A World in a Drop: Harley Quinn and the Design Behind the Next Chapter of the DC NFT Universe.

Published by Straith Schreder
September 30, 2022
A World in a Drop: Harley Quinn and the Design Behind the Next Chapter of the DC NFT Universe.
A World in a Drop: Harley Quinn and the Design Behind the Next Chapter of the DC NFT Universe.

In September, chaos entered the chat: Harley Quinn announced her 30th anniversary plans for Gotham City with an invitation, and a collection of mysterious boxes. On October 6, Gotham City District Knighwatch was on the receiving end of a Charm Offensive. Yesterday, the crime spree came in to focus, as faction members chose sides. And today: the contents of the Harley Quinn Freakin’ Awesome Boxes of Mayhem have been revealed. But there’s still a lot left to uncover. Because a drop isn’t an end point. It’s Act I. 

Building an NFT project for an iconic antihero also means building a world. Designing artifacts that are visceral, and heavy with lore. Creating storylines that act as portals: conduits for self-expression on chain, and inworld. Palm NFT Studio’s Caitlin Burns and Elyse Fulcher break down the recent DC Harley Quinn collection, and creative process behind the collection. 

Harley Quinn is one of the most beloved characters in DC comic history, with 30 years of lore built up around her. Where did you begin? What was the inspiration behind the collection? 

Caitlin Burns: I think we really started off thinking about the core idea of Harley expressing herself. That's so central to Harley Quinn as a character. This year marks a massive milestone: 30 years since her first appearance. 30 years of hijinks. 30 years of nefarious schemes. We really wanted to take a moment to celebrate them. But also, to think about how she might recount these stories, in her own words. How she might craft an invitation. How she’d approach something like a gift box. Who she’d bring along to celebrate this milestone, to take part in this experience as part of her crew. There’s the idea that self-expression can be contagious. That in telling her story, she’d invite you to share yours, too. 

Elyse Fulcher: We were really focused on the idea that Harley would be able to own her story in this experience; very much in the same way we want fans to be able to do that, too. But for me, a lot of this also began with mischief. Harley Quinn’s criminal tendencies were a huge inspiration for this collection. As we started developing the collection, we started really diving into the subtleties of her character; the nuances of her story. She’s a morally gray character, and I think playing with the idea of somebody who’s an antihero, rather than just a straight up villain, has been really key in guiding how this collection came together.

That idea of being able to tap into your shadow self, your confidence, your vices, your chaos, feels like a throughline of this experience; underpinning the design of these explosive boxes, the decision fans need to make about who’s side they’re on in The Raid. Was it important to build something open-ended for fans; something that they could see themselves in? 

Elyse: Inviting people to explore their own complexity and gray areas has been an important part of this. I want to make sure that people who touch this collection get to share in Harley’s confidence; that they, in turn, can feel really good about owning their guilty pleasures and urges. These are the things that a lot of us tend to sort of sweep under the rug, but they're also the things that make communities work. We’re often bonded by our secret pleasures. I think that’s in part why we’re so captivated by Harley. 

What makes Harley Quinn such a resonant character? 

Caitlin: Harley Quinn is a really poignant character in the DC universe. She’s playful. She’s been both heroic and villainous. She’s always pushing the envelope. She’s whip smart. She has a PhD! At the same time, she’s one of the more approachable characters in the DC universe.  You can see how she's always reaching out to others and thinking about them in a way that is totally different than some of the other personalities you see in DC characters. I think that's one of the reasons that I've been drawn to her for so long. 

This felt like a really fun, rich territory to explore for a collection after Batman. Batman is really stoic and has a strong sense of duty. Harley Quinn has a strong sense of her own morality, and what’s important to her. It creates a really interesting counterpoint. And I can’t wait to see what happens when our Bat Cowl holders, when Gotham City District Knightwatch, face off against the Harley Quinn crew. 

The Harley Quinn Freakin’ Awesome Boxes of Mayhem collection is rooted in the idea of an invitation, and a present back to fans. It’s anti-transactional. What’s behind this approach? 

