Lion Forge and Oni Press Plan to Merge
File this under a “wow, never saw that coming” label, similar to the IDW/Top Shelf acquisition news four years ago. The New York Times is reporting that Lion Forge and Oni Press will announce later today that they plan to merge as an example of how “smaller publishers are adopting new business strategies to better compete.”
The move, the companies say, will strengthen their library of original comics and graphic novels and help them to leverage their characters on other media platforms, including animation and film.
Because it’s not a comic news announcement these days without that media option tag!
Lion Forge, founded in 2011, has a burgeoning superhero universe, Catalyst Prime, with a focus on diverse characters and some solid talent attached, as well as a growing set of imprints aimed at younger readers (many which feature translated European comics). They acquired Magnetic in 2016, which focuses on international works translated for a US audience. They’ve also just launched a gaming-focused imprint, Quillion. Unusual for a comic company, they’re headquartered in St. Louis.
Oni Press was founded in 1997. Although it publishes sequential issues, many of which are licensed publications such as Rick and Morty and Invader Zim, its strength has been graphic novels, with both popular sellers (Scott Pilgrim) and award winners. They also have a substantial focus on comics for young readers. Their most interesting effort, in my opinion, has been the Limerence Press imprint, which features erotica and sex education books, and which I hope continues.
The two companies want to expand content to other platforms, and the publishing will be run out of Portland, Oni’s home base. “James Lucas Jones, publisher of Oni, will be president and publisher of the new enterprise…. The merger will combine assets from both companies and require an examination of staff levels — just over 20 at Lion Forge and just under 20 at Oni.” That means some good people are going to lose jobs, as already happened at Lion Forge late last year.
One of the Lion Forge co-founders has set up another media company that has just started an animation studio (and which owns the comic news website The Beat). With the publishing moving away from Lion Forge’s home base, and the new company looking for “areas of growth”, it will be interesting to see which of the Lion Forge comics survive, and under what label the titles will be published.
The article goes on to mention several other new comic publishers, including Ahoy and TKO, as well as noting that observers see there being too many comic titles put out these days.
Update: Christina “Steenz” Stewart, who was an associate editor at Lion Forge and launched Rolled & Told for them, has tweeted that she “no longer ha[s] a Lion Forge email.”
Others have pointed out that omitting discussion of the sheer scope and success of the graphic novel market for kids is an odd oversight in the superhero-focused article that broke this news.