EXCLUSIVE Interview: With Erika Alexander On The Diverse Future World Of Concrete Park NFTs
Interview with Erika Alexander, co-creator of Concrete Park “Bangers” NFTs.
We’ve interviewed many people for this column that might rightfully be called futurists, but no one who has created a whole cloth vision of the future with life, color, and a narrative like Erika Alexander, co-creator of the Concrete Park graphic novels.
You may already be familiar with some of Erika’s work – she is an actress, writer, producer, entrepreneur, and activist best known for her roles in movies like Get Out and Wu-Tang: An American Saga and for TV roles including Pam Tucker on the NBC sitcom The Cosby Show and Maxine Shaw on Fox sitcom Living Single.
In 2011, Erika Alexander and Tony Puryear, Hollywood industry writer/artist, director, and producer, launched Concrete Park through DarkHorse Comics. Originally the dystopian future story was run as part of Dark Horse Presents but the comics were so well received they earned their own monthly title and eventually two graphic novels.
“They told me black people don’t like science fiction because they don’t see themselves in the future,” Alexander said in an interview. “We only talk about the future because they took our present away and they stole our past.”
Concrete Park is a sci-fi story in which the people of Earth have dealt with overpopulation by sending marginalized human exiles to a distant, desert planet. In the central setting of megapolis Scare City, life is fast-paced, colorful, sometimes desperate, and often dangerous as the denizens – or Bangers – try to escape the tribalism and violence of Earth and build something new and maybe even beautiful.
Now fans can incrementally expand the Concrete Park universe, by minting one of 7,000 unique, generative NFTs, available on CurioNFT marketplace, that include, according to the site, “a stew of different colors, ethnicities, and body sizes. Each is unique; each possesses unique traits that contribute to his or her rarity; each is affiliated with one of the seven major warring factions of Scare City.”
“The Bangers are the heart and soul of the Concrete Park mythology. Star Wars has their Jedi and Stormtroopers. We have Bangers. These characters, orphans of Earth, have been underestimated and reviled, but here they hold the key to redemption,” Alexander said.
Besides having had a really successful initial drop and an award-winning graphic novel, Her comic, Concrete Park, is the first Black-owned, Black-created comic to offer NFTs and was NFT marketplace Curio’s first officially licensed IP on the platform.
We interviewed Alexander on her vision for Concrete Park inside and outside the world of NFTs.
Erika Alexander, Co-Creator of Concrete Park
Is this your first foray into NFTs?
“This is our first foray into NFTs. In fact, we’re one of the pioneers. We are one of the first generative art projects that was done with diversity. And it’s a groundbreaking collaboration with Curio, and it turned out that they were looking for us and we were looking for an opportunity but we didn’t know much about NFTs, they were able to educate us. So, we became the platform’s first officially licensed generative art project,” Alexander said.
Does this new, generative series of NFTs build on the lore that you established in the graphic novels?
“That’s right. Because we already have the audience that we’ve created over the past 10 years inside of comic cons and things like that. But to be clear, the NFT project is specifically created for NFTs, which is a different sort of medium. So we had to learn how to have that conversation, and learn.
We expand the lore through this because obviously, the Bangers weren’t at the forefront of the original series. The series tells a different story about a person arriving at Concrete Park. It’s more like a sort of movie method of mythology, because that’s our background is about the Bangers and the unity of the Bangers. Each Banger is slightly different and built upon each other Banger. And the diversity part of it was our target and our sweet spot,” Alexander said.
So how did your partnership with Curio begin?
“They approached us. They were looking to do something that would specifically have a conversation about diversity. They thought that there would be plenty of forward-facing projects that had white faces and obviously animals and all these other things, but they wanted to attack straight on that which we appreciate it because we’ve been an entertainment industry, and it’s paid lip service to diversity development for years, but to actually address it in Hollywood and reckon with an ongoing systemic bias and racism is a rare opportunity. So any executive who wants to do that we’re down with obviously…
We’re thinking about our audience and anticipating the audience changes coming up because of NFTs. And we’d heard about what people had been doing… there’s a global cloud collaboration and a conversation happening.
So we were thrilled, because our multiracial, non-homogenous, grassroot movement to create the comic book became because of being pushed out and passed over and told that black people didn’t like science fiction, because they didn’t see themselves in the future by a big studio. And so we proved that ridiculous.. All these things that had previously been radioactive projects, we get on the fast track, outside of the Hollywood system, and NFTs is one of those fast tracks,” Alexander said.
Where are you looking to take this IP with your recent success in NFTs?
“We would like to continue to explore and deepen our relationship inside of the NFT market, and its unique space…
Obviously, Curio understands storytelling, and storytelling is a big deal with us. Incubating intellectual property is obviously what we’re doing. And they’re doing it too. They understand that there’s a conversation in different formats and mediums and you have to build for the NFT audience differently. We are learning and being educated by them, but also by these drops.
So I think if every generation of art is undergoing a transformation, we certainly see that that transformation is happening in real-time. We want to challenge representational art…
We see this definitely as an exciting and innovative way to spread the news about our story and world. We use any opportunity to do that. And of course, film and television are ultimately where our strongest skill set is. We’ve always seen this as something to build more, engage our audience and build more audience, but also to eventually do a film and television, and game project. That’s what we’re building on this end. And luckily, Curio understands that and to incubate as a storytelling vehicle, this type of thing in NFT is another heavy lift,” Alexander said.
