Collecting is the art of finding something worth sharing. It’s about assembling treasures; artfully identifying what’s worth keeping, and worthy of showcasing.
Take it from Robek World. He’s a top-ranked NFT artist who’s collected thousands of NFT artworks. Most of his collected NFTs are one-of-ones by unknowns, and some he’s resold for over ten thousand times the price.
Yet, for Robek, the NFTs were never about the money. They just made sense, because he’d played the same kind of game growing up. The truth few know is that “Robek World invented NFTs in 1998.” That’s what it says in his bio for The Avatar Project, a satirical NFT collection from 2021 made with copywriter and good friend, Draper.
The bio isn’t wrong. Back then, Robek was downloading Japanese Dragon Ball Z fan art, sticking it in binder sheets in a brand new binder, and bringing it to school to show off to friends. In today’s terms, not unlike acquiring JPEGs on OpenSea and storing them in your wallet collection, or displaying them as a Twitter profile picture.
That first binder was Robek’s gallery. He collected what he liked, finding value in what he saw. He was a curator, long before he became an artist. He loved the art, and often the lore — the reason behind his Magic: The Gathering collection. All before he predicted Facebook’s metaverse in a 2017 article, and his NFT art sold at Christie’s for $1.2 million as part of a Curio Cards full set.
Collecting made Robek an artist.
Robek’s roots as an artist go back to his childhood. Enamored with Japanese anime, he scoured the internet for images that would fill his binder — 56kb files that took an entire day to download using dial-up internet. Binder sheets in hand, he enjoyed showing his collected art to others, eventually becoming motivated to emulate what he liked.
“I think my start is very similar to pretty much anyone that you see posting a lot of art online these days,” he says, in conversation with ZeroG, vintage NFT collector. “At least, graphic art — not your modern art or traditional artists,” he adds.
He continues: “I liked cartoons, so I drew cartoon characters. I liked comic books and I drew comic book characters. And then, I had discovered anime, and I drew a lot of Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon.”
Pretty soon, he got “heavy” into webcomics. They became “a pretty big deal” for him. So much so, that by seventh grade, he started doing his own. Except it wasn’t a webcomic, because he couldn’t get the hang of Keenspace — a free comics web hosting service by Keenspot.
Instead, Robek’s comic was hand-drawn. He brought “issues” to school to give to friends. By senior year, he was doing an actual webcomic. It got “kind of popular,” and he started doing comic conventions in college, and having “artist alleys” — spaces at conventions to exhibit and mingle.
He stuck with webcomics for a while, on and off. Then, in 2012, Robek received a comment from an irked fan.
“‘You can only have three things, maybe four things in your life you can actually manage,’” he recalls the comment saying. “‘For most people, it’s like God and your family and work. You need to choose one and stop going on hiatus.’
He continues: “Basically, they had this entitled opinion that I wasn’t producing content fast enough for them, and that I was leading them on.”
So, after six years of doing the comic for free, Robek stopped. He didn’t need the “torment and turmoil.” He stopped drawing and, he says, “did nothing for four years.”
Robek only began to draw again after finding another medium to explore. That medium was writing. He wrote articles — “long-winded nonsense” — for his online publication, Robek World.
Soon, he drew illustrations for the articles. Because it was fun, he got some writer friends to join in, and he drew their personas and characters. A lot of it was pixel art drawn with a computer mouse using Piskel, because that’s how he could do it “quickly.” Generally, if he doesn’t publish something the same day, it tends to never get published. For Robek World, he would “write 20,000 character blog posts and then jam the art out the same day.”
As he learned, he grew excited by the publication's prospects. He published regularly. Most of it was about the future — a kind of warped, “gonzo” futurology with a dystopian point of view. This led to Digital Dreams are Made of Wires and Things, a 2017 article about Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, where he predicted the social media giant’s metaverse play (referring to it as anything except a “metaverse”). He also “hated the media at the time,” so a lot of articles were about “how the media sucks.”
As he learned about new technology, he discovered open source software. The barrier-free approach to programming and sharing code meshed well with his anti-media stance, the strong anarchist leaning Robek was developing. It would prepare him to delve deeply into open source culture, and to become immersed in the idea of a decentralized blockchain.
But the switch to decentralized networks (and new opportunities for art) was triggered, ultimately, by a threat to something specific; something Robek holds dearly: trolling.
Since coming online, Robek’s loved trolling. For a while, he preferred using Twitter. But sometime in 2016, he got mad at the social media site, because “they changed the algorithm to do something stupid” (he doesn’t remember what). Slightly fed up, Robek tried out GNU social, better known as “the Fediverse” — a group of federated social networking platforms which grew to expand to include other platforms like the popular app Mastodon. It works like nodes on a decentralized network: different people host servers which all communicate with each other, allowing people to create their own or community-based “instances” (or social media platforms).
