Queer Visibility Interview: Visaggio and Donovan Are Go with QUANTUM TEENS ARE GO

Black Mask Studio continues to grind out high quality and interesting creator-owned work that challenged their reader’s perceptions — and Quantum Teens are GO is no exception. The second title from writer Magdalene Vissaggio, Quantum Teens follows Nat and Susmesh through the adventure of their lives. We sat down with Visaggio and artist Eryk Donovan to get some behind-the-scenes on this Wednesday’s issue #1, and a bit of Nat’s feelings about transition and her parents’ transphobia toward her experience.

Allen Thomas: Between Quantum Teens Are Go and Kim & Kim, you seem to have a love for punky sci-fi. What was the inspiration for this series? Do you draw your inspiration from any other series or ideas?

Magdalene Vissagio: Ok. So, it’s not that I’m into punk sci-fi as much as it is that I’m a geek who grew up in 90’s alt-culture. Like, check this out: my mom was a groupie for Twisted Sister back in the day, and she like listened to alternative music and smoked a lot of weed and went to a lot of concerts when I was a kid, and all these rad alt-weeklies and books on witchcraft were all over my house. And when I got older I started getting into a lot of this stuff myself, you know, like Richmond, Virginia’s freak culture scene filtered through my terrified little suburban experience, and then I got to college. So. I’ve always been a wannabe scene kid.

The more direct inspiration, and like dude this is seriously all of a piece here, I promise, was The Adventures of Pete & Pete, which took that 90’s alt-culture sensibility and transposed onto this beautiful absurdist, magical realist sitcom. The idea that became Quantum Teens Are Go arose out of wanting to recreate that feeling.

I had had this idea, right, for my own Pete & Pete-type story about a couple of kids who were building a working space ship because that’d be awesome is all. But it was feeling light and insubstantial and I never had a story for it, so I kinda shelved it for a long time until I was trying to come up with a pitch for Fresh Romance. I aged my characters up, and since at the time I was convinced Kim & Kim was never ever gonna happen, I gave it that same kinda attitude. But I didn’t want it to have that same flash; I just wanted to do something super DIY garage rock, ya know?

Eryk Donovan: Definitely for me I draw a ton of inspiration from those 80’s and 90’s sci-fi family movies. E.T., Flight of the Navigator, Short Circuit, Back to the Future, that sort of thing  Some of them I didn’t see until I was older, but they still effected me growing up and had this sense of magic and adventure with the weird. While QTAG doesn’t take place in the 80’s or 90’s and is in a rather nebulous sort of alternate present/future timeline, I wanted to capture some of that feeling and bring it in. I like to think I’ve been pretty successful with that so far haha.

AT: It’s almost as though two worlds live side by side in the series, the robotics and mechanics that dot the issue right next to the seemingly everyday life of teenagers. How do you synthesize these two environments and what else is out there?

MV: I never really thought about it? It’s just that, like, when you’re a kid and you have this whole life that isn’t your home life or your school life. Maybe you’re in a band? Maybe you’re into LARPing? Maybe you’re super active at church or you hang out at home smoking weed or you and your best friend hang out in your bedroom writing comics all the damn time (that was me, natch). So, it’s not…like this complex interplay here. Nat & Sumesh just have their own extracurricular. Like that shitty band everyone was in, it’s the thing they really care about, especially on top of how unhappy they are with everything else in their lives.

ED: I do think it’s an interesting juxtaposition, but like Mags said, I think it comes across really naturally. One thing about having this story follow two Highschoolers is that they are still in a period where their lives aren’t entirely “theirs” yet. They’re still supposed to be in school everyday, doing homework, that sort of thing. We can all relate, and that part of your life never really is the part of you that MATTERS you know?

Like if you want to know what’s important to most kids in high school, what they’re studying is the last thing that matters to them generally. It’s the same with Nat and Sumesh, and I think to a greater extent, the rest of the Exxie community, which we get just a peek of. This crazy science, mad tech world, that’s what really matters, the rest of the day is just the space between.

AT: How do you two work together to form the aesthetic and the vibe of the series?

ED: Mags is pretty great, and had these character bios that she sent over, mainly just describing who the characters are, their motivations etc, but not much about say specific physical attributes. That’s a great way to collab on characters in my opinion, and there can always be a back and forth and tweaking if something doesn’t quite fit.

From the beginning I think I really hit most of the notes visually that Mags was feeling, and it just went naturally from there. Once I had main cast done, that sort of influences everything else. As far as the tech stuff in the world, I draw a lot from a mix of other sci-fi, and just looking at machines and how things are built, something that I love to examine and learn about.

