Back in 1997, Joe Nozemack and Bob Schreck decided to launch an alternative comic book press where artists and writers would have full creative control of their ideas. A place where mainstream comics would be shunned, and where creative visions could be realized.
These days, Oni Press is publishing some of the best stuff out there. Its titles include Queen and Country, the story of a British female spy, and Whiteout, the tale of a woman U.S. marshal stationed in Antarctica. The Portland, Ore.— based press has cranked out 50 trade paperbacks—close to 20 published in 2002—since it began publishing. The press's editor-in-chief, Jamie S. Rich, attributes this success to an ever-growing pool of creative talent and the aforementioned policy of creator control. "We only interfere," said Rich, "if we think a book can be better."
Oni's success can be credited to an independent publisher who has recognized that the future of comics lies in the book format. "In the future," Rich said, "there's going to be a shift to the graphic novel—especially for indies. There's more interest in the complete one-story volume. The core comics audience will always collect periodicals because it is so ingrained in comic book culture. The casual comics reader likes the bound format."
Just as a viewer has the option of watching an entire season of television at once on DVD, the casual comic book reader can now pick up an entire year of a series and read it in one sitting. This means accessibility to a new kind of fan and to new growth for comics and graphic novel publishers.
Oni has teamed up with Scholastic Books in a joint project to extend its reach into the Canadian school system through the Scholastic book catalogue. Oni is offering an abridged version of Jetcat Clubhouse, Jay Stephens's all-ages comic. "We're always interested in reaching a larger audience that hasn't necessarily read our stuff," said Rich. Oni also began offering free comics (online in Adobe Acrobat format) through its Web site (www.onipress.com) two years ago. "It's the crack dealer method," quipped Nozemack. "First taste is free, you gotta buy the rest. It's been helpful as a tool to get leery fans to give a book a shot. And we can use it to show booksellers, so they can see what some of our projects are like."
Next year, Oni Press will be releasing three titles in book format: Cheat by Christine Norrie, a tale of 21st-century lust and the consequences of adultery due in February; Days Like This by J. Torres and Scott Chantler, historical fiction set in the mid-1960s about a girl pop group much like the Supremes, set for March release; and, in June, look for One Bad Day by Steve Rolston, in which a girl finds herself tangled in a criminal plot.