Comic book artist Neal Adams, known for his sketches of Batman and the X-Men, is launching a series of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) despite a warning from publisher DC Comics forbidding artists from using its intellectual property (IP).
Adams has released nine NFTs featuring superheroes Batman, Robin and Deadman, according to an announcement on Thursday. He said he had a “pleasant” exchange with publisher DC Comics about the launch.
“We did have a pleasant interchange with DC, and in the end, DC was simply asking for a bit more time to assess the situation,” Adams said in an email.
DC Comics declined to comment.
In March, DC Comics lawyers wrote a letter to freelance artists warning them not to use DC IP as NFTs; at the time, the company said it was considering plans for its characters.
NFTs are cryptographic assets that can have variable features. So far, they have been used to represent a wide range of unique tangible and intangible items, from art to sports cards to virtual real estate and even digital sneakers.
Recently, former DC Comics artist Jose Delgo, who is known for his sketches of Wonder Woman, made $1.85 million by selling NFTs featuring the superhero and other licensed characters, according to a report in Gizmodo.
Adams said his NFT partnership with Portion features five animated comic illustrations from 1994 to 2021, and stressed he has “full ownership” of the art despite his work having been published in DC Comics and Marvel.
“We don’t inform any companies of the sales of my artwork because I am the owner of the art and the companies I work with buy reproduction rights, so there is no reason for us to inform them of my art sales,” Adams said.
Portion has helped Adams to navigate the NFT landscape and launch his collection.
“As long as I have a fan base of people who appreciate my work and want to own a piece of comic book history, I believe this work will be valued,” Adams said.
From a legal perspective, the NFT market is a gray area as artists attempt to monetize and launch pieces. Artists could be bound by an agreement with the publisher and subject to IP infringement laws.
Cynthia Gayton, a Virginia-based lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, explains when a publisher engages an artist, the artist commonly agrees to assign all IP rights to any work that they create to the publisher.
“Comic book characters are often subject to both copyright and trademark laws. For U.S. copyright, assignments have to be in writing,” Gayton said in an email, stressing that her comments shouldn’t be considered legal advice.
Gayton explains there are additional elements to take into consideration in the comic book industry that explain publishers’ behavior.
“For example, comic book artists are often guided by story arcs and canons – so artists may have access to promotional and other business ideas and plans that publishers often make great efforts to keep under wraps,” Gayton said.
That would be considered “confidential information,” which is also something an artist may have agreed to protect.