Gareb Shamus – Bringing NFTs to Super Heroes
Gareb Shamus Biography
Gareb Shamus is a serial entrepreneur, visionary, and cultural catalyst who has influenced over a billion people through his businesses, communities, and relationships in the Superhero and character franchise worlds.
As the founder and publisher of Wizard magazine, Shamus created the comic book industry’s most influential voice and grew Comic Con from a niche fan event into a global cultural phenomenon.
In 2021, Shamus launched HeroMaker Studios, a web3 company, to produce mobile-first NFT comic books and an ecosystem that connects creators, fans, and collectors.
Transcript of Gareb Shamus interview by Alan Olsen, Host of the American Dreams Show (Gareb Shamus - Founder of HeroMaker Studios):
Alan Olsen: Hello, welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is Gareb Shamus. Gareb, good to have you on our show.
Gareb Shamus: I was so happy to be here love talking about superheroes.
Alan Olsen: So Gareb, you have a very unique background, you've been at the birth of a few movements, Comic Con, trading card games, independent action figure makers, and I'd like you to spend a little bit of time educating us. So how you fell into building the communities that you have.
Gareb Shamus: So yeah, so I'm Gareb Shamus. And I've been in the superhero business my entire life. And luckily, I grew up with three brothers and collecting sports cards and comic books. And then when I was a kid, my mom actually opened up a sports card and comic book store. So I had a, literally a candy store in the family since I was a kid. And then when I graduated, I couldn't get a job. So I worked at the store, and then started a newsletter about comic books. And then shortly thereafter, turned that into a magazine called wizard. I was 21, 22 at the time, and I wanted to just share my passion for comic books with everyone in the world. And little did I know, it worked. And within a few years, I was selling literally 3-400,000 copies of the magazine in 75 countries. So by the mid 90s, I decided to throw a little party for the magazines, called the Comic Con. And then 20,000 people showed up, and it was this really magical. It was just a magical time. Because all these disenfranchised people that were into comic books, and trading cards, and movies, and television and gaming, everybody all came together in one place to share this passion. And we were geeks and nerds at the time. And that was not cool back in those days. And but so for everyone to come together and feel comfortable to be in this environment and share their passion was just it really galvanized that whole movement and then cut to today, I've produced with my brother over 180 Comic Cons reached, sold 5 million tickets, but we've reached billions and billions of people and have had just a tremendous impact on not just the superhero fan culture, but I think all cultures kind of borrowed from what we did to engage people. So yeah, my whole life has been community building.
Alan Olsen: I'm going to call this oversimplifying the fact you have a tremendous gift that you have given to the world and in building these communities. But I want to go down a little bit deeper and ask the question Gareb How did you know when you are connecting your community together? I mean, it's one thing to say I'm going to do a magazine, but how did you know that the level of engagement did this thing go exponential? Or where? Yeah, how did you see this thing grow? Was it slow at first? And then quick? What was that process like?
Gareb Shamus: Yeah, so the thing is that it was actually very organic. And I don't, I actually didn't have a plan for that. It was really, there was actually just to have a party and to have fun and to bring everyone together that we worked with. And you know, for me, it was about, you know, how can we do things enough in a unique way that only that certain medium could provide it? So like, you know, there was a lot of things that we could do in the magazines that you could only do in print, and make it special, but yet we were very limited by page count. And here, all of a sudden, we were able to do an event. And we said okay, well, if we're going to do an event, what can we do live that we can't do in print? And it's like, well, we interview people in the magazine will Hey, maybe now you can meet them in person. Right? We can we you know, people want to be these characters. Hey, why don't we get people to dress up in costume? Right. And it was, it was just that thinking of what can we do in life that we that we've always wanted to do in print, but just can't because it's it's print. And I think it just kind of grew out of that. And the thing is that I never thought it was going to be as big as it was. But the more it kept working, the more we kept doing and luckily I was young kid at the time, I was 25, 26, 27. And fortunately, the company was making money. So we didn't have to live by anybody else's rules. We could do whatever we want. And the rule was, how do we just have fun? And because I wasn't much older than our audience. So when I started, I was 21. And our average age was 14. So, you know, five years later, six years later audience was average age, you know, was still kind of younger, but they weren't much different than me. They liked what I liked. I liked what they liked. So, for us, it was just like, if you're gonna have a party for your friends, what would you do for your friends. And that's exactly the approach that we took about it. Because it was very lonely at that time to be a geek or a nerd, because, you were bullied or picked on for the things that you cared about. So few people really thought of us as their friend. And that's the way we spoke to people. And that was kind of the root of how of how and why it all worked. Was because because we shared that voice, you know, that was our voice. And we didn't, we weren't, we didn't have contempt for our audience. It was, these are our peers, these are our best friends, what would we say to our best friend? And how would we talk to our best friend?
