“Everything Was Figured Out on the Fly”: An Inside Look at Publishing During the Pandemic

It’s undeniable that the pandemic has affected everything in a myriad of ways that are simultaneously easy to understand and difficult to comprehend, if only for the potential long-term impacts. That goes for every person, business, industry, government, and beyond. It’s a sprawling world event, and one that has changed the direction we all were headed forever.

Comics are no different. There’s been a seismic shift to professionals and paths and plans and practices. It’s one that will continue to affect how everything is done even when this all is over, even without a clear and true end in sight.

This has all been covered extensively, even just here on SKTCHD. Most of the focus has been on two levels, with those being the broader direct market — meaning comic shops and distribution — and creators. That makes sense, as those two pillars of the comic world were the most clearly affected parties, with shops being forced to change how they do business and creators needing to rearrange their schedules and plans to exist within this new status quo.

And yet, both of those groups work in conjunction with another entity that hasn’t been covered to the same degree. That’s the comic publishers themselves. These companies are the third pillar that keeps the direct market side of comics upright, an essential element in the comic book ecosystem. I recently realized that beyond private conversations with people who work at varying publishing houses or intermittent articles about how employees were working from home, I didn’t have any clue as to how their work was affected by this. If creating comics became more difficult because of the pandemic and so did selling them, it stands to reason that publishing them would as well, right?

Of course, comic publishers are fundamentally an office-based experience. Maybe what they went through was not entirely dissimilar from how something like the advertising agency I work at or any number of other typical corporate jobs has gone?

I honestly had no idea what the right answer was. Was it like the former, where everything changed, or was it more like the latter, where much was the same except certain processes had to shift? In this week’s feature, we’re endeavoring to find out, as I explore this idea from the perspective of comics publisher Oni Press, examining how the pandemic changed everything for comic publishers like themselves.

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