I met Annie Koyama around 2008. She was friends with contemporaries of mine and introduced herself with general knowledge of my work and specific knowledge of a zine I had done with Mark Connery. Annie adores creativity and is visually literate. Her curiosity mapped out the Toronto comic/zine/illustration ethnosphere onto North America and beyond. My screenprinting career was halted by sudden and severe tendonitis when I did my first publication with Koyama Press a news paper called “Parade of Humanity”. The first issue of “Hellberta” followed in 2011 and my final book with Koyama Press was my largest work yet “Winter’s Cosmos” in 2018. Annie is so warm and nurturing which attracts the sensitive artists she guides and tenaciously advocates for. With closing of the press her passion continued in the form of Koyama Provides. Our working history has given me a short hand with Annie regarding my work. She heard about the book “Slomeauzine” I was working on to collect my comic work and offered Koyama Provides support. Though an artistic medium might be deep with history, contemporary practice at any point in time can be a narrow group of individuals and any intervention of support can greatly move the needle. Art is created by many tools and systems be it pen, photo, curation of images or curation of practitioners. Annie wields people like a brush to canvas. Her legacy can be traced through the work she encourages and the lives she touches.
Annie Koyama was gracious enough to give me a round of "provides" grants toward the Hocking Hills Cartoonist Retreat last summer and it helped fill in the cracks in the budget when you're a cartoonist who's bad at math.
Making autobio comics puts you in a weird place in the community because the core of what you're doing is pretty self-serving and annoying, even if your work is good. As a kid, I went to summer camp for weeks each year and was a counselor in my teens, so even though I'm this weird solo act, I know a lot about what it actually takes to make a group function well. When I voiced the idea of doing this retreat during a pandemic where we could make a bubble and actually work amongst each other, Annie immediately wanted to jump in and help. There was this sense that cartoonists would really benefit from this kind of event where we weren't obligated to sell things (which most cartoonists hate doing) And everyone would be doing the thing that they always did alone, together.
Annie gave me the initial money for the grant and sent us a little more on the trip to keep things moving, unprompted I should say. She was watching on social media how all of these people who were in anthologies together and sort of moved in similar circles, were all at one table, drawing and talking together. For my own part, I realized that a lot of people didn't know each other, but were immediately clicking and rolling on similar wavelengths, which was perfect because they all occupied a similar space in my head. At the end, people cried and were emotional for such a time and a place where (especially after such a crushing span of existence) they'd been able to work uninhibited, be in nature and most importantly, be with their own kind.
Annie has been so supportive and encouraging over the years. Koyama press coming to an end was a big loss for the independent comics world, given all the incredible work they've championed, but I was so delighted to hear that Annie was going to continue her benevolent work for artists through Koyama Provides. It meant so much when she offered to provide a grant to me to start a new project, and that initial motivation has had a huge impact on my work for the past two years. Annie provided a grant to me and my peers Molly Soda and Kurt Woerpel to develop a book on how the internet has shaped DIY art and culture over the past couple decades. That project then evolved into an independent library space for art books, zines, and small press publications in Los Angeles called Heavy Manners that Molly and I launched this fall. Annie believing in us really catalyzed so much more than we could have imagined! We hope to make the book on DIY in the age of the internet one of our first publications with Heavy Manners in the near future.
I was twenty pages into a new project with no middle and no end when Annie got in touch with me about Koyama Provides. I knew there were characters trying to interact with a place and some talking frogs, but as with most of my comics, there was no publisher yet and no incentive beyond my own curiosity to continue. Receiving the grant helped to remind me that although I’m so often sitting alone in my studio toiling away at little drawings (especially over the last two years), doing so has landed me in a community that’s been nothing but supportive of my stories for over a decade. It doesn’t surprise me that Annie would be the one to respond to how desperately what most artists’ need is simply financial support to achieve their projects. Her generosity and commitment to the artists around her shone through in the work of Koyama Press and her magnanimous presence at fairs and festivals. Thank you Annie for your consistent support and for helping push this small book into being. Twenty pages became a sixty-four page short story called Stone Blue Sky, recently printed in Antwerp, Belgium by a new publisher, Sporen.
This is going to be tough to articulate... She's always had kind words for my art, and went out of her way to pat my back for my extremely modest contributions to local community service and mutual aid. That small but thoughtful input really went a long way in encouraging me. With comics and with social justice type stuff, there's this excess of enthusiasm and deficit of resources, with such limited attention, prestige, and money up for grabs. And because we're also trying to uplift one another at the same time, the competition for money and coolness is kind of covert and icky. I love Annie for putting money into comics in a way that subtracts from that dynamic, by surprise-dropping resources on creators from the bottom, middle, and top of the ecosystem. And for strategically giving many small (but significant) grants where and when they're going to have an outsized impact on that person's career. I work in education/health nonprofit, and those top-down traditional grants aren't nearly as efficient or inclusive as the direct-giving I see going down in neighborhoods, communities, and mutual aid groups. I mean, maybe it's different in the arts, but I would be surprised. The way she's gone about it, I think every dollar she's given away has done double duty.
