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A female-driven, trans-written comic book? Yes, please!

September 29, 2016

 

Science fiction stories are nothing new. It’s a pretty sure thing that modern geeks have traveled to and from the stars many times within the pages of a comic book, novel, or in their favorite TV show or movie. At this point, space is no longer the final frontier; it’s as familiar to comic books readers as a superhero’s cape and tights.

 

So it’s truly rare and exciting to discover a story that can add a new element to the sci-fi genre. Thankfully, four-issue limited series Kim & Kim is just such a story. Published by Black Mask Studios, written and created by trans writer Magdalene Visaggio, with art by the straight-queer team Eva Cabrera and Claudia Aquirre, Kim & Kim mixes space-faring action, with salty language, humor, and a female buddy adventure with a trans lead character.

 

In short, this outer space comic book series with a decidedly queer- and female-centric tale is what our modern culture needs. The Advocate was happy to chat with writer-creator Magdalene Visaggio to discuss Kim & Kim, the importance of featuring an authentic trans character, her upcoming work, and what to look forward to in the final two issues of the series.

 

What was the genesis for the comic book?

Visaggio: That's actually not a super easy question to answer. Unlike a lot of other comics, this thing didn't come about because I had a big idea; I kinda reverse-engineered it from the title. So right from the start, at the very core of the book are these two women with the same first name and their relationship, and I'm really glad I've been been able to keep that relationship central to the story.

 

Female friendships are some of the most powerful things in the world, and I've been lucky to share them with a number of incredible women, so the more I worked on Kim & Kim, the more I wanted it to really focus on that. It needed to be snarky and mean and competitive and frustrated, but intensely supportive, loving, and kind.

 

That means that it's never going to be a super plot-driven book as much as it's always going to be about the eponymous Kims and their response to the craziness around them. What's really fun about that is how much their personalities drive the action, and the more I got to know them and watched them bounce off each other, the more I got to see the story take a lot of unexpected turns.

 

And one of the things that's really cool about this book is how rooted it is in being in your early 20s. So it's youthful — almost adolescent — and really focused on the young adult struggle to establish — and then assert — independence. That wasn't something I did on purpose, either; it came out of the development of the characters and thinking through their personalities and problems.

 

But it also really came out of my experience of my 20s, pretty much right up till I got married, where you constantly feel like you're living in the shadow of older, more successful people; be they your parents or anyone else. So Kim & Kim draws a lot on that.

 

What about futuristic sci-fi literature inspired you to base your story in this genre? 

I work in mainstream comics, which is overwhelmingly genre fiction, so it just kinda happened. I tend to mostly consume genre media; I'm a huge science fiction fan, and I read a ton of comics, so my brain goes here pretty naturally. It's not like it was a super deliberate choice as much as it was just kind of a base assumption, Of course this will be sci-fi. Most of what I do is.

 

Now, the particular kind of sci-fi world I'm utilizing here — a giant multidimensional mess of a setting — was designed in order to let me do pretty much literally anything I wanted to do. Straight sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural stuff, medieval adventures, ninja stuff, westerns — literally any kind of setting can be brought in here, plus it gives me permission to get weird and abstract and screw around with timelines some. Basically it's not a rigorously designed world and it has rules that let me be a little lazy with continuity.

 

As an out trans writer, how important is it for you to feature a realistic trans character?

Extremely. It's really a major priority of mine. I have another book coming out next year featuring a trans protagonist. Maybe two books. We'll see what the timeline for the other is. 

 

Look. Transgender representation in media is traditionally garbage. We all know it. When the major trans touchstones are still Buffalo Bill, The Crying Game, and Frank-n-Furter, we know we have a lot of work to do. And that work is getting done! But it's something that I as a transgender creator have to be participating in. Because if I don't, how can I expect anybody else to?What I really wanted to accomplish in Kim & Kim, as far as trans representation goes, was to do a story wherein a trans character had a lot of other shit going on absent her being trans. Kim Q.'s trans status is a meaningful part of her character; it informs her relationship with her father, which is one of the driving elements of the series, and it informs her relationship with an ex-partner named Saar who is sort of always tailing her and trying to help.

