International Women’s Day Recommendation: Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

I’m wishing a very happy International Women’s Day to all my women readers and bloggers today. In the spirit of the holiday, I was contemplating what I could write for the blog that would celebrate women both as creators and within the literature I love. I had a couple different ideas from highlighting strong female characters within anime and manga to discussing ways in which romance literature has improved over the years thanks to women creators in the industry. But, earlier today I looked over at my bookshelf and saw this particular graphic novel by one of my favorite female comic creators, Penelope Bagieu, that also highlights major female figures in history, media, and the wider world who could be considered rebels in their time. 

Being a woman in day to day society involved a certain amount of rebelliousness throughout history. It’s how we got the right to vote, the right to own property, and how we are still fighting for protections within and without the workplace. With her graphic novel Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, Bagieu gives us more than a dozen women who dared step outside of societal norms to follow the kind of path they wanted to, whether it be leader to their people, war hero, or famous actress. Bagieu gives credit to a bunch of different women, in a very visually appealing style, all the while providing facts we may not have known. It’s one of the best graphic novels, in my opinion, to read today and contemplate the accomplishments of women across the globe.

I’ve discussed Penelope Bagieu before on this blog in my review of her other graphic novel, Exquisite Corpse. Although my review for this other graphic novel was a long time ago, I still have it on my shelf next to a whole host of other great novels. Since reading it, Bagieu has always struck me as a very stand-out comic artist with a very unique style of both writing and drawing. Her art style is very unique, very different from what a manga fan might be used to, but it works because of its visual appeal and simple line work. In this graphic novel, she also combines that with bright colors featured in double page spreads for each woman she highlights. These pages make me think of murals you might see on the side of buildings. 

In a way, I would compare Bagieu’s style to a comic artist like Noelle Stevenson. Like Stevenson, Bagieu has a way of creating characters and designs all her own, simplifying a character design down but also making it look like she’s not skimping on the important details. I loved seeing how she brought these very different historical figures to life and gave them all their own personalities based on their expressions and movements. I would say that Bagieu has a style that feels very sarcastic, if that makes sense from an artistic standpoint. The styles of bodies and exaggeration of expressions gives the characters a sarcastic bent. When you think about the content she is talking about, it makes sense in a way. 

I was very impressed with Bagieu’s ability to condense so many histories into a few pages of panels. A whole lifetime of accomplishments is hard to simplify into a few simple pages, but she manages to do it in a way that conveys that woman’s accomplishments in a meaningful and concise way. I also loved seeing her highlight some lesser known women that don’t get enough spotlight, especially indigenous women and women of color. One of my favorite stories was the history of Nzinga, the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba. She was never someone I had ever heard about, probably for typical Euro-centric reasons concerning the modern US education system, so I loved seeing an emphasis on strong women leaders in their community who fought passionately for their people. 

Similarly, there was Lozen, an Apache woman who became a powerful leader and warrior fighting against colonist rule. I love seeing stories about the American indigenous peoples, and here we see one of their more skilled fighters and leaders, a shaman, and an ally of Geronimo. Bagieu chooses to highlight an interesting story from her history, one where in the midst of battle, she helps a pregnant woman give birth and escorts her three days to safety. Along the journey she has to use stealth and her myriad of skills to travel undetected. She eventually gets them to safety, and then heads back into battle, eventually joining Geronimo two months later. It’s a very inspiring story of the kind of strength and resourcefulness women can have faced with life threatening situations.

However, Bagieu not only highlights women fighting for their lives, but also women going against the grain for their livelihoods. Actresses, athletes, artists all get a spot in her collection of brazen women. I loved seeing Margaret Hamilton featured here, the actress who is most known for playing the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. She highlights how Hamilton uses her skills to become an actress known for being a great villain, to the point where some of her appearances were cut because she was too scary for children. She also makes the point to talk about the accident on the set of Wizard of OZ that left her with serious burns, calling attention to the sacrifices and risks she had to endure on set all the while being dedicated to her role. 

Brazen was published back in March of 2018 and caught the attention of a bunch of graphic novel fans and feminist leaders across the globe. It went on to win an Eisner Award in 2019 for Best US Edition of International Material. If you’ve been looking for something to read to learn more about women in history and media who made a name for themselves, I would highly suggest picking this up. 

I hope you have a great rest of your International Women’s Day, and let me know down in the comments if there is a woman in history that you think should get her own comic.

~~Thanks for Reading!~~

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