Q&A with Annie Koyama, brave comix publisher

Annie Koyama is the founder and publisher of Koyama Press, a Canadian print house specializing in fine art books, creatively autonomous comics, as well as limited run minicomics and ‘zines. All her books are surprisingly affordable, and each is printed with such care and attention, that the whole Koyama project seems truly generous and creative for the artists and the readership. A look through the backlist of Koyama titles shows us just where the state-of-the art is at — the whole spectrum of radical approaches to sequential art is presented. Here are some of the great voices and visions of our time, and both Koyama and her artists have consistently won prizes for the quality of their work. Artists like Keith Jones and Michael DeForge offer radical figuration and atomized apocalypses of the schizocapitalist variety. Cinematic visionaries like Tin Can Forest create shadowy, elegant paper landscapes to present timeless fables. I interviewed Annie Koyama over e-mail.

Was it an artist or an idea that inspired you to start Koyama Press?

After a life changing illness, I decided to try something different than what I’d done before (film).  I found a few artists whose work I loved and funded a few small projects. That lead to the making of TRIO MAGNUS: Equally Superior, the first book. TRIO MAGNUS is Clayton Hanmer, Aaron Leighton and Steve Wilson.

How did you know how to start a small publishing house devoted to extraordinarily artistic comic books?

I had no idea but learned as I went along. I have a film background, not publishing.

What were some of the earliest titles you published?

Chris Hutsul’s comic A VERY KRAFTWERK SUMMER, Jon Vermilyea’s PRINCES OF TIME, Michael Comeau’s PARADE OF HUMANITY, Team Macho’s PRECIOUS GEMS were amongst the first books/zines published.

What size are you doing, how many copies will you make of a new comic in its first printing?

It depends on the artist and the book. The initial run could be anywhere from 500 to 2500.

What is your relationship to the manufacturing, do you oversee every aspect of the creation of a Koyama book?

I rely on the artist and sometimes get some production and design advice. I’d like the final book to be as close to what the artist envisions with as few constraints as possible.

How do you connect with an artist you want to publish?

I look at a lot of work online and most of the contact is online.

Ideally I’d like to have met the artist in person before the process begins but that’s not always the case. For example, right now I’m working with an artist who lives in Japan.

In 2011 I learned about Baba Yaga, the character from European fables, and have since found out about the comic you published about this fable. Can you tell me something about this book?

I also learned of Baba Yaga when I talked to Tin Can Forest aka Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek about their book idea. They are filmmakers and their complimentary artwork styles are beautiful. They are working on their next book WAX CROSS which will debut in the spring.

You also publish Keith Jones and Michael DeForge. How would you describe this generation of comic artists and their interests in abstraction and anti-narrative sequential art?

I’m fascinated by the variety of art styles I’m seeing now. I see artists widely influenced by other cartoonists and pop culture but I think that in Keith and Michael’s cases the influences are not as readily evident to me. Because I like the so-called art comics I’m always interested in how artists mix it up. I still think you need a little narrative to make the work cohesive.

Can you tell me what form you receive your comics in? Do you the artists e-mail you files or do you get drawings in the mail?

Generally files are emailed.

What are some of the most successful titles you’ve published?

In terms of sales, Michael DeForge’s LOSE series and SPOTTING DEER, BABA YAGA & THE WOLF, CAT RACKHAM LOSES IT by Steve Wolfhard, SPIRIT CITY TORONTO by Aaron Leighton.

Does it concern you a great deal when a comic doesn’t sell, or is that part of the risk?

Not really, I have such a diverse set of titles serving different interests that I don’t expect them to sell equally.

Does your website list all your titles or are there little zines and other small one-time comix that Koyama has done for conventions and art fairs and that kind of thing?

My site was recently redesigned by the talented folks at Squidface & The Meddler. All of the books and comics are up there with the exception of the zines I’ve published.

How connected is Koyama with the rest of the independent art book publishing world? Do you stay plugged in to the conventions and art fairs etc?

I try to keep up with the art book world but since there are fewer venues now to sell art books, I’ve shifted the balance to publishing more comics recently.

I still love art books and have just published Jeremy Kai’s photography book RIVERS FORGOTTEN about his underground explorations. I follow a lot of local artists and would like to get out to more gallery shows and fairs again.

Koyama Press exhibits at several book fairs and indie comics shows in Canada and internationally.

What are some of the best storefronts to find small press comics like Koyama?

This is only a partial list as I’m sure I’m omitting some good stores:

In Canada and the U.S.: The Beguiling, Strange Adventures, Librarie Drawn & Quarterly, Lucky’s, The Dragon, Quimby’s, Atomic Books, Meltdown Comics, Secret Headquarters, Bergen Street Comics, Desert Island, Big Brain Comics, Jim Hanley’s Universe, Dr. Comics & Mr. Games, DOMY, Copacetic Comics, Floating World, and Nucleus.

Internationally: Nobrow, Fatbottom Books, Neurotitan.

Where can you buy small press comix like Koyama online?

Some of the books are available directly from the artists on their sites, you can order from some retail stores like the Beguiling in Toronto, The Dragon in Guelph as well as from AdHouse Books http://www.adhousebooks.com/distro/distro.html and John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half http://spitandahalf.blogspot.com/.

Retailers can order from Tony Shenton http://shenton4sales.tumblr.com/,

Do you draw comics yourself?

No, I leave that to the pros.

In your daydreams, what artist would you love to have publish a comic with Koyama?

There are too many amazing artists to list whose work I’d like to publish and I often have to turn down work I’d love to take on if I had more time and funds. By publishing an anthology from time to time, I can include some of those on my wish list.

Thanks, Annie!

Drum Patterns

It’s not like I go to the disco every night but for whatever reason I’m always on the lookout for good drum patterns, laced with skullface basslines