Beneath a multi-colored crystal crown, purple eyes pop out of the non-gender-specific character’s sockets. The creature sports a star-and-moon-themed robe underneath a mouth and set of teeth that look like a colorful, futuristic jukebox. And then there’s the nose, an odd green star with different shapes pinned on top.
Although this could be a vision fresh out of a DMT trip, it’s actually one of 5,555 gangsters in the universe of the Galaktic Gang, a Denver-based NFT collection that went live in December.
“The Galaktic Gang are these invisible, quiet beings that are trying to guide us into becoming our more lovely selves, in a way,” says Chris Dyer, a 43-year-old artist who created the characters on paper, then worked with a team of four others to make them digital.
The Galaktic Gang’s popularity — it sold out all 5,555 in five days — highlights the current craze over NFTs: People are paying a lot of money for digital art that would have had little to no value just a few years ago. And the Galaktic Gang’s Denver origins underscores the fact that this city is definitely punching above its weight in the NFT world.
Aside from Dyer, the human founders of the Galaktic Gang are Kyle Morton, the project lead; Cory Ponz, who serves as the project manager and helps with graphic design; and Phoenix-based Jason Turnquist and Travis Delly, who handle web development and smart contracts, respectively.
Morton and Delly know each other from college, and they’d both worked with Turnquist before on other crypto projects. But those projects weren’t smash hits.
“I would say that an NFT — in this case, it’s an art-related receipt that can be tracked online, and this receipt can also give you certain perks and amenities, which is what each NFT community has to come up with; it’s called a utility. And the utility behind each project is pretty much what determines price action,” explains Morton.
“The missing ingredient that we didn’t have — we didn’t have somebody with an art background with a design or clout,” says Turnquist.
But Morton, who’d worked in glass art, knew the perfect person: Dyer, whom he’d come across through music festivals. Dyer has a large following in the psychedelic art and music scene, and could often be spotted live-painting at festivals or creating murals across the country; he’s also designed skateboard graphics. Morton got linked up to Ponz, Dyer’s manager, through a friend, and began prodding Ponz to see if Dyer would want to do an NFT collective.
“When NFTs came out like a year ago, I was trying to grasp what it was about,” Dyer admits. “I didn’t jump at it. I knew there was money in it.”
At the time that Morton was pitching the idea, Dyer lived in Montreal. Born in Canada, he’d spent much of his childhood in Lima, Peru, then returned to Canada at the age of seventeen. By then, he was already passionate about art, into comics and action figures. He tried to go to school for animation, but the admissions staff found his art to be too “cartoony,” so he studied fine arts instead.
He made another switch: While Dyer says he was a destructive person, a “drunkard” who was in a street gang in Peru as a teenager, he became a more loving, kind person as he got older. And psychedelics, especially ayahuasca, changed his life for the better, which explains why his art is so psychedelic in nature.
“In general, because it has a psychedelic flavor to it, when you’re talking about what is psychedelic art, it’s art that uses entheogens that connect you with the root of all creation — and that’s not even about myself, that’s about something from a different dimension,” Dyer says. Entheogens are naturally occurring psychedelics, such as psilocybin mushrooms, that have historically been used by ancient religious sects.
But while Dyer was willing to listen to Morton, working with a team that was so spread out — two people in Phoenix, two people in metro Denver, and one person in Canada — wasn’t conducive to fast production. So the project didn’t really take off for much of last year.
“Definitely my biggest problem is I’m very busy. I’ve got lots of things to do every day, so when somebody says to draw me thousands of characters, I run away from that,” Dyer concedes. Besides, he had other things on his mind. During the pandemic, in a deep ayahuasca ceremony trip, Dyer came to the conclusion that he needed to cut off the dreads he’d worn for two decades as a way to fight back against caring about what other people think of him.
“The next day, I cut my dreads off as a symbol to say fuck what I look like or my image,” Dyer recalls. But the shaved head was “empty and boring,” so he tattooed his head with shamanic “codes of protection.”
But as the Canadian government began to preview pending COVID travel restrictions that would require people to be vaccinated in order to access pretty much any kind of public transit, Dyer, who has chosen not to get the COVID vaccine, realized it was time to leave if he wanted to protect his options. “I just don’t know. This is a new technology. It’s not even a normal vaccine,” Dyer says. “I just don’t trust corporations in general. … The more they try to force me, the more I just want to get away from it.”
So Dyer left Canada in October 2021 and settled in Colorado, moving into Ponz’s Wheat Ridge home.
And then the Galaktic Gang project began to click.
“When Chris moved in, I had him start drawing the next day for Galaktic Gang,” Ponz recalls.
