By Brendan Montgomery
The Toronto Comics Arts Festival is back this year with an in person and online event. The in person event has moved from the typical May to June 17-19 but is still at the usual Toronto Reference Library and area.
Many creators are very excited for the return of the biggest comics focused event in Canada which has been a wonderful event for creators to sell their work and meet passionate comics readers without the distractions other events have such as cosplayers, celebrities and merchandise stores. TCAF is an event to truly celebrate the comic medium itself.
They have prided themselves in being a safe inclusive space for all. Even going so far as to reconsider their venue after the Toronto Reference Library hosted a library featuring a known transphobic speaker (archive of statement). They also always acknowledge that Toronto is colonized on indigenous land before each panel.
The good will towards the show stands in contrast to the recent announcement of featured guest Pink Cat [ Saba Moeel ] who while being a comic creator, is also a vocal supporter and minter of NFT (Non-Fungible Tokens) art and traces art (which is fine for learning but not for sharing and selling).
I will preface this by saying that I won’t boycott TCAF because of the creator friends I wish to go see and support and they can’t pull out this close to the convention. I would also write a follow on piece if this creator actually shows up and will answer questions.
Issues with NFT/Crypto/Web3
I am not going to debate what constitutes art or what art is better than others. Art can be whatever we want it to be and has no hard definition (could be a banana on a wall I guess). So I’m not going to say NFT art is inherently bad or ugly. An NFT is not even the art itself because it is actually a link stored on a blakchain distributed ledger which points to a traditional web server that holds the actual image or video or any file.
So the art an NFT points to can be amazing. But like anything on the internet a link can be broken if the host is not maintained, which before we get into the other flaws of NFTs, makes the whole concept have a big technical Achilles heel (explanation). And this flaw negates the purported advantages of NFTs over an image hosting site like DeviantArt. The artificial scarcity and supposed ownership is the only selling point of NFTs, otherwise you can view the file the link goes to and save a copy for yourself.
The main complaints artists have with NFTs and why many detest them as I can tell are environmental, art theft and the commodification of art.
The environmental impact of major blockchains Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin is staggering. Ethereum which many NFTs are minted on uses as much energy as an entire country per year (86.4 TWh) and a single transaction block (which I believe can have many transactions grouped together) uses 211 kWh of electricity which is the same as your house for a week. (source).
This power consumption has skyrocketed since 2021 when NFTs became more popular but also crypto currency investment in general. There are ways to mitigate the energy usage but still technically will always be more than a centralized digital art marketplace would be (source). Digital art can be green if run on renewable energy and e-readers have already saved billions of books from needing to be printed on paper made from cutting down trees (2 billion in US last decade source).
IP and Art Theft
Of specific concern to artists is art theft. With easy ways to generate NFTs and sell them for crypto then standard currency, many scammers have taken images posted online by creators and impersonated them to sell the digital art (source). This issue was so rampant that digital art website DeviantArt created a program to inform its users of new NFTs matching their work so they could file a copyright claim. To be fair digital art fraud was already happening before NFTs showed up, with bots taking images for T-shirts and merchandise. But being a new trend NFTs were enticing for scammers.
Creators can try to protect their work by not uploading high quality art online and watermark everything to assert their ownership. But this doesn’t ensure it won’t be swiped for nefarious uses anyway. And compounding that the onus is often put on the artists to prove a stolen work is theirs, and not all NFT markets or drop order merch sites make it easy for them to even report infringement.
Monetization Over Meaning
The third concern I hear from creators is a little more philosophical. Art has always had value and thus is part of our capitalist system. High end art is often a money laundering tool or investment for the ultra rich, and a lot of art is consumed as home and businesses décor that then is treated as disposable consumables as trends change. Comics as a medium have always been consumables. Mass media entertainment, bought and collected for enjoyment.
The problem creators see with NFTs is that the marketplaces hosting them function like speculative stock exchanges where people aren’t buying the art they enjoy, but are buying an asset with hopes that it will appreciate in value. This mindset damages the public perception of art from something to be enjoyed and experienced to just another commodity for generating capitalist gains.
This is visible by the types of people promoting NFTs in a pyramid scheme, where they seek to recruit as many buyers to the market as they can, solely so their own assets will rise in value and they can sell them at a profit. Otherwise known as ‘pump and dump’. This engenders a marketplace culture that isn’t valuing art, but hype around the images in order to inflate value.
As a result crypto currency in general and NFT markets are rife with fraud, money laundering and pump and dump schemes (source). Specifically in Canada an exchange siphoned money and owed investors $215 million after being shut down (source).
Tracing of Art
On top of the overall issues with NFTs and their toxic community, this artist also traces art often. Tracing can be a tool for improving your art and learning. But it is frowned upon by the art community to trace art and claim it as your own. There is admittedly a lot of grey area here when it comes to homages and how significantly altered a piece needs to be to not be a copy. But if that is what you are posting often as some of your main content with no other reasoning behind it then artists take it as a sign of disrespect.
The example below is pretty egregious as it was used in her Los Angeles Times article so the defense of just tracing for fun doesn’t hold up when using it as your body of work for the press. This is one of 27 cases documented by @toastasaurus and @Raccoontrashfir on Twitter compiled in this google doc.
While Twitter users are known to get riled up and post quick reactions to news they dislike, by the reasons I laid out above, the reaction from comic creators below are rooted in a justifiable mistrust of NFTs and their proponents who are a toxic community (source). This first is my own statment.
Here are sentiments from creators on the topic
“NFT has shown itself to be a harmful speculative commodity that often does untold harm to the environment. It also shifts focus away from art and self expression to exclusively an economic investment. You can’t read an NFT or hang it on your wall. Just hollow capitalism. That there is this push to normalize NFT and recruit fresh capital from new investors should be enough red flags to see it for the scam it is “Jeffrey Ellis @JEffEllisDraws
We are uncomfortable with the environmental impact of NFTs, cryptocurrency, and blockchain technology, regardless of claims that anyone’s version is “green” or “more ethical”, and we feel that such technologies add little to no value for artists and creatives using Kickstarter. It’s also important to acknowledge that since April blockchain technology has been primarily utilized to steal from and otherwise harm independent artists. The current atmosphere of wild speculation and hype has fostered a deep distrust from a community that has been continually harmed by “disruptive” systems like this in the past.Cloudscape Comics
And here, Moeel’s now deleted response to the backlash calling other artists “sick dogs” which really shows their general attitude as a professional.
Moeel tweeted indicating race and gender was an issue when white men were dissatisfied with this guest announcement. However there were a wider assortment of critics. .
What do you guys think about an older white man telling probably the only female Muslim comic book artist who was invited go the event to “stay home” bc i adopted my business to blockchain, and fundraised through my own following instead of going through VCs?@PINKCATNFT
Saba Moeel is not we believe actually the only Muslim woman creator invited, Anoosha Syed was announced right before her in the very same post. But the show is historically also quite diverse generally.
However to our knowledge few if any comic creators fundraise through venture capitalists so this is an odd take on how the comic community works (the exception to this would maybe be some sort of comics related app or website but not typically the comics themselves?).
Also a new tweet from her using her identity and whataboutism to justify one wrong with another
Racism and Transphobia
There are also old tweets in which the artist is anti-Semitic and transphobic. This is also unacceptable in a featured guest of a convention that prides itself in its inclusion. While it is possible for people to apologize for old tweets, change and grow; I do not see any apologies for these nor were they deleted at the time of publication