In this candid conversation, we delve into the personal and artistic journey of Joe Chiappetta, an accomplished comic artist and OG of the crypto art world.
He shares his experience of finding faith and transforming his life, the role of community and collaboration in his career, and the driving force behind ArtVndngMchn. Discover how Chiappetta’s passion for art and purpose intersect, and how he strives to uplift and inspire others through creativity and shared experiences.
BW: So Joe, you’ve had a long and interesting career, and I found it challenging to write a summary for your latest drop. Can you catch our audience up on what you’ve been doing in independent comics and art for the last 30 plus years?
JC: I’m glad you asked because it means I’m doing exactly what I want, which is not fitting into a specific category. I understand though, for the internet, you need to plug things into categories for search purposes.
I started in the fine arts field, but my acrylic and oil paintings weren’t selling as much. However, my comics and zines took off, and that became more of a full-time thing. I’ve been putting out comics for years, making art, but never fitting into one category. I do experimental art, traditional illustrations, animation, sculpture, and more recently, crypto art. With the emergence of cryptocurrency, I started doing comics about it, and then the ability to put them on the blockchain came out. So now we have rare digital art, but it’s all in the same bucket, and I’m having a good time.
BW: How many comics have you done so far? Is it countable?
JC: I’ve published over 12 square-bound paperback books, and as for issues of a comic called Silly Daddy, I got up to about 20 before collecting them into larger volumes. In 2004 and then 2017, I put out giant Silly Daddy Comics collections of most everything I did in those two different volumes. So, in terms of substantial books (Silly Daddy plus other titles), it’s probably around 12.
BW: You mentioned doing comics on the topic of crypto before NFTs were common. I think you started getting into crypto in 2015, if I recall correctly. What prompted your dive into crypto?
JC: I was researching economics at the time. My wife and I lead a Christian ministry, and many people were struggling with finances. We wanted to help, so I studied economics and finance to better understand the situation. In my research, I stumbled upon the world of Bitcoin and crypto. As a cartoonist, I write about what interests me, so I started creating crypto comics. I discovered there were others doing crypto art as well, and I kept doing that for years.
Some genius eventually figured out how to put art on the blockchain, and I wanted in. I tried to get involved in 2017 but didn’t quite figure it out. By 2018, I connected with enough people to help me, and one of the early platforms I joined was MakersPlace.
BW: What was the first piece you minted, and where did you mint it?
JC: That was through a company called Everdreamsoft in Europe. They created a game called Spells of Genesis, which had some of the first NFTs before they were called NFTs, around 2015 or 16. Their game pieces were NFTs, but they also had a separate artist collection. This was around early 2017-2018 when I started communicating with them, and we put some of my art in their collection, called Crystals Craft.
At that time, the process was a bit convoluted. You had to buy a counterparty token, link it to the artwork, and partner with them to issue it on their marketplace. I ended up doing about 20 pieces through them. It’s a lot easier to mint NFTs now, but it was an exciting time back then.
BW: Where are those tokens now?
JC: They’re still on the counterparty protocol, riding on top of Bitcoin. You can find them by searching the names of the tokens I registered, which are tied to the artwork. Every now and then, an NFT historian will ask me where to buy them, and I’ll talk them through the process. Some are still available on the market, and they’re considered rare historical pieces. Crystals Craft is the first open-themed NFT collection by a variety of artists. I’m also part of the DADA Collective, which had the first themed NFT collection by a variety of artists.
BW: According to your website, you’re a former rebel and current born-again Christian with a day job helping adults with mental disabilities find jobs. Can you tell me more about these aspects of your life?
JC: Sure, I’ll go in order. I was a rebel because I grew up disillusioned with the world, angry at everyone and everything. Eventually, I connected with neighbors who studied the scriptures and was impressed by their integrity and honesty. I decided to rethink everything and become a new creation through the scriptures. This transformation changed my art, which had previously been negative and sometimes lewd.
Wanting to help others, I got a job assisting people with disabilities in finding employment. I started at an entry-level position, promoting opportunities for employers to hire people with disabilities. Eventually, I led a network of agencies helping people with disabilities find jobs in Chicago, which I did for 17 years. Our network had a great impact helping people with disabilities overcome barriers.
When I moved from Chicago to Southern California, I left that field due to differences in the industry and public transportation. Since then, professionally I’ve been focusing on my art full-time. While my journey may seem all over the place, it makes sense to me, and it’s not over yet.
BW: I’m curious to know about how you were introduced to the neighbors and how, as an angry young man, you decided, “Okay, I’m going to go to a Bible study with these people.”
JC: In one of the comics I write about this; I think it’s the Silly Daddy 2004 graphic novel. My oldest daughter, Maria, who’s also an artist, actor, and musician, was in first or second grade at the time. She went to school with a kid, and that kid’s parents were this couple I was telling you about. We became friends because our kids went to school together. They invited us over to various parties, and little did I know that most of the other people there were legit, non-hypocritical, real Christians.
I had never been around that before. I was like, “Wow, these people are friendly, loving, and helping each other out.” It was contagious, and I wanted to be useful and be part of a great team that did cool things together. But I didn’t believe in the Bible, so I was kind of on hold for a while.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend at the time went all for this. She became Christian and broke up with me, saying we had different values. That made me even angrier. But two months later, after seeing her out in the community and realizing she had truly changed because of the Bible, I admitted I was wrong and that my way didn’t work.
I finally showed up to study the Bible with my friend Jay Shelbrack. A week later, I became Christian, got baptized, repented of my sin, and cleaned up my act. That was a pivotal moment. I realized that my creative ability wasn’t my main purpose. I could still do art, but my creative ability was really a language to inspire and pull people together, to honor God, our creator that we’re all just trying to imitate. Incidentally, that woman who broke up with me… the following year I married her! And she has work in our new book too.
