Saturday, September 18, 2010

THE P.L.A.I.N. JANES written by Cecil Castellucci, art by Jim Rugg

After surviving a terrorist bombing, Jane is left with questions about her identity and the sketchbook of a comatose John Doe from the attack.  She resolves to find her true self through art and abandons her carefree-blond-popular girl persona.  When her family moves out to the suburbs, she soon enlists her new 'tribe' of misfits -- dramatic "Theater" Jane, studious "Brain" Jayne, and "Sporty" Polly Jane -- to spread cheer and beauty through the terrified community by forming a guerrilla art gang known as P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art In Neighborhoods).  Soon they're building pyramids in empty lots and knitting hats for fire hydrants.  But it's not long before the town grows paranoid about persons unknown sneaking around at night and calling P.L.A.I.N.'s "art attacks" vandalism.  How can the Janes convince them that "Art Saves"?

I've love Cecil Castellucci's quirky plots and creative heroines since her debut novel Boy Proof, and the Janes did not disappoint.  There is something infinitely appealing about the idea of taking art to the streets, and the sheer variety of PLAIN's art attacks make the book worth reading.  But of course, it's the characters that really grab you.  In a relatively short book, Main Jane goes from a girl who takes refuge in the idea of cliques in her own group of outcasts, to the girl who unites the school--from the one-man Queer Club, James, to the queen bee, Cindy--under one banner.  Her one-sided relationship with the comatose John Doe is touching and sweet, and the mysterious Damon is an excellent romantic foil.  Castellucci also avoids the pitfall of many prose authors writing comics and keeps a smooth balance between words and pictures.

Jim Rugg's art is clean, cute, and fun-- perfect for the story!  Even the bombing scene, which one would think would be far too incongruous with such a sweet art style, works fantastically, underlining Main Jane's loss of innocence.  And Damon is wonderfully swoony, even though he's just simple pen and ink.

Verdict: The PLAIN Janes is an upbeat story for anyone who considers themselves a dreamer, but it probably won't convert many cynics.  You can read a 17-page PDF preview here.


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