August 30, 2007

Graphic Novel Review: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castelluci and Jim Rugg

Art saves and art heals are the themes of The Plain Janes a graphic novel created in the MINX imprint, a new line of graphic novels that uses the popular media to tell stories that traditionally would be done in written format.

Jane was walking the streets of New York when a bomb went off near her. Her parents freak out and move the family to the suburbs to protect their darling Jane. But Jane wants to stay in the city so she can keep visiting her comatose friend, a man she calls John Doe. He has been in a coma since the day of the bombing. She visits him in the hospital and has taken up sketching to honor him, since he was carrying and dropped a sketchbook that day. For whatever reason, she takes a major interest in him and feels devastated that she won't be able to continue her frequent visits.

Now she is trying to start a new life. Interestingly enough, she is determined NOT to be in the popular crowd. Instead, she finds paradise in the reject lunch table, at which sits three girls named Jane: a drama geek, a jock, and a whiz kid. Our main Jane doggedly finds ways to connect with these girls until they call her a friend.
She wants to use art as therapy for her sadness. During the accident, she found a small dandelion, a thing of beauty that made a different to her in the moment. Now she wants to be a living incarnation of that dandelion, a thing of beauty in the middle of chaos. She and the Janes start an underground group that installs art in the middle of the night. The art is treated maliciously, as if it was gang graffiti instead of whimsically fun. What type of projects do they create? They hang bottles from a tree that give people instructions like sing, play sports, or give someone a hug. They put bubbles in the city fountain. And my personal favorite, they spread stuffed animals over the lawn of an animal shelter.

Her home life conflicts continue, due to her mother, who is convinced she will die if she leaves the suburbs. Her midnight trysts with the Janes are the one shining light in her life.

I like how Jane became friends with the other Janes. She just went after them, trying the activities they liked in order to get close to them. I like how she resisted becoming a popular kid. The concept of this story was very intriguing. But the ending was weak and disappointing. There was no closure, although I don't think there will be sequel. And Jane lets a good friend take a hit for her and tries little to correct the mistake. It felt like a huge buildup with little payoff. Still, the Plain Janes will be enjoyed by girls that long to rail against the system.

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