“After that, I spent the next three weeks drawing all of these characters, where the attributes — the nose, the eye, the mouth — could be switched,” Dyer says. He drew all the aspects of the Galaktic Gang by hand, and then other team members turned the drawings into digital art.
“It’s one of the first-ever NFT projects that was done by a psychedelic artist and drawn from hand,” Ponz notes.
Themed NFT collections that number in the thousands are usually not composed of thousands of individual drawings. Instead, each NFT is created using a random generator that puts together various attributes to create a unique character. “We made nine different traits, with five different colors in each trait. We have three different bodies that you can choose from, and it randomizes all of those numbers,” Morton explains.
Still, since Dyer is a comic geek and fan of action figures, ranging from ones associated with Star Wars to professional wrestlers, the Galaktic Gang characters are downright fun. “I just love pop culture, because it’s kind of a symbology in the battle between good and evil,” Dyer says, noting that he also could express some of his spirituality through the figures. “They are our higher-dimensional beings who are guiding us through in a process of ascension,” he adds.
The process of a successful NFT drop, especially of a collection, requires hype. But given Dyer’s massive following, including a robust base of supporters in Colorado, the team was able to accelerate the timeline so that the 5,555 Galaktic gangsters dropped in December.
Morton fueled the hype for the Galaktic Gang on Twitter, Discord and other social media platforms. And thousands of people signed up for the chance to be first to purchase the minted NFTs, sight unseen.
“At the beginning of minting, you don’t get to see your guy,” notes Morton. “You open your Pokémon deck, is what I get to tell people.” And, as with a Pokémon deck, sometimes a person will pull out a Charizard and other times they’ll pull out a Chansey.
Even so, Turnquist recalls, “it ended up minting out in five days. … It ended up raising like $1.7 million in mint when Ethereum was $4,500.” Approximately 2,600 people own the gangsters.
“Right now, the average, cheapest price of our collection is around $1,000,” Morton says, noting that the most expensive resale of one of the Galaktic Gang NFTs was for $143,000. Thanks to the smart contract written into the NFTs, the five-person collective gets 7.5 percent of every resale, which continues to be brisk.
“With working in festivals, I’ve known Chris Dyer for a long time,” says Annie Phillips, the founder of IRL Art, which has an NFT gallery at 2601 Walnut Street. “For someone who had previously never done anything in crypto to come out with such a successful project, I think it’s created a lot of intrigue and excitement for other groups to really dive in and do their own projects, because it kind of demystifies the process a bit and makes people realize that there’s a lot of opportunity out there to really empower their own communities.”
But power itself is a sticky issue for NFTs, because the computers that create the characters and fuel the sales use a lot of it. “Our developer knows what he’s doing, and he has really low mint prices, so it helps with that,” says Morton. “We definitely did a little destruction, not saying a lot. Chris was very adamant that he’d like to fix everything that he’s done wrong for the project.”
So the group recently flew to Hawaii and planted 325,000 hemp trees as a way to give back. “We’re going to try and do this all over the world,” Morton says. “We’ve been talking to people in Peru, in Africa. We’re trying to go over to these hotspots in the world to alleviate some of our carbon emissions.”
Although the Galaktic Gang took off, the five-member collective isn’t resting easy. “We use that money,” Dyer says. “We have to reuse it to keep on stimulating the project, planting the trees, making the metaverse, making the parties, creating new things to keep people interested in the project.”
That metaverse is a place where owners of gangsters can virtually socialize, enjoying DJs spinning music at parties and watching live painting. “We’ve had mental health nights, we’ve had how to draw, how to color, we’ve had yoga nights,” Morton says. “We’ve had psychedelic speaker talks. You get the art, but that’s just kind of the first inch in. And once you’re inside of the community, you can unlock a lot of new perspectives.”
The Galaktic Gang will host another metaverse party on April 3, which will be open not just to gangster NFT holders, but also the general public. And a second drop of the Galaktic Gang could be coming.
“There’s talk of making a mutant version where the Galaktic Gang character drinks serum and turns into a three-dimensional form of itself,” Ponz notes.
Dyer also has plans to work with famous psychedelics and consciousness author Daniel Pinchbeck, and to write a novel about the Galaktic Gang universe.
“Who knows? Maybe this project could grow into a Lazy Ape or Bored Lion,” Dyer says, mixing the names of the trendsetting Lazy Lion and Bored Ape NFT collections. “It could grow into a bigger blue-chip project, and we’ve got to keep it real with the project. The more we keep on investing and making it a cool situation, the more their individual gangster goes up in price. I’ve got a job for the rest of my life with this thing, which is good and bad.”