Lion Forge And Oni Press Announce Historic Merger

by Hannah Means Shannon

It’s never small news when publishers decide to join forces in comics, or when an imprint moves from one publisher to another. In this case, it’s the more surprising case of a full merger between two indie comics publishers, both of whom have established significant catalogs.

Oni Press has been a consistent force in publishing for over 20 years, and while they have grown considerably over that time, they’ve kept a tight grip on the pace of that growth, making sure it didn’t exceed their ability to keep the quality of their books high for readers.

In the context of indie publishers, Lion Forge are newer, and have gone through several periods of extensive change as they established an identity focusing on all-ages comics and graphic novels, children’s books, and a line of shared universe superhero comics. Over the winter, they streamlined by laying off a significant number of staff members, too, perhaps preparing the way for this merger.

The news was released in the New York Times today, and the revelation was presented with a great deal of positivity, focusing on the ability of two indie publishers to, together, take on the dominant claims of the Big Two in the comic book market. There is no doubt that merging Oni and Lion Forge’s catalogs will create a force to be reckoned with. Both publishers have also faced a lot of competition from other indie publishers, like Image, Dark Horse, and IDW, or even Valiant regarding superhero titles. Bringing their titles under one umbrella will increase brand recognition and potentially, their presence in bookstores and in the book market, which has steadily become the backbone of comic publishers in recent years.

The NYT announcement also hints that the growth of cross-media property potential is also at work in this merger, and it’s true that generating the capital to launch TV and film properties is often a mountain for smaller publishers to climb, even if they have very attractive properties waiting for live action or animation development. Take Dark Horse’s partnership for this same reason–to have greater autonomy and voice in the media development of a company’s properties.

What will the practical changes for both companies be? That remains a little ambiguous right now, though the company will be run from the Oni Press headquarters in Portland, Oregon, and James Lucas Jones, publisher of Oni, will be president and publisher of the new company.

Regarding staff, the announce hints at an “examination of staff levels”, with 20 Oni Press staff members currently, and the same for Lion Forge. Hopefully that will mean adding more staff, rather than further layoffs.

Whatever the most prominent reasons for this merger may be, we’ll be watching the outcome with great interest. Indie publishers coming together under one umbrella is something that Image Comics pioneered, while maintaining separate studios that worked like imprints. It remains to be seen to what degree existing lines and imprints will continue to exist in the new paradigm.

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