In a surprise move, Lion Forge Comics and Oni Press have merged, the New York Times reports. The merger will lead two of comics most prominent independent studios to join forces to face the difficult waters of the comics market -- and along the way, they will be laying off a lot of people, whose stories are likely to begin emerging in the days and weeks to come. Couched as "smaller publishers learn[ing] to adapt," the new company's hierarchy was laid out: Oni's James Lucas Jones will serve as president and publisher, with Sarah Gaydos becoming editor-in-chief. Oni's editorial team will lead "creative and business operations," according to the release, with current president and company founder Joe Nozemack moving into a board and advisory position.
While that might sound an awful lot like Oni just buying up Lion Forge, it is actually kind of the opposite: Lion Forge founder David Steward II's holding company Polarity will reportedly be the majority owner of the new company. "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," Steward said.
"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," Jones said in a statement. "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."
Oni Press, which was founded in the late '90s in Portland and has championed projects from Greg Rucka, Kevin Smith, and others, is best known for Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series. Rucka's Oni series Stumptown, produced with artist Matthew Southworth, was just picked up as a TV series starring Cobie Smulders on ABC. Lion Forge was founded in 2011 with a focus on promoting ethnically diverse characters and creators, along with licensed and young adult titles that made it notable outside of the direct market. Lion Forge will continue to be the home for "company-owned IP" and likely licensed books and the like while Oni Press will publish all of the creator-owned content distributed by the new company going forward.
The new company has already drawn fire for laying off a large number of people of color and women. "While we do not comment on personnel matters, we do wish everyone who has worked in our organizations nothing but continued success in their careers," the new company told Comicosity's Matt Santori via e-mail. "It is worth noting that Lion Forge and One each bring impressive track records of championing under-represented creators and fans with inclusive, authentic content. By combining our efforts, we get to do that powerful and important work at a whole new level, with a diverse and experienced management team, and with the leadership of an ownership team that is a majority people of color."
There are is no official statement yet regarding what comics and employees will be impacted and how by the merger (although Bleeding Cool has written a story that does a pretty good job of piecing together the clues so far). Expect more news on that as it develops.
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