BW: It’s funny you mentioned that kind of teamwork and community that you instinctually wanted to be a part of. It reminds me of ArtVndngMchn, which also seems to be you pulling together a community and being a part of DADA and crypto art in general. Can you tell me a little bit about ArtVndngMchn and how you started to create this community?
JC: When I started out in comics and fine art, breaking into markets was difficult unless you knew people. But when I got into independent comics and the zine scene, there were all kinds of people willing to collaborate and do things together. That kind of camaraderie continued when I entered the crypto art and NFT scene. There were people there for the same reasons as in the zine scene: to explore, experiment, make friends, and help each other along the way.
With ArtVndngMchn, I wanted to help people who still didn’t know much about crypto art or NFTs. We built a bridge with a few other crypto art OGs to get people involved in projects and onto the market without having to pay any dues or suffer through rejection letters. Artists could now be part of the latest ArtVndngMchn pack opening, whether they were still in college or mid-career. The idea was to bypass hierarchy and just work together if we knew each other and wanted to create clean, uplifting art. That’s really the impetus of it.
BW: Who were your inspirations when you embarked on your indie comic career and fine art? Who were you looking at that made you think, “I want to do that?”
JC: I grew up reading Marvel comics, so Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby were big influences. After a while, I got into independent comics in the late ’80s and ’90s, which was an exciting time. Some specific inspirations were Dave Sim, who did the comic Cerebus, the early Marvel comics, John Porcellino, Jake Austin, and Jerome Gaynor. We were just young mavericks making waves, and we linked up with some people in Seattle, like Tom Hart, Dave Lasky, Jason Lutes, and Megan Kelso. We influenced each other, and it was a lot like jazz, where we played off of one another. This pushed me to experiment with my art, breaking new ground I had never seen before.
BW: Is it true that Quentin Tarantino’s mother collects your work?
JC: Well, she was at a convention, and I think the person bringing her around introduced her to me. She bought some of my art and maybe one of the books. So, if she’s still a collector, she has some of my work.
By the way Brady, while we were talking, I drew a portrait of you, which will be in one of the customized ArtVndngMchn: Mission Wonderful books. One of the 30 people who get a copy will receive this portrait.
BW: That’s amazing! I wonder who the lucky person will be. This is a great segue to talking about the upcoming drop. Can you tell us a little about it?
JC: I gathered 19 artists and writers, including myself, to create a physical paperback book called ArtVndngMchn: Mission Wonderful. The book is available as a standard paperback version, but we’re also offering a customized version with hand-painted elements and original art on random pages. Contributors to the book include Marko Zubak, Fabi Yamada, Mike Rende, two of my kids (Luke and Anna), and more. My wife and I also collaborated on an illustrated story about pugs.
To get the customized version and a digital download PDF, you have to buy one of 30 NFTs. Owning the NFT gets you the digital download and a unique, customized paperback book with hand-painted elements and surprise artworks. The drop will be on MakersPlace.
BW: So, it’s an edition of 30 NFTs, and each NFT will get you a unique book, right?
JC: Yes, each NFT will get you a unique paperback book with different cover designs and original drawings inside. There’s a variety of different artwork, some sketchbooks-style, some very polished illustrations, and each book is a surprise.
BW: Can you tell me about Silly Daddy?
JC: Silly Daddy started in the early ’90s when I became a dad and didn’t know what I was doing. I wrote comics about my experiences, which were unfiltered and captured my day-to-day life. Over time, the focus shifted to more experimental storytelling and evolved at times even into sci-fi autobiographical comics. Now, instead of being completely immersed in my art, I’ve learned to balance it with living a well-rounded life, resulting in exciting work that reflects on different aspects of being a father.
BW: So you’re really prolific, and I’m curious to know what your creative routine looks like.
JC: In the early morning, I used to have a little notebook by my bed, and anytime I had an idea, I would just write it down or sketch it out. But now, since I realize that God is the ultimate creator, I go to him first. I read the scriptures and pray. After I exercise, have my breakfast, and start with my creative process, I focus on what I believe I should communicate today or what I need to research and experiment with so that I can create something worth sharing with others.
BW: Can you give me a little more detail on how you find and develop new ideas?
JC: I actually pray to have good ideas, implemented right on the first time, which really helps. In the past, I would sketch out my ideas and then do another sketch before inking or painting over it. Now, a heavy amount of my art is loose and has a lot less erasing and editing. This approach helps me stay prolific and create interesting work.
BW: Speaking of this NFT and how collaborative it is, are there any artists that you would love to collaborate with who you haven’t yet?
JC: I would love to do some NFT work with John Porcellino, my old college art pal, and more with some of the DADA artists. I’d love to collaborate more with Ilan Katin from the DADA Collective and Isa Kost. There’s no shortage of talent out there. I’d also like to find old cartoonists who aren’t known to be creating publicly anymore, like Eric Searleman who did Jazzbo back in the 90s. Of course, I’d also love to collaborate with Dave Sim, who did Cerebus.
BW: If you could go back in time and give your 20-year-old self any advice about creativity, what would you say?
JC: I would urge my younger self to pay more attention to the God of the Bible and try to imitate his ways as much as possible. Not only would my art be clearer for my conscience, but I would also be able to reach people on a deeper level as a person.
BW: Where can our readers learn more about you and your work?
JC: My main updates are on Twitter. I’m @joeychips, like potato chips but with Joey.
You can also find me by typing in the name of the project, Art Vending Machine, but take out all the vowels except for the first one: ArtVndngMchn.com.