After Jane is caught in the blast of a small bomb concealed in a bin on a busy metropolitan city street, her overprotective parents whisk her away to the suburbs. Here she has to find new friends in her new clique riddled high school.
During it all her thoughts never sway too far from someone else caught in the blast, an unnamed young man driven into a coma by the incident. At the scene she found his sketchbook, emblazoned on the cover the words “Art Saves” and its constant inspiration leads her on a path to new friends and self discovery.
With a group of outcast girls she creates P.L.A.I.N., People Love Art In Neighbourhoods, and together they embark on a spate of “art attacks” throughout the small community.
The P.L.A.I.N. Jane’s is the first comic book written by Cecil Castellucci who is also a movie maker and recording artist and so is well versed with her characters activist attitude towards art. Her eye for character detail has a smart and wry edge that never leads away from pure reality while simultaneously leads the reader into the murky waters that is “art”. This is no mean feat when it is considered that the creation of “art” is in itself a pretentious act (the very act of attempting artistry makes it so by definition); and anything that tries to deconstruct such an act must inevitably walk dangerous lines.
Cecil Castellucci appears to do this admirably, walking the line between pretensions and the mundane effortlessly. The intelligence of her characters shine through while still remaining true to their adolescence and the teen angst is seen but never degrades into melodrama.
The curious effect is that the reader becomes emotionally engaged with this world and though its tale of small town teenage rebellion is something that perhaps a forty-something Brit (which is what this particular reader happens to be) should not relate to it seems not to matter. The emotion that compels a “creative” person is not bound to an age or gender and therefore it seems easy to see something of yourself in Jane and her compatriots regardless of your own background.
The P.L.A.I.N. Jane’s, so called because all the female leads are called “Jane”, leaves the reader sharing Jane’s frustration at the immediate world around them. The book readily succeeds in a kind of seduction by rebellion that counterpoints the 9/11 inspired opening scenes of destruction; on some levels asking the question whether the pen is truly mightier than the sword.
Unfortunately The P.L.A.I.N. Jane’s is not all plain sailing, it does have its problems, the greatest of which is a slightly rushed and not entirely satisfying ending that leads this reader to believe a series of stories was originally in the offing (there is a second book entitled “Jane’s In Love”). There is also a near overbearing enthusiasm by the stories law enforcement to apparently overreact to the threat the girls represent (here this particular reader got Footloose flashbacks).
All in all however these complaints are quite minor when compared to what works in the story.
Finally a word or two has to be said about Jim Rugg’s art for this short graphic novel. While it does not have the kinetic humour of his acclaimed “Street Angel” series, its clean lines and greyscale colouring carries Castellucci’s story to perfection. As one would expect from Rugg it is simplicity that rules the day, from uncluttered frames to deceptively simple page design he gives his audience what they need and not one pen-stroke more.