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A Short History of Alt-Punks NFTs
BY ERIC P. RHODES - Eric is an award-winning Crypto Art artist, renowned Trash Art artist, and creator of the iconic NFT collection, Unofficial Punks. Working exclusively in the Web3 space since 2019. 💬 Follow Eric on Twitter
A Crypto-Native Art Movement
Alt-punks are a crypto-native art movement that began as an organic social collaboration and an homage to the CryptoPunks in February 2021. It was a way for most people who were priced out of owning a punk to participate in the excitement and celebration. Its history of thought and progression is outlined in the text below.
Derivative CryptoPunks art has been around since 2017. Samuel Holt’s #paintapunk series is the first example of punk-related physical art in the form of oil paintings.¹
Artist, artonymousartifakt, announced on May 3, 2019 they were using CryptoPunks as part of their GAN training model and generated AI CryptoPunks in the style of Picasso and Kandinsky.²
Artist Max Osiris tokenized the first Punk derivative NFT on KnownOrigin on November 29, 2019. The artwork, titled Graceful Punk, features Jamacian-American model and actress Grace Jones with her face framed by the outline of a CryptoPunk smoking a cigarette.³
Artist Berk Özdemir minted the first AI-generated CryptoPunks on April 3, 2020 created with StyleGAN2.⁴ The inaugural collection of 74 Bastard Gan Punks would later became available on OpenSea in October 2020.⁵
In January 2021, Dapp Craft, a full-cycle metaverse production studio made the De-Genenerative Punks available to CryptoPunk owners as part of a promotion.⁶
The above projects created punk derivative art, but none of these projects started a crypto-native art movement. It wasn't until later that the alt-punk movement emerged on the Ethereum network.
The project that was truly first has been under debate as collectors continue to unearth derivative punk projects. I'll start the history of alt-punks with the foundational project that led an organic social collaboration, developed a micro-economy, and ignited the alt-punk movement.
While other derivative artworks and projects may have preceded Unofficial Punks, none had the kind of impact of this Second Realm project. On February 19, 2021, Second Realm tweeted a homemade punk that was created after being inspired by Alotta Money’s custom punk.⁷ This post went viral and users commissioned custom punks in their own likeness.
— Second Realm (Eric) (@secondrealm) February 19, 2021
More artists joined and it grew into an organic social movement with a Punkverse of 156 sub-genres⁸ and 7000 alt-punks.⁹ They each added their own unique flair creating sub-genres like Faceless Punks, Laser Eye Punks, and Death Punks. A few really popular alt-punk projects including Fine Art Punks, DystoPunks, and Bastard GAN Punks are also Punkverse members.
XWAVΞ, the artist behind Fine Art Punks, began hand-making their first punks by hand and eventually moved on to advanced AI. Since launching in late February 2021, they’ve generated 192 ETH in trading volume. Their style has inspired dozens of other artists to explore the possibilities of art-themed punks.¹⁰
Dekadente, the artist behind DystoPunks, created a new sub-genre with a unique style and lore. They have captured the imagination of collectors with visually stunning alt-punks that are a mix between generative and handmade NFTs. Since launching in March 2021, they have generated over 600 ETH in trading volume.¹¹ ¹²
Berk Özdemir’s follow-up project, Bastard GAN Punks V2, launched in March 2021 and expands on his original GAN idea. This collection has become on of the most popular projects of all-time with 4K ETH in trading volume in six months.¹³
The impact the Punkverse made should not be understated. This crypto-native art movement empowered artists to explore pixel art and automation that generated millions in sales and royalties. It changed people’s lives.
"This movement is legit changing my life." - @ZiggyCrypto
“I'm in the legit life change club too! I've been plugging away since early December with not a lot of traction. Turns out, all i had to do was...turn myself into a Dinosaur.” - @Jurassic_Punks
Unfortunately, this aspect was mostly ignored by the broader NFT collectible community.
When alt-punks entered the market enmasse in February 2021, they were not well-received by the CryptoPunks community. And the vitriol was amplified when CryptoPunks were minted on the Binance blockchain around the same time.¹⁴ Influencers seemed to brand all alt-punks as money grabs, scams, and fakes in response.
By April 2021 we saw the launch of Bored Ape Yacht Club. They were massively successful, took over twitter, and influenced the new avatar project renaissance.¹⁵ This overshadowed the alt-punk movement until recently.
CryptoPhunks is an influential alt-punks project that received criticism for flipping the original punks. They incited a massive debate about copyrights that turned litigious according to their open letter to Larva Labs.¹⁶
OpenSea went on to develop an internal policy in response to the CryptoPhunks controversy. Nate Chastain, their Head of Product, publicly stated they will no longer verify homage or derivative projects.¹⁷
Recently, three new alt-punk projects hit the NFT market and garnered a massive amount of support and fan fare. It seems that the perception of alt-punks is beginning to shift.
Fast Food Punks is a collection of 1000 inspired by the bear market fast food meme and claims to be a parody of the CryptoPunks. Since launching on June 30, 2021 they’ve generated 2.3K ETH in volume traded.¹⁸
COVID Punks is a generative collection of 10,000 punks that claims to be contributing to late-state COVID relief efforts in India. Like CryptoPhunks and Fast Food Punks they also use the original CryptoPunks as the basis for their images. Since launching on July 21, 2021, they’ve generated 1.5K ETH in volume traded.¹⁹
CryptoZunks, a Figmatic Labs creation, is the first alt-punks project to be generated on-chain with randomized attributes. Numbered 10,000-19,999, each Zunk is 100% guaranteed by their contracts to be unique from any existing CryptoPunk.²⁰
As I questioned in the final update of my CryptoPunks and Copyrights article, it seems unclear what the fate of homage and derivative projects are in the NFT space. Some are met with sharp criticism, DMCA takedown requests, and litigation. While others seem to be accepted by the CryptoPunks community and Larva Labs.
However, it is clear - based on the trading volume alone - that alt-punks have certainly carved a niche for itself among the NFT collectibles community.
Unofficial Punks Resources
Historical Timeline of CryptoPunks Derivatives
The Definitive List of CryptoPunks Derivatives - A big list of CryptoPunks derivatives and alt-punks. Most of which are not included in the timeline above. This is not yet an exhaustive list, but it is a good representation of the creativity in remix culture.
PDF Version of the Historical Timeline - An effort to organize a set of projects that took inspiration, visual elements, and project elements from the CryptoPunks across a multi-year timeline from 2017 - 2021
I am the founder of Second Realm and creator of Unofficial Punks, both of which figured largely in the start of the alt-punk movement. I tried to write objectively. I specifically looked to avoid writing hyperbolic or biased editorializations about either of them. However, like you, I am human, and bias can still unconsciously seep into my writing. My hope is that if any bias is perceived, then you will allow a small amount of leeway here. Thanks for your understanding.