Monday, July 20, 2015

SuperMutant Magic Academy

SuperMutant Magic Academy contains an interesting array of familiar and unique attributes. It is set in a sort of Hogwarts, where students who have many different kinds of skills and abilities attend. They have strong, distinctive personalities, and they often clash, bicker, cavort, commiserate, and chitchat, as many of the adolescent students I have known do. Although they are often arcane and fantastical, the students are also utterly realistic.

This book contains multitudes, and what is most impressive, it does not really contain one single narrative until the end portion of the book; it consists of a myriad of one-page webcomic strips that, taken together, are a wide, wild tapestry of the school and its students. These strips are about all kinds of things, and some vary much tonally. Some focus on recurring characters and their interests, like Frances and Gemma, who are very into making and performing art:
Some of the strips are seemingly random, focusing on particularly exceptional students, such as the one with a dolphin head or this one who actually just seems to be a cat in a school uniform:
Others are about the goings-on of the school, seemingly typical events given a weird, comical twist:
Others are just about what seem like common adolescent behaviors, and they are quite observant and often biting:
All I can really say about all these episodes are that they are surreal, insightful, and more often than not hysterically funny. I know that this book is set in a total fantasy world, but these depictions of students seem more based in fact than fiction. At first I thought that this book was going to be pretty light and fluffy, but the more I read the more I realized it was an impressive and detailed piece of world building.

Writer/artist Jillian Tamaki is behind these antics. She is known for her collaborations with her cousin Mariko on the books Skim and This One Summer. She is a well established and celebrated artist, having received one of the highest distinctions for art in literature, the Caldecott Honor. She speaks more about her work on this book in this interview with the Onion AV Club as well as this one with School Library Journal.

All of the reviews I have read have been full of praise for this collection. Rachel Cooke commented, "The majority of its strips are sassy, mordantly funny and feel true in ways that most other depictions of teenage angst simply don’t." Etelka Lehoczky wrote that "each strip is an independent delight." Sean T. Collins simply called it "the best take on YA comics I’ve read in ages."

SuperMutant Magic Academy was published by Drawn & Quarterly. They provide a preview and much more here. You can keep up with any news or updates about the book and webcomic here.

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