Elyse: As a character, Harley Quinn is generous. From the outset, I only ever thought about this collection as being a gift. This creates a special way for fans to interact with characters that are larger than life, by creating a call to be answered.  And Harley Quinn is truly just creating invitations and gifts. She's a force of nature, but she also really enjoys and treasures special moments shared between people. I feel like that kind of warmth in the lexicon of heroes and villains is not often highlighted or celebrated. So we wanted to put that out there. Like, she’s giving out cupcakes in the common tier because everybody deserves a little treat. Perhaps that’s kind of goofy, but it also carries a really precious sentiment around sharing. That’s so core to what we want to do with this project in general. 

The processes for creating NFT collections, particularly at this scale, are relatively new. What do you feel like you learned from this production? 

Elyse: I think we’re a really ambitious team. We have a difficult time settling for anything that’s less than perfect. Something we took away from Harley Quinn, from this drop, is a phrase that’s become sort of a mantra: perfection is the enemy of good. We had to figure out special, smart ways of creating art that feels precious and unique, we explored alternative creative methods that are different from how you’d approach a generative collection. 

With limited edition work, you can kind of just keep chipping away at the art. It can be hard to find the ceiling. You can go forever trying to chase perfect. It can be intimidating: what we make will live forever. When you design NFTs, you’re faced with permanence in a really visceral way. Being able to see our work with clarity was a beautiful thing to come away with. 

The DC NFT community plays a key role in how collections are built. How do you design narrative for inclusion and participation? 

Caitlin: When we’re thinking about story structure, we’re thinking about access. How can we make sure that more people can enter this world with us? We have an incredible community of Cowl Holders. And with this drop, we wanted to invite fans to take their first step into the DC NFT universe with a free mint. The collection minted out in hours; now, we have 30,000 fans who are part of the storyworld of the DC universe with us. Let’s take them on a journey. With this collection, fans can take part in a game; they can follow along as Harley Quinn drops clues in social. The community can drive the story forward, and they can play along with an unfolding, active digital DC narrative - which is a first. Fans have room to play. They can see themselves in this universe as protagonists. 

What you’re talking about fundamentally changes the dynamic of fandom. Is that a unique property of NFT experiences? 

Elyse: For this collection, I want people to be able to recognize the things that they love about Harley Quinn, and to see a piece of themselves in that, too. If we’ve accomplished that, then we’ve created a new waypoint into something that people already love. Finding your community in web3 shows you that the boundaries between your persona online and offline are really porous. It’s an entirely new interaction, and a new way of embracing yourself. 

And in embracing yourself, you’re also opening yourself up to new experiences. How do you approach building out this world with fans? 

Caitlin: Every collection really is its own world. It has to be. We create the themes, the art, and the context; from there, we build a community. Web3 is a perfect foundation for these sorts of fan experiences that are rooted in worldbuilding. But so are comics. Because with just a few lines, you can create this character and an entire world that will last for decades or centuries. 

These collectibles are bigger than the sum of their pixels. They’re part of this giant world. And we're only starting to imagine it. The goal is to inspire everyone in the audience to be a part of this with us and to join in.

Elyse: I think the biggest thing we’re trying to impart is that this is all Act I. As in any piece of art, this is where tone gets established. This is the moment when people decide if they want to be part of something, or not. It’s here that the community decides to take this on, and move things forward. 

We're kind of orbiting around a similar idea, which is that it's not really just a collection, it’s an experience. 

Elyse: The art that makes up the collection is just a visual marker of a much bigger thing that's happening. And I think that's a challenge that NFTs face, people have a lot of trouble I think seeing beneath the surface of a JPEG or an MP4. What we’re trying to do is transform what can feel like a dead end experience into something that is truly a playground. Here, you can make your own things with stuff we give you, and you can find new friends and make new connections. It’s a beautiful thing to create a playground for people that want to have a good time with each other!

Caitlin: I love it. Well, we want to throw the party that we would want to go to, right? And we want Harley Quinn to be throwing the party that she wants to be at, too. I would happily live in this world for another decade. 

Explore The Harley Quinn Freakin’ Awesome Boxes of Mayhem Collection: nft.dcuniverse.com