Actually, my case is a great example. I'd publicly complained for a bit about how much I hate lettering and also hate fonts. She awarded me a grant specifically to commission another artist, John Martz, to make a custom font of my handwriting. Which I love, by the way, I can't recommend John enough. Two artists benefited from one grant, and right at the start of the pandemic, when grants and gigs were hard to come by. I wound up using Annie/John's font to do series of very text-heavy harm-reduction info-comics that explain how to prevent, recognize, and respond to opioid overdoses. And I made them all creative commons (free to print, distribute, and adapt without compensation or credit to me) because I needed to pass it on. I'd like to think I would have done that either way but I don't know. That grant gave me a real shove to do more for more people and to do it better.
Diskette Press wouldn't exist without Annie Koyama and Koyama Provides. On the most basic level, I don't think I'd be interested in publishing comics if not for Annie's example of how to do it right. She's been my inspiration since day one, and a huge support to me from the time I was in college, sending long emails asking if it was possible to break into comics publishing (her advice, by the way, was "don't do it!")
Annie has a reputation for being generous, and frankly I think that reputation is understated. Annie has supported my work financially more than anyone else, from the moment I bought my first Risograph. Annie helped me buy ink drums, and then when we were desperately searching for studio space during the height of the pandemic, Koyama Provides gave me and my studiomates a lump of money that helped us survive being suddenly rejected by a space we'd been promised, after weeks of preparation. Thanks to Annie's kindness and generosity, Diskette was able to find (without exaggeration) the nicest space in Detroit, at an absurdly good price. Our work owes everything to her, ideologically and financially. I hope we can achieve even a fraction of what she has through her far-reaching and forward-thinking philanthropy. We love you Annie!
For the past several years, I’d been keeping my academic research separate from my work as an artist. Annie’s enthusiasm and support of my sharing this information through zines has inspired me to consider additional ways to visually disseminate these explorations. I’m grateful to know such an authentically kind and generous person.
We were both so excited to get support from Annie through Koyama Provides, and that Annie is continuing to support the comics community as a whole beyond publishing amazing books. We had been talking for years about starting a not-for-profit micro press that could be used to highlight comics and art in the community, so the timing was perfect. In the spring of last year, we settled on the name Parsifal Press. We put our grants toward Sage Clemmon's Everyone is Sorry which was released last summer, and Beatrix Urkowitz's The Lover of Everyone in the World, which is in production. The grants really helped us front the printing costs, pay artists, and sell these comics affordably. It also just gave us a boost – we both think the world of Annie, so being selected for a grant meant a lot.
Annie has been an inspiration to me for many years, and her guidance has not only helped me in my career as a publisher, but artistically as well. As I'm trying to move my work from illustration to painting, she has helped me acquire the material I need to make that leap. Nothing but love for that amazing lady!
I received a grant from Annie in August 2021 after she reached out to discuss the program with me. I've been working on my graphic novel, Space Trash, since 2020, and as I'm sure many people in comics can attest, it's a balancing act of trying to stay on schedule while keeping your bills paid with other work. Annie giving me this grant meant I was able to take some time off from my day job, and really focus for a month on the project. These types of grants are so integral to artists being able to complete projects; not only does it allow us to take some time off from freelance, but it also accommodates us taking some down time and avoiding burn out. I also really appreciated that this grant was to be used at our discretion, rather than proposing a project and completing it by a date. Annie obviously understands the difficulties that are familiar to artists and sometimes, we just need some extra help to cover our rent, buy groceries or get an idea over the finish line. I hope that more people follow in Annie's steps, because I think this initiative is so valuable to cartoonists.
I will always have gratitude for Annie Koyama. In 2020 I was one of the few lucky recipients of a Koyama Provides grant, and honestly it has kept me afloat even now. I don’t have any other forms of support other than what I am able to hustle on my own. No rich parents, no wealthy partner, I am financially responsible for everything in my life. Sometimes it can get really overwhelming, but the way the comics community has been uplifting one another is what I admire about it. Annie believes in cartoonists and inspires me to keep making work. I discovered Koyama Press in college when I was desperate to find stories with BIPOC leads, and not only did Koyama publish them, but they were regular relatable stories that made me laugh. Also Annie is just like a cool punk elder in my book. She even made me feel less alone about my neurological disabilities and joked that we should start a two person club called “Bad Brains” after the punk band. She’s the kind of aunt you wished you had and that I’m grateful to know.