NYCC ’17: Oni Press’ 20th Anniversary Panel Looks To The Past And The Future

by James Ferguson

Oni Press celebrated its 20th anniversary early at New York Comic Con. Although the first Oni title, Bad Boy from Frank Miller and Simon Bisley wasn’t released until December 1997, it was around this time that the publisher first started marketing the title and appearing in Previews. The Oni Press panel was moderated by Oni Press Publisher James Lucas Jones and featured Sarah Graley (Kim Reaper), Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin, Night’s Dominion), Yoko Ota & Ananth Hirsh (Lucky Penny, Our Cats are More Famous Than Us), and Yehudi Mercado (Sci-Fu).

Jones opened the panel by announcing Spectacle, a new webcomic beginning today. It’s a supernatural mystery set at a carnival by Megan Rose Gedris. It will be updated three times a week at SpectacleComic.com where you can read the book for free. If you don’t want to wait, you can pick up digital issues beginning next week. It will be collected in print some time next year. The first season will last about nine months online and Gedris is already pretty far ahead in the series.

Naifeh spoke about Courtney Crumrin, which Jones called “one of the crown jewels” in the Oni library. The series follows a grump, withdrawn pre-teen who discovers witchcraft and fantasy creatures and fits right in. Naifeh’s other series, Night’s Dominion, is currently in the midst of its second volume which began in August. He described it by saying “It starts out like a D&D campaign and ends up as the Avengers.”

Oni Press will be releasing a special Tales from Johnny Wander one-shot as part of Local Comic Shop Day. It collects material from Hirsh and Ota that was previously posted on their site. These were short comics that were created as a way for them to challenge themselves. The character on the cover is Cecilia after going on a blind date with Death, she receives the Kiss of Death. It turns her hand into a skeleton and she basically becomes immortal. Cecilia is a favorite of Hirsh and Ota. They’ve snuck her into a few other titles.

Jones announced that Kim Reaper would be returning in the Fall of 2018 for a second volume as part of Oni Press’ 20th anniversary slate. The first volume, starring a part-time grim reaper and the girl who loves her, is slated for release in February. It’s a really fun book by Graley.

Mercado spoke about Sci-Fu, his upcoming graphic novel set to debut in March 2018. It’s an all-ages title that blends hip hop, kung fu, and sci-fi. The idea for it came after Mercado was watching the documentary, Scratched about DJs. It featured a scene where Mix Master Mike talked about scratching late one night and looking up to see a UFO. In Sci-Fi, the main character scratches a perfect beat that summons a UFO. He summed up the series as part Wizard of Oz, part Spirited Away, with a Run DMC soundtrack.

The announcements were wrapped up with a brief discussion about Oni Games. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game debuted at retail this week. The publisher has been sharing it with fans throughout the summer at a number of conventions. Fans in attendance have a chance to check it out first hand and pick up an NYCC exclusive version at the Oni Press Booth. Jones said the game balances different elements of the Scott Pilgrim universe, creating a game that’s part head-to-head battle, part resource management, and part dating simulator.

The final announcement was that Oni Games would be partnering with Renegade Game Studios once again to create a card game based on The Tea Dragon Society. The book is launching at NYCC and there’s a special Chamomile plush bundle available. If you’re at the show and want it, you’d better act fast because they’re moving. Anything leftover will be put online, but Jones was not confident there would be much available.

A brief 1997 trivia game was played and fans who answered pop culture questions correctly took home Oni Press graphic novels. One lucky fan got a special skateboard featuring a character from Sci-Fu.

The panel was then opened up to Q&A. A fan asked what the thread was that connected the Oni Press of 1997 and the Oni Press of 2017. Jones said that they have a belief that there is a comic for every person. This has led them to increase the variety of their content. In the end, it’s about putting creators and characters first.

Another fan asked about the open submissions that Oni Press held a year or two ago. Jones said they were thrilled with the response and will probably open them up again at some point. It was a great opportunity to inject some new blood into their talent pool. Oni picked up over 10 projects from the open submissions and they’ll be released over the next two years. The first one to see the light of day was Space Battle Lunchtime and the publisher has made a long term investment with the creator on future projects.

Mercado was asked if he sought advice from any DJs for Sci-Fu. He did not, however he would listen to the Backspin channel on Sirius XM while creating. A follow up was asked about the setting of the book in Brooklyn and not the Bronx. Mercado said he has plans for the other boroughs. The main character in Sci-Fu lives in the building on the cover of Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys.

Jones was asked if Spectacle was Oni Press’ first webcomic. He said they’ve worked with several creators that have first published web comics, three of which were on the panel at the time. Spectacle will probably be the first of many titles published this way.

Graley was asked about the difference in working on her webcomics and working at Oni Press. She said the main difference is having an editor. In the past, she’d push a page out and then realize she had to make changes to it. Now they’re done in chunks.

A fan asked Naifeh if he was a D&D player. He said he was as a kid, but drawing comics takes away a lot of time, so unfortunately, he couldn’t keep playing.

Jones asked Graley what her character Becka’s goth icons were. She asked if Gerard Way counts. As a kid, she loved My Chemical Romance but later dated someone who said they were lame. Now, she’s an adult and is playing it up in Spotify along with some Fall Out Boy. Jones related to this saying he has a 14 year old daughter who just went down the My Chemical Romance rabbit hole. “Hell is an hour in Hot Topic with a 14 year old.” Naifeh added “This is how old I am. I heard my first My Chemical Romance song last night at karaoke.”

Someone asked how creators use social media to promote their work. Mercado said he tries to post once a day, usually with some art or a time lapse video. Ota said she’s found it’s easier to directly connect with people, especially since they post web content first and foremost. They’ve built a lot off of social media. Graley pushes her webcomics through social media and her boyfriend has become a pseudo-admin to make sure something is posted every day. Jones added that social media is where they first found a number of creators, including Graley. Naifeh pointed out that creators spend most of their time at a desk working so they’re not social people by nature.

I asked the final question of the panel, inquiring as to who drew the fashionable Twitter avatars sported by Oni Press staff. It turns out they’re drawn by Graley. Jones said they commission portraits every year or so. John Allison has done them previously.