In what seems to be an unprecedented deal for Nigerian-born creator Roye Okupe, his African superhero universe under his YouNeek Studios library has now found a new home at Dark Horse Comics. Okupe will be developing his superhero series set in West Africa with the backing of a multimillion-dollar production house and he couldn’t be happier.
The 34-year-old moved to the United States at the age of 15 with nothing but dreams and his love for comics and superheroes. He dreamed of bringing his own version of the superhero universe to life and nursed those dreams through George Washington University and even after graduating, Washington Post reports.
Now the young creative is living his dream after he took a chance on himself and has landed an exciting partnership with Dark Horse. Okupe did what most people are too afraid to do in 2015. He quit his job as a web developer to work full-time on his comics under his YouNeek Studios library and began publishing his own animated comics living off his he cashed out his 401k – a retirement savings account – after he quit his job.
Like every new venture, it was tough starting out alone and seeking investors and a presence on TV. The world of superheroes was at its peak then, with Spider Man breaking records at the box office but Okupe found himself at the end of a dark hole when he was told his main character’s race would not cut it.
Obviously. Those investors lacked foresight because a fictitious African world Wakanda was about to make $1 billion at the box office in the near future and they had just missed the chance of signing what could ‘YouNeekly’ change the world of comics.
An unplanned meeting at New York Comic-Con in 2019 with the editor in chief at Dark Horse, Dave Marshall can be etched in history as the start of something new for Okupe.
Prior to the meeting, Okupe had built his own fan base on social media with about 90,000 loyal followers who have been enjoying his self-funded works. Prior to starting his own comics, he had to learn everything from scratch — publishing, marketing and publicity — and how the comic world works.
He did not have the following that Marvel, DC Comics or Dark Horse Comics have so he decided to deliver full comic novels to his audiences instead of the monthly issues. That worked for him largely due to the diversity he was pumping into the industry.
His fans have come to love the three books in his African Superhero world that are interlinked and all authored by him. According to the Post, his book, “Malika: Warrior Queen”, is about a 15th-century superhero; “Iyanu: Child of Wonder” is about a teenage orphan with superpowers, while “E.X.O.” is an Afrofuturist superhero tale.
Africans believe it takes a village to raise a child and the same goes for the YouNeek novels written by Okupe. He enlisted other African creatives to help his work come to life especially with the illustrations. Bringing on board, Chima Kalu, Sunkanmi Akinboye, Raphael Kazeem, and Etubi Onucheyo, Toyin Ajetunmobi, Godwin Akpan, and Tarella Pablo.
“I think the immediate impact with Dark Horse’s legacy is that you’re going to have a lot more people paying attention. It’s also going to shine a light on the African continent and what it has to offer when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically comic books,” Okupe said.
Marshall respected Okupe’s market knowledge and the structure of his universe. “I was impressed by what Roye had accomplished having built YouNeek from scratch. Exciting artwork, compelling stories – just good comics.”
For the African comic universe creator, maintaining complete control and moving seamlessly into his partnership with Dark Horse remains his topmost priority. He is also appreciative of the chance taken on him to develop his universe.
“YouNeek Studios is unlike anything in American comics today. I hope to see the YouNeek acquisition prove to comics that there is absolutely a market for these stories, told by creative teams that have the knowledge to tell them right, and I see more publishers picking up books like these in the future,” said Mike Richardson, Dark Horse C.E.O.
Dark Horse will be revamping the three books already published. “Malika: Warrior Queen” and “Iyanu: Child of Wonder” will be out on September 7 and 21 respectively whiles “E.X.O” will be released on October 19.
There are other books set to be released that the Dark Horse and Okupe will work on. Okupe’s next move might be to get his works to Hollywood. “To me, this is an unprecedented deal. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. I’m just really excited to see what’s to come,” he said.