Black Mask Studio' sci-fi bounty-hunting extravaganza Kim & Kim isn't just an incredibly fun comic book, but a hugely personal story for its writer, Magdalene Visaggio. Kim & Kim #1 cover art by Tess Fowler
Kim & Kim — written by Visaggio, with art from Eva Cabrera, colours from Claudia Aguirre and lettering from Zakk Saam — follows the punk rock life of best friends Kim Quatro and Kim Dantzler, who've teamed up as the bounty-hunting group the Fighting Kims to go on one big intergalactic road trip (and make some cash along the way).
But beyond the sci-fi shenanigans and heroic quest the Kims go on, Kim & Kim is an LGBTQ-positive series that features a richly diverse cast of characters — including both of the Kims, one of whom is trans — and was hugely important for Visaggio to write, as she was undergoing her own transition process. Check out our interview with Visaggio below, as well as an exclusive preview of issue one.
Tell us a little bit about the story of Kim & Kim.
Magdalene Visaggio: OK, so Kim & Kim is about a couple of 20-something best friends — the eponymous Kims — who have decided to make a go of becoming interdimensional bounty hunters. They're poor as hell and they mostly live out of their flying space van, living from bounty to bounty, reading comics and hanging out. One of the Kims, Kim Quatro, is the daughter of the leader of the omniverse's most powerful bounty hunting organisation, and the other, Kim Dantzler, is a former probate necromancer. Both of them abandoned their old lives to stake out their own futures together. They're not amazing at it.
It's kind of Cowboy Bebop but also it's kinda Broad City. They're young adult fuckups trying and failing to keep their shit together.
What inspired you when it came to this setting and telling this story?
Visaggio: A lot of things! I'm not really sure where to begin. It's definitely a weird book that's hard to pin down to a specific genre. I'm really interested in stories where people are kind of wandering gyrovagues. I read On the Road incessantly in high school, and I've always wanted to capture that kind of meandering spirit in a book. I'm pretty much this wannabe punk beatnik who has spent her entire life trying to channel Jack Kerouac. This is the closest I've gotten. And I'm all about science fiction, so of course I wanted to set this in space. I'm also really interested in rock & roll subcultures and scenes; I have some other projects in development that build off these kinds of affinity groups, with their own practices, rituals, communities, norms. The punk stuff comes out of my attraction to that aesthetic and attitude, even I'd be the first to admit that I'm totally a faux-punk poseur. But it seemed like a natural fit with the Kerouac-style DIY road trip adventure I wanted to tell.
The "buddy" element arose out where I got the original idea for the book. So I was legit waiting for my coffee at Starbucks behind a couple of girls in their late teens, early twenties, who were sarcastic and funny as hell, and I think they were both named Kim. They were clearly really good friends. So I walked out of that Starbucks loving the idea of doing a comic about a couple of girls who were best friends. I don't think friendship, real friendship, is something that gets a lot of play in comics. Everyone is always at each other's throats. And some of the most defining relationships in my life, the ones the mean the most to me, are these amazingly positive female friendships.
I originally developed the characters with Moriah Hummer, and she gave them this really fantastic visual direction. Although her designs were more down to earth than what Eva's been working with — she really pushed these guys to the extreme — they definitely had this rad DIY aesthetic that informed a lot of how I thought about them, and definitely affected the book.
Without going into too much spoilery detail, what was your favourite moment to write in this first issue?
Visaggio: It's actually in the preview that Bleeding Cool put up. There's this two-page sequence where they're just chilling out on the roof of their van, drinking, smoking and shooting the shit. It's this quiet conversation that is so quintessentially these characters, and is the place where I fell in love with them.
Originally, I had the issue end with this big fight scene in the marketplace with snipers and a daring escape yada yada, but it never felt right. It never felt like them. So when I went back and reworked it, this little moment came out of it, where the Kims are doing their best to not deal with their own insufficiencies as adults, talking crap about their friends, getting a little real for a second before retreating back to jokes — it's honestly one of the truest scenes I've ever written. When I finally saw Eva and Claudia's art for that scene, my heart melted a little.
