In a move that marks continuing growth and change in the U.S. comics market, independent comics publishers Lion Forge and Oni Press will merge under the majority ownership of Polarity, a newly formed media entertainment entity launched by Lion Forge cofounder Dave Steward II in 2018.
Under the merger, Oni Press publisher James Lucas Jones will serve as president and publisher of the combined Lion Forge/Oni Press entity. Oni founder Joe Nozemack is stepping down as president and will join the new entity’s board and serve in an advisory role.
Lion Forge publicist Jeremy Atkins also confirmed there have been “staff reductions” and layoffs as a result of the merger. Some Lion Forge staff, he said, were offered positions "within the Oni structure" in Portland and others were offered positions "within the Polarity umbrella," which encompasses a number of companies. In addition, he said “some positions were eliminated outright or consolidated.”
The merger has led to about nine layoffs combined from Lion Forge and Oni Press. Two of Lion Forge’s best known staffers are leaving. Atkins confirmed that Andrea Colvin, v-p, editor-in-chief of Lion Forge, who developed and oversaw Lion Forge’s Cubhouse, Roar and Caracal young reader imprints has left; and (according to her Twitter account), Christina “Steenz” Stewart, Lion Forge associate editor, has been laid off.
In addition it has been confirmed that Lion Forge editors Amanda Meadows and Jasmine Amari have been laid off, and at Oni, editor Desiree Wilson, publicity director Melissa Meszaros and staffer Scott Sharkey.
Many of the staff laid off are people of color, queer, or both, which has sparked a backlash on social media against both publishers, in light of the houses' past promotional claims to represent those communities.
PW will continue to update the list of layoffs and staff reductions as the number and specific people are confirmed.
Other questions remain about the new Lion Forge/Oni Press publishing structure. Will both lines remain separate and distinct imprints under Polarity? Atkins also said distribution to the book trade is “to be determined" adding that the company is "looking at our respective distribution models" to make the best decision for "maximum penetration across markets." Lion Forge is distributed to the book trade by Diamond Book Distributors and Oni Press titles are handled by Simon & Schuster.
Both Lion Forge, whose corporate mission is focused on “Comics for Everyone,” and Oni Press are noted for publishing comics and graphic novels aimed at women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, in an effort to appeal to a new generation of fans in a changing market for comics.
Jones said the newly combined company is focused on creating a major entertainment industry entity that can deliver a wide range of popular content designed for diverse audiences. Jones said, “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. We want to build on our strength as a go-to destination for creators.”
The deal will also move all Lion Forge/Oni Press editorial, marketing, and production operations to Portland, Ore. where Oni Press is based. Lion Forge is based St. Louis, although some members of Lion Forge's staff are also located in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The Oni Press editorial and management team, which includes Charlie Chu, Oni executive v-p of creative development, Sarah Gaydos, Oni editor-in-chief, and Margot Wood, Oni director of sales, will be responsible for all creative and business operations of the newly created publishing company.
Polarity president Ed Hamati oversaw the merger as well as the consolidation of companies under Polarity. Polarity will manage a newly constituted roster of pop culture content companies that include Lion Forge Animation, the Neon Metropolis music label, and comics news and culture website The Beat.
The Lion Forge/Oni deal comes about six months after Lion Forge was forced to layoff about 12 staffers. Despite that setback, this new agreement also reflects the growing sales of graphic novels as well as the new ventures and new investment currently focused on graphic novel publishing. The last year has seen the launch of several new graphic novel companies with varying business models, among then, TKO Studios, Artists, Writers and Artisans, Ahoy Comics, and A Wave Blue World.
Lion Forge cofounder and Polarity CEO David Steward II said when he first approached the Oni team about combining forces, “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.”
Update: the number and names of staffers laid off from both companies have been added to this story.
Correction: the name of an Oni staff member was misspelled and the job title of a Lion Forge staffer was incorrectly noted in an earlier version of this story.