Nouns, the Ethereum NFT-based project building open-source IP, has already put its vibrant characters into a Super Bowl commercial, the annual Rose Parade, and elsewhere around the physical and digital worlds. Now they’re headed to bookstores and comic shops.
Titan Comics, which specializes in licensed comic books tied to IP like “The Simpsons” and “Blade Runner,” is bringing Nouns to physical comic books starting in April with a six-issue run of “Nouns: Nountown.” It’s written by Titan Senior Editor David Leach and illustrated by Danny Schlitz, with an eventual graphic novel to be published by Penguin Random House.
As with many other Nouns-related projects, the comics project was backed by the DAO—or decentralized autonomous organization, a type of tokenized online group—made up of Nouns NFT holders, who control a sizable treasury to fund IP development and other projects. Currently, Nouns DAO oversees about $46 million worth of ETH.
In this case, the comic project was proposed by industry veteran Adam Fortier through his Comics DAO organization, in collaboration with Nouns-centric collective SharkDAO, and received $210,000 worth of ETH through a unanimous vote in August. It’s one of the latest efforts to propagate the Nouns IP through a mass-market channel.
“A lot of the people who read it might not even know that there were NFTs backing it, but at the end of the day, it was the NFTs that created the on-chain incentives to get this thing produced,” pseudonymous Nouns co-founder 4156 told Decrypt. “But the end user doesn't ever have to know that.”
This isn’t a simple licensing play for Nouns DAO. First, Nouns itself falls under a Creative Commons 0 (CC0) license, meaning all of its assets are freely available for anyone to use and commercialize. Theoretically, anyone could make a Nouns comic book, but Titan Comics has established distribution channels with retailers.
Furthermore, “Nouns: Nountown” will be released in tandem with Ethereum NFTs that provide access to digital issues while also representing ownership in copies of the printed comics, including a chance to receive a couple of different types of limited-edition versions.
The project has two different NFT rarity levels: the mosaic NFT at 0.069 ETH (about $115) and generative NFT at 0.3 ETH (nearly $500), with the latter comic covers featuring a randomized mix of Nouns from the collection.
In each case, Titan Comics will pull the first 420 comics from the press (and film the process for proof) and then hold them in a secure vault by 4K, a startup that specializes in NFTs backed by physical items. There will also be a limited supply of issues for each NFT presale in which each issue owner can ask the artist to draw whatever Nouns characters they request.
A CC0 experiment
Nouns has a distinctive vibe in the NFT space, with the platform auctioning off one colorful pixel character each day. Each has a version of the brand’s familiar Nouns glasses (or “Noggles”), but otherwise uses a mix of amusing traits—including heads based on a wide array of inspirations, including a pineapple, skateboard, igloo, flamingo, and plenty more.
Given that mishmash of avatars, what is the Nouns comic book about, anyway?
“[It’s] a deeply moving coming-of-age drama about a small-town thimble salesman caught up in a politically-charged espionage caper involving a stolen atom bomb, a signed picture of the Pope, and a man with a fox head,” the official synopsis reads.
In other words, it’s absurd and chaotic. Fortier told Decrypt that there are some adult elements in the mix, such as an evil character that’s grinding up Nouns characters to create an alternative to Beyond Meat. He described it as “unconstrained anarchy with good intent,” and that the tone is “so over-the-top” and “so ‘Looney Tunes’” in nature.
“Somebody who read the first issue described it as ‘exhausting,’” he joked, likening the challenge of spotlighting so many Nouns characters to the process of herding cats.
Developing a comic book around already-minted NFTs in an open-source property also means that the creative team is building around characters that other people own the original NFT of, and may feel an attachment to. Their interpretation of such characters has already led to some “angry emails” from Nouns owners, Fortier admitted.
“We kind of put the writer and artist in a room and said, ‘Don't go on Twitter. Don't engage [with] people,’” he recalled. “Once people start advocating for their character to appear in a certain way, or act in a certain way, it can harm the creative process.”
It’s an interesting experiment and test case for the CC0 model. And not only are the comics based on open-source characters, but the team will also release the art files to the community so that creators can develop whatever derivative works they please.
It’s open-source all the way around, in other words, but also packaged in a way that can reach a broad audience. In Fortier’s view, that provides an opportunity to entice people with a tale—and then potentially clue them into the crypto elements that helped bring the adventure to life.
“When you say the term ‘Web3’ or ‘crypto’ to people, often their eyes glaze over. And you have a sense of fear or a sense of confusion,” he said of the challenges of onboarding the masses. “Just telling a fun story is like sneaking them in the back door.”