By Paul Ndiho
Here in Washington, DC, YouNeek Studios is creating an authentic African superhero that operates in a futuristic Nigeria. Is this a sign that comic books are gaining momentum in Africa? A continent that was said to lack interest in African-inspired comics. Roye Okupe was one the few African who exhibited their work at the Global Entrepreneurship summit last week in Silicon Valley California.
The African superhero universe continues to widen with the emergence of a comic book E.X.O “The Legend of Wale Williams” a science fiction graphic novel about redemption, set in a futuristic, 2025 Nigeria. The Comic book follows the journey of Wale Williams, an impetuous young adult who inherits a suit with super powers after his father goes missing. Roye Okupe is the brains behind the graphic novel.
“I grew up watching superheroes, cartoons; I tried reading as many comic books as possible. And immediately I fell in love with the genre, but I noticed that there weren’t a lot from Nigeria, where I was born or even Africa as a whole and I always thought that it would be cool actually to see an African superhero or Nigerian superhero in a Nigerian environment.”
With a keen interest in graphics and creative writing, the Lagos-born Okupe, studied computer science at both the undergrad and graduate level at George Washington University in Washington DC. His passion for animation led him to start YouNeek Studios, which would allow him to pursue his dream of creating a diverse library of superheroes and inspire young African children.
“I feel like representation matters, and it’s critical. For me, growing up, and not being able to see any African cartoons on TV made me feel like it wasn’t possible for me to do it. I didn’t see any African animators, I didn’t see any African producers doing it, so I just assumed that since there was nobody from Nigeria doing this, and it just meant that it’s impossible.”
Okupe’s superhero was received with critical acclaim and has since been featured on different media outlets.
“So it’s getting the publicity that I hoped that it would. It’s not only about me now; but it’s also more people seeing what Nigerians and Africans can do when it comes to comic books, superheroes, and animation.”
Unlike Nigeria’s thriving Nollywood film industry, the animation sector is relatively nu-established. For self-made animators like Okupe, the challenges are daunting.
“Everything right now is self-published, self-funded. I mean hopefully, that can change in the future where we can start to integrate more strategic partnerships with people that can help take this to the next level.”
Critics say in Nigeria a majority of animators struggle to complete their projects due to a lack of proper studio facilities, funding and training. But Okupe says there is still hope.
“If you have a dream, or if you have something that you want to do, go for it or give it a try, just take what happens from there – as long as you give it an effort, there’s nothing that you can’t achieve.”
E.X.O “The Legend of Wale Williams” has something that other African superheroes created by Americans usually lack and that is cultural authenticity. In fact, some industry analysts say, if the success of Nollywood is anything to go by, the animation industry’s growth potential in Africa is enormous.