Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Crowdfunding Creators, a series that highlights original work by artists looking to make their way in the world on sheer talent and the kindness of strangers. The creators you read about here are in the midst of running campaigns via Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding sites to finance their original work — whether that be a comic, a TV series, a movie, or whatever else they can dream up.
When intergalactic thief Yohance finds himself in possession of a mysterious artifact known as the Ekangeni Crystal, he inadvertently ignites a race across the cosmos and uncovers a 200-year-old war. Yohance, a potentially upcoming film based on the comic series of the same name, is a personal passion project for Paul Louise-Julie, who used his publishing company Midas Monkee to launch Yohance #1 in 2016.
Louise-Julie launched a Kickstarter campaign for Yohance: The Movie on February 14, asking fans of the Yohance comics and newcomers alike to help fund an animated movie based on his original comic series. At the very least, Louise-Julie is asking for at least $60,000 in donations by March 16, which would allow him to create a short animated film based on Yohance #1. The campaign's stretch goal of $300,000, though, would provide for a feature-length film that goes beyond the comics.
“For animation, we're actually going to be using motion capture,” Louise-Julie tells SYFY WIRE. “There's this Danish company called Rokoko that has a pretty groundbreaking suit that allows you to essentially turn any room into a motion capture studio. So part of the funds are going to be going to get that and that will handle the majority of the animation. I also have some more animators to polish everything off.”
Louise-Julie, who wrote, drew, and built the Yohance series from the ground-up, dedicated Yohance #1 “to my heir and firstborn son, Sylvain Yohance Louise-Julie. May you seize this world like a prince.” With Yohance and his other series, Louise-Julie is looking to make a diverse Afro-fantasy world that can eventually leave their pages behind and hop onto the big screen.
Could you describe Yohance to me in a bit more detail, in your own words?
Yohance is an intergalactic thief, and he's very talented but at the same he's basically a rogue. He's pretty arrogant, but the way the story kicked off is that he accepts a job to go after a very particular artifact called the Ekangeni Crystal. He doesn't realize that everyone is trying to get it, including different empires and different organizations and bounty hunters… Pretty much every person in the galaxy wants it. So, obviously, it's much more valuable that he realizes, but by the time he realizes that, he's being chased across the galaxy by assassins and hit men and bounty hunters. When he finally discovers what it actually is, it turns out it's a map.
He gets tied up in this intergalactic conflict that actually stretches back to an ancient war from about 200 years ago, and there are many other hidden agendas, like different secret societies and ancient civilizations that come back. Then, on top of that, his whole world comes crashing down when he realizes that he actually has a bigger part to play in this, before he even realized that he was involved in it.
It's a pretty complex tapestry, but the interesting thing about Yohance is that, even with that very complex story, the way the viewer or reader gets into it, it's really just a fun space adventure. It's very much in the same vein as Indiana Jones or Star Wars, so it's not like a heavy, clunky story. It just sort of unravels in front of you in real time as Yohance discovers all these things.
Can you make this movie for less than $60,000?
So, it’s all or nothing?
Unfortunately, that is the minimum because the main costs would be with the animation technology, as far as the motion capture technology and the software goes. But the other huge expense is paying for talent and paying for the team that would be working on it, and then also for the facilities. We tried to cut corners as much as possible when we were putting together the budget a few months ago, but this is the absolute minimum that we can get.
Where did the original idea for Yohance stem from?
It just came from my imagination. There isn't really a team behind this— it's all me. Everything you see was created by me, and so I came to the idea after I'd already been doing about five years of research on African civilizations and African aesthetics and African empires, and I was using that research to create a fantasy world for my other comic series called The Pack, which follows a group of Egyptian werewolves.
And after I was done with that, I had this crazy idea of creating an African space opera because I always wanted to get into space opera. I watched Star Wars when I was a kid and I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if I created a space opera but based on the aesthetics and the research I've been doing?" And I already had several ideas for a space opera because I'd always wanted to do it, so I just simply merged all those ideas together, and that's how Yohance was born.
So I would say that the main influences for the story would naturally come from Star Wars, but there's a bit of Indiana Jones in there. And then I'm also a history buff, so I like stories that involve empires overthrowing each other and just overall epic medieval strife, so that stream is in there, too.
What particular African cultures are you pulling from for Yohance?
Well, Yohance is interesting because I had to create an entire universe of different cultures.
