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How Roye Okupe’s hit indie comic books became Dark Horse’s next big project

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The crackling energy of YouNeek’s books, created and written by Okupe, and drawn by rising African stars, have found them a lovely spot in a market currently ravenous for diversity.

Up next for Dark Horse Comics is a 10-book partnership with hot indie player YouNeek Studios, publishers of OGNs featuring diverse characters, and unique stories in exciting new worlds. 

By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

When Roye Okupe dreamed of creating an African superhero universe, he went all-out. After all, his inspiration includes the animated X-Men TV series, the Transformers, and other established properties. However, he didn’t bargain for his line of independently-published books to gain a large following that a publishing partnership with Dark Horse Comics would happen. The unprecedented deal will see the big publisher releasing YouNeek Studios’ entire line of comics, across 10 books, which Okupe created to focus on African stories and characters.

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For Okupe, it’s a dream come true. A self-confessed geek, he grew up in Lagos, Nigeria on a steady diet of comics and related media, before moving to the United States in 2002, aged 17. While at George Washington University for a degree in Computer Science, he was simultaneously studying Animation at the Art Institute of Washington. After graduation, he created and shopped around an animated trailer featuring a futuristic African superhero, but it got little interest. He soldiered on, telling stories he wanted to tell, how he wanted to.

Roye Okupe

Fast-forward a bit, and YouNeek’s books are massive hits on the indie scene, reporting sell-out after sell-out of Kickstarter-funded books at conventions and online stores. The Dark Horse Comics deal was struck in 2019 when the publisher’s editor-in-chief Dave Marshall met Okupe at New York Comic-Con. He dazzled Marshall with an understanding of the market, as well as his success in creating an entire universe via complete stories and graphic novels, instead of splitting them into monthly issues like the big companies usually do.

Malika: Warrior Queen is a massive hit

The crackling energy of YouNeek’s books, created and written by Okupe, and drawn by rising African stars, have found them a lovely spot in a market currently ravenous for diversity. It will most certainly highlight the work of the artists, which include Chima Kalu, Sunkanmi Akinboye, Raphael Kazeem, Etubi Onucheyo and Toyin Ajetunmobi on ‘Malika: Warrior Queen’. On ‘Iyanu: Child of Wonder’, he is joined by illustrator Godwin Akpan, while on ‘E.X.O.’ he collaborated again with Akinboye, Kazeem, Ajetunmobi, Onucheyo and Tarella Pablo.

While the Dark Horse Comics deal is a good thing, Okupe feels the immediate impact is that YouNeek Studios will have a lot more people paying attention, causing a spotlight to shine on African creators, including his collaborators. The deal will see the books rolled out on Sept. 7, Sept. 21, and Oct 19, 2021. For a previously small indie publisher that began with a vision to create an African superhero universe – and talented creators dazzling their audience – things have become excitingly global.

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GeekAfrique’s Best Comic Book of 2022: ‘New Masters’

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‘New Masters’, by the Coker brothers, takes the reader into a future Nigeria which while dark, is filled with hope, powered by writing that’s masterful and art that’s gorgeously atmospheric, weaving one of the most compelling stories in graphic fiction this year.

By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

As soon as the story opens with the following lines: ‘1124 Post Adventu, a few miles East of the Kainji Mines, deep into the Eko Exclusion Zone’, we meet Ola. The spunky tech-enhanced teen, accompanied by a droid called Àṣẹ, has slid down a cable to scavenge, but instead finds what could be a large deposit of raw Obsidium, a crucial mineral that has all kinds of individuals in hot pursuit. I immediately fell in love with the characters, a love which becomes absolute when the droid asks our heroine if she would like it to “Initiate the pick-race protocol”. How much more Nigerian could a comic book get? (Note for non-Nigerians: To ‘pick-race’ means to run away, or to flee a situation or an individual out of one’s league)

Ola soon tries to offload her precious find, and in the process, we meet some of the most colourful characters I’ve come across since the original Star Wars trilogy or Nnedi Okorafor’s spectacular ‘LaGuardia’ graphic novel. A shifty suya seller-cum-black market dealer, a high-powered committee consisting of humans and aliens, or a couple made up of a Yemi Alade-esque fashionista and a lover from literally another world. It has such a varied cast of characters that a traditional comic book reader might feel overwhelmed. To me though, it was a perfectly-built world, populated by the most realistic characters I’ve come across in science fiction in a long time.

It has such a varied cast of characters that a traditional comic book reader might feel overwhelmed. To me though, it was a perfectly-built world, populated by the most realistic characters I’ve come across in science fiction in a long time.

