Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

8th Feb 2016

Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
A collection of hilarious and beautifully-drawn comics following mutant teens though a year of high school

Super Mutant Magic Academy author, Canadian cartoonist Jillian Tamaki co-created celebrated graphic novels This One Summer and Skim with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, for which Jillian did the artwork. She also writes her own books, as in this latest solo offering (in tandem with seminal indie publishers Drawn and Quarterly).

Super Mutant Magic Academy follows a group of students over the course of a year as they deal with the complications of teenage angst in tandem with their status as varingly powerful mutants.

Having started as a web series, most of the stories are told in one-page vignettes which initially seem unconnected. However, these combine to paint a picture of the academy and its students, some of whom emerge as main characters and feature in some longer chapters later in the book.

There is plenty of humour to be found in the teenagers’ everyday concerns. The dialogue often satirises the drama inherent in their musings as they make sense of society.

Highlights include mutant teenagers earnestly discussing the problems of the internet: “Now we’re all addicts looking for junk, our junk being attention and approval.”

Ostensibly for a YA audience, Super Mutant Magic Academy can definitely be enjoyed by older adults too.

Multiple panels poke fun at modern life, such as the moment when a girl takes a picture of some stylish students and starts interviewing them about their sartorial influences (Jean Shrimpton and the film Heathers) only to be told off and pointed towards a sign reading ‘NO BLOGGING.’

Given a premise firmly rooted in fantasy, the characters are surprisingly believable

The book’s concept might be light-hearted but there is a depth of feeling covered in the vignettes. The subject matter is also varied. Themes range from common teenage issues such as unrequited love and social hierarchies to immortality, alien life and the mysteries of the universe.

Given a premise firmly rooted in fantasy, the characters are surprisingly believable and there is warmth in their interactions. As it says on the back cover ‘The kids of Super Mutant Magic Academy want to be your friend.’

There’s Frances, a guerilla feminist artist, Cheddar, the jock with hidden depths, the hilarious and self-deprecating Marsha and the cute, cat-eared Wendy, a young advocate for women’s rights.

They join an extended cast of characters including Everlasting Man, an immortal teen who defies the timeline of the book as his story is told at various points in the Earth’s existence.

The artwork is mostly reminiscent of Tamaki’s clean lines seen in This One Summer, only here depicted in black and white (with the exception of a few details, such as dashes of red to show the full effect of Frances’ pigs’ blood protest). Some pages feature a different, sketchier style, giving the overall feel of a classic compilation of newspaper comics.

A warm, intelligent and beautifully-illustrated book which is a lot of fun to read.