Janes in Love: graphic novel is a call-to-art for young people

Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg's Janes in Love is the wonderful sequel to The P.L.A.I.N. Janes, the debut volume of the Minx graphic novel imprint.

The P.L.A.I.N. Janes are an arts collective made up of high-school girls all named Jane, who stage daring, commando-style public art projects in the dead of night, transforming their tight-ass suburb into an outdoor art gallery. They're not just in it for the hell of it, either: their little suburb was the site of a terrorist scare and bombing that has everyone on edge and baying for authority.

The Janes won't take this lying down. They refuse to be terrorized, and continue making their art, even though it gets them in trouble with the authorities and their parents, and nearly drives them apart.

But the Janes aren't just serious art-guerrillas; they're also teenaged girls, and the art-shenanigans aren't doing much for their love-lives, or their friendships.

It all adds up to an utterly charming, absolutely inspiring valentine of a book, a comic-book call to arms for art as something that everyone can -- and should -- make. Janes in Love


  1. I thought the bombing happened not in the burbs but in a large city (NYC or unnamed, can’t remember), which is what prompted “Main Jane’s” family to move to the uptight suburbs in the first place. No?

  2. Vandalism just isn’t cool.

    Acting to modify or change something you don’t own to make it ‘better’ for your definition of better, is just as horrible an idea as the government forcefully acting to modify or change what you’re allowed to think and how you’re allowed to act to make you ‘better’ for their definition of better.

    Do all the art you want, brighten the world with it, but do it on your own property, without infringing on another’s property rights.

  3. So the public doesn’t own public property… funny, as I thought my tax dollars paid for it, so how do we as the public not own public property. That being said there is a fine line between political guerrilla art and simple acts of vandalism, I’ll grant you that.

    Have you read the first comic? The acts of art committed by the girls in the book are never permanent (bubbles in a fountain, balloons off a tower, chalk art, bottles with messages hanging from a tree, etc) in public places. They are not spray painting on a public library, or stealing road signs, or stealing or vandalizing private property. Besides, let’s face it, much of our urban space is sort of ballardian in nature- stark, boring, and at times even oppressive, and certainly the suburban town is often even worse off (think Ghost World). Over all I found it an interesting and inspiring story that a me from half my life ago could have found inspirational.


  4. @Alenna: What about property and spaces that are owned but not used? Abandoned buildings, blank walls, etc. What about public property?

  5. Hate to nitpick, but the town itself wasn’t the site of a terrorist scare, but a neighboring city. Main Jane lived there until she was caught in the explosion. Her family freaked, packed up, and moved to the suburbs.

    Also backing up Mindysan’s claim, the art in the first book was noninvasive (up until the very last act) and in some cases downright useful. (There was a stuffed animal brigade urging others to donate to a toy drive.)

  6. Alenna, was that intended as parody? There are values other than property.

  7. Alenna, that’s a pretty broad categorical statement there. I’m going to edit it down, without (I maintain) changing its meaning:

    Acting to modify or change something you don’t own is horrible.

    Now I will address the above – if you feel I’m attacking a strawman argument or putting words in your mouth, please clarify the difference. Note that I’m not addressing graffiti, but rather the foundation of your argument that graffiti is categorically uncool.

    I hold, and this may be where we run into a religious (i.e. irresolvable) difference, that property rights do not supersede everything. There are cases in which a property owner can lose the moral right to exclude others from (i.e. to own) a property, either permanently or temporarily.

    In some cases, the failing of the property owner is simple enough to rectify that the correct course of action is to simply fix it, rather than be a jerkwad and take the owner to court at immense cost, doing good to no one.

    If a vacant lot is full of rusted-out appliances, broken shopping carts, and a fire-hazardy fallen-down shed, which do you consider the morally right thing to do:

    (a) find out who the property owner is, lodge complaints with the city, and if nothing happens, sue the owner, enriching no one but lawyers, wasting people’s time, and antagonizing the owner, or

    (b) without making a fuss about it, spend half a day of your own sweat cleaning the place up and hauling the junk to the dump

    Now, I realize (b) might count as trespassing and theft in some jurisdictions, and your local law may prohibit it. But (a) pisses off a lot of people, wastes a lot of time and money, and at the absolute best will achieve no more good than (b), and at worst the shed could start a fire during the delay, causing real harm to someone.

    In some cases then, the public good supersedes property rights.

    Extending the above to graffiti becomes more tenuous, obviously. All I want to establish is that there are some circumstances in which acting to alter objects you do not own is morally acceptable, perhaps even required.

    Assuming you accept the above, then you can’t discard graffiti simply on the grounds of property rights. You have to come up with a set of principles on when property rights supersede other rights, and when property rights give way to other rights; then you have to analyze graffiti (possibly each individual instance of graffiti) according to those categories.

  8. In some cases then, the public good supersedes property rights.

    That’s a poor rationale. Who decides what the “public good” is?

    Likewise, we have property rights to decide exactly what “abandoned” is. (Given subjective value, maybe the owner wants a junk yard on purpose.) The failure of example A has more to do with our broken dispute resolution system (i.e. legal system) than it does with the failure of property rights.

    Personally, I have no problem with squatters, but I don’t buy into “squatter’s rights” that property can be re-homesteaded based on some amorphous notion that it was “abandoned”. Basically, don’t be surprised when the owner shows up one day and kicks you out; and don’t think you own the building just because you’ve been squatting in it for awhile and made some repairs. But for as long as you were able to “get away with” squatting (reflecting the degree to which the space was abandoned), more power to you.

