Updated: Nov 28, 2018
"Great thing start from small beginnings..."
Those were the opening lines to a famous global ad campaign by Nestle for their Milo chocolate drink that encompassed much of the so-called third world at the time. From the Philippines to Nigeria, kids sang the words as they dutifully sipped their chocolate drinks before dashing off to schools where they were often encouraged to dream about becoming leaders of tomorrow.
One such kid may well have been Roye Okupe.
The Nigerian-born comicbook writer who made waves a few years ago with the debut of his independently published African comic book series E.X.O. The Legend of Wale Williams is back with a new small beginning and he hopes it will be no less impactful than his previous ones.
Born and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria, before moving to the US in his teens, Okupe actually did not get into comicbooks early in life. He credits animation, specifically the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series which aired worldwide in the 80s and 90s in addition to cartoons like Transformers and X-Men with sparking his lifelong love for superheroes.
While pursuing degrees in computer science from George Washington University he kept the flame of his passion burning by taking a class in animation at the Art Institute of Washington and ultimately working on an animated trailer featuring his first beginning - Wale Williams, a young Nigerian in his twenties who suits up in high-tech armor to become the African superhero E.X.O. (Endogenic Xoskeletal Ordnance).
Trailer in hand, Okupe spent a year pursuing distributors, television networks and investors with no success. After being told by a movie producer to consider altering his character's race to gain traction with decision-makers, Okupe had had enough. Shrugging off the numerous rejections, he decided to switch gears and recruit top Nigerian talent to help birth his vision in the, crucially, more affordable form of comicbooks.
Okupe's YouNiverse as he calls it, is a fictional universe where stories are told that span past, present and future. The stories feature epic adventures of heroes, their journeys of self-discovery and of course, their battles with villains. Okupe and his collaborators weave webs of inter-connectivity that where the continuity flows from predicting post-modern afro-futurism to time-traveling 500 years back to explore 15th century history.
And it's in this historical setting that we first meet the focus of Okupe's most recent small beginning, in the epic tales of a fictional kingdom led by a powerful, African warrior queen named Malika. A child prodigy growing up in a treacherous era for women, Malika inherited the crown of Azzaz from her father and immediately must reunite a divided kingdom. She must overcome enemies within her domain and watch as her success draws the unwelcome attention of mightier global powers from the far east.
Believing that the universal appeal of global icons like Superman, Batman or Spiderman is not their place of origin but because we can identify with them, Okupe and his team stay focused on winning fans by telling great stories set, for now, on the African continent. He makes no bones that a strong, driving motivator behind YouNeek Studios is a desire to "put Africa on the map."
"I was told (E.X.O.) was a great idea, but there was no fan base for this sort of product." Okupe said in an interview with OkayAfrica, "But I refuse to believe that. I believe if done properly (great script, good production values etc.), Nigerians, Africans and people all over the world will be receptive."
It would appear he was right to follow his instincts and quit his day job years ago to pursue comicbook publishing. YouNeek Studios Diamond Distributed publications have won several awards, are regularly featured on Free Comic Book Day and have frequently sold out in stores and online on release.
But success in the printed medium has not diminished Okupe's drive to tell stories to millions on screens across the globe. "Malika: Warrior Queen," is an adaptation of the comic book series being produced by YouNeek Studios in partnership with Anthill studios. The partnership has produced the teaser below and the Kickstarter campaign aims to raise $15,000 to cover animation production costs.
Malika: Warrior Queen is the latest offering from YouNeek Studios to launch a Kickstarter and move into pre-production in anticipation of a pilot episode. In this way, Okupe continues to be quite savvy in building his company, its characters and a loyal fanbase that has successfully crowdfunded an E.X.O. pilot episode and is now rallying to bring Malika: Warrior Queen to the screen.
In an entertainment landscape where Black Panther set global box office records and streaming platforms are less averse to taking risks to acquire quality content, don't bet against this indie publisher and producer coming to a screen near you soon. Especially if his growing fanbase continues their track record of successfully crowdfunding such YouNeek projects.