Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Get to Know Literary Ontario, with Annie Koyama of Koyama Press

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Kick-Ass Annie

Annie Koyama (or Kick-Ass Annie) is the woman behind Koyama Press, a mainstay of Toronto's indie comic arts scene. Koyama Press publishes and funds graphic novels, zines, comics, t-shirts, installations, folios — in fact, just about any form of comic art by emerging and established artists. Here, Annie tells Open Book how she got started with Koyama Press and what excites her about the graphic arts scene.

You can meet Annie Koyama and some of her authors in person at the upcoming Toronto Comic Arts Festival on May 7th and 8th. This year at TCAF, Koyama Press will debut Root Rot, a forest themed anthology by various artists; Lose #3 by Michael DeForge; Cat Rackham Loses It by Steve Wolfhard; Monster Party by Chris Eliopoulos; Colour Me Busy by Keith Jones; Island Brat by Colleen Frakes and Diary Comics by Dustin Harbin; as well as the special print edition of Ed Emberley's The Cloudy Collection. Visit Koyama Press's Events page for more details.

Open Book:

Tell us about Koyama Press. How did it get started, and what makes it distinct from other small presses?

Annie Koyama:

I’m a former film producer who after several years of chronic illness decided to do something different and sponsor some projects with emerging artists, which led to working with Clayton Hanmer. Through Clayton I met Aaron Leighton and Steve Wilson. The three are a collective called Trio Magnus. I loved their doodles and suggested we make a book together. This was in 2007, and I wanted the artists to have something from which they could derive some income that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.I was bothered by the funding cutbacks to the arts which have only gotten worse since then. (I should add that I have no background whatsoever in publishing, so the learning curve was large and continues today.)

My mandate initially was to help emerging artists, but that is changing slightly now to encompass artists who are a little more established as well. Although Koyama Press has gained some recognition for the alternative comics that I’ve published, I also sponsor various types of projects with fine artists.

OB:

How do you select the projects and artists that you publish and fund?

AK:

I have no trouble finding artists whose work I love. I find some of them through artist websites, I attend gallery shows and student grad shows, read blogs and go to comic and zine fairs.

I generally work with the artist to come up with the right project. Sometimes they are already working on a book but need a publisher.

OB:

Do you have a particular stylistic preference when it comes to graphic novels and comics?

AK:

I like bright colour and interesting type treatment. Humour is important for me but I like personal stories too. I love a lot of street art too.

OB:

What is the biggest challenge to running Koyama Press?

AK:

Practically speaking, sustaining my business model will be challenging and the lack of venues to sell art books is problematic. The amount of work required now to devote proper attention to all of the existing projects is pretty substantial.

With the help of Helen Koyama, Diana Tamblyn, Jamie Q and Scott Mackenzie, I’m able to stay on top of things.

OB:

You are one of the few women involved in indie comic publishing. Why do you think the industry tends to be dominated by men?

AK:

I really don’t know. Certainly no one is getting rich publishing indie comics and books by emerging artists, which makes me admire and respect the other publishers even more. I wish there were more women publishing comics and art books!

OB:

Koyama Press will be at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival on May 7th and 8th. What can we expect to find at the TCAF, and how would you describe the event for a comic art newbie?

AK:

TCAF is an amazing festival, extremely well organized and free to the public. You will see comic nerds, families, seniors, even tourists there. There is a huge indie contingent from Canada, the U.S. and even Europe. There are mainstream comics, art prints, books for kids — something for everyone. Industry panels, book launches and even live drawing.

OB:

What excites you about comic and graphic novel publishing these days?

AK:

There are so many good emerging artists out there doing great work, and some of them are collaborating and self-publishing their work. Virtually every day I find someone whose work I’d love to get out there.

OB:

What's next for Koyama Press?

AK:

Niall McClelland and Jeremy Jansen of Toronto are working on a year long zine project with me. I’m co-publishing a book by artist Jesse Harris with Simon Cole of Show & Tell Gallery to coincide with his show at that gallery in June. And a book of Jeremy Kai’s photos is in the works. Hellen Jo, Maurice Vellekoop and Michael DeForge are all working on new comics. Jon Vermilyea and I are working on our fourth book/zine together too.

I love what a lot of other small presses are doing and would like to collaborate with more of them to continue to break out new artists.

Hopefully soon, I can announce another co-publishing project that’s pretty exciting.

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Annie Koyama was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. She has worked primarily in the fields of film, graphics and theatre prior to starting Koyama Press. For more information about Koyama Press, please visit her website.

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