Monday, May 21, 2007

Graphic Lit: Minx line launches

Girls don’t read comic books.

That’s the myth that’s pervaded comics culture for the past few decades. It’s a lie that manga has especially proved false, as series like “Fruits Basket” have attracted a strong and devoted female readership.

But what about American comics? Is there a way to attract young girls, even those not necessarily interested in manga, to more homegrown comics?

It’s a question that plagued DC editors Karen Berger and Shelly Bond.

“As great as a lot of manga is, we felt we wanted an American sensibility,” Berger said. “Teenage girls deserve to have a line of books from an American publisher that would suit their sensibilities closer.”

To that end they created Minx, a new line of graphic novels aimed specifically at the teen market.

“Shelly Bond and I have always wanted to do more material for women, so we said ‘Why don’t we just go for broke and try to do an imprint specifically designed for teenage girls?’¤”

With about seven to eight titles coming out each year, Berger says the Minx books will focus on “real stories about real girls in the real world.”

“The protagonists are independent, they take chances, they have a sense of individuality,” she said. “They’re not conventional, they’re not necessarily the it girl, nor do they want to be.”

The opening salvo in the new publishing imprint is “The Plain Janes,” written by Cecil Castellucci, author of such young adult novels as “Boy Proof” and “Beige,” and drawn by Jim Rugg of “Street Angel” fame.

“The Plain Janes” is about a young girl — named Jane naturally — who moves with her family to the suburbs after surviving a terrorist attack in the city. At her new school, she comes across a trio of girls sitting at the reject table, all blessed with the same name as hers.

Frustrated by the dull safety of suburbia and still reeling from her traumatic experience, Jane bands the other girls together to form the secret art gang P.L.A.I.N., which stands for People Loving Art In Neighborhoods.

While their innocuous acts of art terrorism thrill their fellow students (at one point they wrap all the town fire hydrants in scarves and hats), they only manage to draw the wrath of local law enforcement, with everything coming to a head on New Year’s Eve.

“I wanted the book to have a duality to it in a way. I didn’t want it just to be about ‘boys or cool and I like kissing’ or whatever,” said Castellucci. “I’m always dealing with pretty serious issues even if they’re just serious issues to the characters.”

A longtime comic book fan, Castellucci says she jumped at the opportunity to take part in the Minx launch.

“I really like comic books a lot,” she said. “I’d always thought it was something I’d like to try to do because it wasn’t ‘in my world.’ I had no idea how to do it.”

She adds there was a bit of a steep learning curve initially, though she credits Rugg with helping her overcome it.

“In a way the image is very freeing, narrativewise. At the same time, when you don’t understand yet how you can move the story forward, it feels very claustrophobic.”

While “The Plain Janes” makes a few missteps (many of the supporting characters — particularly the other Janes — come off more as types than individuals), it’s a perfect choice for the imprint’s launch as Castellucci and Rugg complement each other very well. The result is a charming, fun book that doesn’t feel weighted down by political allegory or “chick-lit” frothiness. I can easily imagine a lot of girls thrilling at the Janes’ anti-establishment exploits.

Berger and the powers that be at DC are working hard to get the Minx line into the hands of their target audience, partnering with the marketing group Allied Media, who helped make the Traveling Pants and Gossip Girls series of books such successes.

Upcoming titles include “Re-Gifters” by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel, about a “Korean-American California girl,” and “Good As Lily” by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm, about a teen who’s confronted by past and future versions of herself.

“There’s a lot of ladies who would read comics or graphic novels if there were stories that appealed to them,” Castellucci said. “That’s where everybody’s heading. I say bring it on.”

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



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