Webcomic Wednesday: SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
What if you took Hogwarts or the Xavier School but removed the ever-present threat of a Voldemort or Magneto attack? What would a fancypants boarding school for kids with extraordinary magical, genetic, and in some cases just plain intellectual or athletic abilities feel like? Probably a whole lot like SuperMutant Magic Academy, cartoonist Jillian Tamaki’s pitch-perfect take on teen angst wherein the teens just happen to be witches and were-foxes and part-dinosaur and immortal and whatnot.
Reading SMMA, you’ll be struck by a few things right off the bat. On a visual level there’s Tamaki’s loose yet elegant drawing style, perfect for her private-school demimonde—kinda like Charles Addams after a few wine coolers. Then there are her breakout characters: Wendy, the literally foxy popular girl who’s more than a little conflicted about being at the top of the social heap thanks to her attractiveness; Frances, the improbably hairstyled artiste whose superpower appears to be making art that freaks people out; Trevor, the young Doctor Manhattan lookalike with a surprisingly unpleasant backstory; Marsha, who’d just be the “awkward best friend” if this were a normal strip but who is here shown to have a rich inner life all her own; and Everlasting Boy, an immortal, indestructible, sometimes incorporeal teenager who meditates in deep space and undergoes failed Groundhog Day-style attempts to plumb the depths of his own everlastingness. Don’t forget the sight gags, either, since it is a humor comic after all: the broom-riding witch girl who scrapes her knee on a tree branch in midair and pops like a balloon may be my favorite.
But most importantly, SuperMutant Magic Academy is not a serious comic, but it takes its subject seriously, if that makes sense. Of all the comics about teenagers I’ve read, it’s one of the very, very few that a parent would feel comfortable reading over their kid’s shoulder but which still handles adolescent anxieties about sex, school, popularity, body image, friendship, pop culture, your rapidly expanding intellectual life, and all the other ingredients that go into that teenage stew without kid gloves. Browse through the archives for a while, pick up on its subtle but hilarious rhythms, and see for yourself.