In “Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World” (First Second 2017), author/illustrator Pénélope Baglieu rocks the stories of thirty ladies—in graphic novel form. Some of these ladies you may know, others you may not. How about Agnodice, born in fourth century Greece, disguised herself as a man to study medicine and became the first female gynecologist? How brazen is that?
What about Margaret Hamilton, who vied for Hollywood’s ugly women roles and landed the role of Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz?” Did you know that in her first scene where she exits by disappearing into a cloud of smoke and flame, she actually caught fire? It took three months of healing before she could continue the movie.
Of course you know Josephine Baker, the African American star who made it huge in Paris in the 1920s because America was too racist to support a black super star. What about rapper Sonita Alizadeh, born in 1996 in Afghanistan? She sings about the horrors of young girls sold into marriage, as she was.
The likeness of the characters is extraordinary. The cartoons of Hedy Lamarr, the gorgeous actress and inventor, look just like Hedy Lamarr (see streaming documentary—“Bombshell”—for an idea of Lamarr’s brilliance). Temple Grandin, the autistic animal whisperer, looks like herself. So does Josephine Baker. The art is affecting—sometimes uproarious—the text cheeky.
Pénélope Baglieu is the queen of sarcasm—done tastefully in small pithy strokes. About the Mirabal sisters, activists from Dominican Republic, the author says, “By a stroke of luck all four of them are brilliant, determined, and beautiful.” They’re known as Las Mariposas—Butterflies. (The reader learns about Trujillo the DR dictator). Each chapter about each woman or cluster of sisters ends with a double page spread of art. You know these gals from their depictions. Las Mariposas are super-bad, sexy, and Catholic. You’ll love them.
Each nine or ten page biography is a small book in itself. After reading about Lozen, the Apache warrior and clairvoyant shaman from the nineteenth century, I had to look her up and find out more, which I did with almost all the women. I think that’s the point of this book.
Frances Glessner Lee, born in Chicago in 1878, loved making miniatures. She became a crime scene miniaturist to teach deep observation. No detail is too small for Frances. In a tiny model farm kitchen where a farmer was found dead, she affixes labels to jars, dishtowels in drawers, headlines on newspaper from the day of the crime, potato peels in sink. Tiny locks lock with itty bitty keys. Yikes.
Baglieu, who has a huge blog following in her homeland of France, is irreverent, references popular culture and is becoming an international star. Check her out. Read this book. Discover Tove Jansson, another comic maker, creator of trolls, and openly lesbian in WW2 era Europe. I hadn’t known about Wu Zetian, Empress of seventh century China. I loved this book so much I bought it.
Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker talesforallages.com