Have we already hit peak NFT, now that Heart Evangelista has moved on from hand-painting Hermes bags to minting NFTs with cryptoevangelist Luis Buenaventura (for context, his early NFTs are part of a set that was sold at Christie’s NYC for 393 ETH or 1,267,320 USD)?
The NFT space is exciting and confounding, revolutionary and capitalistic all at the same time. It’s still such a novel world that many of us are trying to find our way around it, struggling to wrap our heads around abstract concepts like the metaverse and blockchain and wondering why memes and GIFs are suddenly considered valuable art.
It bears remembering that over a decade ago, everyone thought Facebook was a force of good, and look at where that got us. As with any technology, it is just a tool that we define by how we use it. Presently, NFTs hold the promise of democratizing art and imbuing value in previously undervalued digital art. Practically any digital artist from any corner of the world can sell their 8-bit render of a zombie cockroach to some rich tech bro collector in Silicon Valley, and one day it may end up in the catalogue of a fancy auction house, a bastion of the traditional art world.
In a nutshell: An NFT or a non-fungible token basically refers to a digital asset that is unique and non-interchangeable. A peso is identical to another peso, and a Dogecoin is a Dogecoin. They are fungible. Something that is non-fungible or non-interchangeable would be my cat, and if you tried to secretly replace your cat with mine, I think I’d be able to tell. Now if I posted a photo of my cat online, anyone could just right click and download a copy or take a screenshot and claim that photo is theirs.
The blockchain is the technology that makes NFTs possible—if I put my cat photo on the blockchain, it will be forever on the record for anyone to see that that particular photo is the absolute original and is owned by me. It’s easier to understand when you think in terms of securing documents and contracts on the blockchain. Birth and marriage certificates, land titles, anything that serves as an official transaction will benefit from being permanently filed on the blockchain, which is digitally traceable and verifiable.
Because it’s such new tech, the NFT space invites a whole lot of experimentation and innovation. We don’t know what it can be, we don’t know what it will be. We know that it is cool (yes, another Facebook reference). Here comes the Philippines, the first country to launch an NFT book at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse in German, or FBM) where the National Book Development Board just held a booth for the sixth year in a row. The FBM is the oldest and largest trade book fair in the world. This is a place where once a year, people from all over the world gather to promote literary works, meet their favorite authors, and buy international rights and licenses. While officially in its 73rd year, the history of the book fair dates back to the time when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, right there in Frankfurt.
This year, FBM was held as a hybrid event, with an on-site exhibition space complemented by an online program. The NBDB booth showcased around 100 titles from Filipino writers and creatives, the selection anchored on “diversity, innovation, and community,” with a special emphasis on LGBTQ works, climate fiction, and pop mythology. The booth accordingly stood out with kaleidoscopic murals swirling with Philippine iconography. Using the theme of “Myth, Magic, and Cities” as a prompt, creative director Jowee Alviar of Team Manila mined inspiration from the treasure chest that is Philippine cultural diversity, layering patterns from indigenous weaving traditions with popular icons and characters from pre-colonial Filipino mythology.
“To say we have a wealth of stories to tell would be an understatement. The Filipino experience is distinctive and diverse, with more than 110 ethnolinguistic groups, each with its own epics and myths,” says Charisse Aquino-Tugade, NBDB executive director. “We shared our story with the world through the Frankfurter Buchmesse and the very first Filipino NFT Graphic Literature launch.” The NFT drop is one of the many collaborations they will pursue that intersects publishing, design, culture, and tourism to help make our mark in the global literary landscape.
“The Last Moon” is the story written by horror writer Yvette Tan, whose acclaimed short story collection Waking the Dead is about to be rereleased. Taking off from Team Manila’s looming silhouette of the jacked horse-man we know as the tikbalang, her text weaves together different elements from the mural, reimagining the Visayan myth of the Bakunawa. In the legend, the giant dragon swallows six of the earth’s original seven moons, but was eventually thwarted when humanity banded together to stop it from permanently cloaking the world in darkness.
“I thought that was relevant to our times,” says Yvette. “‘So I conceived of The Last Moon not as a retelling of the myth, but as a continuation of the story.” In her tale, the dragon reemerges in the 21st century, intent on finally consuming that last moon. This time, a little girl and a young tikbalang warrior must find a way to prevent the final and total eclipse.
Erwin Romulo, whom NBDB tapped as a creative director for the book fair, suggested that instead of simply making a microsite, “The Last Moon” be turned into an NFT, with the added value of coming with unique cover art. It would be an experiment with a new model of internet publishing, which, like NFT art, circumvents traditional gatekeeping. Team Manila, who has also started to make inroads in the NFT space, reworked the visuals to fit Yvette’s story, designing seven different covers.
There is a larger objective to selling the story as an NFT book other than being a first, and that is to raise funds to translate and print copies of the book, which will be donated to NBDB’s Book Nook Project. Book Nooks are shared libraries set up around indigenous communities and remote areas of the Philippines, where there is little access to printed matter, particularly in their own languages.
The idea of scarcity may be important to the visual art world, but it doesn’t really work for authors, who generally seek as wide a readership as possible. Limiting the story to just a few collectors would seem antithetical, and so 100 Last Moon Coins were built in with the drop. Team Manila airdropped or delivered free-of-charge 100 tokens to members of their network and people who signed up with their wallet details. Each Last Moon Coin gives the owner access to a PDF copy of the story with a common cover. Those who collect six coins, whether through sale or barter or gifting, can use them to buy one of the seven rare editions of the book, each with a unique cover. The ultra-rare or legendary edition comes with a mural of all seven covers. The entire Last Moon collection was dropped on October 25 on OpenSea, an NFT marketplace, and was minted on Pologyon, a network that uses a Proof-of Stake blockchain, making it eco-friendlier and less costly.
Seeing the possibilities for so much more, Erwin decided to form a group dedicated to furthering the project beyond the book fair, and anointed the project the Bathala Beasts.
“As many things do in the tech space, ‘The Last Moon’ NFT project started growing beyond its original idea,” says Danella Yujuico-Yaptinchay, creative director of the collaboration that emerged from this venture. “We got excited by the idea that this is the first time that Philippine Mythology would be represented in the metaverse and we ran with it! Since it comes with an unlocked copy of the book, The Last Moon Coin airdrop of 100 coins is meant to get people embracing the story and growing the Bathala Beasts community organically, with our homebase on Discord.”
This initial foray into NFT publishing is now imbued with a grander vision. Often, what makes NFT collecting special is the communities that are formed around them. Collections like Bored Ape Yacht Club grants owners entry to an exclusive online club, while many others contribute their profits to ocean conservation and charities that support women and children. Whether the impact is online or in real life, many NFTs keep generating utility along with monetary value. You don’t buy an NFT just to flex as a PFP (profile picture), although you can do that. For the team behind “The Last Moon,” it is hoped that the story acts as an opening portal to our mythological realms, inviting other creators and storytellers to continue building on this shared world.