What brought you to Black Mask for Kim & Kim? What's the process been like so far?
Visaggio: I'd been shopping it around for a while. I'd had interest from a few editors that never ended up going anywhere, and for a while it was under consideration at another publisher which ultimately passed. I had actually really wanted to submit it to Black Mask back last October, but Katy Rex (she's the book's editor and the writer of Jade Street Protection Services, also at Black Mask) didn't want to submit in competition with each other, so she subbed at BMS and I went elsewhere. But I always thought it'd be a good fit. So when Black Mask opened up unsolicited submissions, and Jade Street had already been picked up, I figured what the hell and subbed. Matt [Pizzolo, writer, director and co-owner of Black Mask] got back to me within hours.
I honestly love working with Black Mask. I'm a huge believer in their ethos, and I loved Occupy Comics. Occupy Wall Street was a really big deal for me. Anyway, Black Mask is really committed to telling unique, subversive stories, and I thought that would be exactly what Kim & Kim needed; it's a weird book with a queer, girly vibe that might be a hard sell elsewhere. I mean, where the hell does a book like this fit into an editorial strategy? Matt has really been amazingly supportive of the book and of the team. He made a point of checking in with me after North Carolina passed HB2 to see if I'd be ok to show there and to see if there was any support Black Mask could offer. It's a legit fantastic publisher and, considering it's my first, I think I really lucked out.
Kim & Kim has been pitched as a "queer as shit" book, and one half of the Kims, Kim Q., is a trans woman. As a trans writer yourself, how important to you was it to not just have a trans character as one of your leads (in what is diverse cast of characters as well), but one who has transitioned and still has all these questions about herself?
Both Kims are queer — Kim D is bisexual. Just wanted to get that out there! So yeah, I'm a trans woman, and Kim Q means the world to me. I had barely started transitioning when I began developing Kim & Kim; I had only been in therapy about a month at that point, and I was still terrified. It was really important for my own sanity to make transition stop feeling like this big giant monster, and instead to treat it like just another part of someone's biography.
Kim Q is this realised human being who found herself in her transition and has not stopped trying to find herself. It's not like she sat down, defined herself as a girl, and stopped developing right there. Kim Q provided me this vehicle to imagine myself, I dunno, a couple years down the line. Kim Q has a life. Kim Q hasn't solved all her problems. Kim Q owns her past. It was kinda therapeutic, and it helped me get a little bit comfortable with the idea of transitioning, because one of my biggest worries was that it would overwhelm me.
My transition hangs over the book in another big way, too: it's kind of unabashedly girly, in the way that Hellcat is girly or Rat Queens is girly. I've always had a really fucked up relationship with femininity, so this book is smothered in neon pink and rainbows even while it's a beautifully foulmouthed, violent, bloody book. Developing this book was a really fun exercise in embracing this part of myself and seeing what it looked like, which ended up being a Lisa Frank assault rifle.
The other thing that really drove my portrayal of trans women in this book was the suicide of Leelah Alcorn. I don't know if you read her suicide note, but she was so convinced she didn't have a future. And why would she think anything else? If there's one thing we've learned from the media, it's that trans women are pathetic creatures who probably end up getting murdered. Leelah definitely imbibed that message. I did, too. I grew up with nothing by Jerry Springer, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and To Wong Foo. That was more or less all I had to base my self-conception of myself as a trans woman on. And man — what a fucked up way to grow up. I wanted to make sure that, in my own work, I was putting trans women all over the place, as well-developed POV characters whose transness matters.
It's clear that you've had a lot of fun writing these characters and this world. What's next for you in comics? Is there hope for more Kim & Kim adventures down the line after this first series?
Well, I don't have any other projects sold at the minute, but I have a bunch of stuff I'm hopefully going to be pitching around soon. As for Kim & Kim, I know that both Black Mask and I are hoping for a long, bright, crazy future for the Fighting Kims, and I'd love to send them on many more adventures. They're super close to my heart, and I'm not ready to retire them after one rodeo.
Kim & Kim #1 will hit store shelves in July.