    Likewise, I’m personally pretty soft on graffiti. If you can get away with it, more power to you. (Setting aside the acid-etching of glass, it’s easy/cheap enough to paint over it if you really don’t like it.) But more importantly, you’re socially probably being a jerk and doing yourself a disservice by aggressively fighting against graffiti. I’m reminded of all the street artists and performers in Paris who were kicked out, and then when tourism dropped off the city started paying them to come back and do what they were doing on their own originally.

    So, yeah, graffiti is a violation of your property rights, and whoever gets caught should maybe pay a fine equivalent to a fresh coat of paint as restitution. But I just don’t see the impetus for getting so worked up over graffiti compared to all of the other far more important property rights violations, and social ills generally. It strikes me as akin to polishing the brass on the Titanic. (We need to focus on building more lifeboats.)

    I will also say, though, that I don’t think we need to be absolving graffiti… it is an underground, illicit, counter-cultural activity after all. There may be damn good reasons for doing it, just as self-defense may be a damn good reason for killing someone, or starvation is a damn good reason to steal food, but all of those are still violations of individuals’ property rights (including self-ownership in the case of murder).

  9. Zuzu – Someone may have an interest in having a junkyard on their property, while their entire neighbourhood has an interest in not having a junkyard near their homes. If property rights were all that, and the “public good” was a useless concept, we wouldn’t have zoning laws to protect the public good against the whims of property owners.

    Even if the would-be junkyard keeper wins legally, it’s not necessarily the case that he is behaving morally – he’s failed to consider the interests of all his neighbours.

    We can of course argue about the nature of the public good, but you can’t just flatly refuse to acknowledge its existence.

  10. @Dragonfrog

    I’m afraid we are going to have irresolvable differences. Ah well.

    No, I simply flat disagree. Public good cannot ever supersede property rights, and infringing on someone’s property is always morally vicious, never just.

    Imagine an extreme case, where someone’s property is arranged in such a way as to cause harm to the property owner. Say he has sharp, rusty, metal implements all over the place, making his property very dangerous for him, but not at all affecting anyone outside of his property.

    You could act as a humanitarian and intrude on his property to reduce the potential harm to the owner, or you could appeal to some authority to enact zoning laws and regulations on what could be done on his property to reduce the harm to the owner. In either case, you are making a moral judgement in choosing the lesser to two vicious acts (intruding on his property vs. allowing preventable harm to occur). In either case, you’ve done wrong. Perhaps you’ve done _less_ wrong than in the case you didn’t choose, but the existence of even worse results from not intruding does not ever justify the intrusion itself.

    It never makes it good, it just makes it less bad. It’s a mere difference in degree, not a difference in kind.

  11. Mindysan,

    No, the public doesn’t own public property. Instead, this is government-owned land, paid for through taxation of the public. You don’t own it, in the same sense that you cannot call up the IRS and ask to have back some/all of the money you’ve been taxed.

    Permanent or impermanent, the acts won’t fix themselves. Someone will have to pick up the mess. Is it moral to create additional work for that person without any intention to compensate them for that additional work? Is it moral to promote that type of thinking?

    If you want to do art, whether motivated by self-expression or a simple desire to create aesthetic value, buy a canvas, buy rock/wood/metal to shape, hire or get volunteers to act/perform as you wish. Don’t just run in and start messing with stuff that doesn’t belong to you.

  12. Alright Alenna, if you want to express all rights in terms of property rights, let’s try that (a position I find very trivializing, but OK).

    I’m interested to know – do you consider the existence of zoning laws to be acceptable? After all, they impinge on the rights of a property owner to do arbitrary things on his property. But they also are part of what defines the value of the property – it’s not just any property, but a property that is more or less guaranteed never to have a hog barn or cement yard next door.

    As to my original example of the impromptu junkyard. The owner of the property is:

    – endangering the property rights of his neighbours, including potentially their right to “self ownership” as you put it, by keeping a fire hazard

    – endangering the neighbours’ property rights (incidentally, where do you stand on ownership of sentient legal non-entities?) in their domestic animals and children, by keeping potentially dangerous and poisonous junk

    – harming the value of the neighbours properties, by keeping an eyesore

    Sure, you could go through the legal rigamarole, and I suspect you are in favour of a legalistic approach, but when it is more effective to fix the problem than to try to force someone else to do it at ridiculous expense, why not?

    I don’t really need to respond to your example of the property owner with sharp pointy things on his own property that endanger no one but himself. By your framing of the argument, he must have put up proper fencing to keep children and animals from hurting themselves in his yard.

  13. Even if the would-be junkyard keeper wins legally, it’s not necessarily the case that he is behaving morally – he’s failed to consider the interests of all his neighbours.

    Goddammit, this isn’t a committee! Just because we live adjacent to each other doesn’t automatically make us part of a community. I’d like to be able to put up a wind generator or paint my building neon orange without having to take a poll from the peanut gallery about whether it’s ok with everyone or not. As long as I’m not directly causing you harm, leave me the hell alone.

    If property rights were all that, and the “public good” was a useless concept, we wouldn’t have zoning laws to protect the public good against the whims of property owners.

    Zoning laws are a terrible legal construct. If you’ve ever seen a company pollute the fuck out of a natural resource, I guarantee you they have a permit for zoning to do it. It’s a government-facilitated externality. As I said in another thread, the Hudson was zoned as an industrial river, so GE had a free pass to dump PCBs into it with legal immunity from property owners downstream who suffered damages.

    I’m interested to know – do you consider the existence of zoning laws to be acceptable? After all, they impinge on the rights of a property owner to do arbitrary things on his property. But they also are part of what defines the value of the property

    Value can only be determined at the time of exchange. “Market value” appraisals are a rather dubious concept for anything that’s not a commodity (such as most real estate).

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