As reported here at MajorSpoilers, YouNeek Studios has signed with Dark Horse to bring Roye Okupe’s previously self-published graphic novels to a wider audience! This is a serious triumph for diversity!

WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?

Roye Okupe, Dark Horse, Mike Richardson, YouNeek Studios, New York Comic-Con, Baltimore Comic-Con, Dave Marshall, Milestone, “Next” Batman, Batwing, Miles Morales, Spider-Man, Malika, Warrior Queen, Iyanu, Child of Wonder, E.X.O, Wale WilliamsHere are a few important paragraphs from the previously mentioned release:

Since 2012, Roye Okupe, has been building a universe of superheroes that spans centuries centered around African stories, crafted by African creators. Now, Dark Horse is thrilled to welcome Okupe and his YouNeek Studios graphic novels into its’ publishing line.

Dark Horse will be publishing the entire line of previously self-published stories, along with never-before-seen bonus material starting with Malika: Warrior Queen, Iyanu: Child of Wonder, and E.X.O: The Legend of Wale Williams, and continue onward into new and never-before-seen stories.

What does Roye have to say about all this?

“What we are trying to do over the next few years is create a compelling and immersive universe with our own twist. How? Well, the YouNeek YouNiverse is a massive, interconnected universe of sci-fi, fantasy and superhero content spread across multiple timelines with stories told from an African perspective. Is this ambitious? Yes. Is it impossible? Not at all.” Okupe said.

What’s really been cool is that this development has caught the attention of more than just the comics community. For example, a recent article in the Washington Post talked about Roye and his dreams of creating an African superhero universe.

THE IMPORTANCE OF WORLDBUILDING

Roye Okupe, Dark Horse, Mike Richardson, YouNeek Studios, New York Comic-Con, Baltimore Comic-Con, Dave Marshall, Milestone, “Next” Batman, Batwing, Miles Morales, Spider-Man, Malika, Warrior Queen, Iyanu, Child of Wonder, E.X.O, Wale WilliamsIf you’ve been listening to my weekly Wayne’s Comics Podcast, Roye’s name just might sound familiar! I interviewed him back in Episode 264, way back in January of 2017.

I had met him at the Baltimore Comic-Con held in 2016 where he had an Artist Alley table promoting his storytelling. Always interested in diversity in comics, I picked up several of his graphic novels and talked with him about an interview. He graciously agreed.

One of the things that appealed to me was Roye’s interest in worldbuilding. By that, I mean creating his own universe (or as he might put it, YouNiverse!) populated with his own characters so he can tell his own stories!

Roye has been telling everyone who would listen about his comics. In the aforementioned Washington Post article, they said:

Okupe and Dark Horse editor in chief Dave Marshall first crossed paths at New York Comic-Con in 2019. Marshall admired Okupe’s understanding of the market and his success in creating his universe through graphic novels that had complete stories, instead of splitting them into monthly issues like Dark Horse, DC Comics and Marvel Comics typically do.

“I was impressed by what Roye had accomplished having built YouNeek from scratch,” Marshall said.

Okupe sent him home from the convention with a stack of graphic novels to read. “Exciting artwork, compelling stories — just good comics,” Marshall added.

The important lesson from all this—especially if you’re a comics creator—is that you shouldn’t be shy when getting the word out about your product! It’s been several years that Roye has been telling others about his good books. It took time, but he’s finally breaking into the “mainstream” of comics. Another take-away? Be patient!

Roye’s what you call an “overnight success” that has been years in the making.

STORYTELLING OF THE HIGHEST ORDER

Roye Okupe, Dark Horse, Mike Richardson, YouNeek Studios, New York Comic-Con, Baltimore Comic-Con, Dave Marshall, Milestone, “Next” Batman, Batwing, Miles Morales, Spider-Man, Malika, Warrior Queen, Iyanu, Child of Wonder, E.X.O, Wale WilliamsOn some levels, I view this as a vindication of sorts of what I prefer in comics, taking the time and effort to build your own comics universe. I mean, you can set stories in New York City—and many creators do—but I have said many times that this practice feels like a “cheat” to me. Marvel has been doing this for decades, and it doesn’t take much effort to plunk a character, even one you have developed, into a completely fleshed-out environment, seems to me.

I often fuss about Miles Morales being another Spider-Man. It’s cool and all to his fans, I suppose, but I prefer stories built from the ground up. When you structure your own environment, you can tell tales that could only happen in your world that just might have something to say about the “real” world we live in, something that a story based in a version of NYC someone else has already put together might not be able to tell.

To me, that’s storytelling of the highest order, and it should be recognized and promoted!

Just so it’s clear, I’m also not a big fan of DC’s “Next” Batman. The closest thing to this that I actually mostly liked was Batwing, someone in the Bat-family who had his own take on the franchise. I wish he’d get back into DC. Still, he’s in the DCU, so he’s limited in what he can do—apparently so much so that he’s been relegated to the shadows. I appreciate that they have a diverse writer on this book, but I still would prefer to see what he would do in his own “world.”

MOVING FORWARD

Roye Okupe, Dark Horse, Mike Richardson, YouNeek Studios, New York Comic-Con, Baltimore Comic-Con, Dave Marshall, Milestone, “Next” Batman, Batwing, Miles Morales, Spider-Man, Malika, Warrior Queen, Iyanu, Child of Wonder, E.X.O, Wale WilliamsThe thing I really hope to see is comics moving ever-farther away from stereotypical characters. I won’t even begin to dignify them by talking about them, but we all know who they have been. What I’d much rather read about are diverse characters who are moving ahead rather than alluding to mistakes of the past.

For instance, I think one of the Marvel heroes who deserves a serious revisit is Photon, who was previously a Captain Marvel. I still don’t think the previous attempts at making her viable have worked. In my opinion, there just HAS to be a way to make her work for today’s readers.

DC has already taken steps to revive Milestone, and I loved that universe from the first moment I ever head about it. It’s supposed to be back next month! Well, it can’t return soon enough for me!

We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface in making diversity work in comics. Yes, we’ve had some failures along the way (the female Thor and Falcon as Captain America, just to mention a couple), but I think we need a new generation of creators who understand the modern mind and what we’d like to see and can believe in.

“YouNeek Studios is unlike anything in American comics today,” Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson said. “I hope to see the YouNeek acquisition prove to comics that there is absolutely a market for these stories, told by creative teams that have the knowledge to tell them right, and I see more publishers picking up books like these in the future.”

Amen to that, brother!

What do you think? Will you pick up Roye’s books when they are released by Dark Horse? Does diversity still hold interest for you when it comes to comics? What kinds of “new” characters would you like to read about? Whatever your opinions, be sure to share your thoughts in the space below!


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About Author

Wayne Hall creates the Wayne's Comics Podcast. He’s interviewed Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, John Layman, Kyle Higgins, Phil Hester, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, David Petersen, Christos Gage, Mike Grell, and Matt Kindt. On this site each week, he writes his "Comics Portal" column (general comics comments and previews) and reviews comics.

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