GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Two More Minxes
A few months back, I reviewed the second and third graphic novels from Minx (DC’s new line aimed at teenage girls, published in a manga-ish size and format but not otherwise much like manga). I’ve since dug up the first and fourth Minx titles, The Plain Janes and Good As Lily, for another compare-and-contrast.
The Plain Janes was the Minx launch title, back in May, and was the only one of the first wave of Minx books to have any female creators involved. (Which lack, if you recall, caused somewhat of a hue and cry in some circles.) The writer, Cecil Castellucci (that single female creator), is an established Young Adult novelist, and, perhaps because of that, [[[The Plain Janes]]] is the closest to mainstream realistic fiction of any of the Minx books I’ve seen so far.
Our heroine, Jane, is a young teen who lived in “Metro City” until she was caught at the edge of a random bombing, which made her parents paranoid enough to move the family to the suburbs. (Jane is presumably an only child; we don’t see any siblings.) The bombing affected her just as strongly as it did her parents, but in a different way: it shocked her out of her old complacent life (concerned with boys and clothes) and turned her into An Artist. So she resists the urge to fall in with the same sort of crowd she hung out with at her old school, and tries to make friends with a group of outcast girls.
Unfortunately, those girls are straight from Central Casting: the brainy one, the sporty one, and the theatrical one. (There’s even the school’s token One Gay Guy, who gets involved later on.) Worse, their names are all versions of “Jane,” telegraphing the manipulation even further. They’re all decent characters – well differentiated from each other and generally believable – but it didn’t make much sense to me that the three of them would be friends, and each have no other friends, when they have nothing in common but their outcast status. (Then again, I was never a high school girl, and the social structures boys set up can be quite different.)
Our Jane has to work to get the other Janes to like her – she’s pretty and should be popular, so why would she be hanging out with them? – and keeps turning down the friendship advances of the local Queen Bee. But, eventually, her plan comes together, and she recruits the other Janes into her secret organization P.L.A.I.N. – People Loving Art in Neighborhoods – to do various bizarre “art” events secretly around town. They are, of course, the very po-mo kind of art that doesn’t require any ability to draw or paint or otherwise create something specific; it’s all installation-style pieces that only are art because someone says they are.
This leads to the expected, and overwritten, trouble from the authorities, who clamp down hard on any sign of rebellion in their community. (Sadly, this was all done more deftly, and with a lighter touch, in the ‘80s movie Footloose. Yes, it’s that sort of thing all over again.) But, in the end, art, and P.L.A.I.N., prevail.
So The Plain Janes is a bit obvious and a bit too much – at least for me, jaded thirty-something that I am. It may be much more exciting for a teenage girl who hasn’t seen this plot before and doesn’t realize she can pick her friends and do the things she wants to do. And, if so, then it will do its job just fine.
(I don’t have much to say about the art – it’s solid, in a mostly mainstream-comics style, with lots of close-ups on faces. It’s noticeably less stylized than the art in the other Minx titles I’ve seen, which fits this more grounded, mostly real-world story.)
[[[Good As Lily]]] was the Minx book for August; it was written by rising star Derek Kirk Kim (of Same Difference and Other Stories fame) and illustrated by Jesse Hamm. It’s another Korean girl’s coming-of-age story, like Re-Gifters, which is an awfully specific plot to be repeating that quickly.
“Lily” is the main character’s dead older sister; we don’t even learn her name until halfway through the book, and she’s not particularly important, except in a minor thematic way (and Kim should probably have spent more time on that relationship if it was to be of title importance). Our heroine is Grace Kwon, nearing the end of her senior year of high school somewhere unspecified. She has loving parents, friends who like and respect her, and a boy who’s had an obvious crush on her for years without her ever noticing it.
Oh, and, soon after this story begins, she also has three houseguests: herself at ages six, twenty-nine, and seventy. Over the course of the next few weeks, Grace has to solve her own problems and those of her other selves to send them back to their own times, and, incidentally, help save the cancelled school play.
Again, this is a story that runs somewhat to formula. It also has a few too many elements for its length, which may be why “Lily” disappeared almost entirely from the story. And the older Graces show no signs of being from a decade and fifty years in the future (respectively), which this science fiction reader noted with a disapproving eye. Really, the other Graces aren’t actually characters – they exist primarily as plot contrivances and problems for the real Grace to solve. Good As Lily would have been a better story if the other Graces had been allowed to be real people, who weren’t entirely concerned with what real-Grace was doing at that moment in her life. A story which gave equal weight to each of their stories would be much more interesting – but probably less appealing to Minx’s target audience, I suppose.
But, again, it’s a pleasant story, and told pretty well. For an audience less jaded and picky that me, it’s probably fine. The art is more stylized than The Plain Janes, with occasional manga influences, but generally has an indy-comics vibe to the drawing.)
So, of the four Minx books I’ve seen so far, all are solidly entertaining, and all are aimed squarely at their target audience. But [[[Re-Gifters]]] is still the one most appealing to a non-teen girl audience, and the one I’d recommend to readers in general.
The Plain Janes
Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
DC Comics/Minx, 2007, $9.99
Good As Lily
By Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm
DC Comics/Minx, 2007, $9.99