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Behind the scenes: Vym magazine

Posted by Stine Fantoft Berg on Wednesday, December 2 2015

Johnny Velour of new drag magazine Vym on crossing gender lines, queer theory and indie comics

A new Brooklyn-based drag magazine, Vym explores its subject through comics, art and theory. Published by The Velours, aka John Jacob Lee and Sasha Steinberg, it aims to show the diversity of drag as a cultural phenomenon.

Over 98 pages filled with vibrant illustrations and artwork that jumps off the page, the first issue presents 14 different responses to the question, “What is drag?” I met with editorial director John ‘Johnny Velour’ to learn about the newcomer.

VYM - 1 copy

First off, do you pronounce it Vym or V-Y-M?
It’s pronounced Vym. Making a magazine about drag, it was important for us not to limit it to drag queens, or kings. And we wanted to speak a little bit beyond the performance aspect of drag. For us, Vym is a new gender-neutral personal pronoun. “I am vym” means “I am energy”, so we have kind of queered that word and turned it into something new. Which is exactly what drag does, taking something exciting and recoding it in a queer way.

VYM - 4 copy

How did you come up with the idea to start a magazine about drag?
While my background is in theatre and performance, Sasha has been self-publishing comics for years. I talked to him about us doing something together and he got really excited about the idea of speaking about drag as a thing of cultural importance. The second we started talking to other artists and drag performers we know, everyone got really excited and we knew we had to go all out with it.

VYM - 7 copy

You name it ‘The drag magazine’ – what’s your approach to drag and queerness? And are there any other drag magazines out there?
I think the heart of Vym is talking about drag in a way that’s beautiful, thoughtful, artistic and theoretical. We see drag as a cultural necessity. In such a highly gendered world with strict rules about what is male and what is female, the art of drag really serves a great purpose in breaking down those boundaries. But you know, when you go to a drag performance it’s usually at a bar or in loud situations where people don’t have space to talk about it and what it means to them. So Vym is about creating that space to talk about drag and queerness in a tangible way that you can take with you, so it’s not confined within the performance venue.

VYM - 2 copy

It’s really important for us to feature voices that you can’t necessarily find in mainstream media, like RuPaul’s Drag Race. We’ve made an effort to feature voices that are different and might not have a larger venue. There are a few other drag magazines out there, like the newly launched Queen, but I think Vym is different in the way we focus on theory and art.

VYM - 9 copy

Would you say that Vym is a critique of the drag community?
I’d rather say it’s a celebration of it – of all its diversity; drag queens, drag kings, transgender performers, cis gender performers. Queer communities can be quite fractured along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socio-economics… but the thing we have in common is our queerness, and it’s a very deep part of ourselves. So speaking from that perspective allows us to create something for people across the queer community.

It was important to us to have some politics and theory involved; there’s so much wonderful queer theory out there, but it can be really hard to understand for people outside of academia, so we’re hoping to create a way to share these ideas with people who need to hear them.

VYM - 8 copy

The aesthetics of Vym really stand out to me; lots of colour, illustration, hand-drawn type, comics…
Yes, that’s all Sasha’s creation. We wanted something clean, fun and bright. Drag is campy and hilarious, so Vym also had to be those things. Because of Sasha’s background in independent comics, it has strong ties to that genre as well. He really tried to melt that high quality magazine aesthetic with the independent comic aesthetic. The second issue will have even more comics, which we’re really excited about. There’s a natural link between comics and drag I think; both serve as a place for people to self-publish their own identities by developing a sort of alter ego.

VYM - 10 copy

What else can we expect from the second issue of Vym?
We’re aiming to have it out in early 2016. The issue is devoted to the complicated notions of realness; what is real? Who has ownership of real? We want people to question the things we think of as normal. Apart from comics, there will be more theory, more interviews, but still mostly art.

VYM - 11 copy

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