 

But it's never the entire story for her, because we have way too much media focusing on "trans people being trans." Where the entire goddamn story is just that they're trans. Transamerica, Boys Don't Cry, The Danish Girl — like, that's all those characters have. They're trans. Their struggle is that they're trans. It's literally the only thing about their character worth mentioning.

 

Transgender representation is being largely driven by cisgender creators. This is going to skew the hell out of that representation, and even when handled well, tends toward over-correction; I actually had another comic writer friend of mine post on Twitter about how to write trans people. She said something along the lines of "Trans people don't think about being trans all the time." Which is well-meaning, and I get what she's trying to communicate, but it's an exterior perspective, and so she doesn't really get how much being trans informs literally everything we do, how it has to be constantly navigated around. So, in trying to say something about doing representation well, she exposed the need for better representation.

 

How does your art team’s queer-straight identities influence the book?

Kim & Kim's creative team, minus our letterer Zakk Saam, is entirely female and entirely queer, and there is no planet where that doesn't matter to this book. It's oozing girliness and it's super fucking queer. And I think the queer friendships that drove the creative process really inform a lot of the book's story, look, feel, language — everything.

 

You mentioned a few upcoming works — care to share more details?

I already talked a lot about what my goals were regarding representation in Kim & Kim, but coming at it strictly as a queer trans woman writer, what this book was trying to accomplish was to show me that transition was possible.

 

When I started the book, I was very very early on; I wouldn't start hormones for another eight months, and I was still trying to convince myself that this was even a real possibility. The whole thing felt like a giant scary nightmare process, a giant wall I was to terrified to try to scale. What Kim Q. let me do was to get into the headspace of someone on the other side of it; Kim Q. has transitioned. She did it. It's in the past. It matters to her story, but it isn't her story. She's a real human being with impulse control problems and an inability to keep track of her money and a bass guitar that shoots lightning and a best friend and a flying van. She's got shit going on. And that really really really mattered to me.

 

When I first attempted transition back in 2011 — an aborted attempt — I got really bothered by how much being trans took over my life. I didn't want that to happen again. Kim Q. showed me it didn't have to, because what transition does is open up your stupid brain so you actually can be an actual entire human being instead of just faking it.

 

I have two other similarly trans-oriented books happening, and they take different tacks on the matter. One of them, Quantum Teens Are Go, is about a much more tenuous place on the transition timeline — both the character and I are at about the nine-month mark — and about dealing with people's objections. But that's really tangential to the main plot, which is about breaking into high-tech labs and fighting time travelers. But being trans and her negative post-transition experiences factor into her motives and those of other characters.

 

The other, a book still in development called Sex/Death/Revolution, is pretty explicitly trans-centric and focuses on a very particular aspect of transitioning: getting over the person you were always trying to be and the futures you've given up, but also there's magic in it. Each of them is really about different aspects of my coping with my gender bullshit, filtered through genre fiction.

 

With the current political climate, like the ridiculous battle over bathroom use, how important are trans and LGBT characters in comics? 

Immensely. On a personal level, good representation helps people realize that they aren't alone, that they aren't freaks, that they have a future. I know that if I'd had something a little more substantive than Jerry Springer when I was a terrified little trans girl, I might not have wasted half my life shoving the fact that I'm a woman into a corner.

 

Politically? It's called normalization. I'm not super versed in the sociology here, so I'm not gonna try to sound learned about the matter, but it's hard to hate something you're exposed to on the regular — and it makes it a lot hard to transmit hate to your children.

 

Hate is taught. But at the same time, when it comes specifically to trans people, normalizing us means breaking down a lot of big systemic patriarchy bullshit. I'm not sure which comes first. But, as they say in Starship Troopers, I'm doing my part!

 

Tease us with what to look forward to in the final two issues. 

Parental drama and robot gorillas.

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