Tuesday, March 20, 2012

GN Review -- The Plain Janes / Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

I remember The Plain Janes being the first graphic novel I'd picked up by Minx, an imprint of DC Comics that advertised itself as a publisher for comics that would feature teenage girls as their protagonists.  Ironically, it wouldn't be the first I ended up reading--that honor went to Kimmie66.  But after finishing both, I thought the publisher was really onto something successful.

I found out shortly after that Minx had just recently folded.

The Plain Janes, like Good As Lily and many of its other publications, showed that it was possible to write good stories for as presumably niche an audience as teenage girls, and makes the demise of the publisher all the more tragic when you consider how popular that audience seems to be at present.  It begins with the story of Jane, a teenager who survives a bombing attack in Metro City, only to be hustled to Suburbia by her relieved but overprotective parents.  Jane struggles to fit in initially, but soon finds a group of girls--also named Jane--who she eventually befriends.

They stage a series of "art attacks" in their neighborhood, which gets the attention of the authorities, who view them as subversive defacement.  Despite several attempts at intimidation, the authorities are unable to identify Jane's group of vigilante artists, known as P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art In Neighborhoods), and Jane continues to experience a sense of fulfillment in challenging the town's perceptions of art.  Eventually she and her friends must decide whether it is more important to let the authorities have their way and stop the art attacks, or to continue them and be true to their artistic integrity and passion.

The message I ended up taking away from The Plain Janes underscores the idea that art and artistic expression is important in reminding communities about the passions and hopes of the individuals who make them up.  Jane plans and stages them with her friends as a way of challenging societal perceptions about the things that go on in their town, with the intention of getting them to think about what is truly important.  Not everyone sees it that way, of course, but that's not enough to deter P.L.A.I.N. from its mission, which I found to be heartening reminder of sticking up for what's important to you.

While the plot was enjoyable, I think one problem with the writing involved how the ending came about without any real resolution.  I mean, sure, the art gang will continue, but no attention is given to Damon's fate, or what P.L.A.I.N. will do about it.  The main and supporting characters were also pleasant and fun, but a couple of them ran the risk of being two-dimensional, like the overzealous police officer who's also a jerk.

Artistically, I think the style is simple, but overall very pleasant.  It reminded me slightly of Daniel Clowes's style in Ghost World, though it's a bit less detailed than that.  There are a couple of places where it seems a little flat, but they're pretty rare and often lost among the expressiveness of the characters or the larger action of the story.  It's not anything particularly special, but it's not bad either, and Jim Rugg does a fine job of visually supporting the narrative.

Overall, I enjoyed the story in The Plain Janes, as well as how it was told.  The main and supporting characters are interesting, the artwork is pleasant, and the overall message of the story regarding the importance of art to a community is well communicated.  Art lovers, rebels, and those seeking strong girl characters will want to give this a read.  Recommended.

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