NFTs still represented a strange new world to many cartoonists last year when Jason Chatfield decided to convene an online forum to address the question: With crypto art selling for millions, did the blockchain hold any promise for comics creators?
“At the time, the environmental concerns were such that I wanted everyone to be aware of the ‘state of play’, as it were, of the NFT market before they dipped a toe in,” says Chatfield, a comics creator and president of the National Cartoonists Society. NFTs — non-fungible tokens that are unique digital assets — have sparked controversy over the carbon emissions generated by cryptocurrencies, critics say, that increase the greenhouse effect.
“Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau, as an attendee of the March 2021 Zoom forum, remembers the artists’ response. “Enthusiasm waned quickly as people became aware of the enormous carbon footprint created by NFT minting,” he says. “Even early adopters had already started peeling off.”
Trudeau’s curiosity, though, did not diminish. He stayed plugged in as blockchain technology evolved, until he was recently introduced to an NFT company, Polygon, that announced last month it had reached eco-friendly “carbon neutrality.”
Now Trudeau will offer his first NFT comic strips and character art for sale through the Heritage Auctions house, with all proceeds going to charity. Live bidding will begin Thursday.
For Trudeau, who has adapted to digital developments often throughout his five-decade career, the auction is an experiment in what the NFT market can offer syndicated comics creators like himself. “I’m a skeptic by profession,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by new technologies.”
Rick Akers, comics buyer and consignment director at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, says that “with the advent and acceptance of NFT digital art, we are seeing established artists in the comic and illustration art ready to reach a new market with their creations.” Trudeau is Heritage’s first NFT comic-art auction, with more planned later this year.
Recent notable auctions of NFT comic art include Frank Miller’s “I Love You, Nancy Callahan,” which sold last fall for more than $800,000, and Wonder Woman NFT work by former DC comic artist José Delbo that sold last year for more than $1.8 million.
After Trudeau was approached by an NFT company last year, he began curating which “Doonesbury” art would be turned into tokens. He still had a small collection of files on his computer desktop, from when The Washington Post asked him in 2020 to pick his top 10 “defining” strips — to mark the 50th anniversary of his Pulitzer Prize-winning comic.
Garry Trudeau picks his 10 defining ‘Doonesbury’ strips
Although a deal did not work out with that first company, Trudeau is offering those same 10 strips as minted tokens, as well as NFTs of several other collectible items. Each NFT will come with a signed and numbered physical print — “so even if you forget you even own a digital token,” the cartoonist says, “you can have evidence of that ownership hanging on your wall.”
Those strips range from the early ’70s, when “Doonesbury” was commenting on Watergate and the feminist movement, to the early 21st century, when foundational character B.D. poignantly lost a leg fighting in Fallujah — a time when the cartoonist began weaving more military narratives into his strip.
The charity that Trudeau chose to receive all proceeds was the International Medical Corps, which aids Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced people. Heritage Auctions and Andrews McMeel Syndication are also donating their shares of the proceeds to IMC.
From a professional standpoint, Trudeau notes that “the main attraction of NFTs for me was not so much the potential revenue as it was the artistic challenge of working in a new medium.” His many digital projects have included launching the “Doonesbury” website in the ’90s and giving his strip’s fictional correspondent Roland B. Hedley Jr. a Twitter account in 2008. “All of it was fun — almost none of it profitable,” he says. “I just loved the new tools, the new forms of expression.”
8 Watergate cartoons that still resonate today
That said, the potential for artist royalties did catch his eye. Unlike the typical reselling of physical art, the secondary market for NFTs often delivers creator royalties on all subsequent sales. Although that’s not the model for his first Heritage auction, he says he has urged Heritage Auctions to “adopt a house-wide policy of only minting NFTs with perpetual royalties as a matter of fairness.”
Trudeau himself doesn’t plan on buying NFT art as an investment — he would only purchase tokens for novelty and nostalgia. But would he advise his syndicated colleagues to begin minting and selling their work?
“I have no idea whether NFTs will work out for most legacy comic-strip artists,” he says. “It could be that the corporate brands will flatten the competition.”
Pepe the Frog’s creator embraces the NFT market with new pogs
Meanwhile, he thinks cartoon icons that are native to the platform — “the apes and kitties and punks” — have flourished as speculative entities, instead of “as characters that anyone actually cares about.”
“It’s still the Wild West,” Trudeau says, “and even if social responsibility ceases to be an issue, the whole thing could be a house of cards.”


Write A Comment