“After Twitter made the change,” Robek says, “there was an exodus, and a bunch of people ended up on QuitterSE. Quitter was run by a self-proclaimed ‘space communist.’ He didn’t like the shitposting that a lot of the people from Twitter brought.”
Robek continues: “I came from a background of very heavy shitposting; like just non-stop, even my tweets early on are just insane, on my Twitter. And, [the space communist] kicked us all off of his instance.”
At the time, Moon, a developer and early Ethereum investor, created his own GNU social instance called shitposter.club. The name caught Robek’s eye, so he joined and reached out to Moon to discuss doing a logo. Quickly, they became friends.
It was a learning curve for Robek, though, who’d had experience in advertising and vector art, and held a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. “The user base of the Fediverse was mostly technical, engineering types,” he explains. In contrast, he was “mostly a front-end user, design idiot.”
But his newness made him dive deeper into open source software, and distributed systems in general. Curiosity had sparked new passion. He did some Doge faucets along the way. And then started working with Moon on a bunch of side projects.
The following year, in the first half of 2017, Moon and Robek talked about creating Multi-User Dungeons (M.U.D.s) and launching a “Fediverse collection.” Moon had experimented with colored coins on Bitcoin-based Counterparty, and wanted to do something similar for the Fediverse. Moon then showed Robek an example — a project launching digital collectibles on Ethereum — and that project was Curio Cards.
Robek immediately became a fan. And Curio Cards became his first real exposure to Ethereum. “Even if you go to my wallet,” he says, “the first few transactions: it’s some ETH moving in and out, and then, just Curio purchases or transfers.”
As Robek dove in, he became interested in the freedom presented by blockchain and assets on it. He was especially excited by the possibilities of digital collectibles on-chain. So, together with Moon, they started working on Token.gallery and Lexitoken, while the first few Curio Cards hit the market.
Token.gallery was meant as a ‘card binder’ social media platform for checking out and chatting about each others’ token collections. The aim was to showcase on-chain tokens from Ethereum and Ubiq (a fork of Ethereum). You could pull up ERC20 tokens at the time, including Curio Cards, with details drawn from their metadata, and custom visualizations. It was an experiment in new technology, together with a friend, that would display what Robek was into; it was the binder with sheets from 1998, in a new, digital on-chain form.
Once again, Robek was doing what he liked, and getting “heavy” into it. Even if it was only for two weeks. He says that’s what usually happens (if he’s motivated) and that it’s an “ADHD thing.”
Now, he had a new-found obsession to play with. And it drove him to officially join Curio Cards.
Curio Cards were Robek’s first NFTs — the first NFTs he collected, and that he made.
After Moon, who was Curio Cards’ first fan, introduced Robek to the project and sent him some “Curios,” Robek hung out in the Telegram chat, and waited eagerly for the YouTube stream for “New Card Tuesdays.” As the only person in the chat along with Moon, Robek would spam the chat, thinking it was funny.
He kept nagging the founders on Telegram, half-jokingly, to let him do some cards. He says it was kind of a “LARP,” because he pretends he has a big opinion of himself, when really he doesn’t. It’s part of his imposter syndrome, which he’s referred to in an interview with JL Maxcy.
Speaking to ZeroG about the cards, he says, “It’s like, ‘Hey, yeah, I’m so cool, let me do art. But at the same point, it’s like, they’re never gonna let me. So, I’m always surprised when that stuff happens.”
Yet it happened. After continued nagging, the founders agreed to let him do Cards 21–23, and Robek sent over some designs meant to reflect a “very retro-inspired dungeon crawling theme.”
Robek’s initial plan was to create pixel art of different classes of characters — a wizard, bard and barbarian. He also wanted to include a visual difference in the cards. Here is how his early prototype looked (available to claim for a limited time here:
“I (wanted) to do a rare one, that’s holographic,” he explains. “So, I had this elf wizard that had a holographic overlay on it, and was like 10 billion frames. And they were like, ‘There’s technical reasons we can’t make this thing happen.’”
So, Robek redid the cards with the same theme, except hand-drawn. The classes became cartoon character portraits of the founders; Thomas Hunt (Mad Bitcoins), Travis Uhrig and Rhett Creighton. But Robek was still keen on having one card, Card 23 (Barbarian) be the “rare.”
“Can I have any animation?” he asked them again. “They were like, ‘You can have two frames.’”
That’s the reason the barbarian winks and flexes: the founders were still grappling with the limitations of storage for on-chain animation in 2017.
