The fantasy genre isn't exclusive to the European-inspired advenures, and the Kickstarter success of Malika: Warrior Queen proves that. Since its launch in October 2016, writer/creator Roye Okupe has expanded beyond the initial first graphic novel to add a Free Comic Book Day one-shot and now this week, a second volume is seeking funds on Kickstarter.
Loosely based on the real life of 17th century Nigerian queen Amina, Malika: Warrior Queen is a historical fantasy set in West Africa following a queen/military commander who defends her kingdom, Azzaz, against enemies outside her walls - and the betrayals of her closest confidantes.
Malika: Warrior Queen Part Two is scheduled for a March 2018 release, with the original OGN's artistic team of Chia Kalu, Raphael Kazeem, and Godwin Akpan all rejoining Okupe.
Newsarama spoke with Okupe as well as his editor, Ayodele Elegba, about the enterprising project.
Newsarama: Roye, tell in your own words - who is Malika?
Roye Okupe: Well, Malika (pronounced "Ma-LIE-ka") is quickly becoming one of our fan favorites here at YouNeek Studios and it's not too hard to imagine why. Her story is one of historical fantasy that takes place in a 15th century West Africa, as Malika, Queen and military commander of Azzaz, struggles to keep the peace in her ever-expanding empire. Right off the bat, this isn't a story you would regularly see in comics or any other medium for that matter. And I think it is why a lot of people from different places around the world have embraced her story. It's so compelling and unique (no pun intended). But her story's distinctiveness is just one of the many things about Malika. My favorite thing about her is who she is as a character and what she represents. You have a queen and ruler with all these powers who is also able to display all sort complex human emotions we all experience in our daily lives. Finally, she also represents the some of the diversity I think a lot of people have been asking for in the comic book industry.
Nrama: What is the story going into the second OGN?
Okupe: Till date, I don't think as spent as much time on any book as I have on Malika: Warrior Queen Part Two. And part of that is because I feel a huge responsibility to do it right. The first book was so well received by the fans that I feel like I have no room to screw anything up with volume two. Regarding the story, you will see Malika pushed as a character. In part two, she will be put in so many unfamiliar and uncomfortable position that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. And it's because Malika uncovers a painful betrayal by one of the people closest to her. The treachery unnerves a usually stoic and composed Malika, allowing her enemies both known and unknown, internal as well as external, encircle her, positioning themselves for the destruction of Azzaz, the empire she spent her entire adult life building.
I feel this is a healthy balance because as a ruler in Part One, Malika experienced a lot of trials, but for the most part, was still in control. In Part Two, you get to see an even more human side of the great queen.
Nrama: Who is doing the art on the second OGN?
Okupe: Pretty much everyone who worked on the first book. Part One is simply gorgeous. It was a no-brainer to bring them back. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, so part of my mission is to expose the talent we have back home to a mainstream audience. Chima Kalu is doing the pencils and inks, Raphael Kazeem colors, Godwin Akpan cover and Ayodele Elegba (organizer of the Lagos Comic Con) is the editor. All these guys are local to Nigeria.
I'm the writer/editor-in-chief as I have been on all previous YouNeek Studios titles.
Newsarama: Ayodele, you’re editing this for Roye - how did you get involved with Malika: Warrior Queen?
Ayodele Elegba: Well, Roye called me out of the blue and said he wanted me to put together a special team for a book he was working on. I asked why me and he said he had done his research and he believes based on what he had discovered about me and my experience in the industry I would be the best person to help him get creatives who would do a good job. After several discussions and falling for the great vision Roye shared about bringing the attention of the international audience to Nigeria, I decided to embark on the journey. We have done several books together since then.
Nrama: You did the editing - what did that entail for you?
Elegba: Well, it's basic really. I make sure I get the best fit for artist and colorists for every project and of course supervise them and make sure that they deliver quality at the needed time. I also advise Roye on how to make the book spectacular and delivered in record time.
Nrama: Roye, what would you say your inspirations are for Malika: Warrior Queen?
Okupe: Growing up in back home in Lagos, Nigeria, I always thought it'd be cool to create these superhero and fantasy characters that were inspired by my culture. It's so surreal that I actually get to do it for a living now. Malika is heavily inspired by a real African queen who existed in the 16th century. She was called Queen Amina of Zazzau. Researching Amina a truly exciting time for me. I didn’t just get to learn about her, but about the many kings, queens, kingdoms and empires that existing in Africa centuries ago. Africa has such a wealth of history, and Malika's fictional story is just a slice of that. Our hope is to do more in the coming years!
Nrama: How did the idea for Malika: Warrior Queen come about?
Okupe: Before I started YouNeek Studios, which is the company that houses all our graphic novels, I knew I wanted to create a universe of diverse heroes. I've always been fascinated by historical fantasy/fiction. So, after writing the first two volumes of our first graphic novel E.X.O., which is a sci-fi/superhero story that takes place in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria, I decided historical fiction would be a nice transition to push forward the overall story of the "YouNeek YouNiverse" forward. Which is ironic because the events of Malika: Warrior Queen part one/two take place 500 years before E.X.O. But as you follow our continuity, you'll see why it was done that way.
Nrama: You self-published the Malika: Warrior Queen Part One earlier this year, and did a one-shot for Free Comic Book Day and have one more planned for this weekend’s Halloween Comic Fest. And today we're talking about a second OGN coming in March - that's going to be distributed through Diamond. First of all, can you tell us how the original OGN and one-shot have done for you?
Okupe: It's been amazing to see the success of Malika. As I mentioned earlier, it's quickly becoming a fan favorite. Diamond selecting Malika for both Free Comic Book Day and Halloween Comic Fest in the same year further stresses how awesome Malika is. It is extremely humbling for us as a young studio to not only have distribution through Diamond but Baker & Taylor, Follet, and Brodart. Making our graphic novels not only available in comic shops around the country but schools and bookstores like Barnes & Nobles and Books-a-Million. A lot of it has to do with the hard work that we put in every single day, but our success is due in large part to the support from the fans. And boy did they show up on FCBD in May! I had several people message me on social media saying that copies of Malika were completely gone within the first couple hours. It was a great FCBD for Malika and I think that's why Diamond had us back for HCF!
Nrama: How can people pick up the previous OGN to get up to speed?
Okupe: The easiest way is via our website: www.youneekstudios.com. However, an even better way will be to back our Malika Part Two Kickstarter. Where you can get the PDF for as low as $10 or get all 5 of our books (E.X.O. parts 1 & 2, Malika parts 1 & 2 and Windaker) in PDF for only $20. You can also get other cool stuff like the physical graphic novel (Malika part 1 and/or 2) signed, a custom Malika Funko POP and more!
Nrama: Ayodele, last question is for you - what do you see as the importance of a book like this?
Elegba: What drew me to the Youneek Youniverse is that it's African and an opportunity was presented to tell African stories. Roye is a patriot and he kept on letting me understand that he wanted the book to be 100% Nigerians working on it. For me, that's important. It gives the average Nigerian hope to believe that good quality comic books can be made here in Africa. And I think, so far, he has made that statement because retailers still can't believe the book was made in Nigeria.