E.X.O: The Legend of Wale Williams was a hit Kickstarter that began last year, launching a Nigerian superhero that caught a lot of fans’ attention. For me, it began with an animated book trailer that made me hype enough to offer play-by-play reactions, and it resonated with countless others as well who were looking for a great comic outside of the mainstream. On the heels of its initial success, E.X.O: The Legend of Wale Williams is crowdfunding the next chapter in its saga. With only a few days left in its Kickstarter, I spoke with series creator Roye Okupe again about his experience writing, promoting, and selling his second book.
Black Nerd Problems: Remind us about your first Kickstarter and why you decided to use the platform again for book 2 of E.X.O.
Roye Okupe: To be quite frank, what drew me to crowdfunding and more specifically Kickstarter was desperation. Before Kickstarter I tried so hard to raise money for my company and superhero project, E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams.
E.X.O. is a superhero story about redemption, set in a futuristic 2025 Nigeria. It’s a unique take on the whole superhero explosion going on right now, given that there aren’t that many Nigerian/African superhero stories being told. So initially, I thought raising money for the idea (at the time, to produce an animated movie of E.X.O.) would be pretty straightforward. Boy was I wrong. For years I went from one rejection to another from investors, producers, TV networks, and distributors. After having run one successful Kickstarter for book one and now currently running another Kickstarter for book two of E.X.O. (you can find the Kickstarter page here) I have come to the realization that Kickstarter should have been my first choice, and here’s why.
As much as some investors, distributors, and networks liked my idea of an African superhero animated movie, I had no fan base. So basically there was no way for me to prove the concept would actually work. And as a first-time producer, no one was going to take a risk based on me just saying “trust me, people would love to see this.”
So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and actually prove that this concept was viable. I decided that instead of trying to raise a bulk load of money for an animated movie, I would raise a smaller amount for a graphic novel instead.
BNP: What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned creating an African superhero full time?
Roye: That anything is possible. In 2014 I was a huge fan of superheroes and comics, but I new absolutely nothing about how the industry works, how to create a comic book, how to market it, etc. I spent months researching everything. And I mean everything from marketing to accounting, to working with the right team, selling books both as print and digital, Amazon, you name it. And then I just put a plan together and followed it ever since.
BNP: What do you think the future holds for African comics and African superheroes in general?
Roye: I think it’s incredibly bright. I recently wrote an article for Bleeding Cool titled 6 African Superhero comics to look out for in 2016. Just the fact that I can write about six African superhero comics that have ongoing series is a huge deal. And the article is being well received by comic fans from all over the world. That, to me, shows that diversity truly means a lot to people when it comes to this industry.
BNP: What should we look out for in book 2? Are there specific things you tried to do different this time around?
Roye: If you loved the first book – and I hope you do – you are going to be completely blown away by book two. It answers so many questions and heightens the drama. The action is twice what I had in book one and you get to find out more about all of the amazing supporting characters. The biggest reveal actually comes from certain things that happen to the main villain, Oniku. People are going to be shocked about his reason for doing some of the things he has done so far. In terms of trying things different, not really. I tried to keep all of the things peopled loved in the first book in book two as well. The one thing that I can say I changed was that I decided to add more monuments within the book. So now if you’ve ever visited Lagos, Nigeria – which is the city in the book that Lagoon City is modeled after – you will notice several buildings and structures.
BNP: What’s next for E.X.O. beyond the Kickstarter for book 2?
Roye: The goal is to get the story animated, either as a movie or a series. I’m currently shopping the story as well as the pilot episode (which you can get on DVD if you support my Kickstarter) to distributors and TV networks. Hopefully with the buzz we’ve been able to create in the past year, we can get lucky soon.
BNP: Any advice for other independent creators out there?
Roye: Work hard every single day at perfecting your craft, whether it’s writing, drawing, coloring, inking, or otherwise. A great product accompanied by smart, tenacious promotion will always find its way to success. And never, ever give up.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Roye Okupe is a creative specialist who holds both a Bachelors and Masters in computer science from George Washington University. His passion for animation and superheroes led him to found YouNeek Studios in 2012, an avenue that would allow him pursue his dream of creating diverse superhero comics.