I don’t really need to review Super Mutant Magic Academy. It’s on everyone’s must read list and the back and front cover has quotes from “NPR”, “The Guardian” and “The New York Times.” To put it lightly, I’m late to the fucking party.
But then I thought about it. How many people read the coverage from any of those outlets and actually bought the graphic novel? Honestly probably just the ones that were already comic book readers because mainstream media is terrible at fucking convincing people to read comics. Otherwise all those USA Today articles would be making comics thrive.
That said, a lot of comic sites covered it and I’m fairly certain that this book has sold incredibly well because of the coverage. That and it’s published by Drawn & Quarterly who have a dedicated fan base. Again I came back to the thought of why even bother reviewing this book. People by now either have read it or know about it and I’m still late to the party. Well, if you’re reading this then you too are probably later to the party and so it’s for you. The reader that had a great book fall through the cracks and read the title and thought, “holy hell that sounds awesome.”
Oh the title. Super Mutant Magic Academy is as accurate as it is misleading. Yes, it is a book about super mutant teenagers in high school at a magic academy, but it’s not about the academy or more accurately attending the academy.
This is a book that follows a handful of characters and their abilities are not their defining trait. First and foremost, this is an amazing collection of character stories. Every character that Jillian Tamaki creates is utterly realistic and it’s just ridiculous how easy she makes this happen. It is enjoyable and frustrating at the same time because she captures how a generation speaks and injects it into her writing. None of these characters should be relatable, but they are. Because Tamaki takes all these kids with special powers that can perform real fucking magic and she shows you that they’re just as human as the rest of us. They struggle with their identity, with their future, their friendships and romance just like the rest of us. Being able to shoot laser beams out of their fucking eyes doesn’t mean they have some inherent skill to be a great leader or that they have their shit together. They don’t. None of us really do and we’re all just faking this shit. Tamaki shows that all your wishing for powers and magic really amounts to the same damn feeling of pointlessness that we all experience at times.
That said you’re probably really fucking depressed or some shit. In that case you should hurry up and read Super Mutant Magic Academy because it’s actually one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. I cried. Multiple times. From laughter. Let me tell you that again. I cried multiple times due to how funny the stories are. Real laughter escaped my mouth not just an inner smirk described as laughter. I laughed so much that people looked at me and wondered what the hell I was reading that was so funny.
Which brings me to how the story is told. Each page, with rare exceptions and the entire ending of the book, are one-page self-contained stories. The genius of this is that we continue to see the same characters and Tamaki builds off of our knowledge of the previous stories to A) continue previous gags/stories and B) subtly develop the characters. The ending breaks from this, but by that point Tamaki had grown so much as a creator that it still feels the same in principle. It's an organic switch that you won't think twice about.
If you enjoy seeing a creator develop and improve on a body of work then this is definitely a story for you. From the early pages you can see Tamaki building her style, trying different things and finding her style. It has a webcomic vibe and I say that with utter ignorance of its origin. It was likely a webcomic beforehand, but to me that’s inconsequential since I experienced it as a graphic novel and I’m just illustrating a point about how the art developed and improved.
What brought me joy on the art though was seeing Tamaki find her style, but then still experiment with it. The line work goes from thick messy lines to clean and tight lines. But then occasionally there would be something in-between that would catch my attention. The art is inconsistent, but it’s also wonderful because of that. It gives this book personality and captures an artist's work which can be a rare thing.
Now that we’ve reached the end of the review I have a confession. This review was also for me. I won’t lie, it feels great helping people find books to read or steering them away from books they shouldn’t read. But sometimes you just have to put this out into the ether. Sure I’m not the first or even close to the first review, but at least I know I delivered my review in a bubble unaware of what everyone else has said about Super Mutant Magic Academy previously. If you know me or have read enough of my reviews to have an idea about me then you basically know that I have a top ten list in my mind and it occasionally shuffles. It takes a lot to make this list and I don’t say that to hype it up, it’s just that my list is pretty damn solid. I've heard little in the way of argument when I list it. So then ask yourself, what did I remove to put this on the list? And just how damn good is this book if it’s bumping things from my top ten list? I'll answer that last one and say, really fucking great.
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