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Nigeria's Next Superhero: Roye Okupe On His Afrofuturistic Graphic Novel Series

Lagos-born animator Roye Okupe speaks on his African superhero graphic novel series, 'E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams.'


E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams is a forthcoming graphic novel trilogy centering on a young Nigerian named Wale Williams who returns home to investigate his inventor father's disappearance in a country overrun with corrupt leaders and robotic exoskeletal drones known as DREDS. Set a decade in the future in the Lagos Island-inspired Lagoon City, part one of the superhero series sees Wale inheriting a Nanosuit which gives him superhuman abilities that he uses to protect the city from The C.R.E.E.D, a radical extremist organization that aims to eradicate Lagoon City's "myopic government." This recent addition to the emerging canon of African superhero stories is the brainchild of Lagos-born digital animator and YouNeek Studios founder Roye Okupe, who began developing the project after noticing a lack of characters with African origins that fans of the genre could relate to. We recently spoke to Okupe over e-mail to talk about his inspirations for the afrofuturistic graphic novel and what he sees for the future of African superhero stories.

Okayafrica: What drew you to develop a superhero story with a Nigerian protagonist?

Roye Okupe: From the first day I laid my eyes on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons in the '80s, 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. Then in 2008, after noticing there wasn't a lot of diversity within the genre, I decided to tell a story about a hero from Nigeria.

OKA: Were there any particular superhero characters or graphic novels that inspired the project?

RO: Not necessarily. EXO is a culmination of ideas I've had running through my mind, probably since I was 5.

OKA:What impact do you hope your project will have?

RO: My mission with EXO: The Legend of Wale Williams is to put Africa on the map when it comes to telling superhero stories, be it animated or through superhero comics and graphic novels. We have so many people with a wealth of creative and appealing stories on the continent, but they never really get the proper commercial exposure. I myself experienced this when I approached investors and distributors. I was told it was a great idea, but there was no fan base for this sort of product. But I refuse to believe that. I believe if done properly (great script, good production values etc.), Nigerians, Africans and people all over the world will be receptive. We don’t necessarily love characters like Superman, Batman or Spiderman because of their place of origin. We love them because they have great stories we can identify with. That's why I took my time (5 years so far) in developing the story and characters. My hope is that EXO fulfills my lifelong goal of adding something unique to the superhero genre.

OKA: When will the series be available? 

RO: The graphic novel will be released first (this summer). While there are very early plans in motion for the animation, there is no set release date as of yet. We’re hoping to build a strong fan base with the book, using that as impetus to eventually produce the animated feature.

For more on 'E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams,' watch a short test trailer below and follow Okupe's YouNeek Studios on Facebook and Twitter.

Update 4/11: Okupe launched a Kickstarter campaign for 'E.X.O.' earlier this. He's also shared the first chapter of the novel ahead of its August release.

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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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