Introducing Oni Watch: a regular column keeping the peepers on what’s happening on and off-page at Oni Press. Enjoy! —Ed
So what kind of story are you feeling today? Something where some ex-criminal women break their friends out of prison? Or how about a 1920s noir involving snappily-dressed demons? No wait—a world where the Magic Kingdom hosts a cult and God is a literal potato?
All this to say that Oni Press is not at all afraid to find creators who will push the envelope on what makes a good and interesting comic in a diverse number of ways.
Rewinding for a second—I do have to mention that Oni Press, which has been around since 1997 and was founded by Bob Schreck and Joe Nozemack, has never been a particularly large blip on my radar. I cut my teeth on my brother’s X-Men comics, and stuck pretty closely to the mainstream Marvel and DC stuff until my early 20s, when I started to feel bloated by the glut of superheroes in media.
Had I known that Oni Press had such an interesting view of what comic books can accomplish, I would have gone running to them sooner. As it is, better now than never.
Between the weeks of July 19th and July 26th, Oni Press dropped Heartthrob Season 2 from Christopher Sebela and Robert Wilson IV, Rick and Morty: Volume 5 by Kyle Starks and CJ Cannon, Rick and Morty #28 from Kyle Starks and Andy Hirsch, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Damned #3, The Life After: Volume 4 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo, plus, from the largest team so far—Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, with Remington Veteto, Carla Speed McNeil, Joe Infurnari, and Chuck BB— Wasteland Compendium: Volume 1.
Now, I’ve developed the habit of giving the credits list of any issue a cursory glance before I start reading just to better contextualize the content. While I’m aware that Oni Press has published a variety of features by diverse writers, I was disappointed to find this particular sample skewed almost exclusively white and male.
Thankfully, the stories themselves carry a wider range of diversity than one might expect from such a first impression, and not only in the genre of tale. Out of the samples named, three of the titles showcase women in a leading capacity.
In Heartthrob, Callie is an ex-criminal trying to build a normal life for herself, which is put in jeopardy when she has to go break her old friends out of prison, with the help of her close friend Scout and Scout’s girlfriend, Naomi. Volume 4 of The Life After features a younger hero, Essie, rallying believers to her cause and tripping into a very sweet romance with Aiyanna, a girl who realizes she’s on the wrong side. In Wasteland Compendium, Abi is the leader of what remains of the town of Providens, on a journey to guide her people to a better life across the wasteland.
The women all manage to feel like real women, with goals and pursuits outside of romancing a male lead. While I feel this should be a basic storytelling element, it can be an incredibly tall order even in these times. Abi will do anything to help her people, whether it’s by picking up a weapon and fighting off threats herself, or strong-arming a taciturn stranger into fighting for them.
Essie feels the frustration and exhaustion that her seemingly endless task brings, and expresses these emotions accordingly while continuing to push forward, hand in hand with her equally as determined girlfriend. These are all interesting and compelling characters who happen to be women, and that’s always refreshing in a way that continues to surprise me.
Between Oni Press’ mission of publishing titles like Princess Princess Ever After and the Oni Press Pride Spectacular, it’s clear that they’re going the extra mile to not only avoid alienating marginalized people, but actively include them on the pages.
One thing I did find lacking in the samples for this feature were leading women of color. The female protagonists outlined, to the best of my knowledge, were all white, with women of color relegated to side characters. While I did enjoy these characters nonetheless, I would have loved to have seen them as stars in their own stories. But in general, representation for women of color in geek media has lagged behind, to the point where anything we get is a drop of water in an arid desert.
So you have women who are leaders and fighters and criminals, and women who love other women, all wrapped up in stories that introduce incredible worlds that beg you to go back and dig deeper.
The Life After paints a picture of an earth where the corruption of religion has led to cults centered around modern day centerpieces, such as the Magic Kingdom Church of the Creator. Wasteland Compendium shows us a post-apocalypse where people are attempting to thrive through the heat and monsters, clinging to the once spurned mythos of Mother Sun and Father Moon. Although the art is in black and white, I still somehow felt dehydrated by the time I finished reading it.
Even the licensed titles like Rick and Morty reflect Oni Press’ need to roll with the strangeness of creators’ minds, while being careful not to veer into territory that could be damaging. And I really do wish I’d had the idea for 1920s Demon Noir first, but I’ll have to kick back and watch how The Damned unfolds instead.
Oni isn’t a small press by any means, but it continues to grow in all the important ways.
And in an era where other publishers think diversity tanks sales, that’s all I can ask for.
What Oni Press titles are you most excited about reading? Leave a comment below, maybe I’ll have something new to write about.