Plain & Simple Truths: Castellucci Talks "The PLAIN Janes"

Mon, February 19th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

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DC Comics' new Minx line of comics is designed for a typically tough to reach audience, teenage girls, but DC showed their commitment to reaching their target audience with the announcement of who would be authoring the first book in the Minx line, author Cecil Castellucci. With her two acclaimed Young Adult novels "The Queen of Cool" and "Boy Proof," Castellucci has proven she knows how to capture the imagination of female adolescents. Castellucci's kick off book for the Minx line, which hits stores in May, is an original graphic novel titled "The PLAIN Janes" and is illustrated by Jim Rugg, whom we spoke with in December. CBR News spoke with Castellucci about the book which marks her first foray into the world of comics.

"The PLAIN Janes" is an idea that's been simmering in Castellucci's subconscious for some time. "I had this idea about these four girls named Jane kicking around in my head for while," Castellucci told CBR News. "I wanted it to be something continuous - it didn't feel like a novel. I thought media. It was like an animated series or something. When [Editor] Shelly Bond called me to see if I was interested in perhaps writing a graphic novel, I immediately thought of the Janes. It seemed like a perfect fit to be a graphic novel."

"The Plain Janes" page 13, art by Jim Rugg
"Janes" may be Castellucci's first graphic novel, but she's no stranger to the format. She's a huge comic fan having grown up reading many different titles and recently got back into reading and collecting comics. "I love 'Y the Last Man,' 'DMZ' and 'Fables,'" she said. "I guess I really am a Vertigo girl. A recent good read was Gene Yang's 'American Born Chinese' which just won the Printz Award- the highest prize for Young Adult literature. And while I don't read any one particular super hero title regularly - yet - I've been reading little bits of everything. There is an awesome comic book shop in my neighborhood called The Secret Headquarters. They know my tastes and have been steering me in some good directions."

For her first graphic novel, Castellucci is revisiting a subject matter that she explored in both her Young Adult novels, but continues to fascinate her as a writer, high school. "I think what makes high school so compelling to me as a setting is the fact that everything is new and it's often for the first time for teenagers," Castellucci explained. "It's also the moment where a person decides what kind of a person they are going to be. There's a plethora of stories to be told and a million different ways that those stories could go. I think that conflict and that newness excites me as a writer."

"The Plain Janes" page 14
Much of the conflict and excitement in "PLAIN Janes" takes place at the local high school in the rural town of Kent Waters. "It's a town a long days drive to Metro City, I like to think of it as my Mayberry," Castellucci stated. "It's very Americana. The people in the town are inherently good, just sometimes a bit misguided by their definition of good and what they think that means."

"PLAIN Janes" takes place during the first semester of the main characters' freshmen year of high school and in a political climate where the exact definition of good has gotten murky because of a tragic recent event. "There is a terrorist attack and that is the reason why Main Jane's parents move Jane from the fictional Metro City to the town of Kent Waters," Castellucci explained. "It takes place now, in a sort of suggestion of America. That climate does factor into the book in that it's something that Main Jane deals with on a very personal level."

When "The PLAIN Janes" opens, Main Jane, the book's lead character, has already had to handle another deeply personal issue and is adjusting to her new town and new life. "Without giving too much away, Main Jane is a girl who used to be the popular girl until something dramatic changed her outlook on life," Castellucci stated. "At that point, she reinvents herself. She's kind, artistic, and a gal on a mission. Her best quality is her heart and perseverance, her worst quality is her tendency to give up and crawl into a cave and hide before she rallies again."

"The Plain Janes" page 15
A new town means a new beginning for Main Jane. "She decides to reinvent her self as an artist and goes straight to the most interesting girls in school," Castellucci said. "Three other girls named Jane, who are the unpopular girls.

"There's Brain Jayne - a girl who is brilliant and shy and loves science. Theater Jane - a girl who loves all things performance and has a definite flair for the dramatic that is unappreciated by the drama club. And Polly Jane AKA Sporty Jane - she's a sports freak, and talented, but rarely gets the chance to shine and so ends up mostly being the alternate and mostly warms the bench."

As "The PLAIN Janes" unfolds, the title characters will find that not everyone in Kent Waters is happy with their artistic endeavors. "Well, their biggest obstacle is the town itself who feels that the art attacks are not beautiful and are something to be feared," Castellucci explained. "Their biggest adversary is Officer Sanchez."

In addition to Officer Sanchez, a number of colorful characters play supporting roles in "Janes." "Other players are: Cindy, the mean girl, Damon the book reading smart boy and James, an honorary Jane," Castellucci said.

"Janes" is a story filled with both dramatic and lighter moments. Castellucci said that while the book has its serious moments, there's a sense of humor throughout that will draw in young adult readers.

"The Plain Janes" pages 16 and 17
As part of the Minx line Castellucci's graphic novel is designed to appeal to females, but that doesn't mean that "The PLAIN Janes" is a tale strictly for girls. "I think that both boys and girls can enjoy 'The PLAIN Janes,'" she said. "I never think stories are just for one gender or another even if they lean a little bit towards being meant for one."

Writing "The PLAIN Janes" has been a pleasant learning experience for Castellucci. "It's been an amazing experience. It made me look at telling stories in a new way, which as a writer, is very exciting. [Artist] Jim Rugg taught me so much and I found that working with an artist as talented as he is was really very special.

"I am enormously happy to have collaborated with Jim, whose art really makes my heart sing," Castellucci continued. "The first time he drew the Janes, I knew that they were girls that would tell me their secrets. I have so much respect for Jim and his work."

If "The PLAIN Janes" does well, Castellucci would happily pen the further adventures of the Janes and is also eager to try her hand at other comic projects. "I definitely want to do more work in comics and would love to try my hand at a monthly on an imprint like Vertigo," she said. "I'm used to creating my own characters, but I'm not opposed to tackling established characters. As a writer, I would welcome the challenge. It'd be interesting to try. Bring it on!"

 
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