“It’s funny,” Robek says sardonically as he reflects back, “because Card 30 came out and it had 24 (frames). And I probably gave them shit for it, but I guess they figured it out by then.”
Robek doubled down on his idea to have a rare through the supply numbers he chose. Instead of 500, the Barbarian only had 250. Before that choice, there was no real reason behind the supply numbers for the first twenty cards. Robek’s intuition paid off, because the Barbarian was the first card to sell out, followed by his other two cards as people strove to complete his three-card set.
Since Curio Cards’ Rediscovery in 2021, Robek’s Cards have sold for vast sums of money, including a 192.795 ETH sale of Barbarian when ETH was over $3,200.00. He says that’s “crazy” to him and “humbling,” as he never expected them to be worth anything — they were just “something fun” he’d worked on. Even when speaking about the art, he says he’s “not a huge fan of them from a proportion perspective,” although he thinks they have “very interesting energy.”
Yet he was an early collector, because he liked the project and wanted to learn about smart contracts. In fact, he bought large amounts of cards in the beginning — though, as you’d expect, some of it was trolling. He initially bought a large number of Card 26, Education, by Daniel Friedman, because he thought it was funny, and “wanted to front-run and see how many people were gonna try to get in.”
Based on his intuition about the supply (Curio Cards artists never received any information about new drops), he kept up the trolling for the final set, Cards 27–29, Blue, Pink and Yellow by Marisol Vengas (Max Infeld).
“I was like, this is gonna be the one with the limited pool (29),” he says. “I’m going to buy all of them. Because, it will be hilarious. And everybody will hate me. And I did. But it taught me a lot about smart contracts, in general. Because I’m minting from contract. I’m watching when they deploy versus when they announce. And you can front-run the announcements (...); it should be a learning experience for everybody.”
Although he knew nothing in the beginning, just “doing the exploration of the stuff (he) was interested in led (him) to the path of owning a lot of the cards.”
After the Rediscovery, Robek realized his interest and exploration had been rewarded. He’d received a huge financial opportunity, all because of his involvement as a fan, artist, and then collector.
“It’s April 1st ,” he recalls. “I could sell everything and walk away from crypto and be done with this forever.”
But, he didn’t.
“Because…,” he explains, “if everybody who ever sold an NFT left crypto, or left the ecosystem, or left the space, then we would have no innovation. We would be stuck with what currently exists. We have to pay it forward.”
And since then, that’s exactly what he’s done.
As a Curio artist, Robek has continued to reward holders of his cards with various impressive remixes. It’s part of the value he wants to give to both his collectors, and new featured artists, and also a “fun way to marry those two worlds.” As ZeroG says, it’s “the collector in Robek valuing the collectors of his work.” Robek’s Curio Cards remixes are by Rylen and sgt_slaughtermelon, and 0010, the latter of which has become a massive hit in the NFT scene.
But it took Robek a while before he got a handle on what was popular in NFT art, because he had “basically woken up from a four-year coma.” This was because there was no volume for Curio Cards between 2017 and 2021, and the project had all but died out.
Robek continues: “Re-entering NFTs out of the blue, I had to learn what the culture was, and what was different from the crypto Twitter mindset at the time for the small niche people that were doing it.”
On returning to the art NFT space, Robek didn’t feel like much of a collector. He even wrote a thread about why he didn’t want to be one. His dream is to live in a metaverse — hopefully one that isn’t too dystopian — a selfish dream, he admits, but one he expresses openly.
Yet, he’s put together an impressive collection, and become a treasured voice for other NFT collectors and artists to follow. His 2021 article Thoughts as a collector has been widely circulated. Robek sums up the central message as: “Do what you want, and adjust, basically.” It’s about being consistent; if you’re going to deviate from your work, do so in a way your collectors can still recognize. He also advocates not caring too deeply about your collectors, ironically, because they all have their own motives for collecting your work (some just want to get rich).
Robek never entered the space to “get rich.” He never got Curios thinking people would see them as the historical relic they now are. In fact, on April 1, 2022, Robek decided to burn 23 editions of Card 29, Yellow (they’d become available after he’d initially locked them up). Yellow is currently valued at over 32 ETH each. Robek didn’t get into NFTs for money; he did it, because he “liked what it could be.”
It’s the reason he buys a lot of one-of-ones: they resonate with him. 0010’s work, in particular, appealed to him very early on. The cerebral, anime-inspired patterns made with delicate clean lines and smooth objects depict surreal, yet often beautifully sad clashes of female form and fragility. There’s an eerie but satisfying pain, sometimes offset by blood, in the brooding symmetries and overlapping shapes — like infinite-appearing portals to a dark, anime, interstellar paradise.
