Review: SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

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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. — [X]

[NOTE: I received my copy of the book from Raincoast Books in exchange for a review.]

I was so excited about the release of SuperMutant Magic Academy that when I finally held it in my hands, I took a picture of it, and … stashed it at the bottom of this month’s TBR pile. I mean, I know Jillian Tamaki is amazing, I know, but what if this didn’t live up to my expectations … ? *rolls eyes* I needn’t have worried. It was every bit as weird and wonderful as I’d hoped it would be!

Let’s start with how cute the design of the book is. Even if you were going in blind, just looking at the book would give you an idea of what to expect. The inside of the cover (those flaps for which I don’t have a name), shows students at the academy lined up for lunch, some of whom appear wholly human, and some of whom don’t. (The title does say SuperMutant, yes?) The end pages are my absolute favourite and have a pattern of pizza, zit cream, elastic bands, and other minutia from a teenager’s life. And the back of the book, where there should have been a blurb or something is the *cough* totally-not-eerie *cough* invitation to befriend the characters in the book.

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Within the pages, you find yourself immersed in the lives of characters like Marsha (the one on the cover) who is secretly in love with Wendy (the sweet girl with the fox ears) …

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Cheddar (the popular boy with way too many unpopular opinions), Frances (whose severely out-there art projects you will come to look forward to) …

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Trixie (my favourite, who yearns for a modelling career), and several others, whose day-to-day dramas are juxtaposed with their rather unusual, magical schooling. Interspersed between all the forging of friendship, searching for romance, need for solitude etc. are Everlasting Boy’s attempts to rid himself of his mortal coil. (Actually, the book opens with that.) And no matter how hard he tries, he seemed invulnerable to everything. True immortality. I don’t know if I should be reading into it to see how it fits in with the rest of the stories, but honestly, I don’t think fitting in is the point of this book. SuperMutant Magic Academy just wouldn’t be right without Everlasting Boy.

Basically, if you’ve ever read a fantasy book that focuses on the chosen one’s world-saving and just wished you could have had at least one chapter dedicated to the chosen one obsessing over their pimples, this is the book for you. Each page gives readers a peek into something that feels both new and old, given that the main players are people with magic/mutant capabilities but also, teenagers. It’s just so cleverly done! *clutches book to self*

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As it should be obvious by now, the comics are not connected by an overarching plot. The book is, instead, a collection of the mundane moments within the magical and sometimes, vice versa. Although, that is not to say that we do not notice the passage of time in the book; from assignments and D&D campaigns to P.E. and unrequited love, the students are helplessly (often, unknowingly) being carried forward to the end of high school– and with this ending, comes a surprising revelation. (Or two. Or three.)

Basically, I loved it. It is full of welcome cynicism, unexpected kindness, cool friendships, and desperate forays into romance and sexuality. I can only think that the (slight) nudity and (slight) gore may not appeal to all readers, and I expect that older teens (ready to graduate?) would appreciate this book more than younger readers, but you should probably give it a try anyway since it is so good! *shoves book at you* RECOMMENDED! 🙂

EDIT! Just learned that this Saturday, May 2nd, is Free Comic Book Day! You can probably find a free excerpt of SuperMutant Magic Academy and several other gems at your local comic store! 🙂