The Beat has learned that publisher James Lucas Jones and vp of creative & business development Charlie Chu are no longer at Oni Press. Who will run the company is not clear – nor whether they will still be celebrating their 25th Anniversary at San Diego Comic Con in a few weeks.
Jones had been at Oni for 18 years, rising from editor in chief to publisher. Chu was at the company from 2010 onwards.
Reached for comment, a OLFPG spokesperson told The Beat “Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, LLC, recently made personnel changes and will continue in its mission of publishing groundbreaking stories by the best creators in the industry, with a focus on diverse, inclusive, and unique stories.”
Oni was acquired by publisher Lion Forge/Polarity in 2019, although the deal was positioned as a merger, wich Jones taking over both publishers. The combined entity, technically known as Oni–Lion Forge Publishing Group, immediately drew criticism following the merger for laying off a significant part of its staff, including many female, queer, disabled and POC staff. Editor in Chief Sarah Gaydos stepped down about a year later, which was positioned as a mutual parting of the ways.
OLFPG is a subsidiary of Polarity, an entertainment media company which also owns Lion Forge Animation, and, formerly, The Beat.
In recent months, Oni had mostly been in the news over the continued persecution by right wing activists of Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer, originally published by Lion Forge, which has been the target of library removals, and an obscenity lawsuit in Virginia, as reported by Publishers Weekly. As usually follows such controversy, Gender Queer has been a hot seller for Oni, with a deluxe edition just released.
Ironically, only last week OLFPG was just the subject of a glowing write in Publishers Weekly, with Jones explaining how the company had come out of the pandemic in strong fashion.
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.”
Without getting to tin foil hatted about this, the timing of the profile is certainly odd – although presenting Oni’s many assets as a way to boost their viability for acquisition seems to be the simplest motivation.
The reasoning behind the removal and the future of Oni/Lion Forge remains very much a work in progress. The Beat will update this story as we learn more.