Also, what’s a futuristic yarn set in Nigeria without Lagos, the city we all love and hate in equal measure, or Tejuosho for that matter? That’s not to mention cameos by Hausa words like ‘Tozo’ when Ola barters for a bit of Suya at Yaba Market, or an earlier-mentioned exclamation of ‘Shaege’ (a corruption of the Hausa word for ‘bastard’, weirdly also used to denote chronic badassery). Then the cherry – or cherries – on this layered cake: Views of Eko City itself, as well as the slums of Makoko, still sinking even in this far-flung future.

This, the first story arc, is called ‘The Eye of Orunmila’ in reference to a massive status quo-changing trove of knowledge that will change the universe. It also appears to be the chief McGuffin of the story, driving the story forward so well that the following chapters almost have no choice but to follow suit. The writing by Shobo Coker, one half of the duo of Nigerian brothers who created this masterpiece, is deft in its delivery of character beats, and in its layering of fantastical sci-fi backdrops. The dialogue flows in such an organic way that one could easily forget he is reading a comic book. One word: Bravo.

The art is the work of an accomplished illustrator. One minute it looks stark and glisteningly computer-generated, the next it’s as organic and unsettling as some of the most masterful watercolour work currently being done in the medium.

The art, by Shof Coker, is the work of an accomplished illustrator. One minute it looks stark and glisteningly computer-generated a la ‘Blade Runner’, the next it’s as organic and unsettling as some of the most masterful watercolour work currently being done in the medium, a la the production design of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ film. Even the lettering is kinetically charged, and is part of the artistry which graces the pages of this beautiful comic book. There also are locales that are as many as they are far-flung from each other and a distinct and deliberately-done combination of the familiar and the futuristic. One word: Bravo, also.

PR material says it is ‘A vision of West Africa under the thumb of alien colonizers’, wherein ‘A motley crew of outcasts find themselves caught up in a power struggle for control of an ancient artefact with immense power’. The comic book is also described as ‘A ground-breaking blend of science fiction, adventure, drama, and vibrant Afrofuturism’. I totally agree, even if the correct term is ‘Africanfuturism’, but that’s a fight for another day. With a handsome trade paperback edition out now, it is safe to declare this the most energetic debut of this year so far, and by far.  

‘New Masters’ Vol. 1 trade paperback, published by Image Comics, is on sale now.

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AI-created comic deemed ineligible for copyright protection

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The United States Copyright Office (USCO) reversed an earlier decision to grant copyright to a comic book that was created using “A.I. art,” and announced that the copyright protection on the comic book will be revoked, stating that copyrighted works must be created by humans to gain official copyright protection.

In September, Kris Kashtanova announced that they had received a U.S. copyright on his comic book, Zarya of the Dawn, a comic book inspired by their late grandmother that she created with the text-to-image engine Midjourney. Kashtanova referred to herself as a “prompt engineer” and explained at the time that she went to get the copyright so that she could “make a case that we do own copyright when we make something using AI.”

“AI art” is artwork created by an artificial intelligence machine learning process, meaning that a computer/machine has learned information, such as the past work and art style of other artists, and descriptions of characters and images, and then generated a new image using that learned knowledge.

“AI art” is artwork created by an artificial intelligence machine learning process, meaning that a computer/machine has learned information, such as the past work and art style of other artists, and descriptions of characters and images, and then generated a new image using that learned knowledge. The knowledge fed into the machine is almost always from humans, who also often feed into the machine-specific guiding instructions for the creation of the art, but the actual final creation is generated by the computer/machine (in this instance, it would be Midjourney).

The USCO had previously denied giving copyright protection to A.I.-produced art, including earlier in 2022 when it denied protection to Stephen Thaler and his AI-generated painting, “A Recent Entrance to Paradise.” Thaler then sued the Copyright Office, so the Office granting protection to Zarya of the Dawn was naturally a surprising turn of events.

However, in a post on her Facebook page. Kashtanova revealed that the USCO had contacted her to tell her that it was revoking the protection, explaining that it had errantly missed that Midjourney had created the art for the comic (despite Midjourney being listed on the credits of the cover of the comic). The USCO has given Kashtanova 30 days to appeal its decision.

Kashtanova pointed out at the time that they were “open to how it was made and put Midjourney on the cover page,” but the actual application doesn’t specify the role of Midjourney in the creation of the comic, only noting that the comic was “A.I.-assisted.”

