About that ONI Press / Lion Forge Comics Merger…

The New York Times wrote an unclear piece about Oni Press and Lion Forge’s plans to merge their business together:


Hoping to stand out in a crowded market dominated by the corporate giants DC Comics and Marvel Comics, smaller publishers are adopting new business strategies to better compete.

In the latest example, two independent publishers, Lion Forge and Oni Press, announced on Wednesday that they would merge. The move, the companies say, will strengthen their library of original comics and graphic novels and help them to leverage their characters on other media platforms, including animation and film.


But does this prove one, the other, or both, are doing well financially? Maybe more to the point, why does it have to hinge on adapting their wares to different mediums like cartoons and cinema? And on that note:


Comic books are an alluring market, in which consumers can engage with characters across multiple platforms, from mobile games to blockbuster films.


If we take the above on its own terms, you’d think it was only the multi-platforms anybody cared about, and less the comics themselves, even though, as they note:


“Avengers: Endgame,” the 22nd installment in Marvel’s movie franchise, crossed the $2 billion box office threshold in less than two weeks. “The Walking Dead,” a hit for AMC with another spinoff coming, is based on an Image Comics series. And Netflix is streaming “The Umbrella Academy,” about a dysfunctional family of heroes from Dark Horse Comics, and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” about a teenage witch from Archie Comics.

These adaptations have fueled growth in the comic book industry: Sales in 2018 rose $80 million from the previous year.


Yeah, but that was bound to be more by ways of the indies than the Big Two. And even then, a lot of pamphlets cost 4-plus dollars now, so even this is bound to be ambiguous, and doesn’t solve the problem of DC/Marvel destroying their properties.


Another selling point for Mr. Jones was Mr. Steward’s love for comic books. Other potential partners were more interested in leveraging comic book characters for other media, but not so much the comic books themselves.


Update: according to this report from Bounding Into Comics, both companies are laying off contributors. Something the NYT doesn’t seem to have given any attention to. Based on that, how indeed can this be considered a sign of success if Oni and Lion Forge are dropping employees?


Just like Bill Jemas and Axel Alonso’s recent venture, which certainly doesn’t seem intended for entertainment value based on the medium alone. But then, Lion Forge and Oni’s output doesn’t seem intended for everyone, despite what they say in the following:


Lion Forge’s slogan, “Comics for Everyone,” is apparent across its line of publications, which includes superhero comic books with an emphasis on diversity, an imprint for younger and middle school readers, and memoirs that delve into eating disorders and gender identity.

The inclusive mantra could also apply to Oni’s publications. Its offerings are as varied as Rick and Morty, based on an Adult Swim cartoon; Kaijumax, by Zander Cannon, which is intended for mature readers; and “A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities,” by Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg.


Granted, stories about coping with eating disorder is a topic worth writing about. But the world could use far more than stories bound to glorify LGBT propaganda, and there’s almost no chance these publishers based in ultra-leftist Oregon are willing to publish stories in disagreement with the ideology, or which might present conservative values in a positive light, or are even favorable to Donald Trump. If not, what’s the point of telling us comics are for everyone? It sounds like they aren’t for everyone.


One of Oni’s biggest successes is the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels, about a slacker in his 20s, written and drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley. A 2010 film adaptation, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” underperformed at the box office, but it fueled interest in the source material. The final volume, which was released the same year, had a first printing of 100,000 copies.


Hey look, I’m sure Scott Pilgrim’s a great tale, but anybody with half a brain can take a look at that retail sum and find it comedy gold. Which is unfortunate, but as somebody who believes in being a realist on the medium’s sales, I feel we have to recognize that the industry still isn’t the stratospheric success it could be, mainly since they won’t abandon the pamphlet format and go for trades only.


New publishers keep entering the field, drawn by its success. Last year, annual sales in the United States and Canada reached $1.095 billion, according to estimates by ICV2, an online publication that covers pop culture, and Comichron, an online resource for comics research. The growth was driven by sales outside of comic book stores — book stores, online retailers and Scholastic Book Fairs — as well as digital sales.

Artists, Writers & Artisans, a publisher founded by two former Marvel executives, announced in March that it would begin selling comics in the fall. AWA will have superheroes like DC and Marvel, as well as stand-alone series like Image, and all of its creators will have a financial stake in the company.


Yes, that’s Alonso/Jemas’ company. But after all the harm they did in their time, I’d rather not finance their new business. I’m sure there’s other, new publishers joining the fray at any time. But the Big Two are not the ones finding success, and as the highlighted line above suggests, it’s not at specialty stores where sales are made, especially now when so many are going out of business. There is something interesting told about the following publisher though:


And December brought the arrival of TKO Studios, which introduced a direct-to-consumer approach by simultaneously offering single issues and collected editions for binge readers. The company’s model forgoes a relationship with Diamond Comic Distributors, which is normally the gateway between publishers and retailers. TKO does not charge for shipping, has no minimum order requirement and delivers in two to five days in the United States.


On Diamond, they’re doing the right thing to arrange for distribution by sources other than them, after all the monopolistic damage wrought by relying on just one distributor alone. Even so, their continued reliance on single issues is still absurd, especially if consumers are more comfortable with the whole than parts.


Each month brings hundreds of new comics and graphics novels.

“The number of new comic books available each month has grown in general, and across all publishers,” said Gerry Gladston, the chief marketing officer of Midtown Comics, which has three stores in Manhattan. But there are signs of a slowdown.

“DC Comics has very recently reduced the number of comics that they publish, by 20 percent, to allow them to focus on the quality of their core titles,” Mr. Gladston said.


I’m not sure how a superhero line now saddled with an embarrassment like Heroes in Crisis, and whose indie imprint, Vertigo, has become such a disaster, has any “quality” to it. Why, at this point, with so much indie competition, what’s the use of having an imprint for creator-owned books, especially when Marvel abandoned their Epic imprint over 2 decades ago? Also, they fail to mention company wide crossovers are one of the biggest problems that brought down superhero comics in the long run.


Despite the competitive landscape, small publishers are drawn by the hope of cultivating a large, multiplatform franchise, Mr. Griepp said. “I think people keep trying because it’s like any other entertainment business: The odds of success are low, but the payoffs are big,” he said.

“There’s even the bigger dream, which is somebody goes to the Avengers movie and says, ‘I want to create the universe that 50 years from now is the biggest spectacle in entertainment,’” Mr. Griepp said. “That’s why people keep doing it.”


Whatever success Marvel’s having now – and DC – in the film industry, it’s unlikely the smaller publishers will ever grow to their size, and create products to rival those of the Big Two, nor will they find the same success in the movies. We’re in an era where the entertainment industry as a whole is in decline, and mainstream superheroes may be first to suffer collapse in the end. Though independents will surely be more the way of the future.

And does the merger between Lion Force and Oni prove they’re a success as DC became when they merged with All-American Comics in the mid-40s? At this point, unfortunately, I’d say it just doesn’t.

Originally published here

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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1