work. The collectors are also way more motivated in this space because of the ability to quickly flip the art on the open market. I’ve seen artists struggling to promote an Etsy store make 30k in a week in this space. And the collectors made 40k from flipping the art! 

2. What can you tell us about your new NFT comic? 

It’s an action-adventure story based on the characters created by the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT series. It takes place in the metaverse — a collective virtual world in which humans immerse themselves, collaborate and interact (socially and economically) through their avatars — and involves a variety of NFT and crypto-related references. Issue #1 just sold out!

3. Where did the original idea come from? And what inspired you to materialise it? 

A few weeks before starting the project, I saw the Pixel Vault team create a story around the Crypto Punks NFT series. It was a massive success in the community. When the Bored Ape Yacht club started to gain traction, I thought – why not make a Bored Ape comic? I reached out to a few people who owned the Bored Ape NFTs and asked if they wanted to be in a comic. It’s a win-win, their apes will rise in value for being in a comic series, and I get to make a cool book! 

4. What was your background prior to this, and how has that shaped your work? 

I’ve been doing freelance art for almost 12 years now. I drew cartoons for the New Yorker magazine for a few years, then worked at Take-Two Interactive on a comic book imprint they were starting, then drew storyboards for commercials and film. I got pretty good at drawing and telling stories this way, but I never really started my own project until I saw the potential with NFTs for creator-owned work. 

5. How do scarcity, community and art, come together in the NFT space? 

Scarcity is a driving force behind NFTs, and it hits this really vulnerable psychological spot we have in our hunter-gatherer’s brains. Tell someone that there’s only 1,000 of something they like and 999 people already have one, they’re going to buy it. If there are a million of those same things, they might buy it, or they might not. 

The NFT community works with scarcity to limit the supply by buying up a project and using it as their profile picture or including it in some way in their digital presence. NFTs and their community create a kind of social proof of value, similar to fashion. NBA star Melo, for example, bought a Bored Ape, and the floor price skyrocketed. Enough people saw the value in the Bored Ape Yacht club, and now the NFT series will be auctioned at Christie’s! All of this won’t work if the art is bad, though, so the art has to be good. 

6. Why is the idea of community and social capital so important in this field? 

NFTs offer cross-platform social proof like nothing ever before. I have a Bored Ape now as my profile picture, and people in the space immediately know my value. It’s like wearing a suit or a designer bag, except it’s verified on the blockchain. If there was a new social network created tomorrow, I could port over my profile picture and immediately engage with other members of the same community. 

 7. How have NFTs shaped your concept of value and money? 

I had a very linear perception of money before I got involved in this space. I initially thought that you make money, then spend or save that money, and that’s it. Cryptocurrencies and NFTs have taught me that there is a lot more to understand regarding value, perceived value, and social proof. 

8. What do you think about NFT’s potentially alienating certain groups of people or styles of art? 

The cost to set up an account on Opensea — currently the largest marketplace for NFTs —is roughly 100 U.S. dollars. If you mint on popular and better-curated platforms, it can cost you upwards of $100 per piece of art. Most artists I know consider $100 to be prohibitive. Because speculative buying is what is driving this space, many artists will have a hard time getting traction selling their original art. Most collectors will see the short-term value in a 10,000 generative project rather than a single painting which might take years to accrue in value. Pokemon cards sold way better than the artists’ original work who designed them. That’s just how it is in the art world in general. My suggestion is to think about building a community around your art rather than selling it to a few collectors. 

9. Can you tell us how NFTs and crypto might play a role in the adoption of renewable energy? 

The carbon offset created by fiat currencies, or government-issued currency, is enormous compared to cryptocurrencies when considering everything involved, from banks to printing. Still, because both are happening in tandem, everyone is looking at cryptocurrencies as an unneeded carbon expense. The US dollar is backed by oil, creating a significant conflict of interest when switching to renewables. Cryptocurrencies, however, are backed by energy. There are a few states already mining cryptocurrencies with wind and solar. 

10. What or who inspires you personally?  

@showdeerart is basically writing the book on how to be a successful artist in this space. We joined the NFT world roughly the same time, and I’ve watched him build an amazing community and create real value for his collectors. His artwork is incredible as well! 

@chriswahl73 The PUNKS comic artist is an absolute legend. His work is a big inspiration for me, and he’s paving the way for other comic artists to enter the space. Is another artist I look up to in terms of building a strong community around her work. She has brought a lot of value to the NFT community by bringing up various artists with her. Her paintings are dope as well! 

11. What are the key challenges you face when it comes to your work in the NFT space?  And do you have any other thoughts or wise words for aspiring NFT artists?  

The space moves insanely fast. It’s hard to keep up with everything. I feel like I’ve been working for five years, but it’s only been five months. It can also be pretty disheartening when your work doesn’t sell for a while. That’s just art though, keep your head up, make smart moves, you’ll be fine.