Looking to attract a broader range of talent, last year indie comics publisher Oni Press announced it was opening up its content submission process to the public: For a short time, any writer, artist, or colorist could pitch a project. Over 2,500 creators answered the call, and the Oni editorial staff revealed on Thursday at Portland’s Emerald City Comic Con five of the ten titles it will publish from the project.
- Black Mage, by Daniel Barnes and DJ Kirkland, a fantasy action story about the first black student at a school for magicians.
- The Searchers, by Jonathan Hill, a story about three Asian-American siblings searching for their mother after a devastating earthquake.
- Podi, by Navin Ratnayake, Deshan Tennekoon, and Isuri Merenchi Hewage, a fantasy tale about three children who shrink to the size of ants.
- Unplugged & Unpopular, by Mat Heagerty and Tintin Pantoja, a sci-fi graphic novel about a teenager whose parents take away her electronics—leaving her the only person on earth who realizes the aliens are invading.
- Pilu of the Woods, by Mai K. Nguyen, a story about a girl who befriends a tree spirit in the woods.
These titles join Natalie Reiss's Space Battle Lunchtime, which was announced in November 2015. Four more projects from the open submissions policy will be announced at a later date. In addition, the editors compiled a shortlist of artists and colorists whom they will call on for new projects.
The purpose of the open submissions was to bring in fresh voices and encourage diversity. "It can be too easy to hire people you've worked with previously, or who come recommended by people you know," said Oni managing editor Ari Yarwood. "It's important to break out of that circle."
Oni senior editor Charlie Chu described the open submissions as "a brute force way of shocking our pool of incoming pitches and creators—we felt that the viable pitches that editorial was evaluating tended to skew heavily toward white creators and white characters."
Two editors reviewed each pitch, and if they thought it was worth discussing, they shared it with the staff. Pitches that passed that round went to the publisher for approval. It was a simple process, Yarwood said, "but the unexpected amount of submissions meant that we spent every Friday for months looking through submissions." The overall quality of was higher than they expected, the editors said.
"We found books that I wouldn't have necessarily loved from the logline, but the execution was fantastic," Yarwood said. "And there were books that had great concepts that fell short."
Chu said he was looking for a balance between "commercial and idiosyncratic" as he reviewed the pitches. "We always look for projects that don't feel like they're just retreads," he said.
Editor Robin Herrera said "I think the best pitches have this kind of spark in them where the creator has clearly nurtured the project, revised it, and is now writing about something they truly love.” For her, that book was The Searchers: "It's an adventure story with a lot of heart at its core—I could tell, just from the pitch, Hill had worked and reworked in order to get right."
Chu picked up Black Mage, which he described as "a crazy genre mash-up that's one part Blaxploitation, one part manga, all blended together with Harry Potter and Final Fantasy game references.” Chu said the pitch, “jumped out at me, because while most books dealing with diversity tend to take an awkward stab at delicately addressing racial politics, this series is super blunt about it through satire, and is hilarious and above all super fun."
Chu said all the open submissions projects will be published like any other Oni Press title. Black Mage will be published as a miniseries and then collected into a trade paperback; the other four new titles will be published as original graphic novels. The first volume of The Searchers, which is a two-volume series, will be published in 2017, while the other titles will come out in 2018.
Yarwood said that Oni will do another open submission call, but not for at least two years. "There are only four editors, and James and I also balance managerial work on top of our editorial workload," she said. "We're at capacity. However, the benefits of open submissions are clear, and we'd like to do it again in the future."