omic book artist Sean Chen—who cut his teeth illustrating “Iron Man,” “Avengers,” and “Spider-Man” series for Marvel—has left the traditional comics industry behind to produce his own work leveraging Web3 technology.
With the help of Web3 startup 247 Comics, Chen is developing a new NFT-driven comic book series called “Genesis”—and for the first time, he’s stepping into the writer’s seat, as well.
"Genesis" follows Asian-American scientist Lucas Zhang and his daughter, who have a tenuous relationship. It grapples with concerns surrounding robotics, massive corporations, militarism, and immortality. It even includes biting allusions to Disney—all while offering a mix of dark humor and sci-fi action with characters Chen dreamed up himself.
The story’s first issue offers a variety of vignettes to set up the world. Gritty military scenes of giant robots with remote human operators are juxtaposed against the pastel theme park of Bobo World, a place that's cheery on the surface but provides darker experiences for adults.
Chen will offer fans Ethereum NFTs of the work’s characters with the aim of providing readers with a new sense of ownership and fandom in the digital age. Chen and 247 Comics Publisher Carl Choi have already released one of the characters—a giant gorilla named Bobo—as a fractionalized NFT, which acts as an early-access pass to selected 247 Comics content.
Over the course of his career in comics, Chen worked for Marvel, DC Comics, and Valiant. But while he was prolific and worked on comics based on some of the best-known characters in entertainment, Chen told Decrypt that making a living in the traditional comics industry is an ongoing struggle for many artists.
“There are 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."
Echoing familiar refrains from other creators in the industry, Chen explained that while comic book publishers have raked in profits from blockbuster movies and valuable licensing deals, little of that revenue has trickled down the corporate ladder to the actual comic book artists.
In fact, some comic creators, like Thanos creator Jim Starlin, have fought back against Marvel for fair compensation when their characters are used to power successful movie franchises. And Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, who developed the Winter Soldier storyline, which was then adapted for the film "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," said in 2021 that all they got was a “thanks here or there” from Marvel.
“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,” Chen told Decrypt. “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 continued. “A lot of that doesn't filter back to the original creators.”
In fact, Chen himself believes that he has had a major influence over Marvel’s cinematic portrayal of Iron Man. Chen worked on dozens of issues of "Iron Man" during his time with Marvel, as well as many issues of "Wolverine" in which Iron Man appears.