2016 Hero: Koyama Press
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2016 Hero: Koyama Press

Nominated for: re-defining kickass in the local arts scene.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Follow your weird passions. Support the work you think is good. Accept, then ignore, death.

The story of Annie Koyama makes for some excellent life advice. A former documentary film producer, set painter, and voluntary probation officer, Annie stumbled upon her true calling after a terminal diagnosis with brain aneurysms left her bedridden. Spending her days and nights scrolling through Tumblr feeds, she discovered Toronto’s indie comics community and quickly fell in love. Annie decided that if she got better, she’d try to figure out a way to give some of these weirdos the audience they deserved.

A gamble on a risky surgery paid off, and Annie started making the rounds at comics festivals and introducing herself to the artists she admired. In 2007, she sold her car to pay for her first printing, Trio Magnus’ Equally Superior, and to send the artists to Tokyo to launch it. The next few years were spent building a roster of established and emerging artists, and releasing a staggering array of art, zines, prints, merchandise, and comics for both adults and kids under her eponymous local press. Since day one, Annie’s been committed to sharing as many proceeds as possible with her artists, and she puts a special focus on younger creators, women, and people of colour.

Koyama Press is now celebrating its 10th anniversary, and in that time the small publisher has garnered international acclaim for its alternative, genre-bending work. Her stable of authors includes Rokudanshiko (of vagina canoe fame) and Michael DeForge (builder of fatalist ant colonies), alongside many emerging local talents. Two of the company’s titles have even been nominated for Eisners—the Oscars of North American comics.

Annie never really intended to build an empire. It just kind of worked out that way. Now she has an entire community with which to share her love of art, and a lot of ass-kicking left to do.