Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Maybe Art Does Save: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

Here's a confession: I'm a child of the Eighties. Secret clubs, rebellion against the status quo, and well-dressed protagonists are an easy way into my heart.

The Plain Janes, written by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Jim Rugg, has all the tropes of your typical teenage novel at first glance. Main Jane is exiled to suburbia and vows to start over as a new person in this strange land. She falls head over heels in love, fights with her parents, flaunts authority and gets away with it, coming out stronger and a bit wiser in the end.

Trust me, though: it's better than that. Main Jane forgoes the overtures from the right crowd to befriend the freaks: shy blonde Brain Jane, athletic Polly Jane with a magnificent Frida Kahlo eyebrow, and Theatre Jane, with a flair for dramatics and a knack for seeing material in everything. While they are initially skeptical of the friendly girl in gogo boots, she appeals to each in a unique way with her plan for brightening the relentless mundanity of their little town. Her solution? Art attacks--random acts of creativity, such as knitting hats for fire hydrants, turning Main Street into a map of the solar system, and making wish trees. Fans of Amelie, Grapefruit, or glamour bombing will find familiar grounds in this graphic novel. No mere simple acts of beauty, P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) use these art attacks to draw attention to injustices against young people in the town, among other issues. It's a big concept for a young adult graphic novel, and I applaud Cecil and Jim for making it accessible, entertaining, and inspiring for the younger set.

One of Cecil Castellucci's greatest draws is her characterization. She has a gift for rounding out a character in just a few lines of dialogue. The Janes are smart, dedicated, and interestingly flawed. Each brings something different to their girl art gang (don't you just love that? I want to be in a girl art gang.), and they work together beautifully. The Janes are a joy to read, especially when carrying out their art attacks, and also in a touching subplot involved Main Jane and a young artist in a coma. Jim Rugg's designs are appealing. Many reviewers cite Daniel Clowes as a parallel, but I see more Sarah Dyer in his clean lines and expressive faces. My only wishes? A list of resources and full-color art throughout, though I can see how the former could be a liability.

It's a fact of life. Hearts are always hurting. And yet they still keep pumping. The best way to fix a broken heart is to do something beautiful. Something P.L.A.I.N. I knew just what to do.

Maybe art can save. Maybe it can save me.

The main Minx website has a short (Flash-enabled) preview of this and other titles.
The jots of a nerdy girl is Cecil Castellucci's website.
The Guerilla Girls fight sexism in art with tactics something like the Janes', but on a much grander scale. Itty Bitty Titty Committee is a movie inspired by the Guerilla Girls, and I'm still kicking myself for missing out when it was screening in NYC.
Oh--and the sequel, Janes in Love, will be out on September 2nd of this year.


Yseult said...

I love Cecil Castelluci, and I loved the guerrilla art idea at play here. It's a very FLB-ish life philosophy!

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