Drawn + Quarterly collects Jillian Tamaki’s Super Mutant Magic Academy into a volume that is difficult to sum up in a word, or even a set of meandering words, much like this work and life itself. Rather than being confusing, Super Mutant Magic Academy stands poetic. It at once tells a gripping long-form story worthy of a graphic novel, gives one-shot comic strips, and paints beautiful images that are art in and of themselves.
Super Mutant Magic Academy is on its surface a collection of comic strips detailing a year in the lives of several students at a school for the specially gifted. The universe is engaging with the familiar aspects of fictional boarding schools, whether Hogwarts or X-mansion, while elevating them to a level of literature. Students practice magic, have powers, and take little notice of some people having dolphin-heads or immortals or their own doppelgangers, outside of snarky mental remarks as teenagers are apt to do. Yet they have the thrill of running across dragon eggs on hikes, only to return to suffer tests.
Over the course of Super Mutant Magic Academy, readers will enjoy exploring the unfolding plots. A monster lurks in a secretive cave on the grounds. Meanwhile, Marsha struggles with self-identifying and a crush on her best friend. Artist Frances has routine antics to subvert normalcy, all with varying degrees of success. Everlasting Boy, the source of many of the more artistic explorations like seeing the universe as a person or hatching from the husk of one’s own skin, simply does not die no matter the forms he takes.
Yet, much like any year, the main plot happens only in certain instances. The rest of Super Mutant Magic Academy takes in anecdotes that are fun stories within themselves in the form of comic strips. Strips feature provoking twists that further their depth and characterization, such as when aspiring writer Gemma finally finishes her screenplay only to have the wind come up and the pages scattered out the window. Rather than panic, she whispers with relief.
With excellent storytelling and charmingly realistic dialogue, Super Mutant Magic Academy can be enjoyed on several levels, whether for the fun of the comic or the inspiration for deeper pondering. In the midst of it all, the art also takes a seemingly paradoxical place. It is simple and straightforward, yet filled with minute details one might miss if only scanning. The comics are grayscale, usually leaning toward straight black and white, but splashes of color are used to create a touch of emphasis, successfully using and experimenting with a device perhaps most famous from Frank Miller’s Sin City.
Super Mutant Magic Academy is a work much like Breakfast Club. One reader might like it for this, and another reader might like it for that, but deep down we all because we identify with the characters so genuinely and feel their thrill, pain, and awe in the world around us.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1770461981]