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Author taps love of comics for 1st graphic novel

Story Highlights

• Young-adult novelist Cecil Castellucci branches out
• Main character of her 1st novel was obsessed with comics
• Castellucci eager to try again now that she "gets" the form
By Matt West
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Cecil Castellucci acts more like a 15-year-old boy than a 37-year-old woman. And she makes no apologies.

"I love Ford Mustangs, my Fender guitar, Vertigo comics and my Apple computer," says Castellucci in a rather appropriate girlish voice.

But Castellucci manages to combine her youthful interests with a grown-up career. She's best known as a young-adult novelist, one who has earned accolades from the American Library Association and Publishers Weekly for works such as "The Queen of Cool" and "Boy Proof."

And then there's her latest work.

Castellucci has just released her first graphic novel, "The Plain Janes," published by MINX, a new imprint aimed at teenage girls owned by DC Comics. (DC Comics, like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner.) (Gallery: Scenes from "Plain Janes")

"Plain Janes" is a coming-of-age story, centered on a group of misfits who create a secret society, P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods), as a means of self-expression. Through their guerilla art projects, the girls quickly cause an uproar, leading to scandal and high-school rebellion.

Something of a high school rebel herself, Castellucci's own artistic journey began with the creation of a nom de guerre, Cecil, a very tongue-in-cheek homage to Cecil B. DeMille. "My real name was kind of blah," she recalls, "and so I would turn in school work like 'A Book Report by Cecil B. DeMille.' "

"The Plain Janes" is Castellucci's first experience creating comic books, but it's far from her first experience with the form. ("I have a really huge crush on Superman right now, so I'm obsessed with reading everything Superman," she observes.) The main character of her first novel, "Boy Proof," was a girl obsessed with Vertigo comics.

Much like "Boy Proof's" protagonist, Castellucci also harbored dreams of someday writing for Vertigo, a DC imprint known for titles such as "Sandman," "Preacher" and "Transmetropolitan," with controversial subject matter aimed at a more mature audience.

"I would go to the submissions page [on Vertigo's Web site] and sort of eyeball it and go, 'Oh, I could never do that -- this is a dream that will never happen,' " Castellucci recalls.

Around the same time, Shelly Bond, a longtime editor at Vertigo, was beginning to work on developing what would eventually become the first titles in the MINX line, reaching out to writers in the young-adult literary community -- including Castellucci.

Castellucci threw herself headlong into the project.

"I'm a big believer in no matter what kind of art you do or want to do that you have to really delve into that genre a lot," says Castellucci. "I took out my charge card and bought a [ton] of comic books!"

While she said the idea for "Plain Janes" came rather quickly to her, Castellucci admits the actual writing of the story was a bit more challenging. She panicked at adjusting to the form.

"At first it was very difficult for me to move the story forward because I felt trapped by the panels," she says. "I kind of freaked a little bit because I didn't know how I would get to the end."

Poring over the work of fellow Vertigo creators such as Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris' "Ex Machina" and Bill Wellingham and Mark Buckingham's "Fables," Castellucci slowly learned the art of writing comics.

Then her collaborator, artist Jim Rugg, sent Castellucci the first few sketches based on the beginning of her "Plain Janes" script and "something like a lightbulb went off in my head," she says enthusiastically. "I knew how those things would go together."

With "Plain Janes" already in bookstores and comic book shops, and having put the final touches on another prose novel, "Beige" (due this month), Castellucci is once again hoping to get caught up in the panels of a graphic novel.

"I feel like now that I get it -- I'm sort of chomping at the bit to do more, like, 'Now I know how to twirl this baton -- let me do a trick for you.' "


Cecil Castellucci, a longtime lover of comics, has gotten a chance to write a graphic novel.



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