Tell us a bit about yourself
I am often stumped when asked this question because my vocabulary is not refined enough to capture the essence of my being in words when stripped of social and professional affiliations. I was born in Nigeria and spent a decade and a half living there before moving to Canada to advance my higher education. Family members might describe me as spirited. Close friends might describe me as passionate and sociable. Striking new additions to the list are creative and resourceful. What do I think? I would say I’m just me - a dreamer perhaps who seriously believes in his dreams. My name is Okimi Peters.
When did you start writing?
Quite honestly I never had the remote inclination to write as a child. In fact, I despised writing – it was torture. For most of my early life I overindulged the more scientific part of my mind – it just so happened to come more naturally to me. Anything that required writing of any sorts, including short answer questions on exams, was comparable to the grating sound of nails running across a chalkboard. This however would take an unusual turn once I commenced a Masters of applied science program at McGill University in Canada. I am not quite sure if it was the growing maturity, a sincere desire to express an untapped part of my being or the sheer volume of papers that were required to complete the program that sparked my passion for writing; but it has since become an inseparable part of my being – an undying love. Prior to commencing my studies to become a physician at the University of Toronto in Canada, I had the opportunity to interview at the Yale school of Medicine. This certainly was a defining moment in my appreciation for writing. The interviewing doctor told me that the writing in my application was one of the best he had ever seen. Perhaps I need not say more but it was the best unsolicited compliment I had ever received. Nonetheless, it would take another year to fully embrace the craft and officially begin composing my first piece of art, a masterpiece of sorts – The Dawn of the Patriot. Little did I know that the next three years would be spent creating the story.
What is the significance of writing to you?
Writing is like painting – an expression of self - the art of portraying the hidden nebulous realm of the mind in a coherent form that can be shared with others. Seeing as we are each independent islands of thought and we only have direct access to the contents of our own minds, writing then is inherently an intimate process – an open invitation for others to share in your lens of the world. Writing allows the freedom to convey thoughts in a creative and engaging way.
Tell us a bit about the storyline
Dawn of the Patriot is a story about a young boy’s journey to self-discovery in contemporary Africa. It explores the original notion of what it means to be a hero in Africa – not so much in the sense of a person with supernatural powers but in a more grounded way – a regular human being with imperfections who learns to harness the light within – an immeasurable willpower - to overcome adversity in the daring context of Nigeria. It is a story about hope - overcoming adversity even when all hope seems lost.
What inspired you to create the DOTP franchise?
The concept of a hero character in Africa came to me in 2011 during a casual conversation with close friends in Toronto. After a couple of games of pick-up basketball we decided to stop for some Asian cuisine. We were quite exhausted but decided to catch up like we usually did on weekends. We randomly began talking about the slew of superhero franchise movies that were being released at the time. We talked about Captain America, the Dark Knight, Spiderman and Superman movies with mixed reviews but mostly with endorsement. Considering we grew up watching these characters as kids and idolized them, we were excited to see them on the big screen.
Without much thought I asked what an authentic superhero in Africa would be like. What came next was quite telling. We all suddenly paused and gave each other a genuine look of discontent then burst out laughing. It felt like I had just asked a formidable rhetorical question. A hero from Africa did not deserve to share a conversation in which Batman was being discussed. “What would be his unique talent anyway: Throwing oranges?” I suppose the idea of a remarkable hero character in Africa, especially in Nigeria just seemed too far-fetched given the scarring history and present day dark realities on the continent. Is it the fact that over 70 percent of the world’s poorest countries belong to Africa alone or the constant reminder in every health education class that Africa is riddled with high rates of preventable disease or the corruption, violence, crime and a glaring attitude of dishonesty permeating every level of society? When you think about Africa, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? One usually does not conceive the image of heroes, masterminds, and extraordinary people. Joke after joke and I found myself slowly retreating into my own thoughts. I felt deeply unsettled in my being. I could appreciate the use of comedic relief to make light of the topic but this was our home we were laughing about. It wasn’t so much that there wasn’t any truth to the jokes; on the contrary, I felt uneasy because the jokes, however condescending, were true. We grew up in Nigeria and we had first-hand evidence to prove it. The only problem with the single story is that it is true in the 21st Century. The quality of the vast majority of stories and productions from the continent simply cannot compete with the standards of the rest of the world – not even close on way too many levels ranging from artistry to overall philosophy on life.