Alan Olsen: So in the world of collectibles, first, is there a formula of how you make something collectible, digital or physical?
Gareb Shamus: Yeah, there's definitely kind of like a base formula, and there's always this kind of funny role, like, I'd rather sell one too few than one too many. And there's definitely a magic to figuring out what that number is, in terms of a collectible, but there also has to be some driving interest for it. And, you know, sometimes, you know, you might have a million people that are into something, but there might only be 10,000 people, you know, that are willing to purchase something? And then how do you create something unique for those people, you know, that are kind of those super fans are those core fans, and then how do you create something that's really kind of above and beyond what they would be able to get somewhere else. So anytime that we're getting into a collectibles business, you really want to make sure that that the people that you're appealing to, which is the core of the core, get something that's very unique, something that they feel special about something that they feel like they could have only gotten through this unique circumstance, and then the ability for them to be able to then share that, or share that they have it with all the people around them, meaning that they were able to get something that is a terrible way to say, but I got something that you didn't or you couldn't, but it was only beat through their efforts, that they were willing to go through in order to get that item, meaning that, they were almost like, in a way rewarded, for the fact that they participated all along this, this journey or that process. So, getting into the NFT world, we've been able to apply a lot of the principles of collecting into what we're doing into the NFT side of things. And it's something that I've been doing my whole life. So as, as web three is growing, and as the project community that we're working on grows, it's one of those things that we can apply a lot of those kinds of principles to where we can reward people for, for their participation.
Alan Olsen: Storytelling is the heart of what you're doing? Why is that?
Gareb Shamus: So I've come from a world where I grew up, collecting sports cards and comic books. And when you think about either one of those, it's actually all story, right? So in the sports world, it's not a static thing, it's moving somebody's hitting a lot of home runs, or they're getting it to the playoffs or they're winning the World Series, or a Super Bowl, or you name it. This evolving storyline, with those characters. And then certainly, from the comic book side of things, everything is story, right. And everything about a story is about creating this emotional connection between you, and the fans, and the characters and the audience. And it starts with that, and unless you have that connection, it's very, very hard to do anything else because then it just might be a picture. Or it might be a digital item, or it might be a physical item, it might be something but but without that connection, without that emotion attached to it. It's just paper in a dream is what we used to call sports cards or comic books. It's just paper in a dream. And without the dream, you just have paper. So when we started, when Scott Donald and I (I'm a co-founder of filmmaker) when we started the company, we started with the story. And I spent a lot of time building out of literally 100 Page bible of what does the world look like, what's going on in the world? What are the exaggerated things that are happening in the future that might be happening now and really kind of envisioned? what the world looks like, kind of in the near present, and then built I wrote literally, I came up with the idea for many, many franchises. We have over 30 different franchises now, that all take place within that universe and there's a string that goes was between all of them. And we started with that kind of story premise. And then and then the character creation side of it, and building these kind of evergreen, you know, stories and these evergreen concepts. And the first one that we started with is comity. And, you know, rather than just starting that out and start telling the stories, let's say through comic books, or through film, or television or gaming, we decided to start that in the web three world, with NFT's. And we saw that a lot of NFT projects that were coming out, we're actually doing a lot in the art side of things, some of these projects are absolutely beautiful. But when you dig down a little deeper, there wasn't that kind of story behind them, I didn't have that emotional connection. And a lot of what was driving, the interest in them was the mechanics, and the valuation and the scarcity, not the story behind them. And when we started putting out the story communities about this epic battle between heroes and villains, and there's hundreds of characters that we created with 1000s of attributes of weapons and armor, and all kinds of things and how they're going to battle each other. And we created this incredible like, battle platform. And then through that, we created 9600, unique NFT characters. And through the NFT's, people are going to be able to buy those NFT's and then and then literally have commercial and licensing rights to those characters. So imagine us, creating this universe, and then giving you all these characters to participate in this world. And that's what's so exciting about what we're doing here. And because we're starting you out with the story platform, it's going to be a lot easier for people to then tell their own stories.
