Wednesday 26 February 2020

THE PLAIN JANES by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg

Teenage life graphic novels have been a growing genre recently so it’s nice to see Plain Janes (Little Brown) make a reappearance after the first two graphic novels were released in 2007 and 2008. This compendium includes both stories, plus a third previously unpublished. The book starts in the most dramatic way. Jane Beckles is walking through her home city when a bomb explodes leaving her pulling herself off the ground near an unconscious man laying with his pad on which the words ‘Art Saves’ is written. It’s a beautifully elegant way of capturing the theme of the book.

Jane’s parents relocate the family to the suburbs where she feels out of place and alone until she meets a group of loners (if that isn’t an oxymoron) who barely even talk to each other. Jane talks them into secretly decorating the town with art and from there they form friendships.

While keeping the pace quick and the tone quite light, writer Cecil Castellicci manages to cover not only the changing dynamic between friends over the years – including arguments, romances, and problems with adults – but also touches on modern anxieties of big issues such as terrorism, all while providing an inspiring meditation on the importance and benefits of art. At one point Jane says: “I’m constantly reminded that the world can be a dangerous place and that things can change in an instant.” But what comes through is that change can be neither wholly positive or negative but merely bring new opportunities and challenges. 

Recent teenage graphic novels have often exhibited a slightly more cartoony style of art that reflects the influence of Manga and animation. Jim Rugg’s more grounded artwork feels entirely appropriate here, showing that just because teenage emotions can be volatile, it doesn’t mean that they’re always expressed that way. It’s interesting to see how his style has developed in the interim years of the original novels to softer, more confident line-work.

Fans of the original books may be a little narked to have to buy them again to get the new story, but the price presents excellent value for money and there’s the nice touch of having each story in a different monochrome. For the target audience this is a great way to read the read the series because for a character-led tale, the longer you spend with the characters, the more attached you become to them.

Incidentally, Jim Rugg hosts an excellent You Tube channel entitled Cartoonist Kayfabe which explores the minutiae of the comics world which can often be heard playing in our shop.

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