What do you think was the difference in working with Curio vs. another NFT marketplace?
“Obviously, storytelling is a big deal. Not everybody knows how to do it. It’s the bane of some people’s existence. Sometimes you can post a picture that easily tells a story, but if you’re trying to tell a larger narrative that can be more difficult.
We want it to debut Concrete Park characters in a space that understands it intrinsically. But also look forward to embedding personal messages, eventually music and original story, Easter eggs inside of this would be great.
Um, we think we can have a lot of fun inside this space because no one has any rules yet. We are thinking about this in the larger context of having intellectual property that already existed. So you also don’t want to destroy what you have by playing too fast and loose…
Curio does know about Hollywood, it understands. Definitely artist and storytelling, which I think is harder to do, when people can just make the easy money. But if you’re building something he takes time to build and develop, and they were willing to do and let us do the work,” Alexander said.
Where are you doing most of your communicating with your audience?
“We’re all over the place. We obviously have Twitter spaces, you know, because they have great conversations there. We join other people’s Twitter spaces, we support other artists, they’ve supported us. There’s been a lot of excitement about Concrete Park, especially in black NFT creators because they know about the Park…
Everybody I think now focuses on the quick play, you know, the money play, but for us it has always been about the long haul. Nothing’s ever been that easy. And we think we’re built for this type of thing. Obviously, you’ve always wanted to have Concrete Park collectibles, real collectibles in the hands of our fans. We are getting into cool Concrete Park collectibles in the hands of our fans but in a different way digital collectibles. So with Curio and they worked with us to create a great art project. And a program of collectible items and time drops. We said great we can collect the future, which is something we say, you know, color the future now we say collect the future,” Alexander said.
Is there anything about the execution that you’re particularly pleased with?
“You should have seen the meetings and the back and forth on skin tones. Um, what was appropriate could scars be a certain way?
All these different diverse characters, we wanted to get the characters that had light skin, looking just as good as the ones in between and on the other side of the spectrum, so I was really pleased about that. I also love that they also came at it with a point of view about building the community. We actually partnered with Black Girls Code. And we did a partnership with them to demonstrate not only the power of diversity but the creation of technology and who was doing that. So Concrete Park Bangers came out with a partnership saying 10% of our proceeds go to Black Girls Code. So we were very happy that (Curio) understood that we needed to build the pipeline, and also fund and support it. And that was their idea. We loved it,” Alexander said.
Do you have advice for other creators entering the space?
“Yes, please do your homework and pay attention to this unique format. You’re having a conversation with people in a new way. And I think you need to respect the space, if I was a writer and was doing a screenplay is different from a novel is different from an article but it’s all down to great writing. And you have to know how to engage people, and what your skill set limitations are, and to have good, great collaboration. This is a time to look into collaborations, also.
My advice is to be excited. Don’t be scared of this. So many people are and I understand the reasons why. But I think again, the Impressionists, the Cubists, the surrealists, they all had their time to change, or expand how we see art, and what is art. And so we really think that that kind of status as an artist, moving things forward into a future, where I think we’re all more connected, is really great. But I also think the fact that you can get paid as an artist directly from your work with no middleman is transformational. We’re talking about generational change, with funding artists directly. And that right there, that’s going to collapse. To me, that’s going to destroy the whole business and build a whole different type of business. And I’m excited about that,” Alexander said.
Do you feel more freedom with NFTs than with traditional publishers and production companies?
“Yes, any. And by the way, I’m down for anything that provides freedom for the artist to actually tell the story. Many people think they can tell it better than an artist, I think an artist has a right to not have to be vetted all the time, or go through a gauntlet of people who don’t know what they’re doing, have specific skill sets in order to say something.
And I also believe if you can have engagement with an audience that can find you and that it’s an authentic sort of conversation, then there’s an opportunity for growth for us as humans in a way that I think that up till now, if you didn’t fit the bill, or you didn’t pass through the gates of any of these studios, you weren’t going to get a big audience. So the Internet has changed that. Now NFTs have changed that and how they’re doing business within its NFTs and in cryptocurrency will change everything,” Alexander said.
I firmly believe that the best thing about the NFT space is the creativity of the people pouring into it and Alexander’s imagination, love, and belief in what she does are infectious. This project is a great example of working with existing IP in NFTs in a positive way, one that expands the creators’ vision and reaches new and existing audiences in a way that is on brand and a continuation of the work they were already doing.
I’ve written about NFT projects that created comics specific to the NFT space and that created thousands of iterative characters with the hope of later on writing lore for them (or inviting the NFT holders to make up their own lore) but what Concrete Park is doing is a step above that. It’s a fully fleshed-out existing fictional universe and when you mint one of their Bangers you are effectively creating a small part of that world that you can inhabit.
It will be interesting to follow this project and see what new creative work they release to maintain and build their NFT audience. If success in the NFT space leads to new opportunities for creators like Alexander from traditional sources, that wouldn’t surprise us at all. It would be typical for Hollywood to come looking for a screenplay based on Concrete Park due to its recent success with NFTs and the public enthusiasm and support they have demonstrated for the project – even after traditional media told them the idea wouldn’t work. It is a good time to be a creator.
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