SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: YouNeek Studios is home to eclectic superhero comics, graphic novels and animation. The US-based company has become increasingly popular since 2012 and is known for its vibrant comic strips that bring historically-inspired Nigerian stories to life.
Founder of YouNeek Studios, Roye Okupe’s first book, E.X.O – The Legend of Wale Williams, a superhero story about redemption set in a futuristic (2025) Lagos, Nigeria, is based on his experience growing up in Nigeria interwoven with superhero sci-fi concepts.
The Nigerian-born writer comments, “My culture is a huge part of why I write these stories. And I also believe it is what sets us apart as a company. Our books are culturally authentic and you can feel it on every page. One of the main reasons why, is because the majority of the people that work on the books (sometimes all the people) are born and raised on the continent. The talent is immense in Nigeria (and Africa as a whole) and one of our goals here at YouNeek Studios is to shed light on them.”
The company’s latest graphic novel, Malika: Warrior Queen, is focused on bringing strong, black female representation into comic roles and is inspired by the women in Okupe’s life including his mother, wife and sisters. Malika is also inspired by Queen Anima of Zazzau – a real warrior queen who lived in the 15th century; the novel also features elements from West African history including the Songhay Empire, Oyo Empire, Timbuktu and the Benin Empire.
Malika was published in August 2017 and won the Best Graphic Novel at the Uncanny Nerd Awards 2017. After much success, Malika is now on the road to being developed into an animated series as part of a collaborative project between YouNeek Studios and the Nigerian multimedia production house, Anthill Studios.
“As a company, we just felt like it was time to make a bold move. We’ve been lucky to have some success in the comic book industry both in Africa and the diaspora because of amazing fans who constantly show us support. Because of that, we felt we could carry that same momentum into animation. But as you know, animation is very hard and expensive to produce especially when you want to do it at a certain quality. This is where we hope a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter can help us,” shares Okupe.
The pair launched their crowdfunding campaign in late July, with the ambition to reach US$15 000 and make a 7-minute pilot. Background and insight on the Malika project, including a two-minute teaser reel created by Anthill Studios, are available on the Kickstarter page. There is also commentary videos from different artists who have worked on the project who wish to see the project reach its next level of success.
Within just a few weeks, the project received immense media coverage across African entertainment websites and earned US$20 000 within two weeks, surpassing their initial goal.
I knew we would surpass it,” enthused founder and creative director of Anthill Studios, Niyi Akinmolayan. “Malika is such a beautiful project, you either see the potential, or you don’t. There is no in-between. My team and I, and the YouNeek Studios team, are more than grateful to everyone who backed us on this project.”
However, the project’s crowdfunding journey has not stopped yet. Backers can still contribute and help the Malika project to reach further heights.
“The funds we have raised is proof that there is an audience filled with expectations of witnessing visual representations of Nigerian and African characters – an audience looking forward to their stories being told on the big screen. Raising 20 000 dollars on Kickstarter is also proof that people believe it can be achieved,” said Akinmolayan.
YouNeek Studios has written and will be directing the 7-minute 3D-animated episode, while Anthill Studios will be handling production duties.
“We will make an announcement as soon as we commence production so that we are able to put a date and timeline to it. And enable our backers to be carried along the entire process,” informed Akinmolayan.
Okupe also plans to pitch to investors and networks who can turn the project into a full-length TV series or movie.
“Please continue to support African creative people and companies. Only through this support can we truly grow this industry and push it to realise its full potential. The future for African comics, animation and gaming is very bright,” Okupe concluded.