Alumnus turns passion for comics into career

Media Credit: Jordan McDonald | Senior Staff Photographer

Roye Okupe, who earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science from GW, recently released his second graphic novel about a Nigerian superhero.

With a full slate of Marvel superhero movies coming to theaters near you, you’ll also want to keep an eye out for superhero comic books by an alumnus.

Roye Okupe, who earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science from GW, recently released his second graphic novel about a Nigerian superhero, which he said he hopes will become a TV show or movie. Without one of the courses Okupe took at GW, he said he may have never pursued a career in comics.

Okupe released the first novel of his superhero saga last summer and released the second last month. His comics aim to address social issues in Nigeria, from poverty to corruption, but also highlight the country’s culture and progress, he said.

“I talk about the great things you can see in Africa, which is our rising technology, our resilience as a community, our humor, the way we talk to each other and just the general nature of Nigeria and Lagos as a city as well,” Okupe said.

Okupe collaborated with four artists in Nigeria remotely from his apartment in Rockville, Md. to create the books. He developed the characters and storylines, while artists in Nigeria drew the cover and interior art. While it would have been easier to work with artists in the area, Okupe wanted to showcase Nigerian talent, he said.

Media Credit: Jordan McDonald | Senior Staff Photographer

Okupe’s journey to creating comic books began in Lagos, Nigeria, where he grew up, he said.

“Growing up, I was glued to the TV watching things like Superman, Batman, Transformers, Ninja Turtles and all the other great superhero titles, and I immediately fell in love with the concept of the superhero story,” Okupe said.

When he followed in his sister’s footsteps and came to the U.S. for college, Okupe pursued a practical degree in computer science but held onto his dreams of drawing comics.

After transferring to GW from Montgomery College in Rockville, Okupe took a computer animation class that he said changed the course of his career.

It was after completing his first assignment for the class that Okupe realized he had some talent. He animated his favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Leonardo, he said.

“The instructor was walking around looking at everybody’s work. He tapped me on the shoulder and was like ‘Roye, this looks really good’ and literally that was the moment where I thought maybe I can eventually do something with this for a living,” Okupe said.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Okupe continued to teach himself animation through online programs, and he enrolled in drawing classes at the Art Institute of Washington.

To guarantee a steady income during the financial recession in 2009, Okupe enrolled in a master’s program in computer science at GW. After working as a web developer for a few years, Okupe saved enough money to produce a trailer for a potential comic book series. He collaborated with storyboard artists and designers, while he coordinated the project and worked on the postproduction elements, including sound and color editing.

The series — titled “E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams” — follows a 20-something-year-old Nigerian man named Wale Williams who wears an exoskeleton of armor. The series is set in the loosely fictional town of Lagoon City, which based on Okupe’s hometown.

After distributors didn’t pick up the eight-minute trailer for a full series, Okupe decided to build a fan base more organically by going back and creating a graphic novel for the character so that fans would be invested in the story by the time a series or movie was released.

He set up two fundraisers for the first graphic novel, which was released last summer. After that, Okupe quit his full-time job as a web developer to freelance, so he could have more time to work on his comics.

With his second novel released this August – the final entry in the Wale Williams saga – Okupe is now working on a graphic novel featuring a 15th century West African queen.

Okupe said that if he can change the path of his career to follow his passion, anyone can.

“Somehow I’ve been able to achieve so many things that I didn’t think I would achieve this quick, and the reason why is because of hard work and persistence,” Okupe said. “Knowing that within each and every one of us there’s something we’re burning to give out into the world.”

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