Maryland-based YouNeek Studios has secured new investment from Impact X Capital to develop animated series based on its graphic novels inspired by African history and mythology.
Kicking things off will be Iyanu: Child of Wonder (pictured). Created by YouNeek CEO Roye Okupe, this serialized TV concept is based on an upcoming graphic novel series that’s set for publication in September. The studio is still hammering out how many 22-minute episodes will be in season one, but the show is being developed to target kids ages six to 11, with a highly stylized 3D-animated look and some 2D elements.
Iyanu is a fantasy quest set in a world inspired by the history, culture and folklore of the Yoruba, an ethnic group in western Africa that Okupe belongs to. The series follows a Yoruban teenager as she learns to use some newly acquired powers.
Doug Schwalbe, former SVP of co-productions at DreamWorks, has joined the team behind Iyanu as executive producer and will also oversee distribution. And YouNeek has partnered with Forefront Media Group and Triggerfish Animation Studios to co-create the series.
YouNeek also has a 10-book publishing deal with Dark Horse Comics, and the first Iyanu graphic novel will be published under it.
“I’m trying to tell stories about compelling characters who just happen to be African,” says Okupe. “The African mythology won’t overshadow the characters and story—it enhances and brings that level of authenticity. This is Africa created for a global audience.”
Okupe plans to use the financing from Impact X Capital, a venture cap fund that specifically supports Black creators, to grow the YouNeek Universe (which houses all of YouNeek’s IPs and characters) exponentially and quickly. He hopes to adapt more of the company’s IPs as TV series, and thinks they’re particularly well-suited for animation.
“We have five IPs that are going to be released [as comic books] in the next five years, and we want to ensure that we don’t stop there,” says Okupe. “When you hear about African animation or superheroes, it’s usually a one-off, but we’re coming with a whole universe.”