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A Chat With Magdalene Visaggio

By Brin Bixby

Kim & Kim, published by Black Mask studios, is the comics premier of writer Magdalene “Mags” Visaggio, and tells the story of Kim Q. and Kim D., a punk pair of bounty hunters scrounging a living on the edges of society.

The first issue releases this Wednesday, July 6, and is chock full of action, adventure, friendship, sci-fi tropes, nods to genre staples, octopodes in disguise and even a musical investigation montage.

In addition to a bounty hunting team, “The Fighting Kims” (name pending approval) are friends leaning on each other for emotional support and as vehicles for escaping their own pasts while trying to work out how to go about figuring out adulthood and their respective futures.

I had the good fortune to interview Ms. Visaggio ahead of her book dropping and, in a wide-ranging conversation, we discussed her influences, transness, and the Kim’s relationship with each other.

Brin: I love the Kims’ friendship and their interaction. I know I’ve had the friend whose sole purpose in life seemed to be getting me on her bad idea train. And she usually succeeded, despite my best efforts. It sort of seemed to me that Kim Q. was the engineer of that particular train. I started to feel bad for Kimber for being the long-suffering voice of reason, and then the last panel hit and I was like “Oh they do this to each other!”

Mags Visaggio: Yes! They do this to each other. The way I put it, Kim Q. is really aggressive and brash and tends to dive into things without thinking. Kim D. tries really hard to be the responsible one, but she’s not actually responsible.

BB: She’s just bad at it?

MV: Yeah, so at the end of issue one, when she’s like “Let’s do this really stupid thing for no fucking reason,” as we find out in later issues, she has less to go on than she claims. So it just goes from bad to worse, to even worse. Issues two and three are really driven by Kim D. making a really shitty decision, actually a few really shitty decisions, and Kim Q., in her way, having to be the one to pull her back. So they’re both idiots in different ways.

BB: Complementary idiots?

MV: Well, they’re not doing great, so I don’t think it’s even fair to say they’re complementing each other so much as they’re probably holding each other back. But, I mean, they’re definitely mutual support for each other.

What Kim & Kim is really about, in a lot of ways, is being in your mid-twenties and trying to set out on your own and not really having any idea what you’re doing, but being so damn dedicated to not taking any help because you can figure this out.

BB: Yeah, Kim Q. pushes back really hard on talking to her Dad. Which, I feel like there’s probably a lot more story there other than just wanting to be independent.

MV: Yeah, there is and we hint at that a little in the first issue, particularly in regards to her conflict with her former bounty hunter partner, Saar. There’s significant bad blood there between her and her dad. There’s not a lot of detail about that in this book because what is really important is knowing that they don’t really speak. They don’t speak for a lot of reasons, but there’s obviously one really, really big one.

BB: I feel like I can backfill some of that. At least, in my head as a trans woman, there’s a pretty big puzzle piece that I’m slotting in, so I’m just waiting to see if I’m right.

MV: Let’s just say that you are. It’s never explicitly said, but it gets really painfully obvious. We meet Kim Q.’s dad briefly. They don’t interact, but he’s yelling at Saar and [his partner] and he’s yelling about his daughter.

Both Kims over the course of this book have their previous lives prior to them striking out on their own intruding in really weird ways. Kim D. comes from a family of probate necromancers.

BB: Okaaayy….

MV: Basically, they raise the dead to resolve inheritance dispute, which I feel like is what we would do if we actually had necromancy. Lawyers would hire them to raise the dead to be like “Alright, who do you want to inherit your shit, because your kids are all being shitheads.” And Kim D. got out of that very respectable business because she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her rad Aunt Djuna who’s the black sheep of the family as another space adventurer person. And of course her mom is like “Why would you want to fucking do that? Get a real job!”

In the second issue, Kim D. realizes that in order to accomplish this goal, she has to go do some necromancy and it just goes really, really badly. And she feels really shitty about how badly it goes because she thinks this should be super easy. She resents that she even has to do it at all, and then she resents that she can’t do it anymore. Even the necromancy is acting as this other part of her past. The whole book is about these young adults raging against their upbringing

BB: And trying to adult along the way?

MV: And they’re terrible at adulting. I don’t know too many people who didn’t, when striking out and finding their identities in college and after college, become sort of the opposite of their parents.

BB: I’ve seen a lot of interviews where you mention their queerness, or that the comic has queerness enmeshed in their tapestry, but it looked like both Kims express some attraction to men, or male-coded, characters, is that something that comes out later? Are both of them straight?

