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Comics, FYI
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #32 • View online
What happens when a limited edition variant cover gets too much attention for all the wrong reasons.

Ahead of time, it might have seemed like the perfect promotional gimmick: print up a special edition of your comic about the United States’ war on marijuana, and ship copies to a party full of self-styled weed “influencers” on 4/20 – which also happens to be the release date of the comic. What could go wrong? When it comes to Image Comics’ The Secret History of the War on Weed, and the limited edition Bored Ape Yacht Club variant cover, the answer turns out to be, “more than you might think, actually.”
For those who weren’t online on Wednesday, Image Comics tweeted out the following in the early afternoon: “Something’s brewing in the… weeds? Celebrate 4/20 with #THESECRETHISTORYOFTHEWARONWEED #BAYC #7073 @BoredApeYC @thebrianposehn @GerryDuggan @Koblish #apefollowape,” accompanied by a previously unseen variant cover for the Duggan/Posehn/Koblish comic featuring an ape from the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection. Following the link took viewers to a page where they could buy this exclusive variant, limited to 500 copies, for $20 – more than four times the price of the regular edition. The issue sold out quickly; by the time I saw the link, a few hours after it had been posted, all the copies had already gone.
There’s a lot here already, but let’s start with the basics. NFTs are Non-Fungible Tokens, which is another way of saying “a piece of data, traditionally an image, stored on a blockchain, which allows for digital bookkeeping on the ownership and history of the NFT.” It’s a data file connected to a technology that has a significant environmental impact, with one estimate suggesting that simply the creation of an average NFT is the energy equivalent of driving 500 miles in an average gasoline-powered car. Each subsequent sale of that NFT significantly increases that figure. (There are those who argue that NFTs can be produced in ways less harmful for the environment; I’m not getting into that here, but I’m sure I will at a later date.)
Bored Ape Yacht Club is one of, if not arguably the, most high-profile collection of NFTs around right now. Sales of NFTs from this collection had topped $1 billion by the start of this year, and the brand has worked to draw celebrity endorsements and celebrity purchases in order to increase its visibility; those who have promoted the brand include Jimmy Fallon, Madonna, and Paris Hilton. The four founders of BAYC – two of whom go by the names “No Sass” and “Emperor Tomato Ketchup,” for what it’s worth – have been clear about two things for some time: that anyone that owns an NFT have the right to do whatever they want with that image, including all creative and commercial rights, and that they want BAYC to become a “lifestyle company.” For the purposes of this particular story, it’s worth pointing out that this includes branching out into the weed business.
There is, to say the least, no small amount of cynicism over NFTs in general and BYAC specifically online, which would explain just how poorly Image’s Wednesday tweet went over. Of its 1,467 responses and 1,081 quote tweets as of time of writing, the vast majority are negative if not downright hostile to the concept of any kind of connection between Image and Bored Ape Yacht Club, or NFTs as a whole*. (There are 173 likes, and 40 retweets with no added commentary.)
One Twitter user in particular, comic book designer and letterer Chris Ross, pointed out something that felt worth bearing in mind: the image of the ape on the Secret History of the War on Weed variant appeared to come from this NFT, which is owned by user PINDELDYBOZ_FORT_KNOX. “Pindeldyboz,” Ross added, is also the name of an independent publisher founded years ago by someone called Jeff Boison, who these days happens to be Image Comics’ Director of Sales and Publishing Planning. That Boison is indeed the owner of this NFT has been confirmed not only by myself, but also Bleeding Cool and
So… what actually happened here? What’s the story behind the cover’s creation, and who was responsible?
