Smile Politely

VYM prints drag

When you think drag, you probably think drag queens performing late into the night at bars. John Jacob Lee and Sasha Steinberg, the creative minds behind VYM: the Drag Magazine, want to expand and deepen the conversation about drag by putting visual, print, and academic arts in conversation in one publication. 

VYM, which launched via a Kickstarter campaign, features comics, photography, illustrations, poetry, and prose. “It’s all about the colorful fabulosity of drag and also the political, philosophical nature of drag,” said John Jacob. “We’re finding ways to bring those things together.”

VYM is the creation of Steinberg, who grew up in Champaign-Urbana and went to graduate school for cartooning, and John Jacob, who has worked as a musical theatre dancer. The two currently live in Brooklyn but noted that VYM has its roots in C-U, where Steinberg first performed drag at Chester Street as Sasha Velour.

VYM cover image, (copyright) VYM Magazine & John Lisle

“For this first issue, we worked with lots of people that have connections to C-U as we put together the magazine,” said Sasha. “Some have moved on to other locations; some live there now. There’s a strong C-U energy in the magazine, so we decided we needed to have a party there as well.” 

VYM was born when John Jacob and Sasha began discussing putting together a self-published magazine. “I thought originally that this would be a zine for our friends,” said Lee. “But the more people we talked to, the more we realized that lots of people were interested in it. It became clear that there is a lot of interest in talking about drag.”

Both Lee  and Steinberg agreed that the form of a self-published magazine is the perfect platform for exploring drag.

“When I was in grad school for cartooning, I had to present some kind of art form to others that I thought would be helpful for them to learn about,” said Steinberg. “I presented drag as something that aligns really well with comics and self-publishing, which are already very closely connected. Some of the tools are exactly the same between those two art forms. For instance, cartoons are created by one person most of the time — a cartoonist both writes and illustrates the story — and drag performers do their own make up and perform. Both drag and comics combine counterculture and pop culture. The both offer opportunities for people to create business for themselves in the art world. They are both storytelling mediums. Comics are about writing accessible stories, and drag is so much about interacting with people. Both forms are really personal and really intimate. And they’re both about creating identity and working outside systems — systems of gender, for example. When you perform drag, you publish a separate identify for yourself.”

Image of Sasha Velour, ©VYM Magazine & Masha Bogushevsky

For Lee and Steinberg, a magazine about drag became an opportunity to explore the various contours of drag. “Drag is much more expansive than the typical kinds of drag queens that people might picture when they hear the word ‘drag,’” said Steinberg. “Drag is at play in how we all explore gender and construct identities for ourselves. Drag is both a radical queer lifestyle and a unique queer art.”

One C-U highlight from the first issue of VYM is an interview with local drag performer Veronica Bleaus by local academic Ben Bascom.

Image of Veronica Bleaus, ©VYM Magazine, Kinzie Ferguson & Becca Kacanda

“When we thought about putting together VYM, we immediately thought of Veronica,” said Steinberg, “since she’s a performer who is doing different kinds of drag in different settings than we typically associate with it.”

VYM’s piece about Veronica Bleaus exemplifies the multimodal feel of the magazine. “This first issue is called ‘What is drag?’ because we wanted to find ways to talk about drag meaningfully,” said Lee. “We solicited content from cartoonists, drag performers, visual artists, and academic writers. And then we got those people to collaborate in lots of interesting ways. The interview with Veronica Bleaus is by an academic writer, and a photographer and a cartoonist also contributed to the piece. The cartoonist added illustrations on top of the photographs, and, together, the visual art adds to with the conversation Veronica and Ben are having in the interview.”

Illustration from VYM Magazine, ©VYM Magazine & Eric Kostiuk Williams

Tomorrow’s launch party at Figure One will feature three drag performers (Veronica Bleaus, Sasha Velour, and Freddie Farenheit), reading and singing by Lee, reading by Ben Bascom, and a display of the images from the magazine.

The goal of the launch party, according to Lee and Steinberg, is for live performance and visual art to talk with each other about drag.

“We want people to experience drag performances while hearing important conversations about what drag means,” said Steinberg. “The event will definitely be a chance for people to see the many different styles of drag. There will be everything from campy, to sexy, to frightening.”

“It’s also significant that the event will take place in a gallery space rather than a bar, where drag typically lives,” Lee added. “The space will give people a new way to interact with drag, and also perhaps a more comfortable space for people to interact with drag if they haven’t seen it performed before.”

The events at the launch party are designed to capture the many faces of drag, and Lee and Steinberg emphasized that it is open to all audiences. “Drag is created for a queer audience,” said Sahsa. “It’s a queer art, and it’s important to have art that speaks to our identity. But it’s also something we want to share with non-queer people.”

The launch party for VYM takes place on Wednesday, June 3rd at 7 p.m. in the Figure One gallery (116 N. Walnut, Champaign). Copies of VYM Magazine are available here

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