A Serena NFT ushers in Zestworld’s artist commission tool

Serena Williams has ruled women’s tennis for most of her professional career, creating a superhero mystique that was even highlighted in a commercial combining her with Wonder Woman.

The next logical step is to make her a bona fide comic book heroine, drawn by one of the best in the business.

Zestworld, a creator-first digital comics platform, today launched its newest feature: a digital commission tool that lets regular fans contact their artist heroes to request personal works. One of the first to test this out was Seven Seven Six founder and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who worked with award-winning comic artist Amanda Conner to create an NFT of Williams — his superstar wife — and their daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., as superheroes.

“First of all, when I was asked to do this I was scared to death,” said Conner. “All I could think of was ‘I’m going to do this … but I really hope she likes this!’ So my first emotion was fear.”

Ohanian, also an investor in Zestworld, wanted a classic superhero. He wanted something “very Kryptonian.”

“I think Alexis mentioned that she was a Supergirl fan, so he wanted something like that,” said Conner.

The collaboration may have been unusual for Conner and Ohanian, but the new digital commission tool should make it easier for fans to have a direct relationship with artists.

“The process today is clunky for fans and artists alike. Digital commissions are often run out of a creator’s DMs or email inbox,” says Chris Giliberti, co-founder and CEO of Zestworld. “You can hope to catch an artist in person at a con, but COVID and rising travel costs are complicating factors.”

Zestworld homepage.

(Handout)

This tool comes as NFTs continue to be a way for artists, and collectors, to profit off digital art. The rise of the NFT also coincides with a rise in digital comic subscriptions, indicating not only a willingness but a preference to view art in a digital space.

“I began as ‘that person’ who was like ‘NFTs? What? You can’t hold them.’ But when I sat and thought about it … There are so many people that grew up with ‘The Sims’ and just having a real life and a digital life,” says Conner. “Consuming comics digitally is so convenient… It totally makes sense that it would spill over into NFTs.”

Though digital comics may not be in the mainstream consciousness as much as the tangible, printed ones, they have been growing in popularity more than many realize.

“The webcomic audience is surging, with titles like ‘Lore Olympus’ generating upwards of 299 million views. The exploding popularity of comic-based storytelling has spilled over into the art market, and can be observed in the record competition and sales volume at auction,” says Giliberti.

“The other great thing about [selling digital art as an NFT] is that every time it gets resold to a new buyer or a new art collector, the artist gets a small percentage of that, so they can make money in perpetuity,” says Conner.

Commissions will be delivered as a print quality digital file with verified authenticity via minting on the environmentally-friendly Polygon blockchain. Zestworld also receives a 2.5% fee from sales, but in the end, it’s all about the art created. For the purists who only want the pencil-and-ink drawings, Conner believes that if you want to get the true intent of the artist on their work, they’ll have to change their thinking.

“It’s more accurate when you do it digitally,” she says. “When you do it traditional style and it’s for print, there’s always a chance that the printing is going to be off or the colors are going to print too dark. Digital is super pure.”

A screen capture of an artist's commission request page.

Jim Mahfood’s Zestworld request page.

(Handout)

Artists currently publishing on Zestworld include Peter J. Tomasi, Alex Segura, Eric Canete, Jimmy Palmiotti and Conner. A new wave of creators joining them include Jim Mahfood, Joëlle Jones, Phil Jimenez, Tania del Rio and Josh Adams.

With the commission tool, who knows what kind of creations and connections may be made. Conner, who calls herself “so bad at tennis,” got to see a side of Williams that she may not have known as much about before.

“When she’s with Olympia, it is so adorable,” the artist said. “They’re so cute I’m going to explode!”