Interview with Magdalene "Mags" Visaggio

Magdalene “Mags” Visaggio created the comic Kim and Kim, a series about lady space bounty hunters who travel the universe together kicking ass and taking names. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Mags now resides in New York. She has a degree in English from Virginia Commonwealth University, and studied Ethics and Moral Theology at Seton Hall University and although Kim and Kim is not the first comic she ever wrote, it's the first one that has gone into a second printing.

A lack of trans writers writing trans experiences is a huge issue in media, and many of us, including Mags, are tired of seeing cis creators write about trans issues. Mags herself is a trans woman, and some of what makes Kim and Kim beautiful is that it is (among other things) a story featuring a trans woman that was actually written by a trans woman. But the series isn't overburdened with emotion and ideology — it's just a story about two twenty-something women trying to find a place in the universe for their punk rock selves.

You are originally from Richmond, VA. Does being from the South affect your work at all? Similarly, did moving to New York evolve it in any way?

Probably? I haven’t noticed any particular influences, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I’m not super plugged into southern literary movements. I mean, I’ve heard of Flannery O'Connor, but that’s really about it. Both of my parents are from New York, and I live in New York now, but I grew up in the Richmond suburbs. I have a deep love for Virginia now, so I definitely grew up with the whole “lost cause” ideology. (Laughs) There are probably influences I’m not really aware of. It’s kind of hard not to have your childhood, and how you lived in your formidable years, seep into your work.

Kim and Kim are penniless bounty hunters, and that reminds some of us of Cowboy Bebop. Did that anime inspire this series? If so, what makes Kim and Kim different?

I would like to describe Kim and Kim as Cowboy Bebop meets Broad City. I’m a huge Cowboy Bebop fan. I got into it in high school, and mostly because of the music aspect. A buddy of mine made me a mix CD, and to this day it remains to be one of my favorite records. It’s fantastic. When I was coming up with Kim and Kim, that’s kind of the first thing I came up with. I sort of landed on space bounty hunters from Cowboy Bebop, because I know the kind of storytelling flexibility it gives you. It’s a really great kind of profession, if you really want to be able to do whatever you want. You’re constantly changing your setting, you constantly have some kind of antagonist, and a financial motive to it. I’m definitely drawing from Cowboy Bebop because they’re constantly broke, and they’re constantly trying to hang on together, or at least keep their lives hanging together.

Kim Q. fights with a bass guitar. That’s pretty bad ass. What inspired this?

That’s a very deliberate reference to another anime, and that’s FLCL. What’s really funny is that there are two big anime influences on Kim and Kim — despite me not being someone who watches much anime. I mean, music is all over the book. In just the first issue alone, there’s an 80s power ballad montage, and I was listening to tons and tons of riot grrrl music to sort of get in the spirit of it. The thing is, a lot of my work really draws on rock subculture. That’s something I very closely identify with. Both of my parents are really into music. My dad is a rock musician himself, and my mom was a groupie for Twisted Sister in the 70s. I really grew up in this music-driven 90s culture. My mom was really plugged into that kind of stuff when I was young, so alternative and punk music has always been a really big part of my life. So Kim and Kim and another comic I’m working on (that hasn’t been announced yet) both have a lot of rock and punk music energy going through them. I’m not specifically referencing bands, or songs or anything. A lot of other Black Mask stuff does. In We Can Never Go Home, every issue is named after a punk song, like “Our Work Fills the Pews,” by Hot Snakes. But, Kim and Kim doesn’t have anything like that to hang its hat on. I’m just trying to give it the attitude of girl-driven rock that I listened to a lot in high school, like The Eyeliners, Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and The Donnas. I wanted it to feel like that, without it being like “oh now here’s a music reference.” And the bass guitar is one thing that really went into that too. I did the bass guitar because I wanted to do FLCL. I’ve been wanting to do a character who operates that way for a long time. And once the bass guitar was in there, and once I started seeing Kim Q.’s designs coming in from Eva Cabrera and Claudia Aguirre, the punk infusion in the story arose organically.

I noticed at one point that Kim Q. calls Kim D. a “platonic significant other.” Can you describe that designation in more detail?

OK, to back up a bit: I love bromances. Bromances are my favorite thing in the world. Even before I transitioned, I was in a long-term bromance. That I still even now, consider to be a thing. Even though now I’m living as a woman, I still have a few very close male friendships. When I look at my favorite shows: Scrubs, Deep Space Nine, Community; and they all have these really strong — a little gay — male friendships, I wanted to bring that energy into Kim and Kim. I have my share of female friendships that are like that too. It’s not a thing that you really see in media, where you have these really, really close female friends that have that kind of weird dynamic? They’ll always just be pals and confidants. So, when you have a really, really close friendship, you’ll have a weird sexual tension, even if it’s two straight guys. They play that up for humor a lot, but it’s still a thing. True story: when I first started dating my wife — before I transitioned — I got really sick one day. I came down with a really bad flu, and my then girlfriend came by with some soup from Hale and Hearty. Chicken noodle soup. Meanwhile, my roommate and best friend Ian had also purchased me the same soup. And his thought was: “I had the same thought that my best friend’s girlfriend did.” We used to joke that we were a little married.