Alan Olsen: So Gareb, in the world of comic books, we can go back to some of the old Marvel characters and in and look at the number of years that they've survived on the foundation of good versus evil. And it resonates with people. Here you are today, though, you're making modern day heroes, and defining the hero's journey. First, I got two questions in that area is how difficult is it to to define a hero's journey? I mean, isn't good versus evil, just a standard platform of how do you differentiate? You know, how a hero becomes a hero and how they compare to the next hero? If I can say it that.
Gareb Shamus: So what's interesting about what Marvel has been able to do, and DC has been able to do with their iconic characters, and it's actually not all of their characters, it's a lot of the times, it's the one that you see on the screen or in film, they've kind of stood the test of time. But there's there's two parts to the character side of things. One is the creation of the character. And then there's the stories that you tell. And one of the things that makes a character have this everlasting appeal is to have some something evergreen about them. And that's actually at the heart of what I've been working on adhering mica is actually the idea of creating characters, that I'm actually building out their world and their universe and what it looks like and how they act and who they are and who the people are around them, and how their relationship evolves, and who they are and those relationships that they have. And once you do that, then you can tell stories, because then if I set up this, this, this character for you, and then something happens, something good, something bad happens. Once you know where that character is coming from, you can start telling stories about how they would react to it. So I can throw something in there and see the reaction of that. And when you're looking at the hero's journey, and that is, by the way, the philosophy of the entire company is not just putting out an NFT project, but actually taking the NFT holder and the fans on that hero's journey. And the whole purpose is taking them on that journey. And it's not our journey. It's their journey. And that's really where everything changes about web three and the NFT world. So when you look at some of these centralized media companies that come out with content, right, so take Spider Man is a perfect example one of my favorite characters of all time, but when I see the Spider Man film I'm going on and everybody watching the films are going on Spider Man's journey. It's his hero's journey. When I go to Top Gun, I'm on Tom Cruise's journey. When I go to see Batman, I'm on Batman's journey. And what we're trying to do through web three, it's not about us. And it's not about taking the user on our journey, or the or what we see is our characters journey. It's about people going on their journey. And when they have these characters, that they own, these NFT's, it's about creating a platform for them to go on their hero's journey. So we're creating a platform that when they own these characters, in this world that we're creating, it's all about how do we support them in going through the trials and the tribulations for them to become the hero of their universe. And that's really kind of the heart of what makes us so different. And where I think the future of the entire content and storytelling was going,
Alan Olsen: You playing the role of the hero or the avatar going on the journey is a very unique concept. And it's opening up a new, a new dimension into this web 3.0. I want to do things I want to ask you, first of all, why are you doing this, you already got a very successful Comic Con and the communities that you built, why go down the road of the web 3.0 And, and the NFT when you could be doing anything in life, Gareb, you've already reached a lot of success. But what is it about this new journey that that drives you to bring it into this world?