MV: Kim D. is bisexual. Interestingly, the guy that she expresses interest to in the first issue is really like aggressively androgynous. There’s no one in the book who’s legit just straight that’s a core character. All the straight characters are ancillary and secondary people who have support roles. The core four of Kim, Kim, Columbus and Saar are all some flavor of queer. Columbus uses male pronouns but is pretty genderqueer, genderfluid-y. He’s definitely non-binary. When Kim D. expresses attraction to him, that’s expressing her bisexuality in a really interesting way. You’ll notice no one’s expressing any current attraction to the one overtly masculine character in the book.

So when Kim Q. says that she wishes that she was gay and could have been gay with Saar, Kim Q.’s [saying] she doesn’t really know what she is. What I’m doing in that scene is that I’m transposing onto her something I used to do in high school too, where I knew I felt like a girl, so I tried to have crushes on guys, because that would validate that feeling.

And so, she’s super-conflicted. She says “I don’t know, I was still figuring out my shit.” She’s not saying “I was attracted to him.” She’s saying “If he was gay I could have been gay with him. But I don’t know, I was super confused.” There’s no clear statement of her sexual preferences in that. It’s just “In high school I didn’t know what was going on in my head.”

I did that a bunch in high school. I’m not really into guys, but there were a bunch of guys that I was just like, you know what? I could fake it…

Because that would validate and give me an outlet for this weird sense of identity I had. Like maybe that’s all I mean when I say I feel like a woman, maybe I’m just gay. It’s like I didn’t feel super strong attraction to anyone either way so, fuck, maybe, I don’t know!

The Kims are also at least kind of casually sexual with each other too. They’ve definitely got a lot of chemistry between them. In further issues, it’s never overtly stated, but I’m not gonna say that’s not the case. I’m not gonna pussyfoot around the fact that they do sometimes bang, because that’s a subtext that’s important for some of their interactions in later issues. It’s not something that I feel the need right now to put in the book because the book is not about them having sex.

Kim D. is bi and Kim Q. is just like she doesn’t even know. She’s still in the process of sorting out her relationship with her own body. Like how can I feel sexual with other people if I still have this weirdly conflicted relationship with myself? So that’s all present.

BB: Yeah, my strategy in high school was to try to be in lesbians with other women who thought they were in a relationship with a straight man.

Has writing Kim Q., who’s sort of very confident in her decision to transition or her choice of how to transition insofar as it’s been discussed in the book -has it had any impact on you and your transition?

MV: Yeah, that was one of the things I was trying to do in writing Kim Q. was to provide an opportunity for me to get into that headspace while I was sorting that stuff out. When I started [writing] the book, I’d only been in therapy for a few months, and I was still really conflicted about a lot of things. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I didn’t know what I could do, I didn’t know what my options were, I didn’t know what was realistic. I was still like ‘I’m already in my 30s like what can I really do, is this a thing worth doing at this point.’ … So it was really important to me that I do a book in which I had a trans character who was past that whole part of her life and who had come out the other side and realized she was still a human being on the other end. So for me, it was this exercise in telling myself ad nauseum that my shit was worth figuring out because you’re still a person when you’re done. You’re just more of a person than you’ve ever been.

What writing Kim Q. really allowed me to do was to sort of envision what that would mean. Kim Q. doesn’t think about being trans constantly, except insofar as that mediates her existence in the world. There are times you can’t avoid that fact, it just comes up in day-to-day, but it’s not the sort of thing where it’s a project for her anymore. She goes to the store and gets called Miss and is just like “oh yeah, that’s a thing that I did.” I wanted to give myself the opportunity to be there for a little bit so I could get over the hump a little bit mentally. So it was a really therapeutic process, developing and writing this character.

BB: It’s super cool to see a trans character for whom the large part of their transition is behind them. Like, transition is this huge project as you said, and it has a really long tail – there’s always little stuff that comes up after you’ve gotten over the big hump. But it’s nice to see a trans character having emotions and a character arc and a place in the plot.

MV: And a job!

BB: And a job! That doesn’t rely on her transition as motivation.

MV: Yeah, that was really, really deliberate. I had no interest in doing a transition story. Transition stories are really, really samey. I’ve spent enough time on trans reddit to know that what I went through is pretty much what everybody went through. It’s really boring. The only people who find it entertaining are cis people.

That being said, I am developing sort of a trans, post-transition, trans-centric magic fantasy thing, in which it’s dealing with parts of transition that never get play. In this case, it’s the phenomenon of coping with lost futures.

BB: Yeah…

MV: Yeah, That’s a thing!

BB: Such a thing.