(Aw, yeah! That’s so cute)

So Kim and Kim. I wanted to give it that kind of: here’s a platonic relationship, but also it’s so intense, that it’s kind of not really a platonic relationship? It’s not romantic, but it’s some kind of thing. They’re totally committed to each other, even though they’re not romantic. You have that commitment to one another, that also does have this kind of sexual element to it that is always bubbling toward the surface. Kim and Kim are always physically affectionate with one another. They’re cuddly, they touch each other a lot, and they share a bed. Sometimes, things get a little weird in there? You know, sometimes they do. But it’s still not anything from a different dimension than a really close friendship.

With that, there’s a lot of trust there, and they’re really close friends. So, I’m interested too that in the first issue, they have a conversation about how they’re attraction to Columbus and Saar. How does that play into it?

They’re not romantically involved. They’re free to be attracted to other people. It’s not a thing. Honestly, Kim Q. never said she was attracted to Saar. What’s going on in that scene for her — and this is a little complicated, and I get that a lot of people aren’t catching it — you kind of have to really be in my head to see it. What Kim Q. is really saying, is that when she was younger — and she didn’t really know how to find how she felt about herself and what that meant for her. She just knew that she had this weird cross-gender stuff going on in her head. So, she’s not saying that she was actually attracted to Saar, though she might have been. But that’s not the content of what’s she’s saying. The content is that she was trying to find a way to validate how she was feeling. And she was trying to identify it. She wasn’t saying, “I used to be attracted to Saar,” she’s saying, “ I thought that if Saar was gay, I might be gay with him, and maybe that could make everything fine.” That would be how she would have identified, and coped with her cross-gender feelings. In order to really get it, I know you would have to have been able to live my life. I can really base that on an experience that I had a bunch in high school. I had a really strong male friendships, so (I would think to myself), am I gay for this guy or what? Like, I tried to be. I really tried to have a crush on them, so maybe that would accomplish this same thing that Kim Q. is after. So, OK, this is something I can cope with that has dimension, instead of it being this big mess in my head.

A recurring theme that I noticed in the comic is the tension between Kim Q. and her father. Is this drawn from personal experience, or something different?

YES. It’s both. At the time I was writing this, I was not out to my father. I came out to my dad in April, and this was written last year (2015). I guess the second issue was written in March or April, so around the time that I told my dad — issue two was mostly in the can. And that’s where you get Furious showing up the most, and it’s really weird how accurate it is, with how my dad is. When I came out to him as trans, we already had all of (this) bullshit going on. And he has not been able to deal with it super well. So, a lot of it was me thinking through how Furious would deal with it long term, and so far, it’s pretty much panned out. I spoke to my dad a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in probably six months. And we had a fight, an actual legit fight about what he was going to call me. He was very persistent about using my old name. So, I really wrote Furious kind of knowing my dad, and how he could effectively deal with this, which was, that I couldn’t expect him to deal with it. And like Furious, my dad does try to reach out. What Furious does in the book is, he is doing all that he knows how to do to reach his daughter, which is try to help her succeed at the thing that she does. He knows that she’s not going to accept it from him, so he sends Saar and Columbus to do it for him. Similarly, my dad still loves me, he just doesn’t know how to do it effectively. He does reach out, but it’s really clumsy, and he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, and it’s kind of a mess you know? In similar ways to what’s going on with Kim Q. and Furious. This interview is getting real! (Laughs).

Well, thank you for sharing that!

Well, thank you.

So what is the most important thing you want people to take away from Kim and Kim?

Kim and Kim is not really a big idea-driven book. It’s a big exercise for me trying not to do an overly serious grim and dark thing, which is something that I tend to do naturally. I’ve done a lot of really, really dark, angry work. And (Kim and Kim )is not that. So, in terms of a takeaway, I’m not really sure. What Kim and Kim is actually about, if it’s about anything, it is about being in your early twenties, trying to get your life together, but it’s not actually working. Not trying to spoil how the book ends, but it doesn’t end with this big triumphal moment, where they solved any of their problems. They’re pretty much at the same place at the ending as they are in the beginning. The whole story is a whole bunch of Sturm und Drang that doesn’t really amount to anything in terms of their personal growth, or their development as human beings, or even succeeding at their careers at all. They don’t even succeed in what they’re about to do — which is to help Tom Quilt get home. The book’s really about what my being in my twenties felt like. I had this big idea about all of this stuff I want to accomplish, and none of it happened. Everything petered out. What I want people to take from it is that it’s about camaraderie and frustration, it’s about support. The two Kims, they’re together in their failure, but they still have each other. In issue three, I explicitly say they will always be there for each other. And that’s the heart of it, more than the thought, more than the adventure, more than the action.

What can we expect from you, as a writer, in the future?

What can I say that doesn’t spoil anything? I have sold two more books, I cannot say to whom, or what they are about. So I have one more book that will be brought out in early 2017, and that is going to be announced soon. And I’ve got another book that’s dropping in 2018 that’s confirmed. I have a third thing that we haven’t finalized a deal for, but if it goes where I think it’s going to, it should be out next summer. I guess you could just say I have a lot of stuff set in my timeline, and I’m going to have a very busy 2017.

Check out the next (and last?) issue of Kim and Kim, available October 26, 2016!

Trish McNeely's picture
on October 25, 2016

Southern Appalachian Lesbian. Writer. Feminist. Avid Reader. Geek. Pokémon Fan. Sailor Moon Fan. Cowboy Bebop Fan. Strong Female Character Fan. Plaid and Argyle Anything Fan.