Roye Okupe’s African Superhero Universe Picked Up By Dark Horse Comics
29th January 2021 by BOTWC Staff
29th January 2021 by BOTWC Staff
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Dark Horse Comics has recently picked up Roye Okupe's African superhero universe, The Washington Post reports.
Okupe is a Lagos, Nigeria native who came to the United States at age 17. As a child, Okupe was always fascinated by superheroes like "Transformers" and "X-Men," arriving in the U.S. just as the first "Spider-Man" movie shattered box office records. Years before "Black Panther" would make $1 billion at the box office, Okupe dreamed of an African superhero universe, already shopping around an 8 minute animated trailer shortly after graduating from George Washington University. Now, his dream has become a reality, landing a partnership with Dark Horse Comics.
In 2015, Okupe began self-publishing his comic books in response to the lack of interest from the T.V. world, who suggested his stories would sell if he changed his main characters' race. Undeterred, Okupe began building his following under his YouNeek Studios banner, funding his dream via Kickstarter and building a loyal fan base. Now 34, Okupe quit his job as a web developer to shop his comics full time, living off his 401(k). A chance encounter with Dark Horse editor in chief Dave Marshall at New York's Comic-Con in 2019 changed his fate. Marshall appreciated Okupe's market knowledge and the structure of his universe, reeling in his audience through complete graphic novels instead of monthly issues like typical comic releases. That initial meeting led to forming a partnership, making Okupe the next big thing in the comic industry struggling for diversity.
Dark Horse Comics, which has been around for more than three decades, is home to fan favorites like "Hellboy," "Sing City," and "The Umbrella Academy," all of which have had big Hollywood releases. The company has acquired the rights to republish the comics from YouNeek Studios.
"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 spoke about what prompted him to take on Okupe's comics, saying, "I was impressed by what Roye had accomplished having built YouNeek from scratch. Exciting artwork, compelling stories - just good comics."
Marvel has owned Black Panther's rights for more than five decades, and D.C. Comics has bolstered Milestone Comics, an entire universe of Black superheroes since the early '90s set to resume publishing after a 20-year hiatus. Dark Horse's acquisition of YouNeek's comics allows them to get ahead of the new wave of original heroes derived from a vast network of Black talent.
"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.
Every book in the "YouNeek YouNiverse" is authored by Okupe, and he has three set for release under Dark Horse. "Malika: Warrior Queen" is about a 15th-century superhero, "Iyanu: Child of Wonder" focuses on a teenage orphan with superpowers, and "E.X.O." is an Afrofuturist superhero tale. Each story was written by Okupe and brought to life by several African artists, including illustrators Chima Kalu, Sunkanmi Akinboye, Raphael Kazeem, and Etubi Onucheyo, Toyin Ajetunmobi, Godwin Akpan, and Tarella Pablo.
Okupe credits Dark Horse for jumping on the opportunity to work with him before it became trendy with the recent social uprisings. He hopes that eventually, his comics can be brought to the big screen. Still, his main focus is maintaining control and creating a seamless transition for himself and his heroes, admiring the work of veterans like Kevin Feige. The latter has had much success overseeing his characters under the Marvel Cinematic Universe umbrella.
"I would be remiss if I didn't give them credit for taking that step in 2019 when they weren't under the huge pressure that some other brands are under right now. These are the things that I've had to carefully [plan] as I've made this transition. I would be lying if I said that [Hollywood is] not something that I think about. 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," Okupe said.
"Malika: Warrior Queen," "Iyanu: Child of Wonder," and "E.X.O." are set for release under Dark Horse on September 7th, September 21st, and October 19th.
Photo Courtesy of Roye Okupe/YouNeek Studios