February 11, 2011

Indie Zines, Comics and More: Kick-Ass Publisher and Promoter Annie Koyama of Koyama Press

Annie Koyama is the founder and operator of Koyama Press. Promoting emerging artists is her passion. Her publishing house finances fiercely diverse projects like zines, comics, artist-designed t-shirts, installations, photomontage work, print folios, letterpress cards and more. Here she shares her thoughts about her transition from filmmaking to publishing and her complete joy of indie art and visual storytelling:

Can you please tell a little bit about yourself?
Where are you from? What do you do for a living?

I was born in Toronto, still live here and am now publishing books, comics and zines as well as other projects with emerging artists.

Why and how did you make the transition from filmmaking
to finding a publishing venture?

I was unable to work for some time due to poor health and decided to try my hand at something different. I backed a couple projects with artists which led to producing the book Trio Magnus: Equally Superior. (Trio Magnus is: Clayton Hanmer, Aaron Leighton and Steve Wilson)

How did you become interested in printmaking, illustration
and indie comics?

I’d collected some prints over the years by artists such as Chris Hutsul and Maurice Vellekoop, always loved illustrative art and loved some of the alternative comics that I saw online and at shows. I still go to shows, book and zine fairs and galleries to discover new work.

What is the most rewarding part of owning and
managing Koyama Press?

Working with different artists every day to create an income; producing or purely promotional product every day. Introducing their work to others is extremely satisfying.

Was there a part of keeping the business that was
particularly trying? And how did you deal with it?

Yes. The closure of the art and independent book stores in Toronto has definitely made it more difficult to get my books out to retailers.

Not having local distribution is also challenging and consumes a lot of my time. I just have to work harder to promote the books. Going to book fairs and alternative comic conventions has been a good way to get the books out there.

What are some current Koyama Press projects
that you’re engaging?

The LEPOS Bible was launched with a show featuring Diego Bergia’s work with the LEPOS character which is well-known in street art circles.

An art book by Mark Laliberte called Grey Supreme is now out and Michael DeForge and I co-edited a forest-themed anthology called Root Rot with 16 artists from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico for Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) in May.

John Martz will have a new print for Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in April. David Huyck has an incredibly exciting print project in the works too.

Steve Wolfhard’s comic Cat Rackham Loses It, Chris Eliopoulos’ Monster Party, Maurice Vellekoop’s Gloria Badcock and Michael DeForge’s comic Lose #3 will debut at TCAF too.

Hopefully, Keith Jones’ colouring book will be ready then too.

How do you stay creative? Do you draw? Or keep a journal?
My sister Helen is an artist, and she challenged me to draw something everyday for a year. Using the trackpad on my Mac laptop, I did a little daily profile picture on Facebook. It was my first try with a paint program. That was a fun exercise. I don’t keep as journal per se, but I do keep a book of tear sheets and funny things to inspire me.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?
I look at all kinds of artwork, films, architecture, photography and typography. I subscribe to a lot of art/artist’s blogs. I like to walk around cities and try to really see the details of things around me (which is more difficult than you may think for someone possessed of a short attention span). I carry a little point-and-shoot camera often. Of course, all of the artists I work with inspire me and I seem to find a few artists each week that I’d like to work with if I had the funds.

What’s your advice to people who aspire to start
and own a creative business like Koyama Press?

I’d advise doing some market research as the book market is really in flux. Make a business plan. Research any grant opportunities. (I might add that I did none of these things, my venture just evolved despite lack of proper planning.) Have a good financial base since it will be awhile before you’ll likely start making much profit and really have a passion for what you do since you’ll be living with your product for quite a while. Don’t skimp on the quality of your product.

Who should buy your publications?
Anyone interested in the work of emerging artists. And maybe Oprah.

Where can people find your publications?
The comics are available in many comic and book stores in Canada and the U.S. and from each artist’s website. Good Grief in Manchester, U.K. has the books too.

The art books are available in some galleries as well as at bookstores.

I have to say that the indie book and comic stores have been incredibly supportive to me and other small presses which is wonderful.

I go to local shows like TCAF, Canzine, Expozine, Word on the Street and U.S. shows like the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival, A.P.E. and Koyama Press will be repped at San Diego Comic Con this year thanks to Revival House Press.

Retailers can buy from Ad Distro (Ad House books’ distribution arm).

From your interview with Avoid the Future, there was mention
of pizza testing nights. How are these going and what
are some of your recommendations for Toronto’s best slices?

As explained in that interview, it’s really just a catalyst to get different artists together to talk about comics, bad movies and have a fun night out. No verdict yet, the last dinner took place at an Indian restaurant!

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The logo of Koyama Press’ “Kick Ass Annie” was made by Illustrator Aaron Leighton. See the gallery of interpretations by different artists of the logo, which is totally kick-ass.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews
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