As I wallowed in a pool of my thoughts, laughing on the outside but fully engaged and somewhat hurting within, it became even more apparent to me that Africa doesn’t have to be the way it is today. I realized that for the future of Africa to reveal its tamed glory, Africa will need heroes – both fictional and real – men and women who embody what it takes to rise above desolation. So I began to address the question seriously: What would a real hero in Africa be like today? Unfortunately there is a dearth of real people in African history and present day to reference. I also knew for a fact that the Bruce Wayne persona definitely wouldn’t fit the profile. I knew right away that this would have to be an original production. More importantly it would have to be a story anyone around the world, especially people of African descent, would be proud to call our own – something inspiring – something that will leave the audience hopeful – with a renewed sense of spirit and drive – with the zeal to not just survive through adversity but to deliberately overcome it even when all hope seems lost. This was not just about creating a character; it was about the future of Africa. However daunting, the choice was clear: I could either wait for the remote chance that someone else in the world would decide to create something I would be proud of or I could do it myself and bring my vision to life. It was almost instinctive. I took a leap of faith and in that moment I declared to my friends I was going to do it. Naturally they thought I was crazy to even consider the prospect. In retrospect, perhaps they were right.
Why did you choose to make DOTP a trilogy?
A trilogy allows for a richer story to be told. It allows for a smoother pace in showing the evolution of the plot and characters. For me it wasn’t enough to just create a highly entertaining fictional story, I wanted originality, depth and truth. I wanted the story of Ziik to showcase real-life challenges in Africa in the backdrop and for those challenges to be realistically addressed by the end of the trilogy in a certain sense. The first chapter of the trilogy titled Heart of Ziik is more or less an introduction and sets the foundation for all else that is to come in the story. Some fascinating ideas and plot twists simply cannot be given the clarity and attention they deserve without first introducing their root precedents. Dawn of the Patriot: Heart of Ziik is now available.
What is the philosophy behind the story based on?
Unlike works of fantasy that allow an author fabricate the rules of reality to suit their plots; realistic fiction requires an understanding of how the real world actually works. What’s the big deal? It might sound trivial until one comes to appreciate that till this very day in the 21st century from the beginning of human civilization, humanity largely does not understand where we are, exactly how this place works, how we got here and what brought everything into existence. This is not to suggest that we haven’t come a long way in becoming more enlightened since the caveman era. Indeed, there are roughly two types of people in this world – the ignorant and those who are aware they are ignorant. I realized very quickly I belonged to the latter group so I felt compelled to embark on an existential journey to learn - to integrate concepts from a broad array of fields ranging from physics (including classical, quantum and metaphysics), biology and neuroscience, philosophy, theology, history, politics, anthropology, sociology and the arts to help me paint a holistic picture about this mysterious place we find ourselves in – Earth and everything around it - the Universe. The insight derived from integrating these seemingly divergent fields is remarkable and cannot be attained from understanding any one field in isolation. I asked fundamental questions like: Where did the notion of morality come from? What makes an act good or evil? What is truth? Is truth dependent on culture and belief? Are all versions of truth equal? Is there a unified reference frame from which one can meaningfully interpret the diversity of belief systems in circulation today?
Consequently, I immersed myself in the works of several notable figures including Isaac Newton, Jesus, the Buddha, Socrates, Descartes, Max Planck, Prophet Mohammed, Neil’s Bohr and Einstein among several others including notable African and Chinese philosophers. Combined with insights and observations of my own I was able to gain perspective. I was able to attain the degree of enlightenment to give myself and the story the depth and authenticity I sought. Entertainment value was an important consideration in the making of DOTP but more importantly, I wanted to add something new to the dialogue. I wanted this to be an honest and unique experience for the audience.
