Early in 2020, James Lucas Jones, publisher and interim editor-in-chief of the newly formed Oni–Lion Forge Publishing Group, faced the challenge of overseeing two newly merged independent comics publishers, all while dealing with the impact of the pandemic and the shutdowns and supply chain challenges that would follow. Two years later, Jones said the new OLFPG entity continues to focus on “unique” graphic novels for children, young adults, and adult readers, in addition to publishing serialized single-issue comics (original and licensed) for the comics shop market. “We see publishing as a partnership with the amazing creators we work with,” Jones said.
OLFPG is the result of the 2019 merger of Oni Press, an independent graphic novel house marking its 25th anniversary this year, and Lion Forge, a more recent comics publishing venture, to become what is now a publishing subsidiary of Polarity, an entertainment media company created by Lion Forge founder Dave Steward II in 2018. “Having the pandemic hit so soon after the merger made branding a challenge,” Jones said, “especially as we tried to emphasize what Oni Press and sister imprints stand for while maintaining the reputations Oni Press and Lion Forge built before the merger. We’re making every effort to clarify and cement this now.”
OLFPG consists of Oni Press, its lead imprint, best known for publishing Bryan Lee O’Malley’s bestselling six-volume Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, as well as for the movie, gaming, and merchandise franchises based on it. Oni Press also consists of Limerence, a sex-positive education imprint, and Lion Forge, which features company-owned IP such as the Catalyst Prime superhero line. “A lot of people use Oni Press as a shorthand to describe the whole company, and I think many use the longer name to reflect the merger,” Jones said. “Neither is wrong. I’m part of an executive leadership team that includes our key senior department heads. We also communicate regularly with our parent company, Polarity, and coordinate and strategize on all major initiatives.”
When asked to describe the impact of the pandemic on OLFPG, Jones responded, “The world was upside down, and we had to accept that and look to protect the people that worked for and with us.” The house quickly transitioned to working remotely, and it continues to operate remotely, though some staff occasionally go to the office in Portland, Ore., as needed.
OLFPG has a staff of roughly 30 and expects to add more, Jones said. It plans to publish 40 original graphic novels in 2022 (60, counting books delayed by supply chain issues), in addition to an extensive list of periodical comics, which he noted was “consistent with our output in recent years.” OLFPG books are distributed to the trade by Simon & Schuster.
“We are well-known for our middle grade and young adult graphic novels, so it’s fair to say that they play a large role in our list every year,” Jones said. “We are seeing a growing demand for middle grade nonfiction, as well as young adult contemporary.” He added that he will be watching how trends shift because of the pandemic. Already, he explained, “we’re seeing a growing demand for genre comics outside of the superhero kind. While science fiction and fantasy have long had a shelf presence, we’re seeing a renewed and reinvigorated interest in horror and all of its subgenres.”
Jones said the house is expanding its adult line of titles with such works as Wild: Or So I Was Born to Be by Cristian Castelo, a 1970s roller derby coming-of-age story; Open Bar by Edward Medeiros, in which two friends open an unlikely bar; and Area 510 by Jay Faerber and Justin Greenwood, in which two rookie cops take on aliens. Also in the pipeline are horror offerings, including Silk Hills by Ryan Ferrier, Brian Level, and Kate Sherron, a stylish mystery set in Appalachia, and queer horror It Took Luke: Overworked & Underpaid by Mark Bouchard and Bayleigh Underwood.
Jones emphasized that “our list of queer titles continues to grow,” pointing to such graphic novels as Chef’s Kiss by Jarrett Melendez and Danica Brine and Space Trash by Jenn Woodall. He also mentioned a reworking of some of OLFPG’s most recognized and bestselling titles, such as the upcoming The Tea Dragon Society Box Set by K. O’Neill and a deluxe edition of Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which has faced coordinated efforts in some states to remove it from libraries and schools.
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Oni Press, which was founded in 1997 by Bob Schreck and Joe Nozemack, Jones said the house plans to release new editions of several classic Oni Press series, among them Whiteout by Greg Rucka, Steve Lieber, and Matt Wagner; Hopeless Savages by Jenn Van Meter, Christin Norrie, and Chynna Clugston; and Sixth Gun by Cullen Bun and Brian Hurtt. The anniversary celebration will also include new titles, specially designed single-issue comics, and events, with more plans in the works.
“We’re also actively expanding our licensing partnerships, with several big announcements that are sure to shake up things for fans of Oni Press,” Jones said. “We’re looking forward to sharing this amazing news very soon.”