On Wednesday morning, The New York Times revealed that Lion Forge Comics and Oni Press are planning to merge, which would lead to big changes for both publishers in the future. The company’s combined publishing efforts will reportedly be based out of Portland, Ore., and overseen by Oni’s publisher, James Lucas Jones, who will be president and publisher.
The article contained some hints that there would be staffing changes at both companies:
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. “We’re going to take a look at efficiencies and identify a number of areas of growth as well,” Mr. Steward [Lion Forge co-founder] said.
Now, further details confirming layoffs from both companies have emerged. Among those laid off is Andrea Colvin, Lion Forge’s editor in chief, as confirmed by Publisher’s Weekly. Associate editor Christina “Steenz” Stewart has also been laid off according to her tweets.
Can't say anything about the merger. But I'll be looking for freelance work soon. Stay tuned and thanks to everyone reaching out so far.
— Vitamin Steenz #BLM (@oheysteenz) May 8, 2019
In addition, Desiree Wilson confirmed her layoff from Oni Press shortly after news of the merger broke.
I, the only black person at Oni, just got sacked. So if you want to know if Oni cares about marginalized and POC folx, there's you're answer. https://t.co/cvFMcJdTyI
— desiree is still logged out, whew (@swindlesoiree) May 8, 2019
Lion Forge editor Jasmine Amiri and senior editor Amanda Meadows tweeted more cryptic statuses.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out, truly. I'm not sure what the future holds for me or how the chips will fall during this merger. But I will share more info as soon as I am able to.
— Jasmine Amiri (@JasAmiri) May 8, 2019
Hey buds, I can’t say much about the merger. Not sure what will happen with me yet! Thanks to those who’ve reached out — I love y’all and hope to share more with ya soon ❤️
— Acabda Meadows (@amandonium) May 8, 2019
Oni Press warehouse assistant Scott Sharkey also tweeted that he was laid off.
So, I'm one of the people who got sacked in the wake of the clusterfuck @OniPress merger. If anyone knows anyone in need of a slightly used writer/editor/carny/accountant/bartender/warehouse monkey/blackjack dealer it'd be appreciated.
— Slanderman (@evilsharkey) May 8, 2019
This tweet from Magdalene Visaggio also seemed to confirm that Melissa Meszaros, Oni’s director of publicity, was let go:
I'd like to especially single out @melissmeszaros, who was Oni's Director of Publicity. She was a delight to work with on MORNING IN AMERICA, always responsive, always eager, always kind.
— billan ted bongus jorney (@MagsVisaggs) May 9, 2019
Meszaros’ Twitter account now lists Oni as a “past” job.
Meanwhile, several in the industry have expressed their thoughts on the merger, including Cheryl Lynn Eaton, whose thread has been widely shared. There was widespread dismay that so many editors who were women of color had been let go.
The fact that the new company will be run out of Portland, a city that is above and beyond the pale (no pun intended) abusive to black people defeats the purpose of this merger. https://t.co/VvPBOYJvom
— Cheryl Lynn Eaton (@cheryllynneaton) May 8, 2019
In a statement made to Publisher’s Weekly, Lion Forge publicist Jeremy Atkins confirmed there have been “staff reductions.”
Some Lion Forge staff, he said, were offered positions “within the Oni structure” in Portland and others were offered positions “within the Polarity umbrella,” which encompasses a number of companies. In addition, he said “some positions were eliminated outright or consolidated.”
Atkins also clarified what the merger will look like from the consumer’s perspective via Twitter.
— Jeremy Atkins (@indycred) May 8, 2019
Asked to comment on the downsizing, Oni/Lion Forge responded with this statement:
“While we do not comment on personnel matters, we do wish everyone who has worked within our organizations nothing but continued success in their careers. It is worth noting that Lion Forge and Oni each bring impressive track records of championing under-represented creators and fans with inclusive, authentic content. By combining our efforts, we get to do that powerful and important work at a whole new level, with a diverse and experienced management team, and with the leadership and ownership team that is a majority people of color. Stay tuned.”
On Thursday, Newsarama reported that Oni Press co-founder Joe Nozemack is stepping down as company president, with Jones taking over as publisher and president post-merger, as noted above.
“Oni Press was started with the mission to publish comics and graphic novels that would appeal to a diverse group of readers and broaden the audience for the medium. 20 years later, I couldn’t be prouder of the books we’ve published and the wide array of new readers and creators who have joined our community,” Nozemack said, via Newsarama. “It was obvious from our first meeting that the Polarity/Lion Forge team had these same passions and goals as the Oni Press team. And I have complete faith that the pairing of the two is going to continue that mission to make sure that there is an authentic and inspiring comic book for any and everyone who wants to join the comic-book faithful.”
The outlet further reports that Nozemack will move into an unspecified “board and advisory” role, per Polarity, Lion Forge’s parent company. Polarity also told Newsarama that Oni’s senior management team will lead the “creative and business operations” for the comics division of the newly-merged company. That team includes Sarah Gaydos as Editor in Chief, Charlie Chu as Executive VP of Creative and Business Development, and Margot Wood as Director of Sales.
Additionally, Newsarama reported on Friday that Kayra Tan, Lion Forge’s Production and Logistics Coordinator for the comics divison, was also laid off during the merger. Comics veterans Rich Johnson and Syndee Barwick reportedly left following the merger, also according to Newsarama. Both Johnson and Barwick began working with Lion Forge in 2016. Johnson, who previously founded Yen Press and worked as DC’s vice president of trade book sales for nine years and currently teaches graphic novels and publishing as an adjunct professor at two universities, was Lion Forge’s vice president of sales, marketing and business development. Barwick, who previously worked at DC for 18 years, started as Lion Forge’s director of marketing and product development before being promoted in 2018 to vice president of marketing, merchandising and product development.
Rumors of more editorial restructuring are widely circulating as the situation continues to unfold. The Beat will update this post with more details as they are received.
Lion Forge previously laid off 12 employees in November following a company-wide restructure.
According to reports, the goal of the Lion Forge and Oni Press merger is to create a more robust line of comics and graphic novels, as well as to help both companies leverage their characters to other media platforms, including animation and film. The news follows an earlier announcement that Polarity plans to launch an animation studio.
Disclosure: The Beat is owned by Polarity, which also owns Lion Forge Comics.