The more I learned, the more I realized how impressive we all are as humans and how amazing this world is. At a critical point on my existential journey I came to the profound realization that contrary to the pervasive and somewhat cliché rhetoric that loudly attributes the crux of Africa’s inadequacies to corruption, that which lies at the root of the Africa’s misgivings is much more fundamental and reaches far beyond the borders of Africa alone. Nonetheless, the unique context of Africa amplifies its grip. I have attempted to subtly highlight these notions in the storyline as we advance through the trilogy.
What did you enjoy most about the creative process?
Breathing life into an idea – creating something from nothing. It’s a phenomenal experience to watch an idea make its way from the mind into reality. I have so much more respect for authors, artists and the movie industry.
Why did you choose to make it available as a graphic novel and classic novel?
These are not just two different ways of telling the same story; the DOTP experience is very different depending on which type of novel you choose to engage. Not only is the storyline different, each format has its unique strengths. The graphic novel is more visually appealing while the classic novel, like conventional novels, is more engaging of the imagination. I am very proud of both products with a slight skew towards the graphic novel.
How did you decide what medium to use in telling the story?
My vision was to create the DOTP story for the big screen – a production that could rival the best of Hollywood movies. To bring such a vision to life would require a budget far beyond my reach so I decided to take a more creative approach. I decided to use the more visual graphic novel format to establish filmic aesthetic and to give movie lovers and first time readers a chance to enjoy their first book. Experiencing a movie through a book was the next best thing to watching a movie.
Who is your favorite character in DOTP and why?
As the main protagonist, he is the character that lies closest to my heart. He truly embodies the gruesome journey to self-realization and the liberation that comes with it.
His name is a reflection of “the great Zik of Africa” Nnamdi Azikiwe – the first president of Nigeria. I chose to use a part of his name because he embodied a philosophy I have come to share. He is one of a handful of leaders in Africa who could see beyond the artificial divide of ethnicity and tribalism. The ideals he stood for apply to all and are not biased to any one select group of people. Although the entire world is divided into tribes, be it through race, nationalism or choosing your favorite sports team, as babies we are free from social constriction. As we age however we inevitably become socialized into the artificial reality and norms of the people in the region we are born into. The thing is, many of us live our entire lives without ever coming to realize there is more beyond our socialized bubble of reality – conflict often stems from this in Africa. In fact, we are not truly free until we come to that realization. At that time our true journey through life begins.
Tell us about the villains
Everyone loves a hero but sometimes the fine line between hero and villain is only a matter of perspective. Hero and villain are like yin and yang – they complement one another. The villains in DOTP are in many ways even more impressive than the Eagle. This was deliberate. I think it is actually the quality of the villain that makes the production not so much the hero. Moreover, an impressive villain requires the hero to rise to an even more impressive state of self-resolution to triumph, should that be the case. The villains in DOTP will leave you thirsty for more of their spark. They are some of the greatest villains African literature will ever see.
What was the most challenging aspect of the creative process?
I wanted every single thought, line and emotion from each character to be genuine so I immersed myself in each of their shoes. Seeing the world from the eyes of another can be an emotionally, physically and intellectually draining process. It can also be psychologically tasking. Nonetheless, I had to allow myself see through the eyes of all the characters to empathize with their unique contribution to the story as a whole.
What do you want the audience to take away from DOTP: Heart of Ziik?
You know that feeling of rejuvenation you have after watching an inspiring movie or reading a good book? The one that has you renewed in faith and spirit and makes you feel like you can go out there again and face the world - face your greatest fears – overcome your greatest obstacles? Yeah, that’s it.
What is your dream for the franchise?
I would love to see the story adapted for the big screen someday. It would also please me to have DOTP videogames, animated series and paraphernalia out there. Ultimately, I would like the story and philosophy analyzed in schools especially in Africa.
