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Roye Okupe: My quest to make ‘Malika’ animated series

Daily Trust: What led to your decision to develop an animated series based on your hit comic book ‘Malika: Warrior Queen’?

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Roye Okupe: As a company, we just felt like it was time to make a bold move. We’ve been lucky to have some success in the comic book industry both in Africa and the Diaspora because of amazing fans who constantly show us support. Because of that, we felt we could carry that same momentum into animation. But as you know, animation us very hard and expensive to produce. Especially when you want to do it at a certain quality. This is where we hope a crowd-funding platform like Kickstarter can help us. 

The plan is to start small, though, and produce a 7-minute pilot episode. And then try to show the amazing quality we have to offer using 100% Nigerian animators. And then pitch that pilot to people, investors, networks who can help us do a full-length TV series or movie.

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DT: How easy, or difficult, is it writing stories about a strong female character based loosely on a legendary Nigerian queen?

Okupe: Writing is always hard. It’s a very lonely process. Malika was particularly hard because I really wanted to get it right. Her story is inspired by Queen Amina’s, so even though Malika is a fictional character, her story is surrounded by real history. If you read the books, you will immediately notice a lot of inspiration from African history. 

The female part was easy because I’ve been surrounded by strong and inspiring women all my life, like my wife, my mom, sisters, and so on. 

DT: You’re based in the United States, but you picked a Nigerian animation company to work with. Why?

Okupe: It’s important to me to do my best to build up the animation and comic book industry back home, and in Africa as a whole. Best way to do that? Invest. Plus, Anthill [Studios] is one of the best on the continent. So it’s by merit as well.

DT: For this project, like others, you are crowd-funding, specifically via Kickstarter. How do you find working that way?

Okupe: Crowd-funding is hard work. It’s almost like a full-time job. But this is my 5th time doing it, so that helps. But only a little. As difficult as it can be, it’s also the best way to get a unique idea off the ground. At least, in my opinion. It forces you to market, do PR, customer service, sales, all of which make your business better. It’s also an amazing tool for building awareness when done right.

DT: How much collaboration do you apply with the animators?

Okupe: I try as much as possible to give all the artists I work with – in comics, animation and beyond – as much freedom as possible. I believe collaboration is the sure-fire way to bring out the best in a project. If you just sit in your little box and try to control everything, the project will be limited to only what you can imagine. When you open it up to others, the possibilities are limitless. 

Still, though, it’s a hard thing to do. Especially when you create characters. You feel like you should be the only one deciding what they do, think and say. You have to see past that mindset if you truly want creativity to flow in a team environment. 

DT: On the Kickstarter.com page for the project, you suggest that big-name Nollywood stars are being considered to voice some characters. Who will be voicing Queen Malika on the animated series?

Okupe: (Laughter) I cannot say yet. Let’s get funded first. You want to know? Donate on Kickstarter first.

DT: How much of your time does the animated series take, and does it eat into the time you have allotted for creating comics?

Okupe: Right now our focus is on creating a 7-minute pilot/episode one. Anything beyond that is not even on my mind until we can get this campaign funded. But it would really depend on what we decide to do after. A movie? 22-minute-episode series? 10 episodes? 26 episodes? That all depends on funding. The goal is to get the pilot done, show the amazing stuff we can do and then hopefully pitch that, to raise money to do a full-length movie or series.

DT: ‘E.XO: The Legend of Wale Williams’ is your first comic book to be published, also with an animated pilot. Why did you choose to proceed to a ‘Malika’ one?

Okupe: We already have an animated pilot for E.X.O, done about 5 years ago. We’re still actively pitching it. But Malika has become our most famous character since the graphic novel was released in 2017. We thought we stand a better chance pitching both.  

DT: For fans of the ‘Malika’ comic book, just how much of the energy of the source material should they expect in the animated version?

Okupe: You can bet we’re going to stay as close to the awesomeness we had in the books. Yes, some things will be different, but the goal is to keep the overall spirit of the story. That way people that have never read the books can get that same feeling of awe, and people that have can find something new while reliving the awesomeness they got from the book.

DT: You tied the knot some months back. Is your wife also into comic books, animation, and other ‘geeky’ fare?

Okupe: (Laughter) Not really. Although I’ve forced her into watching all the Marvel and DC movies, which has backfired because now every time [‘Black Panther’ star] Chadwick Boseman comes on screen, you can see her face light up. 

But on a more serious note, she is my number one supporter and the one who keeps me sane on this very insane journey I’m on, doing comics and animation full-time. She’s my rock, and without her, none of this would be possible. You can say she’s my secret weapon.

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