Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.
Five years after finding international success and celebrity as talented comic artists and creators, Israeli couple Maya and Yehuda Devir are taking their award-winning art to another level.
The married pair, and parents of two, will begin offering their visual pieces as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, a type of blockchain-based commodity that has taken the art world by storm.
The technology provides digital creations a kind of certificate of authenticity, allowing ownership of something that could otherwise be replicated endlessly. Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are highly speculative investment vehicles, each underpinned by a creative work or action, and represented by a unique — or non-fungible — digital token recorded in the blockchain ledger.
This new kind of encrypted digital artwork has become hugely popular and some have been sold for millions of dollars. There are also NFTs of photos of Golda Meir, Bible verses, and of a digital copy of Chaim Herzog’s signed oath of office.
The NFTs can be used to trade representations of physical objects, like pictures or a painting, or digital creations, like audio files, videos, or any other kind of creative work. The NFT becomes something like a one-of-a-kind trading card, that can go up or down in value depending on demand and thus be traded for cash or other NFTs, or be kept as a collectible item with the bragging rights that come along with it. (Owning an NFT is not the same as owning the object, and thus a buyer cannot control reproduction or licensing, allowing the underlying work to continue to be reproduced or proliferate online.)
The nascent NFT space also has its opponents and critics who raise important questions about its legitimacy and long-term viability — issues the Devirs said they considered seriously before jumping in.
They teamed up with Israeli firm PickCherry, a marketing company that specializes in the blockchain space and was founded by TV celebrities Rotem Sela and Assi Azar, with Ido and Smadar Regev, another married pair, with whom the Devirs connected as spouses and business partners.
The couple told The Times of Israel via videoconference this week that they initially received mixed feedback on their NFT push from their community of followers, which number in the millions across social media platforms.
“We knew [the NFT space] had a mixed reputation and it’s completely unregulated, we thought to ourselves ‘it’s a bit of a risk,’” Maya described. But as they worked slowly and methodically to learn more, they said they loved the focus on community and the creation of something very new.
For half a decade, the Devirs have been engaging their audiences on sites like Facebook and Instagram, posting illustrations that were often funny and relatable, and sourced from intimate moments in their daily lives as a couple, newlyweds, and then as new parents. (Among their most recognizable, early illustrations was “My hot wife,” an exaggerated depiction of a shared shower where the high temperature “melts” off Yehuda Devir’s face.)
A selection of the work went viral a few years ago, opening up a world of possibilities for the Devirs that led to the publication of two comic art books (“One of those days,” volumes I and II), merchandise, coveted appearances at top creator and entertainment conventions, influencer awards, and a devoted fanbase.
The couple has a server on Discord, a group-chat platform originally built for gamers where many online communities gather, and interacts with people from all over the world with special events like “game nights, cooking sessions, open mic nights, mental health check-ins,” Maya said.
“Our audience changed our lives,” she explained, and the NFT avenue is a way of giving back, they explained.
Once the pair started to look into NFTs, they quickly “understood that we can give our audience something valuable, something that they can own, it’s like a gift to them.”
The Devirs took their time developing a concept for the NFT collection, settling on a visual idea that builds on their characters engaged in a kiss “to reflect love and affection,” Maya said, depicting them as different, and sometimes opposite, elements like fire and ice or prisoner and police officer.
“Every piece and every couple [in the NFTs] tells a story, it’s really a philosophy about relationship,” she explained.
The result is a collection of 10,101 (“it’s a cool number! Also, it’s a binary number”) pieces that also come with built-in treats.
Fans who buy the work will also find that their purchases are not just any NFTs, they are Utility NFTs, or ones with practical value or experience beyond the art. One of the Devirs’ partners on this is Israeli-founded hospitality company Selina, a co-working and accommodations firm that caters to millennial and Generation Z travelers and workers, or “digital nomads,” across dozens of properties in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East.
Some of the exactly 10,101 NFTs the Devirs are offering as part of their collection, dubbed “xoxo,” will deliver complimentary nights at Selina properties anywhere in the world. Other brands with services or products are also on board with offers like a personal meeting with the Devirs, online courses, art supplies, and other merchandise.
Maya said the pair looks for “utilities” that would appeal widely. “We haven’t had a vacation in like four years, ever since our oldest was born. For many in the audience, it’s probably been the same — busy lives between family and life [and work] and they need some rest. We wanted to give them something that we would like for ourselves,” she said, explaining the Selina pick.
The Devirs feel that their move into the NFT space was not just a good business opportunity, it was also an embrace of new worlds and an evolution of their art.
“We feel like we discovered art all over again. It gave us an opportunity to create new things,” Maya said.
“Think of it like acting,” said Yehuda. “When a comedic actor suddenly makes a drama, people pay attention. Like if Jim Carrey wanted to do a Holocaust movie. For actors, this is evolution, growth, expression. We can keep making ‘One of those days’ [volumes] for the rest of our lives — then what? We wanted to try new things,” and explore new technologies.
The two admit to working excessively and being “all in” on new and old projects. The collection took them five months to put together and they speak enthusiastically about it.
In another analogy, Yehuda described the launch as like “making a great dinner for your friends, and you just can’t wait for them to eat it.”
“It’s a masterpiece,” said Maya.
Both hope the NFT move is one of many that will explore new worlds and new forms of art in the future.
“We’ve been together for 13 years, we evolved together, for better or worse, we’ve been through a lot together,” said Maya, who met Yehuda during their respective military service.
In the years to come, they hope to “continue to be productive in our lives and in our work,” Maya said.
Shoshanna Solomon and AP contributed to this report.
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Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.