Women have been doing awesome things for centuries (case in point: Agnodice, who was born in fourth century BC, saw a need for female gynecologists in Athens, so cross-dressed in order to practice medicine) but it seems to have taken their mistreatment (or rather, the national attention around their mistreatment) for books like Pénélope Bagieu’s Brazen to be sought out and published.
Or maybe it’s just become inseparable to read a book like Bagieu’s Brazen and not think of the movements that have come to rise in the last few months. Whatever the reason (and you don’t need a reason to celebrate and immerse yourself in female accomplishments), Brazen is a terrific collection for its international reach and Bagieu’s charismatic drawings.
For anyone who’s read her graphic novel on Mama Cass (and please do if you haven’t), Bagieu’s pencil art style will leave you with little doubt of how right she is for this project. Mostly leaving backgrounds empty, so her characters’ emotions tell the story, when she does draw square panels it’s without a ruler, so the lines are organic. Meta moments of characters reacting to narration give them a second life on the page — Margaret Hamilton grinning at readers behind Judy Garland’s back on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Full-color double-spreads divide the chapters and would look great on a child’s bedroom wall.
Sometimes conversations around people from history end up circling the same names. Having recently read Femme Magnifique, a Kickstarter anthology that’s getting a wider release from IDW, there’s very little overlap between the two books. The pool of ladies getting talked about is growing and Bagieu draws attention to some beautiful people, who’s stories I’ve never heard told before, like Giorgina Reid, who designed an irrigation system that saved Montauk Lighthouse from erosion, or Josephina Van Gorkum, who came up with a way to stay by her husband’s side after death.
Fans of the Moomins will learn the story of their creator, Tove Jansson, and how her strips were sometimes autobiographical. They’ll get to know Annette Kellerman, who changed the design of swimsuits for women and would later be played by Esther Williams in Million Dollar Mermaid, and Christine Jorgensen, who was the first person in the US to go public with her transition.
There are women who continue to lead change today, like Mae Jemison, who was the first black, female astronaut, and has gone on to start a science camp for children and teach environmental science, or Sonita Alizadeh, who works with Girls Not Brides and writes amazing raps.
Between cases of domestic and parental abuse, not every story can be entirely uplifting (the Shaggs, for instance, leave a deep impression). There’s also room for debate. Wu Zetian’s short dynasty as China’s only female empress has a lot to recommend it, but after finding myself uncomfortable with some of her tactics, I love that Bagieu gets in front of the controversy by talking about how “…historians have long depicted Wu Zetian as a sort of Chinese version of the Queen of Hearts…”
By starting at the very beginning of everyone’s life, you see how people’s lives can take turns they don’t expect. “It’s never too late” isn’t an empty cliché for Frances Glessner Lee and she becomes the inspiration for Murder She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher. It doesn’t matter if your life seems settled, or stuck. The cut-off age for change doesn’t exist and Bagieu’s Brazen has the stories to back it up.
Brazen goes on sale March 6th.