Robek has been a prominent collector of 0010’s work, since before they had a following. In conversation with JL Maxcy, Robek describes 0010 as “one of these people you meet that kind of changes your future.” They’ve become good friends, and Robek has even made them fan art. Ironically, 0010 has yet to return the favor, despite Robek himself having received countless amounts of fan art.
Just like in 1998, Robek’s collecting comes from the heart. A truth most apparent when needing to sell: “Every piece that leaves me is like a part of my soul shattering,” he says.
It’s this passion-first approach that’s helped gather a collection rich in anime, as well as “glitch, and trash and net art.” (Trash is its own thing in the NFT space).
As Robek journeys on, he’s applied his collectors’ mindset and NFT experience toward a new creative project called rwx quest. It’s an ARRPG (augmented reality role-playing game) which builds on Robek’s love for storytelling and is somewhat of a spiritual successor to his Curio collection. And it’s inspired by a unique NFT mechanic introduced by anime-art hero Naoki Saito: airdropping “stamps” to bidders in auctions, even if bidders don’t win. This “thank you” stamp is a consolation prize — a limited edition NFT.
Robek’s rwx quest takes this stamp collecting idea and turns it into the closest thing to the game he’s been longing to make. It’s his binder-filling experience, expanded; a return to “going through school collecting cards, consuming stories, and going on little quests to maximize (his) binder cool factor,” as he says in an “unedited” article about rwx quest.
Players join a Discord server and complete rwx quests — collecting NFTs. They then have ways to “combine, redeem and upgrade the art in the collection.” There are ways to exchange stamps from other artists for artwork in Robek’s collection, and methods for receiving bid stamps without ever bidding. Stamps can also be used to commission artwork from Robek. Finally, there’s a “wiki with leaderboards, halls of fame, and expanding universe stuff,” which he started, but players now contribute to.
Robek wants the stamps to flow. It should feel like bringing a binder with you, and showing it to others; carefully inspecting what’s on show, telling stories, trading and “signifying importance.”
The rwx quest stamps Robek is creating are pixel art made in Photoshop. It’s a look reminiscent of GeoCities, a web hosting service from the 1990s that allowed users to develop web pages in online “neighborhoods.”
“I know I’m not the best artist out there,” he says, “just generally, in terms of technique (...) so, now I’m trying to work within the limits of what I know I can do, which has kind of lead me to my current style; like throwback-ish-inspired 70’s/80’s graphics and limited palette sets. Or like shitty GeoCities art — that’s my vibe.”
In addition to giving away anime art he’s collected, he’s also brought Curio Cards into the rwx fold. One lucky participant was able to redeem a Yellow (Card 29) from Robek’s personal collection, after gathering enough rwx stamps.
As Robek brings the memory of childhood collecting to augmented reality via hidden Discord channels and NFTs, he’s continually finding new ways to create and drive content in a new blockchain-based internet environment rife with possibilities for exchange.
Perhaps one of Robek’s most important guiding ideas is “free culture.” It’s the view that intellectual property is nonsensical. Instead, ideas should be free for everyone to build upon, instead of kept guarded by legally binding contracts and copyright protection. Robek outright hates copyright, and he wrote an article about it in 2016.
Free culture overlaps with Robek’s embracing of open source software. But it’s also reminiscent of his early art-sharing passion — freely trading content. Generally, he prefers Creative Commons Licenses to be used across the board. These grant people adapting or republishing works certain rights, such as “attribution” and “share-alike” (meaning if you use the work, you have to share whatever you create with the same license).
It’s the same for his own work. Most of it is released with a CC BY-SA 4.0 License — a way of saying, “Do what you want with it; it’s yours.” In fact, he encourages people to do so. Even with rwx quest, which began as a concept in 2017 called “Aetheria,” he’s just as ready to share. Although he would love to make a game out of rwx quest some day — a M.U.D. — he really doesn’t mind if someone else beats him to it.
“People are always working on the same things,” he tells ZeroG. “It's kind of a race to see who can get there (first). As a free culture person, I don’t mind if people take stuff and do what I could never achieve.”
In the realm of NFTs, he spends a lot of time talking to project runners about ideas. Even though he’s consulting, he never asks for pay. He simply shares ideas for the sake of sharing them, in the hopes the next person will pay it forward.
Ultimately, Robek believes culture is meant to be traded, not hoarded. He’s comfortable accepting you can’t always be first, especially in crypto. But if there’s freedom to spread ideas, break things, rebuild them, curate art and to show it off meaningfully, everybody wins. That’s how the next innovators, shitposters, anarchists and visionaries emerge. That’s how you ensure there’s more digital art to collect.