Gareb Shamus: I think it's we're at this kind of momentous time where a new medium is being created. And this is absolutely the birth of something that is going to be the absolute future of what of where things are going. And so for me, it's like I've been there at the birth of the original web, and how that started. And I was there at the birth of, you know, the social media, and a web two, which was kind of the rewrite component to it. And then to be part of what is absolutely happening now, which is the birth of web three, which is read,write, own, it's completely changing the dynamics of, of ownership, and participation in enabling people to, for the first time truly benefit from the, from the engagement that they're creating, and to benefit from the support that they can give, right? So many times, people have contributed so much to these franchises or these characters. But yet, they've never benefited from that success. And they've also not been able to have an influence in how they go, right? So how many times do you see characters and I've been to, I can't countless movies or TV shows or and countless comic books, where it's like, Oh, I could have done a better job of the character only did this if the character only did that I could have written a better film, I could have read a bit read a better TV show, I can't believe the way they ended it. T`hat comic book was terrible, I wish they would have done this with the character, right? Everybody has had those thoughts in their mind about content that they've been able to see or read or consume. But they've never been able to do anything about it. Because they've never been in a position where they can control that or, or have a say in that. And for the first time fans, users, the community, the NFT owners, will now have a say, in how that goes. And certainly with them having characters that they that they have in our universe in their universe. Now all of a sudden, they could write the stories that they want to tell. And we're going to support them in there. You know how many times I've seen big media companies shut down fan sites or tell fans, they can't do this, or they can't do that. And they're the heart of what keeps those franchises going. So for me to, it's about taking the opposite approach. Rather than saying you can't do this, you can't do that. It's how can we support you in your efforts to create more content built on this platform that and these franchises that we created for you. And that, to me is the heart of what web three, and that's what drives me is that I can finally for the first time, get into this new medium and be a leader and really kind of show people, you know, hey, this is this is where it's all going. This is, you know, this is what we want to do for you. Right? And if we let the bigger media companies control that they're not going to let people do that, right. So it's gonna be required for companies that are starting up like ours, to be able to take these massive resources and these massive access that we have, but I don't have a horse in that other game. I don't have to worry about, protecting some other interests that I have, we can go in and, and develop something new right from the start. That's exactly the way it should be.
Alan Olsen: How does that person get involved with the franchise with Hero Maker? Are you ready for that right now? Or is it a little ways away?
Gareb Shamus: Yes so our first franchise is called comity. And the Genesis collection is coming out on June 16. So people will be able to purchase them through the minting on our website, or eventually, they'll be able to purchase them in the secondary market on open sea, where are almost any other kind of exchange. But the good thing is, is that once they're available, then then anybody could buy one. And then with that buyer there, you know, there is commercial rights, and there's licensing rights and derivative rights, meaning that people will be able to create a lot of things like we call it the maker economy, people can be able to make T shirts and hats and like all kinds of fun stuff, and we want to be able to support them and give them the resources and tools. And it's also everything from making their own costumes, making their own comic books, creating their own characters, and we want to be able to support people in doing that. And the more they do that, we're going to be coming out with our hero maker token so that people now will be able to get rewarded for those efforts. And it's and create a lot of utility around that. And we're going to create a fight tournament, you know, so that people can participate, you know, with other members of their family, from the, from the committee tournament, and, you know, so there's a lot of things that we're going to be able to do, and once people get involved, then they're part of the community so imagine owning one of 9600 characters in the Marvel Universe, right? What would you do? And it's the same kind of thing, you know, we're creating this incredible universe of characters, you now have a character in there, what would you do, and by by creating all the, the platform, and the story, and the other characters and the tournament and how it all works, it's going to be a lot easier for people to be able to tell those stories in there. So, so literally, from day one, people are gonna be able to participate, in this community.
Alan Olsen: Well Gareb, this has been a lot of fun having you on the show today and listening to the new venture of hero maker. I appreciate you being with us.
Gareb Shamus: Thank you. Yeah, it's always fun to talk about superheroes. And now superheroes in the NFT world. So kind of putting them all together is my dream come true.
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