Saturday, December 26, 2020

In Praise Of Annie Koyama

Annie Koyama is shuttering Koyama Press for good at the end of the year. Her books will still be available from distros like Spit And A Half and in stores, but she'll be moving on to a new phase in her career. She's not leaving comics, but I imagine what she does next will be very different.

On twitter, she asked if there were specific books that meant something to readers. I've been lucky enough to have read virtually everything that's ever been published by Koyama, and I've reviewed a huge chunk of it. Annie, you'll see more reviews of older stuff coming out from me in 2021, so it will still linger on for a bit!

Annie's choices as a publisher were idiosyncratic and diverse. All it took was for her to believe in what the artist was doing. While she did have an eye on sales, she certainly didn't give a fuck about trends. Indeed, part of her mission was finding an audience for up-and-coming artists, artists who were undeservedly ignored, artists too weird to find a home elsewhere, queer artists, artists of color, and most especially fellow Canadians. Not every book she published was precisely my thing, as her aesthetic interests diverged from mine in some ways, but I always respected her choices and took every book that she published seriously as a critic. 

A few quick thoughts on particular artists and books that I liked best. You have to start with Michael DeForge, whose uncompromising work was nurtured by Annie as he became one of the most popular and influential cartoonists of the past decade. Lose was one of the best periodicals during that period, with each issue surpassing the next on a regular basis. 

Jane Mai's work was a hurricane of powerful, expressive cartooning; frank talk about mental illness; and a curious, probing intellect that relished and dissected its own obsessions and interests. Her books are not lauded enough in critical circles.

I was delighted that Annie got to publish original work from Eric Kostiuk Williams. He's a staggering young talent with prodigious drawing and cartooning skills, a deep thinker, and a socially connected political voice. That's especially true with issues local to Toronto. 

Jessica Campbell is one of the funniest cartoonists alive. I will always regret that I wasn't able to convince my fellow judges of the genius of Hot Or Not: 20th Century Male Artists. The follow-up, XTC-69, was even funnier. Anyone who's ever followed my work knows that while I like all sorts of comics, I'm a gag man at heart. And it's REALLY hard to make me laugh. Campbell does it, every time. 

On the other hand, it took no effort to convince my fellow judges to nominate Daryl Seitchik's Exits for an Eisner. Seitchik needed about one mini-comic before she snapped into her current, fully-formed style. She's one of the best cartoonists working today, and I expect we will see big things from her in the future. 

Koyama published Julia Wertz's The Infinite Wait, which was the best work of Julia Wertz's career up to that point. Wertz's willingness to reveal herself, get laughs, and take delight in things that she loved was a perfect balance of what's so appealing about her work in general.

Eleanor Davis' You, A Bike, And A Road is a staggeringly beautiful comic. Davis' drawings are almost too raw and beautiful to bear. Its depiction of her physical and emotional journey on her bike ride across the country is pure magic, even as she's processing the darkest of depressions. 

Finally, Koyama was the publisher of note for Keiler Roberts, one of my favorite cartoonists of all time. I have had the privilege of writing about virtually everything she's ever done. There aren't many cartoonists whose work I look forward to reading more than hers. At heart, she's a gag woman, even as she's writing about having bipolar disorder and MS and feeling like a bad mother. 

Beyond what she's published, Annie continued a legacy of ethical behavior in publishing inspired by people like Dylan Williams. In turn, she is inspiring younger publishers. She did right by her artists and everyone in comics. Her generosity is legendary. However she chooses to continue to work in the comics community, I know that it will make it better. Even if she never does another thing, her legacy in producing great comics is secure. Thank you, Annie Koyama. 

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