By Brin Bixby
Kim and Kim #1, from Black Mask Studios, is appearing in comic shops today. Written by Magdalene ‘Mags’ Visaggio, it features a pair of free-wheeling bounty-hunting, rocking-and-rolling young queer-as-fuck women as they travel the multiverse seeking financial and familial independence.
With hints of Star Wars, Firefly and even a brief reference to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (one of my secret guilty pleasures), Kim and Kim takes readers on a frenetic ride through the cosmos, while taking time to share moments of real tenderness and friendship.
In all honesty, this comic is far too cool for me to be allowed to review it. This comic is punk, edgy and would almost certainly roll its eyes at my nerdy ass as I passed it in the hallway, assuming it didn’t flick its lit cigarette in my face.
I was, however, lucky enough to interview its creator. Thankfully, Mags didn’t find me as eye-rollingly uncool as I do. Part 1 of our conversation was here!
Brin: I saw you speak in another interview about having to be mindful of the cis gaze (not to be confused with the cis gays) when writing a trans character. How did you balance that with depicting some authenticity of the trans experience? I’m thinking specifically of younger Kim Q.’s wish that she could just be a gay man instead of being a trans woman. That one really hit home for me.
Mags Visaggio: Well, yeah, definitely. Actually, doing it like that was my way of balancing it.
So, what I was trying to accomplish was to make sure that I was disclosing to the cis audience in a way that still read authentically to me. I didn’t want to have a big shocking reveal. Granted, we’ve had our own big shocking reveals, but I don’t need any more of that in my life and I don’t want to do more of that. I’ve had enough of those conversations; I don’t feel the need to recount those to anybody.
So, in the conversation between Kim Q. and Kim D., the way I have Kim Q. disclosing this to the audience is just by discussing this in, sort of, this larger part of her experience of her being trans. Instead of it being ‘the information here is that I’m trans,’ it’s ‘there is other information being imparted to which her being trans is relevant.’
So it accomplishes both goals. I’m telling the cis audience, who has to know, or they will find every reason to say that it’s not the case.
It has to be explicit, so I’m saying explicitly that this is a trans character, and you have to appreciate her as a trans character in order to make sense of her existence, and I’m communicating a larger part of what being authentically trans or being trans authentically means.
You do have to be just so unbelievably aware of the fact that you’re dealing with a cis audience. You have to apologize without apologizing. I really agonized over whether I wanted to disclose in the first issue and then to find a way to disclose in the first issue in a way that wasn’t browbeating them with the information or going Trans 101 on anybody. So, I spent so fucking long trying to figure out how to weave this information into a conversation naturally in such a way that the cis audience wouldn’t be upset with how the information was presented. If that makes any sense.
BB: It does. You’re very explicit about her being trans.
It’s like, there are sort of two stages to it, right? Of course, not all trans women are the same, but cis people are really unaware of how hard a lot of trans people work to convince themselves that they are anything other than trans, for a really long time.
And then, at least, I know for me personally, I’ve been out for a long time and I’ve been out to all my friends for a long time, so I don’t pretend I’m not trans in any way. So when I’m having conversations with them where it’s relevant that my life is impacted by being trans, I’m open about it and just throw it into the conversation. “Because I’m trans XYZ” or “When I was younger, etc, etc” so that felt really legit to me.
MV: Yeah that’s one of the benefits of having a trans woman writing a trans woman is that we can authentically convey all the ways in which it just fucks you up. [Laughing] There’s so many!
Her being trans came really early in the process. When I was shopping it around to artists, one of the first things I would say is I’m a trans woman, this is a book with a trans woman in it, you just need to be ok with that or we can’t do this.
When I pitched this to Black Mask [Studios], I’m fairly certain this is one of the reasons they were interested in it. Apart from the fact that I think this is a legitimately good book, and that it’s not a book that leans on being queer, but it’s a unique perspective that my publisher was absolutely behind giving a platform to. I’ve gotten no pushback about the trans content or the queer content in this book except from a couple of snide twitter randos.
