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What is going on with: Oni Press, Comixology, Substack???

The week's new has left many people asking "wha hoppen?"

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Goonies © 1985 - Warner Bros.

It’s been a tumultuous week in comics. Lots of people are (happily) changing jobs, and at least one much loved comics company is undergoing a reorganization.

• Let’s start with an easy one first: gotta admit, I missed this one and so did a lot of folks, but Chris Arrant at Popverse spotted that Comixology founder David Steinberger announced he is leaving Amazon. A whole 10 days ago he tweeted:

Have you ever gotten that promotion you always wanted and then realized: wait a minute, this isn’t really what I wanted? Well, that happened to me. So I wanted everyone to know that I’ve left Amazon to get back to my entrepreneurial roots. More soon!

Back in March, Steinberger announced he was leaving Comixology to head up a new initiative within Amazon, but now he seems to be more interested in what his Linked-In page calls “Stealth Mode.”

Steinberger is a serial entrepreneur who won the space race for digital comics with Comixology, and then the “get acquired” race when it was purchased by Amazon. So it’s not surprising to see him cooking up something new, even as Comixology itself has been mostly absorbed as part of Kindle’s digital offerings.

• Okay so that gave a little more context to the story of Chip Mosher leaving Comixology, as well, just announced earlier this week. Is Mosher also bound for Stealth Mode? That doesn’t seem to be an imminent move, from what I’m hearing. But where Mosher lands has been a VERY hot topic among industry insiders this week. He will certainly be missed by creators, as this love letter from Chip Zdarsky makes clear.

• And where does that leave the Comixology brand? They are definitely having a booth at San Diego Comic-Con, which kicks off in less than three weeks. And Originals, the creator owned line that Mosher headed up, is plugging along for the foreseeable future under new head Bryce Gold. 

• Of course, the biggest industry chatter this week was reserved for what is going on at Oni Press, as in WHAT IS GOING ON AT ONI PRESS??? The removal of the top two executives at the company left observers and freelancers shocked and puzzled. As of this writing, there is no clarity as to who will be taking over running the company, although Chris Arrant (again) points out the three top execs remaining are Steve Ellis (senior VP of games and operations), Alex Segura (senior VP of marketing & sales), and Michelle Nguyen (associate publisher).

The timing of the departure of Jones and Chu coincided with several news stories about ongoing legal maneuverings against Oni’s book Gender Queer, and some on social media were quick to connect the two. However, I’m told that they are not directly related. Prior to their response to the petition, Oni had mostly been silent on all the attacks on Gender Queer, but in my annual library piece for Publishers Weekly, they did go on the record, stating:

Tara Lehmann, Oni’s director of publicity, says that “selling more copies doesn’t fix the intrinsic problem: people are trying to police what others read. We are against the banning of books, of any kind.” She adds that Oni supports schools, libraries, and organizations as best it can, but “our main focus is being supportive of Maia and making sure we’re doing the most we can to ensure Gender Queer is available to any and all people who want to read it.”

That still leaves the mystery of why Jones and Chu left. Oni has had some staff churn in recent months. In April, Director of Sales Margot Wood left to join TKO Studios as vp of sales; and she was soon joined by special projects manager Amber O’Neill, who is now Special Projects and Operations Manager at TKO. Senior Editor Robert Meyer, who ran licensed publishing, left the company in the spring, according to his Linked In page, and another senior editor, Shawna Gore, now works for Oni on a freelance basis. Director of publicity Tara Lehmann just announced her departure today.

Another speculation about Oni is that is it up for sale; although the SPAC wave and acquisitions craze seems to have died down, IP is still a valuable commodity, and with a Scott Pilgrim cartoon on the way, that property continues to be a backlist champ.

Yet another spanner was thrown into the chaos when Oni freelancer (and former Lion Forge editor) Christina “Steenz” Stewart ominously tweeted:

 

I know a lot of people are cheering on Oni Press to have Maia’s back while GenderQueer is being challenged and now hit with a lawsuit. But if you are an Oni Press creator you NEED to ask for your royalty statements and make sure you’re not missing a dime.

Haven’t gotten a royalty statement but you’re books already been published? Don’t wait, email them. Waiting longer than 30 days to get paid? Don’t wait, email them. If your editor or contact person has been fired, dm me and I’ll give you the most updated email contact.

We can support Maia and GenderQueer but we can’t look past the fact that Oni Press isn’t paying their royalties.

Steenz is the artist on the award winning OGN Archival Quality, published by Oni back in 2018.  Several Oni creators responded to her tweets with their own complaints.

At any rate, there will be a lot more to come on Oni’s reorganization in the weeks to come.

• Finally, some grim tidings at Substack this week, with 13 of its 90 employees getting laid off, following a failure to get more VC funding last month. The layoffs affected mostly support staff, and reflected a plan to get by on their actual profits.

Mr. Best told employees on Wednesday that Substack had decided to cut jobs so it could fund its operations from its own revenue without raising additional financing in a difficult market, according to the person with knowledge of the discussion. He said he wanted the company to seek funding from a position of strength if it decided to raise again.

In his remarks to employees, Mr. Best said the company’s revenues were increasing. He noted that Substack still had money in the bank and was continuing to hire, albeit at a slower place, the person said. Mr. Best said the cuts would allow the company to hone its focus on product and engineering.

The layoffs don’t seem to have directly touched Substack’s comics publishing program – the way the deals are set up,  each Substack publisher also pluckily relies on their own income in the second year of the deal. The sizable grants – which lured some of comics biggest names to the platform – are a one time thing, and have already been paid out. And based on our busy in box, the comics seem to be coming out on a regular basis.

That’s it for now…for a more conventional comings and going check out our next post.

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