Spring 2015 – Drawn & Quarterly
You might recognize Jillian Tamaki’s name from her recent Caldecott Honor for the graphic novel This One Summer. It is the first graphic novel to win the Caldecott Honor! However, we are here to talk about something else she has been working on. For years, Tamaki has been drawing a webcomic series about the daily lives of teenagers attending school for wizards and mutatnts. She says, in an interview with The Guardian, that “dumb daily life” is more interesting to her than an action-packed story.
The students of SuperMutant Magic Academy have special powers and can perform magic, but in Tamaki’s world they are mostly just struggling with the anxiety, the inner turmoil, and the anguish of being a teenager.
Each character is the center of their own story, and all stories are told in this comic.
Marsha, our cover girl, is no Harry Potter. She may resemble the bespectacled boy-who-lived, but she’s much less concerned with the good of wizard-kind and much more preoccupied by her romantic feelings for her best friend. The Hogwarts comparisons aren’t entirely unwelcome, however. Many strips seem to poke fun at the Harry Potter universe and of other popular fantasy tropes. There is a scene near the end of the book where Marsha and Cheddar are running from a prophecy-spewing cat who yells something about a “Chosen One” to which Marsha replies, “Who’s to say I’m not the Chosen One? A little presumptuous, don’t you think?” It seems like something Neville Longbottom could have said about Harry.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and tormented characters is the Everlasting Boy (Or the Boy-Who-Lived…Forever.). His storyline consists of his many attempts to end his life, all of which are unsuccessful. He barely speaks, but his actions are more powerful. While most stories about magic and superpowers have their characters –or villains– searching for immortality, Everlasting Boy experiences what happens after it’s attained. Many of the comics in this compilation are about what it’s like to live as a teenager, but the strips with Everlasting Boy express something darker, something more adult. He outlives everyone he cares about: his friends, lovers, companions of all kinds. Thankfully, he figures out his purpose.
One of my favorite strips is of Wendy, who is dumping a thousand paper hearts off the roof of the school as “an act of disruptuve beauty.” As the hearts float to the ground, they certainly don’t inspire a “dialog about random kindness and the potential for love” like she imagined. Instead, they are frightening people and giving them papercuts, sometimes in their eyes.
Tamaki definitely remembers art school vividly, as many of her jokes poke fun at things that often happen at art school. Frances tries performance art, plays, sculpture, intense Halloween costumes, and being nude in public before she really figures out who she is as an artist.
And then there are comics about a lot of normal and frustrating things Tamaki observes about life in the modern age. Text fights, the desire to be alone and watch Netflix, sexually-charged instant messages, trying to read but being unable to look away from your phone, being judgemental about facebook pictures, and tons of other instances that adults and teens can relate to.
Tamaki manages to create something very special and very “hers” in SuperMutant Magic Academy. The entire webseries is available at mutantmagic.com, but I suggest making sure to read the book too, since the strips have been added in a particular order that Tamaki arranged. Her regular blog is also very cool.
If you like SuperMutant Magic Academy, may I suggest:
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
- The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple
- This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
- In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
- Cat Person by Seo Kim (we don’t have this … request it!)
And if you read this and like angst and magic but HAVE NOT READ the Harry Potter series, just do that. Do it now.
This post was written by Stacia Oparowski, a library assistant in technical services. Besides reading and reviewing graphic novels, she also participates each year in NaNoWriMo and writes the November updates. If you have a suggestion for a graphic novel she should review or if you would like a graphic novel recommendation, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.