The Kao is Vincent Kao, an illustrator and comic artist known for his slice-of-life Web series, Mondo Mango, and the Prism Award-winning webcomic Magical Boy. Vincent graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a bachelor of fine arts in illustration. His work includes storyboarding, comics for independent studios, covers and posters for musicians, and simple character design, as well as illustrations for many individual clients under The Kao name. You can find him online at www.thekao.net/
Shauna Kosoris: What was the inspiration for your webcomic, Magical Boy?
The Kao: My inspiration for Magical Boy was deeply rooted in my desire for more representation. I wanted to make a story that’s fun and entertaining but can also share the experiences and challenges of being trans through an action-packed fantasy story. With my love for manga and anime classics like Sailor Moon, the idea of using the “magical girl” trope immediately came to me–especially with its use of transformations full of glitter and glam. I thought it was a perfect analogy of the feminine performance that many trans men were pressured into when growing up in order to “fit in.” I wondered to myself, how would someone overcome this when the fate of the world is on the line? That felt like a perfect hero’s journey and thus, Magical Boy was born.
It really was a perfect fit! A lot of the conflict, at least in the early parts of the story, revolves around Max wanting to be accepted as himself, while his mother is pushing him into being a girl because of their divine heritage. Did you always intend for that conflict to happen, or did it grow naturally out of the characters?
The conflict between Max and his mom was planned from the very beginning. It’s one of the main struggles many trans people face, where a parent may not accept them for who they are and would often double-down on making their child fit the role of the gender they were assigned at birth. So even though the conflict between Max and his mom has some roots in their magical backstory, I felt it was important to showcase that this does happen and is a real experience that many trans people go through.
While a lot of the conflict of Magical Boy came from the interactions Max had from navigating the world as a trans man, there was also the magical conflict that came from his magical girl heritage. Where did you get the idea for the bug-like spirits of darkness, and the way they consume human energy?
I feel like bugs are so bizarre and unique, they make great monsters with their multiple legs and armored skin. But this also may be due to my slight arachnophobia, and so referencing them for monsters made sense to me, haha.
That’s totally fair! So who was your favourite character to draw in the series?
My favorite character to draw is Walnut, because I love cats and he is a very unique chubby cat. I love his design and it only gets better in Volume 2! (Hint: he evolves!)
Oooh, I can’t wait to see his new look! So how long does it take you to draw each page of the Magical Boy comic?
I originally drew Magical Boy as a vertically-formatted mobile scroller, so it’s hard to say exactly how long each page took since they varied in length. However, one chapter or episode, which is about 60 panels, would take me roughly 60 to 80 hours from start to finish.
While Magical Boy has a lot of rainbow colours in the artwork, the colours themselves are of a more muted tone. Why did you choose that colour scheme for the series?
There are moments in the story where the color vibrance is very important to the story. It either indicates the potency of Max’s attack or shows that a character has been affected by a monster. The more muted or darker the color, the more infected the character is. However, if you mean the overall colors of the book, this could be due to the conversion of colors from RGB to CMYK when Magical Boy was reformatted from the web to print.
With Magical Boy completed, what are you working on now?
For the past few months, I’ve been focusing on a collaboration between multiple artists to make a trans and nonbinary anthology called The Out Side. Each artist illustrates their own personal journey of self-discovery and acceptance. Other than that, I’ve been keeping up with my other slice-of-life comic called Mondo Mango.
I’d like to end with a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. I don’t think I could pinpoint a single author that inspired me to write. Instead, it was more a combination of my favorite comics, mangas, and shows that drove my desire to tell my own stories. If anything, I would say Pokemon inspired me to start drawing comics at a very young age because I wanted to share my own Pokemon adventure.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
I really like a graphic novel called Snapdragon by Kat Leyh. It’s about a witch in the woods and a kid named Snap who seeks the witch out for help. Snap ends up helping the woman out and later discovers magic is real. I really like how the artists drew the scenery and bones and I became deeply invested in the witch’s back story. I couldn’t put the book down. It also features LGBTQ+ characters which is always a plus for me.
And what are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading a Korean webcomic on Tapas called Navillera: Like a Butterfly. It’s about a grandpa who wants to finally pursue his dream of doing ballet! I think it’s quite fun and I love the art style.