Like before technology gets really refined and sort of turned into a product for mass consumption, it’s usually just pieces of things put together to create the desired result, no shiny chassis or cleverly made casing, and that’s really what we’re talking about with the exxie tech. Its scavenged, broken down, and put back together, probably no two creations are exactly the same, and that just gives a lot of opportunity for fun in creating this kinda grungy tech world.

On top of that, the idea that “mad science is punk rock” definitely is an influence in the way I want the different characters to look, and also effects the world they live in. That was a contrast I really wanted to make sure shows through, so when we meet characters like Nat’s Mom, or Martin, or other kids at school, it’s really important to set them apart from the exxie characters visually, more clean cut or common styles of clothing.

AT: How do Nat’s experiences with transphobia fold into the larger story you’re telling? How do they influence her as a character?

MV: It’s not special to Nat. Both Nat and Sumesh are unhappy people. That’s the root of it, and Nat’s experiences of transphobia and Sumesh’s feelings of disconnection from his adoptive family are two sides of the same cloth: alienation from their current context.

In this really really big way, what Quantum Teens Are Go is about is finding connection and building family where you can. I hit on similar themes in Kim & Kim because this is something that’s super important to me, you know, the voluntary families we build for ourselves. Nat’s unhappiness isn’t something that’s radically unlike Sumesh’s, and it’s not something that’s more special or more worth commenting on. Her alienation and Sumesh’s feed into their need to cling to each other, to build something powerful together, to make a context that makes sense to them, and in a huge way, this collective alienation is a much stronger pushing factor for Sumesh than it is for Nat.

ED: Definitely one of the core parts of this story is about the desire for family, and Nat and Sumesh have sort of created at least in the moment, a family for each other with just the two of them. Outside of the two of them people may not understand, or disrespect them, but when they’re together stalking through some abandoned factory, they’re being perfectly open and natural about who they are. It’s one thing too that happens a lot in sort of counter-culture and social sub-cultures, that who family is to us can be less about who we are attached too by blood and a lot more about the people who share that part of accepting who you are, or who you share common ground with. It’s actually very punk in that way.

AT: Sumesh and Nat both seem like they play off of each other well, and this dynamic is apparent in their relationship. How would you describe their connection and why they work as characters and as a couple?

MV: They’re miserable kids who make each other less miserable, and amplify the best parts of the other. Sumesh is more inventive than Nat, and a little smarter. Nat is braver than Sumesh, and stronger, and more tenacious and ambitious. They each offer something that the other needs, and as a couple, they’re this powerhouse with direction, drive, purpose, and the willingness to do whatever it takes.

The thing about Nat & Sumesh is that they both want something, and neither of them is entirely sure how to articulate that desire. They’re young, restless, angry teenagers who hate their families because their families don’t understand them – which is the most teenage thing in the world – and they’ve discovered that there’s something about the other person that offers that sense of connection and understanding that they don’t have.

Think about it like this. Nat’s parents don’t like that she’s trans. They’re trying to be supportive, but not really, and they’re still giving her enough shit over it that she knows they think she’s ruining her life. Nobody looks at her the same way. They second guess everything she does. Nobody cares that she’s happier.

Meanwhile, Sumesh is growing up feeling like an unwelcome houseguest in his late parents’ best friend’s home. He and his adoptive brother Martin have absolutely nothing in common, and they both know it. He feels like a charity case, and he feels like every interaction he has with his new family is incredibly condescending.

They’re both miserable.

And then they meet each other, and they fall for each other, and they offer the other the total, unyielding acceptance they deserve from their families.

ED: Exactly, and one of the best things about them being miserable outside of each other and the exxie stuff, is that they have a tendency to talk a bit of shit to each other. Sumesh will tend to get stuck in his head and harp on an idea and Nat has to be like “Dudeman slow your roll”. It’s a very fun dynamic to illustrate and figure out how the characters are going to interact.

One of my favorite things, a few different scenes I’ve drawn where Sumesh is talking to someone about something, and Nat is there next to him or in the background sort of staring at him with varying degrees of annoyance or astonishment haha.

AT: What do you want readers to get out of Quantum Kids Are Go?

MV: I want them to enjoy it. I don’t go into my projects trying to convey a message. If they get anything out of it, it’ll change from reader to reader depending on what they bring to the book.

ED: I hope they have a good time reading it and it brings either a smile or laugh or something fun to their day. There’s a lot of scariness in the world right now, and I hope our book can help alleviate a little stress from that.

AT: Anything else you want to add in anticipation of this week’s first issue?

MV: Donald Trump is a fascist.

ED: Seriously. Resist.

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