Like every other kid, Roye Okupe grew up watching Superman, an activity that doesn’t very much look like one that’ll spur an individual to create something. But it did give Okupe an idea, that led to the creation of E.X.O.
According to him, “I grew up watching Superman, not because he was fighting in Metropolis in America, but because I could connect to the story. I was just a kid from Africa. So why can’t the reverse be true? Why can’t I create an African superhero that everyone can connect to?”
Okupe was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, before moving to Washington D.C in 2002 to attend The George Washington University for both an undergraduate and masters degree in computer science.
A software and web developer by day and graphic designer by night, his passion for cartoons and desire to bring to life a superhero grew from seeing cartoons as a child. He revealed: “From the first day I laid my eyes on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons in the 80’s, I’ve been hooked on superheroes. Since then, I’ve watched, played and read every single superhero-related title I could lay my hands on: movies, comics, manga, anime, graphic novels, animated movies/series, video games etc. And then in 2008, after noticing there wasn’t a lot of diversity in the genre, I decided to tell a story about a hero from Nigeria.”
In 2012, Okupe founded YouNeekStudios. With a plan to develop an animated movie, he produced a seven-minute trailer to showcase his work to distributors and producers, but without success. “One producer told me, ‘look you have a a nice product,’ But nobody’s going to watch it because it’s based on African characters,” Okupe recalls.
Despite being rejected by producers and investors, he wasn’t deterred. He decided to change his tack, turning the animation into a trailer for a graphic novel and collaborating with Nigerian artists to bring a superhero to life.
To also show that there could be a huge fan community for a product like an African Superhero, Okupe decided to crowdfund the project, and several months on, E.X.O. – The Legend of Wale Williams Part One (Digital & Paperback) is set to be released on August 31st 2015.
E.X.O. – The Legend of Wale Williams is set in a fictional Nigerian location named Lagoon City, modeled after the Lagos Island, Nigeria. The plot follows the journey of an impetuous young man named Wale Williams who is tricked into returning home after a 5-year absence. Upon his return Wale finds a cryptic nanosuit that grants superhuman abilities, left behind from his now missing father Dr. Williams. After initially refusing to have anything to do with his father’s work, Wale realizes he must use the suit to investigate his father’s disappearance, as well as persistent attacks on his people by an extremist named Oniku.
While Okupe hopes that EXO fulfills his life long goal of adding something unique to the superhero genre, his mission with the graphic novel is to put Africa on the map when it comes to telling superhero stories, be it animated or through superhero comics and graphic novels. He also has plans in motion for the animated movie, but there is currently no set release date.