By, Denise Petski, October 13, 2023 1:30pm (Deadline)
EXCLUSIVE: Lion Forge Entertainment has set a first-look deal with award-winning Nigerian creator and producer Roye Okupe. YouNeek Studios founder and YouNeek YouNiverse creator Okupe recently teamed with Lion Forge on the animated fantasy series Iyanu, based on Okupe’s graphic novel Iyanu: Child of Wonder. Production is currently underway for the Cartoon Network and Max animated series, which Lion Forge will introduce to global distributors at MIPCOM next week.
Through the first look deal, Lion Forge will adapt Okupe’s bestselling graphic novels, which are published through Dark Horse Comics, for TV, film, and games and collaborate with Okupe on Lion Forge’s own original projects that Okupe may develop, write and/or direct for the studio.
Among the properties Lion Forge has the option to develop and produce are Okupe’s Malika: Warrior Queen, E.X.O. – The Legend of Wale Williams, WindMaker and The Oloris.
The partnership also expands Lion Forge’s Iyanu rights to include live action.
Okupe will also be discussing all things Iyanu, including offering an exclusive first look, on Dark Horse’s World of Iyanu panel this Sunday at New York Comic Con.
The first look deal solidifies the shared mission of Lion Forge Entertainment and Okupe – to bring diverse and authentically told stories to audiences worldwide. “Okupe’s exceptional storytelling prowess and profound connection to African and Nigerian culture align with Lion Forge’s dedication to delivering globally entertaining narratives, all while championing the authenticity and ensuring representation on screens for young audiences across the globe,” according to the press release.
“Roye Okupe’s incredible talent as a creator, writer, and director is a testament to his dedication to storytelling that resonates with audiences of all backgrounds,” said David Steward II, founder and CEO of Lion Forge Entertainment. “His creative vision aligns seamlessly with Lion Forge’s mission to offer diverse, culturally rich narratives that allow children to see themselves represented on screen. We are honored to embark on this journey with Roye and explore the boundless potential of the YouNeek YouNiverse.”
Okupe added, “I am delighted to call Lion Forge Entertainment my creative home. They have shown unwavering support for my vision of Iyanu and the YouNeek YouNiverse, and I am eager to work closely with them on bringing these stories to life. This partnership not only strengthens our commitment to authentically represent Nigerian and African stories but also opens the door to new, original projects within the YouNeek YouNiverse and Lion Forge’s exciting originals. Together, we aim to make a lasting impact on the world of entertainment.”
Okupe is an accomplished author and filmmaker whose passion for the world of comics and animation served as the catalyst to found YouNeek Studios in 2015. Okupe has been resolute in his mission to craft an interconnected universe of superhero and fantasy stories that draw inspiration from the rich tapestry of African history, culture and mythology.
Founded by David Steward II, Lion Forge Entertainment focuses on diverse storytellers and aims to amplify under-represented voices by creating content that is both authentic and appealing to a broad audience. Having recently expanded its production slate to include live action as well as animation, the company develops and produces animated and live action content targeting kids & family and YA audiences.
“I look forward to exploring Roye’s captivating YouNeek YouNiverse and collaborating closely with him to develop additional authentic and compelling content for kids and families around the world,” said Stephanie Sperber, CCO, Lion Forge Entertainment. “Together, we aspire to create generational stories that entertain and inspire.”
The first look deal with Okupe is the latest in a series of strategic moves for Lion Forge as the studio ramps up activity. In the past six months the studio has bolstered its senior executive ranks; launched an international distribution division; closed a first-look deal with Nickelodeon Animation; set a strategic global content partnership with advertising giant Dentsu; and inked a multi-title development deal with Penguin Young Readers for slate of children’s film and TV projects.
About Lion Forge
Lion Forge Entertainment was founded by David Steward II after he recognized a need in the industry to create a platform for authentic diverse voices. Drawing from his experience in publishing (graphic novels and comics) and informed by market trends, Steward II launched Lion Forge Animation in 2019, one of the only Black-owned animation studios in the world.
The company is uniquely equipped to create, drive, and deliver genuine, diverse stories and its content pipeline has surged in the last year. In addition to Iyanu, Lion Forge projects include Hair Love spinoff series (Young Love) for MAX; Rise Up, Sing Out, executive produced by Grammy-winning artists Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, for Disney; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, an animated series for preschoolers based on the classic books; an animated series based on the Hero’s Journey The Series – a set of stories that explore the rise to fame of many black artists during the segregation era; a slate of projects introducing the groundbreaking life and legacy of Wendell Scott, NASCAR’s first Black race car driver; a comedy adventure of warrior Iron’s story “Iron Dragon” (original Korean IP); “Marley and the Family Band” – an animated series based on Cedella Marley’s picture book of the same title; and a new multi-media initiative in partnership with St. Louis-based Nine PBS designed to positively represent Black and brown kids and help close the literacy gap, Drawn In.
Lion Forge Entertainment is one of the companies under parent Polarity, also owned by Steward. Polarity includes Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, which publishes more than 60 original graphic novels each year and owns a deep library of IP. Polarity also owns Magnetic Press and Illustrated Syndicate. Polarity sits alongside the Steward Family holdings which range from music to NASCAR to the NHL and beyond.
Lion Forge Entertainment is represented by Activist Artists Management.
About Roye Okupe
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Roye Okupe is an award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, author, and entrepreneur whose passion for comics and animation led him to found YouNeek Studios in 2015, an avenue that would allow him to pursue his dream of creating a diverse library of superheroes. Under that umbrella, Roye wrote, produced and directed several animated productions, including, but not limited to, the award-winning and critically acclaimed Malika – Warrior Queen Animated Short. These productions have allowed Roye to attain many prestigious recognitions, such as being #5 on Ventures Africa’s list of 40 African innovators to watch (2016) as well as being part of NewAfrican Magazines’ 100 most influential Africans two years in a row (2016 & 2017). Most significantly, in 2021, Roye was nominated for the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics, meant to honor “commitment to excellence and inclusion.”
With the superhero genre currently at the height of popularity, Roye has made it a goal to create a connected universe of superhero and fantasy stories inspired by African history, culture and mythology. In August 2015, Roye released his debut graphic novel titled: E.X.O. The Legend of Wale Williams Part One, a sci-fi superhero epic set in Lagos, Nigeria. E.X.O. was received with critical acclaim and has since been featured on CNN, Forbes, The New York Times, N.B.C., The Guardian, ABC7, B.B.C., The Huffington Post, Mashable and more! Roye’s sophomore graphic novel: Malika – Warrior Queen, was also received with critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Story of the Year award at the Glypc Comic Awards in 2020. That same year, Roye signed a first of its kind, monumental 10-book deal with Dark Horse Comics—one of the world’s largest comic book publishers.
About YouNeek Studios
YouNeek Studios is an award-winning multiplatform entertainment company founded by Roye Okupe. Using graphic novels, animation, video games, and other forms of media, YouNeek focuses on telling extraordinary stories about extraordinary characters inspired by African history, culture, and mythology, with the ultimate goal of empowering African creatives and storytelling across the globe. Visit: www.youneekstudios.com for more.