If you could pick two people you would like to read the story who would they be?
Christopher Nolan and Will Smith.
If you could have any epic music composer work on DOTP who would it be?
Any one of: Hans Zimmer, John Dreamer, Steve Jablonsky or Thomas Bergensen.
Can we expect some romance in the production?
Romance in the story is moderate and presented in a tasteful way. The female characters are equally vital in advancing the main plot.
Is this story a reflection of you?
It is often said that a writer cannot be separated from his work. My initial inclination in creating a diverse array of engaging characters, each with his or her own unique perspective on reality, was deliberately to negate the claim. I must say that the process of immersing oneself in the shoes of others – in thought processes and perspectives that may remarkably challenge one’s dearly guarded views on the world is both tasking and enlightening. Empathy truly is a virtue. Nonetheless I must concede to the claim. Indeed, one cannot be separated from his or her views, even if it’s an attempt to portray an ideal held by another. No matter how hard we try I find it humbling to recognize that we can only ultimately see through our own eyes with clarity – and sometimes even our own eyes are not clear to us.
What defines a hero/superhero in real life?
To me, a hero is a person who is not afraid to be themselves even in the face of judgment. A person who can overcome the battle within and rise above one’s limiting notions of oneself as well as limiting expectations others may project on one during the quest to self-discovery. Not an easy task. In other words, a hero is one who can attain a liberation of the spirit in a world, especially in Africa, that perhaps unintentionally encourages us all to embrace an identity of complacency and subservience.
A superhero on the other hand is a hero who achieves transcendence and deliberately chooses to use their light for the sake of others. A superhero also attains a profound level of self-control that allows him/her execute their tasks with grace.
Are there other hero stories you particularly like?
Gladiator, Dark Knight and The Matrix.
Are there any heroes you admire in real life?
Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg and Obama among others.
What do you envision for the future of Africa?
Despite its misgivings, I strongly believe in Africa. Somewhat excluded from the power-driven rat race of modern day politics, Africa is at an incredibly advantageous strategic position relatively speaking. It is often more difficult to change once deeply invested in an identity and for that alone it might pay off to be at the back of the class. Africa is still relatively new to its autonomy hence we can learn from several others who have gone before us and attempted different models of civilization. We can learn from their successes and failures. We can choose to amass all that wisdom and carve out a unique, peaceful and harmonious reality for ourselves – one we will be proud to share with all of humanity. Perhaps it’s a fool’s hope to believe in such a possibility but it is a vision for which I gladly accept to be misunderstood.
For an author whose work places emphasis on overcoming fear, what would you say is your greatest fear?
Of all the darkest of fears, mine is the fear of being misinterpreted. It defeats the point of communication. I do however recognize that it is sometimes difficult for isolated islands to hold hands, look one another in the eyes, express the unique essence of their being and have it understood exactly as it was intended to be given. One can’t touch or see the mind yet we know it exists. We cannot directly interact with our own essence let alone being able to share it accurately with someone else – words, speech and even gestures often don’t cut it. I suppose we all want to be seen for who we are and I am no exception in that regard. I am who I am nonetheless.
If you could describe the DOTP story in one word what would it be?
What does Africa mean to you?
To me, Africa is like a red rose. She is clothed in immense beauty yet humbled by her many prickles. Although I do not constrain my existence as a human being to any one geographical location per se, the ideals that have predominantly shaped my views and purpose in life come from my early-to-teenage years in my birth country, Nigeria. Many of the memories I cherish dearly today are products of my upbringing in Nigeria; but to ignore the profound challenges the country and greater continent is dealt today is to be trapped in a cloud of oblivion. The same injustices frowned upon by the rest of the world have come to be expected as pervasive norms in Africa – as though the ethics of humanity in the 21st century do not apply on the continent. This I find deeply unsettling. Africa remains the single greatest challenge to humanity of the modern era. Nonetheless, there is no place like home. I suppose a rose would not be a rose without its thorns.