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Book Review: SuperMutant Magic Academy (Jillian Tamaki)

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly

Pages: 224

Release Date: April 28th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

The New York Times and New Yorker illustrator Jillian Tamaki is best known for co-creating the award-winning young adult graphic novels Skim and This One Summer—moody and atmospheric bestsellers. SuperMutant Magic Academy, which she has been serializing online for the past four years, paints a teenaged world filled with just as much ennui and uncertainty, but also with a sharp dose of humor and irreverence. Tamaki deftly plays superhero and high-school Hollywood tropes against what adolescence is really like: The SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a backseat to everyday teen concerns.

Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating.

SuperMutant Magic Academy has won two Ignatz Awards. This volume combines the most popular content from the webcomic with a selection of all-new, never-before-seen strips that conclude Tamaki’s account of life at the academy.

Review:

This was a Christmas present that I’ve finally gotten round to reading. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all: I didn’t know anything about it going in and was expecting a traditional kind of story. Instead, this book is made up of one page comic strips which Tamaki has been serialising online. It’s completely different to anything I’ve read before, a bit like reading a whole book of the comic strips I used to read in the Metro. This felt like a lot to do in a few sittings and I did wonder if I’d have preferred to read it online bit by bit.

After reading a lot of other reviews of this book, I feel like other people ‘got it’ more than I did. I enjoyed reading it and a lot of them made me chuckle, but I’m just not sure I got all the jokes. A good part of that could be the way I read things – way too fast, so maybe I needed to slow down and look at the words and pictures a bit more to fully appreciate it.

Still, what I did get I really enjoyed. It’s an interesting way to get to know characters, from these small snapshots of their lives rather than continuing stories like I’m used to. I loved Frances and her performance art, those were definitely some of my favourite strips and also Marsha’s story of her secret love for her best friend. Although the characters are all mutants and have magical powers, the stories focus on more typical teenage growing up issue, such as feminism, body issues, being gay and falling in love.

The art style was really varied: some were a lot more detailed than others and I’m not sure if there was a point to that or not. I did love the sparing use of colour though. The majority of the strips are in black and white, but occasionally there’s a splash of red that really makes the drawings pop. My favourite part was the Prom Night story which ended the book was more like a continuous story than the rest of the book.

There’s an odd charm to this book and I really did fall in love with a lot of the characters, even if I’m not sure I got all their jokes.

3

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