by Zachary Clemente
On Sunday of the 20th annual Small Press Expo (SPX), The Beat grabbed a strange, backless hotel couch surrounded by vacated folding tables with Annie Koyama, the past, current, and future Publisher at Koyama Press, the renown Toronto-based small-press publisher dedicated to promoting and supporting a wide range of emerging and established artists. Their published work including comics, graphic novels, art books, and zines such as Safari Honeymoon, 100 Crushes, Very Casual, and Grey Supreme.
Comics Beat: As someone who has only recently been paying attention to Koayama Press, I’m curious what the “mission of Koyama Press” is and how it has evolved or changed over the years?
Annie Koyama: My mission is to help primarily emerging artists and get their work out there. But after seven years, I’m not only working with emerging artists anymore. […] I’ve got Renee French and Julia Wertz here [at SPX], so that’s how it’s evolved. However, it hasn’t changed. I still choose to work with primarily emerging artists – it’s very satisfying to get their work out there.
CB: You originally came from producing films and commercials before jumping whole-hog into comics. What things came with you?
AK: Only that as a producer, I was organizing and managing stuff. Those skills are transferable to anything for the rest of life. I know how to organize stuff from events to tours – I can organize anything! I just transfer [those skills] to production schedules for going through a book, working with artists, that sort of thing. It’s all relatable.
CB: When working on your 10 books a year, do you consider the influence that the name Koyama Press carries on the independent comics scene?
AK: No…I choose what I like. I hope that what I put out influences the scene because someone who didn’t hear about Victor Kerlow will now know about Victor Kerlow or now they know about John Martz – so hopefully it’s influential in that way. I have to stand behind the work [I publish] for a good 10 years, so why would I publish anything I don’t love? I only do 10 books a year and work way too hard, so I have to love every single one of them.
CB: It is literally your name on the book.
AK: Yes, but it’s their [the artist’s] name too, so I owe it to them to work my hardest to get their book out there. Some of the people who work with me could go to other publishers, but they choose not to – so I work hard for them because of that.
CB: On the panel about Micro-Press, you talked about the ethics of making comics, especially when printing overseas. What is your “ideal” comics-making world like?
AK: For comics printing? That everyone had enough money to print locally and employ local people. It’s very simple but it’s never going to happen so we make the best of it. I have that choice: I can print locally and [publish] far fewer books or I can choose to print more books and get more artists out there. So for now and since day one, I choose to get more artists out there.
CB: I would think a lot of people would say that a good way to accomplish that goal without the problems of physical printing would be a digital route. Has this been something you’ve considered?
AK: Yup! I’m moving into that in a month or so, it’ll be announced properly soon. I waited a long time because I didn’t like the resolution on some tablets and that sort of thing, but I think that it’s changed a lot. So soon, very soon.
CB: Would it be through ComiXology or something like that?
AK: It will be through one of those places initially, but it won’t be an exclusive thing.
CB: Have you seen The Private Eye? It’s a pay what you want digital comic formatted wide-screen hosted by the creators themselves. It’s an interesting that options like this are possible.
AK: Any of my artists could also do something like that, but there are people who would prefer to read their work in a certain format or through app so we hope people will buy from where we’re going. Though, some of my artists prefer to put their work up for free, so it’s up to them.
CB: Also that kind of method requires an already-existing base of followers that’s strong enough to support it.
AK: That’s right.
CB: That’s something I feel Koyama Press has become. Someone enjoying work published by you will likely get some satisfaction out of other Koyama-published works.
AK: I’m hoping so, but it’s a pretty diverse catalog so I’m sure you won’t like every single book I do. But if you read Jesse Jacobs you might like something else […] it’s not too much of a stretch to go to Renee French from Jessie. There are connections.
CB: I love that some publishers, behind their bigger name, just have one person picking the work. The same sort of thing happens with Eric Stephenson at Image Comics. Different scale, but the same idea.
Another thing mentioned at the panel was the vacuum left in the comics scene that was filled by you and other micro-publishers. What would you say your relationship is with the rest of the comics industry?
AK: I think that in our alternative part [of the comics industry], it’s so small that we are, whether you like it or not, in the same boat. For the record, I don’t consider Koyama a micro-publisher anymore. When you have a large distributor and you’re doing a certain number of titles and paying out [to artists] in the traditional way […] these things make you not “micro” anymore. I’m sure my runs are a lot higher the other people at the panel. But yeah, I think we’re in the same boat together – I love all the other micro-publishers, I think more people should sprout up and do it as long as they know they’re doing it for love mostly and not for money. There’s room for more people to do what they love – don’t wait for a publisher to ask. There’s just not enough of us to publish all the great work I see out there.
Annie Koyama is the Publisher at Koyama Press. She kicks ass, takes names, and publishes 10 amazing books every year. It was an honor and delight to sit down and chat with her at SPX this year.