Marvel Studios Founder on Comics, Stan Lee, and NFTs
Everyone knows Marvel Studios. The production juggernaut fundamentally changed the entertainment landscape when it began the Marvel Cinematic Universe in earnest with the release of Iron Man in 2008. Fifteen years and over $25 billion in revenue later, the company continues to put out movies and streaming shows that expand on the characters under its banner.
What people may not know is the person behind it all: David Maisel, the man who spearheaded that cinematic universe and was named chairman of Marvel Studios in March 2007. Maisel is responsible for getting the company to produce films of the characters it owns rather than licensing them out to other studios. He also executive produced Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, films that established the foundation of the MCU.
A long-time comic book collector and fan of the world of superheroes, Maisel left Marvel in 2010 to pursue other projects, eventually founding Mythos Studios in 2018. The IP entertainment studio acquired iconic comic book artist Michael Turner’s Aspen Comics that same year.
Mythos Studios is now releasing the Ekos Genesis Art Collection, an auction of 995 1/1 NFTs of the late Turner’s work, honoring both the comic book artist and long-time collaborator, colorist Peter Steigerwald. We sat down with Maisel ahead of the auction to talk about his love of comic book art, bringing Turner’s work to Web3, and the upcoming 15th anniversary of Iron Man.
Bringing comic book art to Web3
Turner is famous for his iconic comic book art, having created covers for Marvel’s Civil War series in 2006. He is also known for his popular comic book heroines, with 1998’s Fathom and 2003’s Soulfire being the most notable. Fathom‘s protagonist is a woman named Aspen Matthews, a marine biologist who discovers she’s a member of an advanced underwater species. Published by Top Cow Productions, it beat out both DC Comics and Marvel Comics to become the number-one comic in North America when it debuted — a huge accomplishment for an independent production.
The upcoming Ekos Genesis Art Collection takes its name from Turner’s unfinished Ekos comic IP, of which the artist was only able to finish a single, six-page story before he died in 2008 from complications from bone-cancer treatment.
“I just thought [Ekos] was a great name and an honor to Michael,” Maisel said while speaking to nft now. “In many ways, it’s taking the baton from Michael in the same way I felt like I took the baton from Stan Lee, who told me that when he told me how proud he was about Iron Man. And then I handed the baton to Kevin [Feige].”
The Ekos drop isn’t Mythos Studios’ first foray into Web3 with Turner’s work. In May 2021, Maisel and the company put up Fathom Vol. 1 Cover C for auction on Foundation. It sold for over $100,000. After the success of that release and spending a year studying the space and consulting with well-known Web3 figures — including Snowfro, Tyler Hobbs, Bryan Brinkman, and Cozomo de Medici — Maisel developed the idea to build out a proper drop to provide collectors an opportunity to own an individual piece of Turner and Steigerwald’s work.
“They welcomed me and tutored me,” Maisel said of his interaction with Web3 natives while researching the space. “I’m really speechless and humbled by the support.”
The Ekos Genesis Art Collection
The images in the Ekos drop consist mostly of work from Turner’s Fathom and Soulfire comics, with a handful of pieces from the unfinished Ekos present as well. But Turner’s original line artwork makes up only a small part of the nearly 1,000-strong Ekos Genesis collection. Understanding how the collection as a whole was created requires an understanding of the process of how comic book art gets made.
The finished images that get published in a comic book typically don’t come from a single artist. Before any coloring is added to an image, it must first have its underlying shapes and forms established. This is known as line art, the monochromatic illustrations that colorists then work with to fully realize a piece.
Few comic book line artists are as well-known or revered as Turner, and few are as talented at bringing out the magic of Turner’s work as Steigerwald. The pair’s work has become so well-known over the years that Maisel describes them as the comic book equivalent of “John and Paul from the Beatles.”
For each of Turner’s original line drawings in the collection, there are eight 1/1 variants. These include the published comic book work, Color Accent, Diamond Foil, Back in Black, Gold & Bold, Electric Neon, and Blacklight Pop art styles. The Blacklight Pop pieces are particularly dear to Maisel, as they pay homage to the 1970s classic Marvel blacklight posters that inspired his early journey as a comic book lover and collector.
Mythos Studios has yet to reveal the eighth and final version of the art, called Portraits, which they’re saving for the first 100 wallets that make a deposit in the auction. That auction takes place on May 2, 2023, the 15th anniversary of the release of Iron Man.
The collection will be sold in a Dutch auction with a starting price of 10 ETH and will descend by 0.5 ETH every four minutes until hitting 0.5 ETH. After that, the price will drop to 0.2 ETH, provided any supply is left. Interested collectors can secure an artwork before the May 2 auction by depositing 10 ETH or more by April 30 (as of writing, 55 of the 995 works have been allocated).
The top six collectors by number of NFTs will also receive a Top Collector Reward, one of six NFTs from the family of works that were auctioned in Mythos Studios’ May 2021 drop. To further gamify the auction, those top collectors will have their pick of which NFTs from that family they’d like to own in descending order, with the number one collector choosing first, and so on. Mythos Studios will also donate an undisclosed portion of sales from the auction to Hero Initiative, a charity that creates financial safety nets for comic creators in need.
Building a new collector relationship with NFTs
Maisel is a big believer in NFTs’ ability to engender new and more intimate types of relationships between artists, studios, and collectors. During his time as chairman of Marvel Studios, Maisel would often go incognito to his local bookstore and read comics there, chatting with people in the community and asking them about which storylines they liked best and who their favorite characters were.
“They didn’t know I was the chairman of Marvel,” Maisel said with a laugh. “Web3 means I don’t have to go sit on the floor at Barnes and Noble anymore; I can have that direct connection to the fans and collectors. And I’m looking forward to that.”
Web3 is likely to be a comfortable home for Mythos Studios. The collection has been getting plenty of love from Web3 heavy hitters like Pranksy, Seedphrase, Supermassive, and more in anticipation of the auction.
The artwork for the Genesis Art Portraits NFTs in the collection will be revealed on June 27, the anniversary of Turner’s passing and a significant date for the team that put together the Ekos collection. Posthumous NFT releases can be tricky to land, often courting controversy from the well-known figure’s fanbase for being a cash grab and disrespectful to their legacy overall. Maisel acknowledges the concern fans might have but believes Turner would have been supportive of the collection.
“Peter and Frank [Mastromauro], who knew him so well, think he would be our biggest cheerleader on this,” Maisel said of what Turner would have thought about seeing his work live on in a digital format that didn’t exist in his lifetime. “He was very into technology and doing things with an entrepreneurial spirit. They think he’d be rejoicing that a new generation of people might be enjoying this art.”