You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.
For a long time, the mainstream comics industry has been dominated by white, cis male creators. From the executive level on down, diversity has sometimes been hard to come by. In fact, while the industry has taken definitive steps toward diversifying, it can still struggle to connect with its audience, particularly with the trans community that has long used comics to escape their own lives.
In 2016, Black Mask Studios released Kim and Kim, a comic adventure story created by author Mags Visaggio. Kim and Kim is a story about two best friends—Kim Q, a trans woman, and Kim D—who set out to establish an inter-dimensional bounty hunting business. The story and illustrations of Kim and Kim are told through a decidedly feminine lens, a departure from many of the more masculine feeling mainstream comics. In January of this year, the first volume of Kim and Kim was released while a second volume is due before the end of 2018.
We spoke with Visaggio about diversity in comics, and what she's looking forward to next year.
BROADLY: For those who aren’t familiar, tell us a little about Kim and Kim.
MAGS VISAGGIO: Kim and Kim is about two best friends who launch an inter-dimensional bounty hunting business out of their flying van. It’s basically about being in your early to mid-twenties and trying to sort of establish yourself on your own, but not really knowing what you’re doing and the regular travails of that age. Financial troubles, having a shitty family, just the regular stuff that everybody goes through but against this ridiculous inter-dimensional background.
There’s a ton that makes it unique, I mean the first obviously is that it’s a queer-centric comic written by a trans woman but it’s hard to put a finger on it. There’s not much on the shelves that’s like it. It’s really anarchic, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and it operates in this really contemporary vernacular which people either love or hate. It’s unabashedly girly but it’s also brutally violent. It’s goofy but also extremely emotional. I don’t know if I even could really explain what sets it that much apart from everything or why it’s resonated with people the way that it has.
It’s not being afraid of femininity and so it’s operating in that sort of aesthetic space and storytelling space. Like the book gets a lot of shit from dude-bros who are all like, "Oh it looks like webcomic art," and I’m like, maybe that’s because webcomics are dominated by women, so it looks and it’s operating from those same kind of assumptions.
I think I already know the answer to the question, but do you get a lot of harassment online?
Yes I do get a lot of harassment, that’s sort of been an ongoing thing. It’s because I’m loud and I’m queer. I’m very loud and very outspoken. I make a point of being that and that has pissed off literally tens of thousands of dude-bros who just want to tear me down and kicked off books. A lot of it has leveled out right now at this moment, I’m not at a bad moment right now. I have a mass blockchain so a lot of people can’t even get to me anymore. A lot of the energy behind the initial harassment which was going on in August and September has cleared out because I have really strong defenses.
How did you get into comics writing?
I’ve been reading comics since I was 8 years old, maybe 7, I was definitely really young. My dad got me a couple of Superman comics and I immediately started making my own comics, so I’ve been making comics my whole life, in one form or another. I eventually decided I wanted to be a comic artist and I spent all my primary and secondary education studying how to be an artist and I was just so not very good. I just didn’t really have the patience and discipline for it back then which was mostly my massive, crippling depression.
I switched to writing in college and just drifted along, like I wanted [to be a] literary novelist for a while, but I didn’t have the discipline or patience for that! And that’s always been my thing, I didn’t have the patience to finish things but I was always drifting back to comics. So I started getting into making comics again in 2006 or 2007 with a terrible book that I made with friends. It never went anywhere because it wasn’t good and we just spent a few years just making that book for ourselves. And then later in 2012 was when I started getting serious about upping my skill set and figuring out how to do this shit and it’s been progressing from there.
[Before I came out as trans] when Kim and Kim was going to be in catalogs in April 2016 under the name Magdalene Visaggio, I was like, "I’ve got to be out by then," and I did that on purpose. Otherwise I’m never going to do it, I’m ever going to, this way I had to be out [as trans] by this date. So I came out two weeks before that, so April 2016 was nothing but big announcements from Mags.
How important is it that characters from marginalized communities in comics are written by writers from those same communities?
That’s a tough question because on the one hand, as a member of a marginalized community who is extremely critical of the way people who are not part of that community handle trans characters, I want to say yes, that is very important to a point. At the same time, I have immense faith in writers—and maybe this is a misplaced faith—to handle these things respectfully. I think that writers can be able to write what they want and I know that’s a controversial opinion I’ve been vehemently disagreed with before. But I still think it’s true but there are responsibilities that writers have. One of those responsibilities is that writers need to ask themselves: Who am I taking an opportunity from? That’s a thing that publishers need to be aware of, too.
You just have to be super aware of what you’re doing and what you don’t know. You need to be talking to people and figure out out, "Am I being ignorant, am I being offensive, what are my blind spots?" That’s a thing that we all have to be aware of.
The danger is that publishers will be looking for people who meet the requirement of being in this demographic, instead of looking for people within the comics creator community for people who both meet this demographic and can perform. You get situations where people are hiring people who aren’t comics writers and who don’t know how to land the stories, which just gives [critics] ammunition to use against hiring women and minorities to make comics.
What have you done in 2017 that you’re most proud of?
Quantum Teens Are Go. It’s a four issue mini-series that ran from February through May of this year and it’s a boyfriend and girlfriend in high school who break into abandoned super labs at night to find the parts they need to build their time machine. It’s sort of a cross between mad science with the underground LA punk scene but what it’s really about is about these unhappy kids who are trying to desperately to escape their lives. The girl is Nat, she’s 17, she transitioned in high school and gets tons of shit from her peers and tons of shit from her family and about the only people she doesn’t get shit from is a couple of friends and her boyfriend. And then there’s the boyfriend Sinesh, whose parents passed away in a car accident a couple years ago and he’s been unhappily living with friends and family.
It’s a story of these broken, hurting kids who just want to find that space where they’re happy and I don’t think I’ll ever love any of my characters the way I love them. I get teary-eyed thinking about them, I’m crying right now. I love them so much.
What’s in store for you in 2018?
Oh my god, so much! I’m working on Transformers vs Visionaries at IDW which is a revival of a sort of forgotten eighties cartoon. It’s been a really fun project and I’ve had a real blast. The big thing is Eternity Girl, which is my first book at DC Comics. Eternal Girl is about a depressed immortal shape-shifter who realizes the only way she can die is if she destroys the universe and then decides to do that. The storytelling is sort of mixed linear/non-linear, it’s a weird book to describe but it’s basically my meditation on my experience being depressed and suicidal and what that felt like for me translated into a superhero comic.