EPOCH COMICS: Exclusive Interview Part 1 - The New Era of African Comic Books & Movies

Part 1 of our interview with Epoch Comics artist/creator Martin Okonkwo, in our series showcasing top African and diaspora creators who are making characters and stories ripe for movies and series.

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Meet Martin Okonkwo, the co-founder of Epoch Comics. The studio aims not just to tell African stories, but to do it in an authentic, moral, and wholesome way to the world, and inspire a new generation to rise above negative stereotypes and embrace diversity and strong values.

Martin shared their intent to take the African comic industry to the next level and pave the way for a new genre of entertainment, similar to what the Japanese have done with manga and anime.

Martin is a multitalented, multi-award illustrator, graphic designer and comic book artist. He has twice won the Nigerian comic book artist of the year, at the Lagos Comic Convention FIST Awards in 2017 and 2018 respectively for his work in AEGIS #3 and AEGIS #4. His works have been hosted on several local and international platforms like Comixology, Amazon and Comikly, and he has also been featured on Comic blogs like Bleeding Cool, SquidMag and Comic Panel. His Ad illustrations have made their way to prestigious ad websites like AD-Week, Ads of the World and Lurzer’s Archives. His brand of comic books have received wide viewership and sales online and offline. Epoch has featured in several editions of the Lagos Comic con and very recently at the Toronto Comic-Con in Canada.

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James (CBM): Tell us about you - what led you to create comic books and launch your studio, Epoch Comics?

Martin: “I am a major comic head. I have always loved telling stories using various visual mediums, but comics have proved to be the most compelling for me. I’ve been actively drawing comics since as far back as when I was just 5. I got all my early inspiration from DC and Marvel comic books then Saturday morning animated cartoons."

"As a child, growing up in Nigeria during the 80s, I had no access to 24hr cartoon channels like children today have, neither did I have access to comic shops, but I took full advantage of what was available then. I would read and re-read all the comics that I could lay my hands on, then watch and re-watch the cartoon series. These played a vital part in shaping me as an artist. I would draw for hours and hours, sometimes shunning food."

"Then came the era of video games in the early 90s and I was more than thrilled to be able to play as some of my favourite characters.  The games further expanded my imagination on what was possible in this genre of entertainment."

"My early efforts at creating comic books were more of a favourite past-time and hobby because I drew only for fun and the love of the craft, but I found out that my friends were astonished by the stories that I told and the characters that I created. They would gather around my desk after school, and I would draw comics till evening while they watched in wide-eyed wonder."

"Because my reference was only from foreign comics, shows, and games, none of my main characters were African nor of African descent. They were almost 100% Caucasian white. "

"I soon came to the point after secondary school where I began to intentionally seek to tell stories based on my culture, folklore, and traditional mythology but my only reference was the oral stories passed down by our parents and grandparents in the village. I began to explore our history and culture as comic books and that was the beginning of the journey toward Epoch Comics."

"My comics at this point featured characters of indigenous and ethnic backgrounds. My focus at first was still mainly on the superhero genre even though there were still a few videogame and manga-inspired personal titles that I created. Then I began to have a certain fascination for the supernatural, and that became the bedrock for most of our titles today."

"I co-created the Epoch Comics brand with my close friend, writer, and secondary schoolmate Chika Ezeabiama, and today we are still going strong, even though the team has expanded.”

James: What comic books, writers and artists were your favorites growing up and also your inspirations?

Martin: “As I mentioned earlier, my earliest inspiration was Marvel and DC, but during the course of time, more studios emerged, like Image, Darkhorse, and TopCow, and of course, non-American comics that were wildly popular like Obelix and Asterix also held sway in my creative journey – Comic books like Superman, Batman, X-Men, Justice League, and Avengers were particularly my favourites."

"Writers/ Artists like John Byrne on Superman, Joe Madureira on Spiderman, Jim Lee on Bat Man, Alex Ross / Mark Waid on Kingdom Come, and Goscinni and Ordezo in Asterix and Obelix should be some of my greatest inspirations to date. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any role models in comics locally and had to chart that cause by myself.”

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James: What’s your vision for Epoch?

Martin: “To inspire and transform lives through our model of entertainment. To be a source of reference to the upcoming generation of comic creators and to give an alternative and wholesome model of comic book entertainment to the world."

"We also seek to put Africa on the comic map by showcasing the kind of quality that has never been associated with the continent and that can compete favourably on the global stage."

"We are building a brand that will change the narrative about Africa and Africans and present us as a people of beautiful heritage, rich culture and strong positive values.”

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James: Can you tell us more about your universe?

Martin: “All Epoch Comic’s titles are linked in one universe and they share the same overarching story. There is a supernatural backstory for every character and title even though it’s more evident in some than others. All the characters in the Epoch Universe have their source of power from the supernatural realm. The heroes (Extranaturals) are those who have harnessed those powers for doing good. They vary in attributes. Some fall into the superhero category (Like Moondust) and their metaphysical aspects are less obvious than others."

"The Villains too (also called Extranaturals) just like the heroes draw their essence or powers from the supernatural or extra-dimensional realm. They also feature as supervillains within the superhero context and dark in some of the more clearly supernatural titles.”

James: How do we find your comic books and graphic novels?

Martin: “Our comics are available across various platforms, but the primary means of getting is from our website www.epochstudios.co/comics. Our comics are also available on Amazon and Comixology. You can also download the House of Comics mobile app and read all our comics for free. Follow @epochcomics on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.”

In Part 2 of our interview, we dive into the Epoch Universe, the titles, and Martin's favorite pick(s) for Epoch comic book movies and TV/streaming series as well as meet a few of the Epoch creative team members.

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