FCBD 2015: SuperMutant Magic Academy and Step Aside, Pops! Review

Written by: Jillian Tamaki (SuperMutant Magic Academy) and Kate Beaton (Step Aside, Pops!)

Art By: As above

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly

This is one of the more unusual Free Comic Book Day collections in that it features two titles that originally started as webcomics. And we get a wonderful taste of them here.

SuperMutant Magic Academy is both written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. It follows a bunch of kids at a school for kids with powers and/or mutations and is basically like X-Men if X-Men was more about the students awkwardly growing up than it was about them fighting Magneto. Instead of giving us a sweeping narrative, we’re instead treated to essentially stand-alone comics that each contain their own jokes. Quite a few characters make repeat appearances and there are definitely certain pieces of information that follow the series throughout, but it mostly exists as jokes that exist within a single page.

The humor here is mostly dark and sarcastic humor which is written extremely well. Tamaki also made a wise choice in her choice of characters and overall theme because it allows her to pretty much do anything within the comic. Jokes are often about characters themselves, or their powers, and sometimes it spills into some pretty great jabs at how our world functions. For example, a girl tosses away her skipping rope after using it for a few panels only to remark that “There’s no future in it.” It’s funny while it’s painted as a silly kid’s game but it becomes easy to tell that it’s a jab when you consider that the same thing is often told to kid’s themselves when they get older and their interests aren’t seen as a lucrative career.

Tamaki’s art is fairly simple but the character designs are lovely and varied and make up the best part of her illustrations. Because the kids are mutants, Tamaki is free to go wild and give us everything from a kid with a dolphin head to a kid who crumbles apart at seemingly every moment. It’s fun and keeps you on your toes because the comic can literally go anywhere.

Rounding out the issue is Kate Beaton’s Step Aside, Pops! and I was thrilled to see it as an offering for FCBD as I’ve been a fan of Beaton’s work. Her comics focus on history and literature and tend to offer up a “what if?” scenario about various characters most of us are familiar with. While her stuff does tend to be funnier if you know the source material, there’s plenty of pop culture references to be found and she tends to feature fairly well-known figures from history such as Julius Caesar.

Beaton’s art is also fairly simple but she excels at details, gestures, and facial expressions. One of the arcs in this issue features a set of sailors (pirates? admirals? captains? who cares!) who have taken their rivalry to such an extreme that it turns into something more like a forbidden love affair. And while this is funny on its own it wouldn’t be nearly as funny if Beaton didn’t take so many extra steps into packing in the humor. A nemesis poster hangs on one of the captain’s walls. The other wears a locket with his rival’s picture. The sound of cannon fire turns them into a giddy giggling mess. It’s hilarious and I found myself laughing just as hard at the art within panels as I did the text.

Overall, I’m happy to see a comic that offers up something very different and will appeal to an entirely different demographic. These are two greatly funny comics with humor that stands out from the crowd in the best ways possible and it left me wanting more.

Free Comic Book Day takes place Saturday May 2nd at participating stores. For more information about Free Comic Book Day and a list of stores participating in events, go to FreeComicBookDay.com.