Source: AI Business              

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Lagos Comic Convention 2022: We’re ready for 10,000 guests – Elegba

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Ayodele Elegba created Lagos Comic Convention, the fastest-growing annual gathering of geeks in the country, and this year will see the event hitting a milestone as it marks its tenth year on Saturday, Sept. 17. He spoke to us about his enthusiasm that this year’s will be the biggest and best show they’ve ever given fans, as well as many other points. He spoke to Abdulkareem Baba Aminu, and herewith are excerpts:

By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

GeekAfrique: For Lagos Comic Convention 2022, what will you be doing differently?

Ayodele Elegba: This year is like a rebirth for us. After the COVID pandemic, we saw a decline in events and socializing. It was a scary situation, and we never thought we would be back again. We are grateful that geeks from all over Nigeria came together last year, even if masked, but with the same hyper-enthusiasm. This year, we have been able to secure a title sponsor in Raptures, a comic book app that hopes to change the way comics are perceived in Africa. We also have secured sponsorship for our zones as well, something we have been trying to achieve for a while now. Also, the French Consulate’s kind sponsorship continues this year.

This year, for the first time, the entire event will be ticketed and we have made this decision because our goal is to make the event self-sustaining, and we can give the fans the opportunity to finally support the event and say ‘thank you’ for the 10 years we have organized the event for free. This year we will be announcing the DreamMakers Award for individuals and organizations who have contributed immensely to the growth of comic books in Nigeria. 

“It’s been ten years, and we are poised to welcome over 10,000 guests this year.”

Of course, we are back at the Landmark Event Centre, and we will be bringing back all the juicy activities the fans are used to seeing, like cosplay, panel discussions, screenings of exclusive clips from films and animation, and exhibitors selling their comic books and merch. It’s been ten years, and we are poised to welcome over 10,000 guests this year

GeekAfrique: Since you began the event, what has been the single most difficult goal for you to crush?

Elegba: I think the most difficult has been to make big corporates see the comic convention for what it is. Many of them are used to musical concerts and reality shows and will not put money into what they still perceive as kids’ stuff. We’re still working hard to change that perspective and get big money companies to support and sponsor.

In the past, I would clear my account to pay for the event. But over time we have seen the event now able to mostly sustain itself based on sponsorship, vendors, and ticketing. This year we are grateful for all the numerous exhibitors and sponsors who have joined us this year to make it a reality.

GeekAfrique: You’ve kept at it for a decade now. What has kept you going on?

Elegba: I guess the dream has kept me going. You know, the image of a future where African comic books will become a household name, and adapted into movies, games or animation. Also, the dream of the average young person making money from talent, as well as that of animation studios springing up all over the country, and big-name streamers courting them. This dream keeps me awake every night, and I am glad of the growth we have seen in the creative space since Lagos Comic Convention began.

GeekAfrique: How much of a presence will animation have this year, as RENDACON has been created to take care of that?

Elegba: Animation will always have a special place at Lagos Comic Convention. This year will not be an exception, as we have studios like Spoof! Animation coming to premiere its latest project at the event. With our partnership with FilmOne, it means animated films and shorts will be screened on actual cinema screens this year. We had actually begun to see a growth in animation content at the convention a few years ago. More and more animation studios and storytellers were springing up, and we didn’t have enough room to actually do justice to them all. so we established RENDACON (Radical Exhibition of New and Dynamic Animated Content). We will be having the second edition in November, and we hope to bring a lot of speakers and trainers to discuss topics that will help growth in the animation space.

“It’s tough (laughter), especially when you have some very juicy scoops. Even now I am privileged to some government announcements that will be made at the event, but I am not permitted to say.”

GeekAfrique: Participating creators and companies no doubt share secret projects with you during planning. How do you summon enough willpower to keep those secrets?

Elegba: It’s tough (laughter), especially when you have some very juicy scoops. Even now I am privileged to some government announcements that will be made at the event, but I am not permitted to say. I keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to spoil the surprise(s). I think it’s more fulfilling to see rather than be told, and this is why fans need to attend physically and experience all the great stuff for themselves.

GeekAfrique: Your own comic book company has been rather quiet regarding actual publishing of books. Why is that?

Elegba: We just wanted to re-evaluate our business model and look at other ways of succeeding at printed copies. The animation side of the business is doing quite well and it’s almost impossible to make comics at the same time too.  But we will be making some announcements at the convention, so fans should watch out.

QeekAfrique: If you could have one celebrity grace the Lagos Comic Convention, which one would it be?

Elegba: I would love to have Idris Elba over, to come to talk about his experience working with James Gunn on the Suicide Squad movie, his Heimdall role, and to just hang out with fellow geeks and soak up the awesome Lagos energy. It’s always a pleasure seeing a black man representing very well in comic book movies.

Lagos Comic Convention is slated to take place on Saturday, September 27th, 2022.

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