Oni Press first appeared on the comics scene back in 1997, founded by Bob Schreck and Joe Nozemack. They started with the goal of being a publisher with a broader range and appeal than most. And on that they delivered.
Publisher James Lucas Jones joined the company in 1999, as a web developer and eventually as an assistant. He later progressed through the ranks, becoming Editor in Chief in 2004, and eventually Publisher just this past summer. We got a chance to sit down with James to talk about Oni, their anniversary, the industry and just our mutual love of comics!
What is a typical day like for you at Oni?
One of my favorite things about my job is that there really is no such thing as a typical day. There’s some recurring tasks and meetings but there’s always a variation. The day usually starts with addressing emails, preparing for the day’s meetings, and a fair amount of coffee. We do a daily staff meeting that’s our own tweak on the scrum model. From there it’s some mixture of meetings, planning, calls, and reading. For example today included a call with a creative about a potential project, a meeting with the folks at Simon & Schuster who are going to be handling our book market distribution starting spring 2018, and some sales forecasting on a potential license. Tomorrow will look the same until after our daily staff meeting after which point everything will be totally different.
What upcoming Oni titles should our readers keep an eye out for?
All of it? Heh. Our Spring 2018 lineup is so darn strong. It’s hard to pick but I’ll try and stick to stuff I haven’t already mentioned. Looking into the past before we look into the future, December’s Whiteout Compendium by Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber and January’s Soulwind hardcover by Scott Morse are both incredible books returning to print from Oni’s early days. Redline from Neal Holman, Clayton McCormack, & Kelly Fitzpatrick is a dark sci-fi tale filled with hard hearts and grim humor. Sarah Graley’s Kim Reaper gets her first collection soon, too, and I can’t wait for folks to read Tara O’Connor’s The Altered History of Willow Sparks. Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir & Steenz is a spooky library tale perfect for the kid who loved Raina’s Ghosts but is ready for something a little more mature. We also have a new floppy comic coming in March about a kid who is also an assassin and is the most bonkers book we’ve done in a while — stay tuned for that announcement!
Do you feel that 2017 been a good year for the comics industry? Why?
Every year is good and bad. Strikes and gutters.
The industry had a lot of great comics released in 2017, but has been rough for a lot of people in the comics industry in a myriad of ways. I know a lot of our colleagues in comic retail have been struggling with a graying readership and events at the “Big 2” that have failed to engage the fans like the publishers hoped. They’re also facing a glut of product from all sides which I think only adds to their customers’ exhaustion. I know many freelancers who are struggling with ballooning health insurance costs today and looking towards even more rate increases tomorrow. I’ve seen way too many women and people of color and queer folks attacked by the so-called fans that behave like monsters and by so-called allies that would rather shut down or ignore critical peers than listen.
Good people spent 2017 trying to make the comic industry better, but there is still so so much work to do.
How do you feel about the trend towards digital comics? Has it been particularly successful for Oni versus physical distribution?
I think there’s room for comics to be consumed in a variety of ways. Comic books or graphic novels or whatever you want to call them have the potential to be physical art objects and the experience of reading them in that format is still unique and wonderful. A lot of comics are still created with that delivery system in mind and I think that comes through in the reading experience.
Digital is awesome, too, for different reasons. It’s convenient. It’s accessible. It’s portable–I love being able to load up an iPad with a cross-country flight worth of material. It’s a growing part of our business and we’re going to continue to play with different digital delivery methods and serialization approaches. We know there’s still a lot of ways to capitalize on the opportunities digital provides that nobody is fully taking advantage of yet.
In terms of sales, what percentage would you say are are digital?
Depending on the title, 10-20 percent.
Has there been a trend in the comics industry this year that has really stood out for you?
I think there’s a glut of product from all sides and it’s not going to end well for a lot of people.
Oni Games was launched this year, can you tell me more about it?
We’ve been a regular exhibitor at GenCon, the biggest tabletop gaming convention in North America, for a number of years and through that show have had the opportunity to meet an incredible group of game designers and publishers. A few years ago we partnered with Pinnacle to do an RPG based on Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s series The Sixth Gun and this year we hooked up with Renegade Game Studio and Keith Baker for Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game. Those experiences left us hungry to do more.
Oni Games gives us the opportunity to work with game designers and publishers in a more direct way. We’re able to work hand-in-hand with them to bring Oni Press titles into the tabletop space in a way that remains true to the book and the creator’s vision. Charlie Chu and Oni Games’s Steve Ellis have big plans, including a game-based on Katie O’Neill’s Tea Dragon Society slated for next year.
If you had to choose only one Oni series or book for new readers to pick up, what would that be?
Can’t do it. Depends entirely on who that new reader is. Give me the three most recent comics, movies or TV shows they saw and enjoyed and I can give you an answer. 😉
Do you have a favourite movie based on a comic franchise?
Even if I wasn’t contractually obligated to say it, what comic movie is better than Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?
What comics are you currently reading?
In terms of floppies, I just picked up Fence #1 from Boom! today. I’m loving what Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward are doing on Black Bolt at Marvel. I’m really anxious to pick up the TPB for Mags Vissagio and Eryk Donovan’s Quantum Teens Are Go! after reading the first couple issues. On the web, I read John Allison’s Bad Machinery pretty much every day when it posts. I also just binged through Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas. On the graphic novel side, Tillie Walden’s Spinning is amazing and it’s disgusting how good she is at such an incredibly young age. Deadly Class is one I couldn’t keep up with in issues but am enjoying in TPB. Same for Wic+Div and Lazarus and Sex Criminals and Bitch Planet. My nine-year-old has been rereading the Roger Landridge Muppets comics and I can’t help but read a short or two whenever I move the book from his spot at the kitchen table back to his nightstand every morning after he leaves for school. My 14-year-old has been on a BKV kick, tearing through Runaways and Y: The Last Man and I ended up going back to some of those issues so I’d be better equipped to talk to her about them. Outside of comics, First Second’s Gina Gagliano recommended John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture and I’m finding it incredibly interesting and relevant to my world. I’m sure there’s stuff I’m forgetting.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add for the ComicBuzz readers?
Read more comics. Talk about what you love more than what you hate. Be kind, not nice.
We would like to thank you to James Lucas Jones for taking the time to talk to us.