MV: You sort of set off with this whole idea of this person you want to be and the life you want to live and you sort of have to torpedo that and that’s really, really hard. And that’s what this other thing that I’m working on is about.

But, I had no interest in doing yet another transition story, yet another samey fucking story about how sad it is to be a trans person. And it IS really sad to be a trans person, but I think we’ve said that enough? I think we can start looking for other things we can do.

BB: We can also talk about the ways that it’s awesome to be a trans person.

MV: Oh yeah, cuz it’s so fucking rad! I mean, it’s shitty in a bunch of ways, but there’s also so many ways in which it’s the punkest shit you can do, right? I personally really try to own that. That sense of giving the finger to patriarchy. There’s no more rebellious act than transitioning to living as a woman.

BB: I’ll take all the punk cred I can get in my white, suburban, middle-class Midwestern self.

MV: Yeah, this is really all I’ve got. Also a really rad denim vest! I’m definitely bubblegum punk.

BB: I did have a question about your influences. I gather from the settings and aesthetic of the story that you are a fan of genre fiction.

MV: Definitely Han and Chewie.

I was really into road narratives, like “On the Road.” I loved Kerouac. I’ve always like stuff about people in the margins, in subcultures, operating outside the mainstream really appealed to me.

My dad is a truck driver, so when I was a kid, every summer I would go and spend a couple weeks out on the road. That’s almost certainly where I got this. There’s this whole society out there on the highways of the United States with its own infrastructure, its own social mores, its own shorthand, its own camaraderie, its own itinerant settlements. It’s fascinating stuff, so I got really, really interested in that kind of lifestyle and I’ve been trying to tell that kind of story for years.

So I’ve always really loved Star Wars because it involves people like that. Han and Chewie are those people. I mean they’re operating outside the law, obviously, instead of just being commercial truck drivers. Their home is their ship. They don’t have a place that they go to when they’re done. This is their existence. They have their friends who are also in this whole other world that’s parallel to everything else.

Kim & Kim is about that. [Two upcoming projects in development] are about that. I spent a lot of time exploring subcultures.

Cowboy Bebop is another big one. I like to describe Kim & Kim as Cowboy Bebop meets Broad City. It has Cowboy Bebop kind of sci-fi content with sort of a Broad City, kind of a couple of idiots dicking around, trying to get shit done, and not really having any idea what they’re doing, kind of vibe.

FLCL – I haven’t seen it in ten years and it just really still sits with me in this massive way. It’s all over Kim & Kim. Like Kim Q. using a bass guitar as a weapon, I just straight-up stole that from FLCL.

BB: That is one seriously fortified guitar, though.

MV: No shit! It shoots lightning! Which I did not tell Eva and Claudia to do, they just did it and I’m like alright, cool!

The big thing that FLCL brought to Kim & Kim, apart from some overt references, is that there was this really deliberate effort to just throw shit against the wall just because they wanted to. It’s a fearless kind of storytelling, in that they weren’t worried about whether or not literally everything made logical sense. As long as it contributed to the story, or even if it just looked really cool and didn’t hurt anything, they were fine with doing it.

I tend to be the kind of person who gets caught up thinking through the details of things, and that has shut down many a story in my life because I just couldn’t get past “well, does this make perfect logical sense – is there a plot hole that I’m missing?” And I would think through to where I would see every possible plot hole and then my story wouldn’t make sense because you can’t fix everything.

So this was a big exercise in me just going, the important thing is me telling the story and if I want to do something fun, why the hell not. So that’s why they have a flying space van. I’m not going to tell you how it works. I don’t give a shit how it works. I don’t know how they breathe. I mention that they travel to other dimensions. I don’t know how they do that, I don’t know why. They just do. It’s just something that happens because I wanted it to happen.

A really big influence in terms of the mood and tone was “Nevada” by Imogen Binnie. It was massively influential when I was still really in the process of sorting out my trans shit and I wanted to do a book that had that kind of voice. While Kim & Kim is cartoony and exaggerated, it’s an exaggerated version of Nevada, in terms of how I tell my story and the voice of my characters. It’s like “Nevada” hooked up to a bunch of effects pedals.

This interview was so big that it’s in two parts! Read part 2!

Kim & Kim Issue #1 will be available from Black Mask Studios in comic shops and Comixology , direct from Black Mask Studios and Kindle on Wednesday.

Follow Magdalene on Twitter and Kim & Kim’s Twitter

Art by Tess Fowler and colors by Kiki Jensen. Apologies to both artists for not properly giving credit.

Read Brin’s interviews with Lilah Sturges and Aneesh Sheth.

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