Finding Agency and Liberation with Her Body: A Conversation with Angie Kang

Angie Kang, author of the comic “Birthmark” from volume 73.1, speaks with editor DW McKinney about having agency over her body in healthcare settings and writing herself into her stories.


Where did the story of “Birthmark” originate?


It came from different places. I have been growing a lot of moles lately. I think it’s a pretty normal thing, but they’ve been these flat freckles that have risen over time like bread. I have been fidgeting with them, but I started to tie that together, thinking about dermatology experiences and experiences with healthcare in general. Like people thinking that they know what’s better for your body than you and also with men in my life. In the past they have been very possessive over small aspects of my body, moles being one of them, where they’re like, “I know what’s better for you than you do.”

I think I was picking a mole one time and it started to bleed then scab over. I wondered what it would be like to almost trick a healthcare professional into removing something because they thought it was cancerous. So it came from ideas about taking ownership and having agency in a space where maybe you don’t have agency.


There’s a lot of silence and dialogue-free space. It draws you in.


It’s my first comic without any narration. It came as a formal challenge for me. In terms of my past work, they’ve typically been more like personal essays and the images support the words, or at least in the process, as I’m writing, the images come after the script. In “Birthmark,” I went for thumbnailing right away and let the images lead like that sequence with the mole turning into a cockroach and flying away. The pace isn’t as dictated by the words, which can be bossy and be like, “Okay, now we have to go to the next panel.” This one is just whatever happens.


Do you usually use soft color palettes? This one and your recent graphic essay in Ecotone have a similar color scheme.


Both of those pieces use limited color palettes, which I don’t really do in my painting work. For “Birthmark,” because it was like a sterile environment, I felt it should be more muted and darker. I tried to make the colors in the very end more vibrant as the character becomes happy and exuberant with the outcome.


What specifically would you want readers to take from “Birthmark?”


I thought it might be nice to have this piece that speaks to a male doctor and a father who are both trying to control this young woman’s body. I hope that for readers it comes across as a liberating experience, even if it appears to be kind of self-harm. I think I was toeing the line between that body horror element and also having it feel like it’s something that the character chose to do.


Do you incorporate autobiographical elements in all of your fiction?


I hate to say that I do because I feel like that makes everyone want to search for it, but I think it’s always about me. If it’s a story with four different characters, all four of them are me. Maybe parts of myself that I don’t like that are pushed or exaggerated and parts of me that I’m more proud of.


You have a book, Our Lake, coming out with Kokila in 2025.


I’m making the final art right now. I’m doing a spread a day. It has been a real joy to make. I think picture books are such an underrated medium, and I really appreciate people who like children’s literature too. With children’s and graphic literature there’s so much wisdom that can be imparted.


Our Lake is a children’s story. It actually started out as a poem. I was doing these little ekphrastic poems from random art sources like paintings and such. There was this one painting by Milton Avery called the Quarry Bathers (1937), and it’s three male figures who are jumping into this lake or a quarry. From that, I wrote this story about two people, but the third person appears in the reflection of the lake. I thought about what that means, the reflection of someone or the presence of someone without their physical body. It became this story about grief and grieving someone who wasn’t there anymore.

Angie Kang is a Chinese-American writer and illustrator living in the California bay area. Her work appears in The Believer, Catapult, The Rumpus, Narrative, The Offing, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She has received support from Tin House, VONA/Voices, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and the Sundress Academy of the Arts. More of her work can be found on Twitter/Instagram @anqiekanq.