So basically, [I created a] different aesthetic for each empire, and within each empire, the real-life sources would be very specific. So for instance, Yohance’s people in the comics are called the Makeda. Now, the Makeda design palette was heavily influenced by the Bambara people in modern day Mali, and there are elements of Zulu in there and a few elements of Dogon, as well. Then, in contrast, you have the Kinzane Empire who are the guys with the red armor. They're heavily influenced by the Benin kingdom in modern day Nigeria, and there are also elements of Yoruba in there, as well, from Nigeria.
Then there are other, throughout the series, there are other cultures that are also very different, but the thing is, every little detail in Yohance, from the props to the characters, to the way they look, to the textiles, to the buildings, to the shapes, everything comes from African sources. There's actually nothing that hasn't been sourced from an African aesthetic source, from a design point of view. So as a result, the world feels completely alien, but at the same time very familiar to those who have seen African aesthetics.
You said Star Wars was a big influence for you. Are there any Afrofuturist titles or projects that have inspired you? Or was it just your own research into individual African cultures?
Well, as far as African projects, no, because the overall story came entirely from my imagination. It's something that I've been thinking about ever since I was a kid, what I would do for my own space opera. I tried to keep it as unique as possible and not just make it derivative of many other projects. So to answer your question, no, there aren’t any African projects that I took inspiration from.
The part that is African is really the aesthetic and the world building and designing the language for creating a backdrop for that story. And then, as a result, what you get is an African space opera. I was very careful to make sure that I didn't just make a space opera for the sake of having an African space opera. The African aspect is very unique to it; it’s based in Afrofuturism, but I wanted to make sure that the story itself was as unique as possible. It comes from a very personal place, [from my imagination]. So I actually tried to tune out as many stories as possible.
There's a lot of discussion in the media right now and online about Afrofuturism after Black Panther. What's it like to see Afrofuturism and intelligent conversations about it rise in mainstream popularity?
Well, I personally haven't got any mainstream popularity yet.
As far as seeing a mainstream interest in Afrofuturism in general, it's exhilarating. It's very exciting because I've been doing this since for a while… but as far as Yohance is concerned, it hasn't really been able to cross over from a niche demographic. So to see this worldwide hype for Black Panther and see, "Hey, people didn't realize that they wanted this."
It wasn't a question of them not being interested, they didn't even realize that they wanted something like this, and now you've awakened this hunger. They want more.
So it's very exciting, but at the same time only if that hype will cross over into recognizing or discovering that there have been other people that have been creating [in this] genre from the beginning. It's totally awesome to support Black Panther, but if we can support indie creators who are creating quality content on the same level, then we won't just have one franchise, we'll have an entire genre across several medias. So it's a combination of excitement, but a little bit of anxious hope, if that makes sense.
Will the short film or full-length feature be a perfect recreation of the comics, or is it a continuation? How does it fit into the comics canon?
That's actually a very good question because if we do a short film, the short film will be a pretty accurate full adaptation of the first issue of Yohance. So the first issue that you read right there, that's essentially the core of the story right there.
However, if we make a feature film, the script for it is already written. But the feature film will be a two-hour adventure of how Yohance got to that point [in the comics], and therefore you're exploring that a little bit more. The feature film is more of an Indiana Jones-style adventure, where you get to see action-adventure and the underworlds and the bounty hunters and all that — the key players of that world. Then, if that does well, we can continue on to the saga of Yohance, which is much bigger and much more dramatic. It's space-operatic as well.
The reason we decided to go that way is because the world of Yohance is so big and so elaborate. There's a lot to take in. What we want to do — which is very hard with space operas but very important — is to make sure that people are still having fun. So you want to ease them into it. That's the reason why we'd rather start with the prequel adventure. It’s still very relevant to the story and once people are familiar with that world, then we can jump into the meatier story for sequels. Because the idea is to create a franchise, a bunch of sequels, and, eventually, a cinematic universe.
Like a Marvel Studios-style cinematic universe?
Yes. If we get this film done, then this will essentially be the Iron Man to our Marvel Studios.
There's an Afro-Caribbean space opera, there's a '70s Heavy Metal [story], there's a space story called Rains of Dara, and then there's another one that’s really more of a space-vigilante, superhero-type of story on a jungle planet.
Now, the thing is that every single one of those are inspired by Afro-fantasy and every one of those stories is centered around a black female heroine, and one of the things that I'm really trying to create is an entire universe where we have a diverse variety of black female leads to balance out what we already have. I'm just very excited for that because the moment that we get the green light for this via funding, then we can bring all those other things to life, too.