Graphic Novel Review: SuperMutant Magic Academy

tumblr_ng4babIGz51qf56dmo1_1280Jillian Tamaki, 280 pgs, Drawn & Quarterly,, $22.95 

Governor General Literary Award-winner Jillian Tamaki’s SuperMutant Magic Academy is absurd, erudite, introspective, and above all things hilarious. It’s a little like Hogwarts collided with Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, replete with heavy doses of cynicism, shape-shifting, and a cat that may or may not determine the fate of all humanity.

The book collects work serialized on- line for four years and takes place in a prep school for mutants, witches, and a lizard-headed girl who aspires to be a model. At the core of the narrative are: Frances, the resident avant-garde guerrilla artist; Gemma, a meddler and wannabe philosopher; Everlasting Boy, whose scenes deal abstractly with impermanence and the cyclical nature of life; Marsha, a brilliant, closeted girl dismantling social norms at every turn, and Wendy, the cat-eared object of Marsha’s affections.

The shorts, which work on their own and as part of the larger narrative, achieve a careful balance, mixing the surrealism of the academy with grounded, down-to-earth conversations. The characters themselves are gloriously temperate, no matter the craziness surrounding them, which is why it all works so well. Really though, it’s Marsha and Wendy who form the emotional back-bone of the book. When late in the collection Marsha finally comes out to her friend, it is genuinely, painfully effective.

Employing the deadpan wit and deft observational skills previously seen in Skim and This One Summer (both co-created with cousin Mariko), Tamaki uses life at the academy to skewer gender norms, performance art, academic cliques, eroticism, teen angst, and empirically perfect asses. The art, while simple, is well char- acterized and provides Tamaki’s writing with a great deal of depth.

But after all that, when all the strangeness and magic is stripped clear, it’s the moral of the story that wins the day. There is life after high school, and just because you’re not the chosen one doesn’t mean you don’t have a future. (Andrew Wilmot)

Canzine Toronto Vendors: Harley R. Pageot


Harley R. Pageot will be tabling his seventh straight Canzine this year, launching the 29th instalment in his perzine series Yard Sale! Pageot explains that the series is centred around “unrequited love, aging, the minutiae of everyday life, and working in the Oshawa arts scene.” 

In 2009, the same year that he started Yard Sale!, Pageot co-founded Broken Arts, an Oshawa-based arts collective which led to the instalment of the Broken Arts Fair. Four years later, Pageot went on to launch Fallen Love Records, a record label which also produces the zine series Secret Gardens. 

Yard Sale! #29 is particularly exciting in that it is the first issue to feature a collection of writers, including Kat Gravel, Hillary DiMenna, Sarah Crookall, Brittney Sutherland and Sophia Sherwood, with a cover by Kevin Cormier. Come check it out at Canzine October 17th!

Book Review: A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography

51XFdkyMBlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Mireille Miller-Young, 392 Pages, Duke University Press,, $27.95 

Open an academic tome analyzing the role of black women in pornography and you may expect major criticism of the industry and the women who work in it. You know, complaints of how it exploits women, perpetuates stereotypes, and how the majority of the women working in it are doing so out of desperation and limited options.

In A Taste for Brown Sugar, all of those issues are acknowledged and given their due, but author Mireille Miller-Young — an associate professor of feminist studies at the University of California — argues that despite being a minority in an already maligned industry, and having to represent many of the worst racial stereotypes around sex, black female per- formers have always given the viewer signs of agency and degrees of control, while subverting their confines in the porn industry through their individual performances.

Miller-Young shows this by analyzing pornographic film or stills featuring black actresses, searching for any interventions on the presented narrative, whether it be a knowing glance, a satirical look or a tender moment during a scene. She also interviews women who’ve performed in the industry from the 1980s to present, which is where the work really delivers its most unique insights. Many performers explained how they negotiated their radicalized portrayals even within their stereotypical roles: “If they wanted the maid, I was going to look good!” starlet Angel Kelly told the author. “I was not going to be the rundown, Aunt Jemima-looking maid.”

Beyond these revelations, Miller-Young’s work is one of the first to chronicle of the rise of the porn industry from the turn of the 20th century to the present from the African-American perspective. She moves from stag films shown in frat houses and men’s clubs to the golden age of porn in the 1970s and finally, the influence of hip-hop and gangster rap on the marketing of porn featuring black performers.

Readers may recognize a constant fluidity, as the push-pull of negotiated labour boundaries are constantly being adjusted and then readjusted even within the racist stereotypes being perpetuated. Miller-Young even begins to suggest that within the porn industry, black women have more sexual freedom and control of how bodies are used and depicted than they do in mainstream society.

If there’s one sticking point here, it’s that the language used in this work is too academic to hold one’s interest long-term. Your eyes may glaze over at certain points, which is unfortunate because there’s a valid, believable argument here that’s creatively and compellingly presented. It just may have worked better as a documentary. (Aaron Broverman)

Canzine Toronto Vendors



From Canzine 2014: Kat Verhoeven and Jason Bradshaw!

MEET YOUR 2015 VENDORS! See all these great folks at Canzine Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Saturday October 17!

Book Review: Shopping Cart Pantheism

9781894037617Jeanne Randolph, 135 pages, ARP Books,, $14.95

In examining the various “Christianisms” depicted by consumerism in North American society, Randolph considers the removal of Christianity as the dominant form of worship and its replacement: the shopping cart. According to Randolph, “Christianity has not been destroyed; it has been digested.” In order to show this, Randolph documents her trip to the mecca of consumerism, Las Vegas, and outlines the multitude of Christian- isms each product or place represents.

By using photos as mnemonic devices, but not including them, Randolph forces the reader to use her prose to imagine the picture she is describing. This is easily done, due to both Randolph’s vivid descriptions, and the number of recognizable elements she encounters.

Combining poetry that is “more like photography than verse,” the trip to Las Vegas, a history lesson, and an internal dialogue of critical theory, Randolph simply wants to show “that a Christian- ized Subconscious is already laid out like a sheet of flypaper.” Some examples stand out; among these, the Apple logo described as a symbol of Eve biting the apple is the most salient. Others, however, should be recognized as an interpretation, maybe even a stretch,

What Randolph nails are the many feelings and attributes that come from the pantheism. The shopping cart is the ideal place of worship. The goods are the new gods. The “metabolizing” of Christianity makes this an easier transition. The slogans are the hymns and commandments, the clicks and jingle of placing items in the cart are worship, and the act of purchasing is your answered prayers.

Shopping Cart Pantheism is not The Godliness of Goods, but it is the next best thing. Definitely add this one to your cart. (Brandon Daniel)

Canzine Toronto Vendors: DAYTRIP


In the summer of 2014, photographers Erich Deleeuw, Andrew Savery-Whiteway and Matthew Volpe came together to form the DAYTRIP collective. Bringing their varied visual practices together into a singular lens, their self-published bi-yearly publication is centred around documenting the Canadian cultural landscape.

Their second issue After Frank is an homage to The Americans, a photographic book by the eminent street photographer Robert Frank. After Frank is a poetic visual archive of Canadiana in all its kitsch, detritus and natural splendour, as the DAYTRIP boys drive from Toronto to Mabou, Nova Scotia in an attempt to find the reclusive Frank.

They are currently working on their first submission-based project, a choose-your-own-adventure zine set to release next year.