Oni Press Merges With Lion Forge (Updated)
Oni Press is merging with Lion Forge. The announcement makes it seem that Lion Forge’s parent company, Polarity, is purchasing Oni Press, but the move is being marketed as a merger. I’m still trying to determine what this news means. Lion Forge, while aggressive in its market strategy, hasn’t been a major player in the comics industry. Oni has a twenty-plus year history of publishing, including many award-winning comics. Unfortunately, recent years have not seen Oni have a sizable market share, holding about one-half of one percent of the market.
UPDATE: Going through my Twitter feed, I have noticed that around forty people have been laid off as a result of this merger. Unfortunately, it seems that a disproportionate share of them are people of color and/or LGBTQ. Given that Lion Forge has promoted itself as a safe haven for that type of content, it seems unfortunate that the staff of the new company formed by this merger will not be as inclusive. Among those laid off are Lion Forge editor Christina “Steenz” Stewart, Oni Director of Publicity Melissa Meszaros, and Oni Editor Desiree Wilson.
The new company will be based in Portland, which has a reputation for lacking diversity. In the last census, 76% of the population was white, and only 6.3% of it was African-American a drop from twenty years earlier. Given with the elimination of so many POC, the relocation to a city with real gentrification issues is troubling. The silence from Lion Forge and parent company Polarity is shocking given the blowback this merger is causing.
Here is the initial press release announcing the merger.
Lion Forge and Oni Press announce a merger which will set the two companies on a path to becoming the premier destination for original graphic storytelling, gaming, entertainment, and more. Polarity, the parent company of Lion Forge, will become the majority owner of the new combined entity, with James Lucas Jones serving as president and publisher and the ONI team leading creative and business operations.
The combination of the two companies creates a leading industry player focused on creator-owned, cutting-edge licensed partnerships and original content. Both companies are renowned for engaging diverse and under-served audiences. “We want to build on our strength as a go-to destination for creators, grow our culture as an employee-first organization, and reinforce our commitment to our industry partners and friends,” said James Lucas Jones. “In an increasingly competitive marketplace, where the business of comics and graphic novels is rapidly evolving, this merger is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our two companies to pool our resources for one goal: to create the finest comics and graphic novels for everyone.”
“What the team at Oni has built over the past 20 years is not only remarkable, but aspirational” says David Steward II, CEO of Polarity, and co-founder of Lion Forge. “When we first approached Joe (Nozemack), James, and Charlie (Chu) about the idea of working together, we hoped it would be a natural fit, as our shared mission is to bring diverse content to a global audience. The more we spoke, the more the relationship evolved to the point that we knew our combined experience and resources would align to achieve that goal and advance our unique position in the marketplace.”
“This exciting partnership promises to supercharge Oni’s efforts in navigating all facets of media and gaming, with publishing and advocating for creators still at the core of our values,” says Charlie Chu, EVP of creative and business development. “As always, we are committed to working with a vibrant and diverse roster of creators and being the best partner in comics, graphic novels, and beyond.”
The deal, which streamlines and concentrates the editorial, marketing, production and operations in Portland, OR, was orchestrated by Polarity president, Edward Hamati, who oversees administration and corporate development for Polarity. “Over the last year, we at Polarity have been significantly focused on review and enhancement of the portfolio. We put a premium on alignment of talent and objectives. We were very impressed with the culture established at Oni, which continues with James, Charlie, Sarah (Gaydos) and Margot (Wood) leading the team.”
As part of this transition, Joe Nozemack is stepping down as president and will move to a board and advisory role with the company. “We wanted to respect the legacy of Joe’s efforts as founder, and we value his partnership,” says Hamati.
“Oni Press was started with the mission to publish comics and graphic novels that would appeal to a diverse group of readers and broaden the audience for the medium. 20 years later, I couldn’t be prouder of the books we’ve published and the wide array of new readers and creators who have joined our community,” says Oni founder, Joe Nozemack. “It was obvious from our first meeting that the Polarity/Lion Forge team had these same passions and goals as the Oni Press team. And I have complete faith that the pairing of the two is going to continue that mission to make sure that there is an authentic and inspiring comic book for any and everyone who wants to join the comic-book faithful.”
Joe’s sentiments are echoed by Sarah Gaydos, who will be serving as editor in chief of the new company. “With our ability to target and develop talent, first-rate editorial guardianship and production of books, and sales and marketing expertise under HarperCollins alum Margot Wood, we’ll be getting incredible, inclusive comics into even more hands. We will be the destination for creators who are looking for our high level of editorial curation,”
From an entertainment perspective, Oni’s current entertainment efforts (“Oni Entertainment”) were established to champion creator-owned properties in other media and the Hollywood market. These efforts will bring significant value to the combined entity’s portfolio and commitment to supporting creator-owned content. “Since we founded Lion Forge, we have always had ambitions around character development and the search for new audiences – this deal will enhance our brands and efforts in that direction,” says Lion Forge co-founder, Carl Reed.
Additional information on the companies’ respective output and consolidation will be announced in the coming weeks.