We have long followed the rise of Roye Okupe’s YouNeek Studios, from its early start with E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams to Malika: Warrior Queen and beyond. Like many new series, the “beyond” part is an achievement, the type of landmark that notes a body of work deep enough to intertwine stories and characters. Just like that, Okupe’s YouNeek Studios has created a universe in no small part thanks to Kickstarter and the books’ growing supporters. We spoke with Okupe about his journey of building his own comic book universe and the future of YouNeek Studios.
Black Nerd Problems: How many years have YouNeek Studios participated in Free Comic Book Day, and have you found it to be useful in reaching a new audience of readers?
Roye Okupe: We’ve participated in Diamond’s Free Comic Book Day since 2017. So, 3 years in a row. It’s been an amazing way for us to bring new readers into the YouNeek YouNiverse. I’ve had people personally walk up to me at events and say, “I don’t know where, but I’ve seen your work before.” Most of the time, they are referring to one of our Free Comic Book Day titles.
BNP: So Free Comic Book Day has definitely served its purpose, exposing new fans to your finished work. Much of the excitement early on came from an animated short you made in promotion of E.X.O., which continued later with another animation for Malika. Can you describe the process for creating animated short films? How long does one typically take to create, and what’s been your biggest surprise in making them?
R.O.: Creating an animated film can be a very lengthy process with so many moving parts, even if you’re just doing a short (14 minutes) like we’re doing for our award-winning graphic novel Malika: Warrior Queen. Animation, at a high-level, is broken into 3 major parts: pre-production, production, and post-production. Pre-production consists of everything you do before animating a single frame: so things like scriptwriting, voice recording, character design, concept art/visual development, storyboards, animatics, and so on. Production is when you actually get to animate. More often than not, the animators will work on a storyboard or animatic that has been finalized. Post-production is when you start to finalize everything: so things like sound design, music/score, editing, and color grading. How long really depends on a whole lot of factors (budget, quality, personnel, complexity). I would say my biggest surprise is that no matter how many times you do this, it never really gets easier.
BNP: Did you originally intend to create an interwoven universe for your characters? When did you decide their stories would intersect?
R.O.: From day one, I decided I wanted to have an interwoven universe. I’m a huge fan of the MCU and what they have so brilliantly built over the last ten years. So, for me, years before I released my first book: E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams – Part One, I had already begun plotting this.
BNP: What do you see next for YouNeek Studios? Can you talk about any storytelling ambitions you may have in addition to books?
R.O.: The big thing we’re building towards is our first team-up book: The Oloris. As you can see from the image, we’ve taken our time to build our characters individually in their own series (with some characters spilling over from series to series) over the span of several books. We can’t wait to show our fans how all our heroes come together in the Oloris. It’s going to be epic. But before that, we have a Kickstarter for our next graphic novel: Malika (Volume 3) – Fallen Queen Part One. So, if you love the Malika series or you’re into fantasy inspired by African history, make sure you jump on it.
BNP: What do you hope new readers feel or discover when reading the YouNeek universe?
R.O.:Our goal at YouNeek Studios is simple: inspired by African history, culture and mythology, we use comics, graphic novels, animation, and other forms of media to tell extraordinary African superhero stories that everyone can relate to!
Successfully funded yet again, you can boost the upcoming release of YouNeek Studio’s next project, reserve your copy, and help them reach their stretch goals on Kickstarter.