Image Comics declined to comment when contacted. From what I’ve been able to piece together after speaking to people close to the situation on the condition of anonymity, though, there are two separate threads that came together to make this happen, with neither one matching the suspicions or concerns of the majority of onlookers.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly how the idea of the cover got started, although multiple versions of the story – all from second- or third-hand sources, which means “take it with a grain of salt” – point to Boison as the originator. Certainly, that idea makes sense, in that he’s clearly invested in both NFTs in general and Bored Ape NFTs in particular; he’d also, therefore, know that the owner of any Bored Ape NFT owns the rights to exploit their image and intellectual property commercially**. That said, two thirds of Secret War on Weed’s core creative team, Scott Koblish and Brian Posehn, had already signed on with as part of Heavy Metal announced last year, so it’s not entirely impossible that they came up with the idea. (Gerry Duggan’s feelings on NFTs are unknown; none of the three creators have spoken publicly about this yet.)
Nonetheless, the original idea was simple: create a limited edition Bored Ape variant cover to share with members of the Bored Ape Yacht Club – which is to say, owners of BAYC NFTs – with the hope of said members sharing it on social media and promoting the book as a whole. It was, from what I’ve been able to gather, intended as a small-scale promotional effort at a specific targeted audience***.
Parallel to this was the idea to pilot the idea of Image following the lead of other publishers and trying its hand at direct-to-consumer sales for limited run product. Image has experimented with limited-run material sold directly to fans before, primarily based around convention-exclusive variant covers – but was exploring the potential to try something similar online****. The idea of shifting the remainder of the limited Bored Ape variant as a try-out seemed a no-brainer, once the decision was made to go ahead with the cover*****. 
And then, everything went wrong.
Well, maybe everything is putting things a little too strongly, but… this was a disaster on a whole number of fronts, and something that crushed a good deal of goodwill for Image as a publisher. Both the volume and the ferocity of the pushback to the variant felt surprising to me, never mind those inside Image itself, I have to admit, completely overpowering any attempt to build off the company’s 30th anniversary or the successful return of Saga, or any other positive Image Comics story in recent memory.
The number of people appearing to swear off the publisher entirely as a result is, shall we say, not optimal, especially on the off-chance they actually mean it; I feel like some publishers who are actually releasing NFTs, instead of covers using NFT imagery, get less angry responses than this cover did, but that might be a sign that more people are paying attention to Image than, say, Dynamite. 
If there’s one silver lining to be found in the whole debacle – besides, I guess, the fact that it certainly raised the profile of The Secret War on Weed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations – it’s that the response to this has likely ensured that Image will stay away from anything NFT-related in the near future. Well, until the almost inevitable Spawn NFT announcement, at least. (This is a joke. I am not trying to speak anything into existence.)
* When I say “the vast majority,” I mean, “I couldn’t find a response that wasn’t a variation on ‘This is a bad idea and you should feel bad about it’ after a significant period of scrolling.” “Please no. Dear god no,” was a common attitude, if not “everyone involved in this project is less for it,” as another Twitter user put it.
** I’ve seen suggestions that Boison might have suggested the cover as a way of raising the value of this particular NFT. While it’s almost certainly the case – “first NFT to appear on a comic cover” is a pretty good selling point, and “the NFT that drove the internet crazy over its appearance on a comic cover” an even better one – there’s no sign yet of Boison trying to sell the NFT to capitalize on this, and I suspect there might be a limited window in which the notoriety would translate into increased value. I might be wrong, though. 
*** In multiple accounts, I’ve heard the plan described as sending the variant covers to those attending a big 4/20 BAYC party filled with influencers – and yet, try as I might, I haven’t been able to find evidence of this party online. It’s more than possible I’m not looking in the right place or simply am so out that particular loop that I’d never be able to find it, but it’s darkly amusing to me that this whole thing might have spun out of control for a promotional event that was never going to succeed in the first place. 
**** 2000 AD has been doing releasing direct-to-consumer online exclusives for some time, with variant covers and even variant editions of collections available only through its own web store. 
***** In that the variant sold out so quickly, I think it’s safe to say that this pilot went well, even if everything else about this story bombed very badly.
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Graeme McMillan

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