Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary
















February 26, 2017


CR Newsmaker Interview: Anne Koyama

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imageMy favorite news story of this last week was word that Anne Koyama, the gracious and much-loved publisher behind Koyama Press, was donating a bunch of original art of recent vintage to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. What's specifically great about this donation is that a lot of cartoonists coming up after the year 2000 have sold original art as a source of secondary income. To know there will be a collection in Columbus that encompasses that first generation of comics-school kids and the resurgent Small Press Expo crowd of that time period is thus a blessing and a thrill. We'll see how thrilling in a gallery show to be curated from the donation by Caitlin McGurk, to be up on the Billy's walls during CXC 2018.

Annie Koyama is famously one of the great, warm souls to ever work in comics, and I'm always delighted to talk to her. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Tell me about the earliest piece in the collection. Exactly what made you buy it?

ANNE KOYAMA: I can't recall the first actual piece but it may have been small pages from Melissa Mendes or Box Brown. In the early days, it was most likely an artist posting pages for sale in aid of paying their rent or needing funds to get to a show.

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SPURGEON: Was collecting any part of your experience before then, was it part of how you engaged with comics?

KOYAMA: Aside from a tacky salt and pepper shaker collection, I've never really been a collector. I was never going to be that person who bought something in the hopes of selling it on eBay later for a stupid amount of money. I'm driven more by connecting with artists. I can't work with everyone I'd like to and this was a way to support all kinds of artists.

SPURGEON: Do you remember how the collection stopped being just a few pieces you were buying from friends and people you liked and started having its own weight and momentum? Did that change how you approach your purposes?

KOYAMA: I do. I was at TCAF and I was talking to Jim Rugg. I knew that he was bringing his ballpoint pen drawings for sale and I really loved them. It seemed that no one else was doing that kind of work at the time. After gently berating him for charging too little for his work, I took a couple of pieces home. Looking at them later, I realized how selfish it felt to hold onto those pieces and have very few people ever see them in the flesh. So I started thinking about where I could place them so that anyone could see them. For a while I considered trying to organize a gallery/museum space but then realized how insane it would be to add another full-time job onto what I do now. I need regular reminders that I am not 20 any more, it seems.

SPURGEON: [laughs] Talk to me about maybe a favorite piece.

KOYAMA: I'm a huge fan of Kevin Huizenga's work and was pretty thrilled to have several of his pages in the collection. I feel that his work is under-appreciated.

SPURGEON: What do we learn about this group of cartoonists after spending an afternoon with your art?

KOYAMA: Though I did not set out to be a collector of comic art and work by cartoonists, it's a pretty diverse and perhaps not the most cohesive collection. However, it should stand as a snapshot of the decade from 2007 to 2017. If you viewed all of the work together, you'd probably see an eclectic collection that contains mostly emerging talents but what is wonderful to me is that many of those people are now well on their way as published authors. You may not see another collection with work by Jonny Negron, Keiler Roberts, Lane Milburn, Katie Skelly, Aidan Koch, Oliver East and Chris Pitzer!

SPURGEON: You have a lot of choices these days ... what about leaving this particular legacy at the Billy Ireland intrigued you?

KOYAMA: I looked around a bit but was really impressed by the work that the Billy Ireland Museum was doing and Caitlin McGurk and Jenny Robb both share the enthusiasm that I have for showing the work in the to anyone who shows any interest. How accessible that work is to the public sealed the deal for me. I'm less concerned about my legacy than I am for any of the artists.

I have held onto my collection of Canadian comic art for now as I'd ideally like to keep it in Canada but if I cannot find an institution that will make the work accessible to the public, this work may also find it's way to Columbus.

Someone cracked that I should get a big tax receipt for that donation. As a Canadian, I don't get a tax receipt and frankly, don't give a shit about tax receipts, I only care that the Museum has enough funding so that the work will be there for a long, long time.

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SPURGEON: Were you mindful of the fact that a lot of art from this specific generation may be lost to collectors and private collections?

KOYAMA: Yes, absolutely. And while I hope that some of those people eventually donate those pieces to a museum, many will probably stay in families as with anything collectible.

SPURGEON: Annie, how does it feel to let them go?

KOYAMA: It's the best feeling, really. When you grow up in a family of six kids with parents who didn't have much, you share everything and I mean everything. If you get to a point in life where you no longer have to share, it's important to keep making that a conscious choice.

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* Anne Koyama
* Koyama Press
* Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
* Original Press Release

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* from a beautiful Tim Hensley page
* from Dustin Harbin's comic about Koyama
* two full pages from Frank Santoro (first) and Aidan Koch (second)
* panel from a donated Sammy Harkham page

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