Written By: Daniel Barnes
Illustrated By: Daniel Barnes & D.J. Kirkland
Colorist: D.J. Kirkland
Lettering By: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Digital
Age Rating: Young Adult
Published By: Oni Press
St. Ivory Academy is a prestigious wizarding school, with selective criteria for students to be able to enrol. First and foremost, they must be white! However the school has decided to run a new programme called the “Magical Minority Initiative”, which young Tom Token has become the first beneficiary of. His name quickly goes around the student body, as he is the first colored student to have entered their school. However it’s not long before Tom has to deal with some ignorant students, questionable staff and an overzealous student liaison. But who’s sending Tom the mysterious text messages and why can’t he find any information on the owner of a missing student card he found? Just what secrets is this school holding?!
Well I certainly wasn’t expecting the Ku Klux Klan to play any part in this story, but here we are! This story goes all the way back to the American Civil War way down in the South, but with the added inclusion of magic. Where wizards of all colors use their powers, where historical heroes such as John Henry, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman are playing key roles fighting back against the obressing members of the Ku Klux Klan. As we soon realise, the Klan ultimately won in this book and were able to set up a wizarding school. It’s somewhat of an unusual story, not one I could suggest for kids to concentrate too much on if they plan on passing their history tests. We are then put into present day, where a colored boy named Tom Token is offered a place in the academy. However his interactions with the staff and students appears to be far from positive, all except for his student liaison Lindsay. This story not only has a floating castle for a school, which is supported by a magical crystal that needs ‘recharging’ every so often. We also get ghosts, some captured souls, a big wizarding fight and what I find to be, a pretty disappointing ending.
We have three historical figures present in this story that are renowned in American history for their work in freeing and working towards gaining civil rights for the Black community. We have John Henry, who was associated with the Hammer, a weapon that is heavily sought after by our two ghosts – Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Harriet was reknowned for her bravery in saving over 70 people from slavery by using the Underground Railroad. Where as Frederick had escaped slavery and became a national leader of the abolitionsit movement. He was recognised for his intellect and antislavery writings. On the other side of the fence, we have the Ku Klux Klan, otherwise known as the KKK. They are an American white supremist hate group, who target African Americans, something I never thought I would be writing about in a comic review.
Apart from the above, we have Tom Token, the new student at the Academy and he doesn’t take any shit from people! It doesn’t take long for people to notice this and it soon becomes a problem for some students, who clearly enjoy making fun of others. Tom is a strong character, inquisitive and relies on his familiar bird to determine who best to trust. That leads us to Lindsey, an existing student at the Academy that is tasked to be Tom’s student liaison. Not only does this girl stand up against her ex (who is the son of the Principal) and his new girlfriend, but ultimately against her school and the values it holds. By standing alongside Tom and fighting to protect his life. I feel their story needed to be expanded upon even more, as ultimately we don’t really know anything about them.
Okay so we have a wizarding school, students fighting amongst themselves using magic, a self righteous race and an enemy who hates a specific race – sounds like Harry Potter to me! Except in this universe we have the Ku Klux Klan in place of He Who Should Not Be Named! Yes we have Street Fighter like choreographed battles and plenty of action, as well as some mystery, but the ending was pointless! There was no repercussion for the villain or the school, all that happened was that Tom basically got expelled. There was no justice whatsoever! If they had just expanded on the story and made it into a book series, perhaps it might have had some hope. The only bit of humor I enjoyed were the interactions with Tom’s familiar and the inclusion of a website called AskGeoffrey, which I assume is a homage to the Butler character in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
The author of this book is former U.S Navy sailor Daniel Barnes. Daniel is currently working towards his BFA in Animation Production and aside from this book, he has also worked on the comic adaption of Sanrios’ Aggretsuko! Which is also another Oni Press release. The illustrator for The Black Mage is none other than D.J. Kirkland, who also worked on the Aggretsuko comics, as well as the Dream Daddy comic series from YouTube personalities Game Grumps. The character designs in The Black Mage reflected well on those based on historical figures, although one in particular gave off more of a superhero appearance. The Ku Klux Klan however, the facial expressions used on the sheets were comical, the overall plot however is what let it down.
If you wish to give this graphic novel a go for yourself, try checking out your local comic book store. Otherwise you can find it on Amazon, BookDepository and on the Oni Press website below.