BB: You mentioned Black Mask [Studios], obviously. They seem like a perfect fit. I’m not very familiar with them as a studio, but looking through their offerings, it seems kind of punky, edgy, rebellious – that sort of revolutionary vibe. They have that sort of edge to them. Did you seek them out specifically because of that.
MV: I was originally pitching it around and really trying to get it into BOOM! at first because BOOM! Is doing a lot of queer and forward stuff, and I couldn’t get it into BOOM! But Black Mask [Studios] was really high on my list. I’ve had a lot of respect for Black Mask [Studios] since I read Toe Tag Riot last year and it really always seemed like this would be a really good fit because it does have that punk [sensibility]. Kim & Kim is sort of a wannabe punk poser, kind of thing, like bubblegum punk. But it still has that vibe to it, and it’s really deliberately punk aggro.
So I always thought it would be a good fit. Especially as I thought about it more and more, I figured there’s not really too many publishers for whom this is a really natural fit. I mean, what kind of editorial strategy does a book that looks like it’s for kids but has a shitload of cursing in it fit? Where does that go?
There are a few places that I pitched it too, but none of them felt super perfect for it. At BOOM!, I was trying to get it into BOOM!Box, but BOOM!Box has more of all ages vibe. BOOM!Box is doing a lot of great queer content, but it’s aimed at something of a younger audience.
BB: Like they have Lumberjanes, right?
BB: Yeah, my two young daughters love “Lumberjanes.” I’m like do you want to read this really cool book about really empowered young women who, by the way are super-queer? Enjoy!
MV: Yeah, like that is punk AS SHIT! Doing queer stuff for kids is SUPER punk, but that’s not my book. I see my book as aimed more at the older teen and college market. Because it’s just a lot franker, which is why I thought Black Mask [Studios] would be a really good fit.
I didn’t pitch it to Black Mask [Studios] originally when I first started shopping it around because I have a really good friend named Katy Rex who is doing a book called Jade Street Protection Agency, which also [came out June 27th] from Black Mask [Studios]. So we kind of like split up publishers, because we figured we were kind of going after similar markets, so after her book got picked up by Black Mask [Studios], I thought, well there’s no risk now, so I submitted it there and they picked it up too.
The thing I really love about Black Mask [Studios], apart from their revolutionary punk thing, although that’s absolutely a huge attractor for me, is that they kind of just don’t give a shit. The stuff they put out isn’t just punk revolutionary stuff, it’s just really weird shit that doesn’t have a home anywhere else, but is really fantastic work. Like, there’s a book called Our Work Fills the Pews, written by my friend Vita Ayala. That’s a really weird-ass fucking book. I can’t imagine where else it would go, but if it never got published, that would have been such a shame.
They did Young Terrorists with a #1 that was 80 pages and costs $9 and it sold like crazy. They’re just willing to take these big-ass chances. They’re just doing the weirdest shit. All the books that they do are like, psychotic, and I think it’s so cool.
Black Mask [Studios]’s whole position isn’t just that they want diverse storytellers, so much as it’s that they want to give people the opportunity to tell their stories. They don’t do a lot of oversight in terms of content or trying to push you in a direction.
Doing a story in which it was not forward looking to “Oh someday I can be happy” was really important to me. Kim Q. isn’t going after this pie-in-the-sky dream that someday she’ll be happy. She’s just got her life and she’s out their living it and that’s something that’s just a legit important thing to communicate to other people. That was an overt goal at the time – that it’s possible to be trans and not have that be this all-consuming part of your life and to have hobbies and friends and other things that aren’t related to this. Which is also super helpful to have during your transition too.
Kim Q. is doing other kinds of things to self-actualize. Her gender has stopped being this thing that she’s worried about. And now she’s off on this quest to sort of establish herself as her own kind of person, now that she’s laid the groundwork. She’s out doing the work of figuring out what sort of human being she’s gonna be, now that she has the mental space to be one.
BB: So like, not just focusing on becoming a woman, but figuring out what kind of woman she wants to become.
MV: Exactly. Which is sort of where I am right now too, so I’m right there with her.
Art by Eva Cabrera with colors by Claudia Aguirre.