Roye Okupe, the hero of our story, couldn’t identify with many superheroes while he was growing up in Nigeria. There were no black heroes in the scarce offer of the American comic books he came across in his young days. His childhood dream was to work in the animation industry and to create an original Nigerian animated hero.
He followed his dream and ended up studying computer science in the U.S. There, he obtained both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in this field at the George Washington University. Okupe started pursuing a career in the IT sector as a developer but soon realized that there was so much more waiting for him in the future.
He Who Dares, Wins
He only needed to take a leap of faith and try to bring the idea of a Nigerian superhero to life. He recalled the crucial moments of sitting at his computer at work for hours, staring at the blank screen, wondering what it would be like to give this idea a try.
And he finally did this. He was thirty at the time, and he was about to create his own studio called YouNeek YouNiverse. This was a place where all his intricate and engaging stories would finally see the light of day.
As he first envisioned it, this ambitious company was supposed to cover comics, graphic novels, and animated films inspired by Okupe’s origins and culture. At the time he started his risky business venture, the superheroes craze was getting into full swing with the Spider-Man movies.
It was almost impossible to enter this superhero-movie industry as Okupe soon found out. So he turned to comics as the perfect medium for his thrilling stories.
The first comic book introduced readers to the costumed hero resembling Iron Man, who lived in futuristic Lagos in 2025. The opening chapter of the “E.X.O. — The Legend of Wale Williams” graphic story was first available for free internet download. Then the author decided to start a crowdfunding campaign to provide the finances needed for this Sci-Fi superhero story to be turned into a real graphic novel.
He stated that his initial aim was to invent a superhero that Africans can easily relate to and identify with. However, he pointed out that the superhero that stepped out of the well-known cliché and brought some exciting stories from the African culture was a much-needed refreshment on the superhero scene. Okupe also thought that Hollywood could profit from these refreshing ideas too.
Animation Industry That Promotes the African Way of Life
Okupe was one of the pioneers of the African superhero scene, but he is not a lone rider. In 2013, Jade Martin, another animation enthusiast, founded the Comic Planet Studios in Lagos. Martin said that he sensed the lack of moral role models that superheroes represented and that the people got tired of old idols.
He stated that he sought advice from his childhood heroes, Batman and Superman, whenever he was in trouble. So he wanted to create a similar hero these new generations could look up to and trust.
Martin added that he also felt that there was a disappointing lack of heroes of African origin, and he wanted to right this wrong. His aim was to present the African superhero in a positive light with all his powers, contrary to the commonplace presentation in the Western culture.
Some of the titles the Comic Planet is proud of are Guardian Prime that follows into the footsteps of Superman, and a team of superheroes referred to as the African Avengers.
Both Okape and Martin strive to incorporate something from the spectacular diversity of African life and civilization. They also have a vast, unrevealed treasure of African stories and myths to exploit and incorporate in their superhero animated stories. They are thrilled to draw their inspiration from such an inexhaustible source, and they hope that the future will be bright.
Potential of the African Animation Scene
When describing his opus, Okupe named the two parts of “E.X.O. — The Legend of Wale Williams” we have mentioned before and added the fantasy epic was set in medieval times in West Africa featuring the fierce Malika-Warrior Queen. He also mentioned “WindMaker — The History of Atala,” the comic book that complemented the story of Malika and relied on West African mythology.
Okupe is extremely proud of his graphic novels because the storylines are extraordinary and rarely found in animated format. They also showcase the opulent African history and culture to younger generations.
He started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for creating the sequel of Malika graphic novel in October. When asked to comment on the current situation on the Nigerian comic scene, he said that the interest for comics had skyrocketed.
He took the Lagos Comic-Con as an example, stating that this was the “biggest geek event in Africa.” It was held for the 6th time, proving that the scene was thriving and that the future of the animation industry in Nigeria was promising.
This author then focused on the brilliant people working in the animation industry, pointing out that 95% of the artists working on these books were Nigerians.
This fact only shows the power of the African art scene. Okupe said that one of the aims of his studio was to promote these brilliant artists and their outstanding work worldwide. It seems that he has been satisfied with the results so far.
Recognition From the Industry Giant
The explosion of the animation scene in Lagos made the ground shake in New York, the home of the legendary Marvel Comics, too. People from this studio have recently announced that they are going to publish a series of short stories, including one created by an author of the Nigerian origin — NNedi Okorafor.
The famous African-American superhero, Black Panther, came from Marvel’s kitchen and instantly became a cinema blockbuster. He is completely fictional, as is his homeland Wakanda.
Contrary to this, Okorafor opted for a real-life superhero, a teenage girl Ngozi, and a real-life story that tackled the abduction of 220 girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria five years ago.
Okorafor, famous for her Sci-Fi stories, has decided to tackle this severe and controversial issue by placing her main character in such a tragic and life-changing situation. He said that those were regular school girls, whose life was turned upside down in a tragic set of circumstances and that they had to deal with this terrible situation. The author of the “Blessing in Disguise” story focused on the strength of spirit and the will for perseverance these girls showed.
This recognition from the industry magnate, accompanied by the thriving of the scene packed with talented artists, has placed Lagos on the animation world map.
Roye Okupe has recently experienced massive recognition of his artistic work when he made the list of the 100 most influential Africans by NewAfrica magazine. The artist said he was shocked when he heard the news. He added this was a huge honor for him and the tremendous responsibility to keep inspiring people to hold on to their dreams until they make them come true. Just like he did.