Saturday, August 11, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #223: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu

If you can read the stories of a whole bunch of women pioneers -- such as the ones in the book I'm about to discuss -- without being at least a little bit annoyed at men in general, frankly there's something wrong with you.

And you can take "men in general" as expansively as you want, o dudes who insist "man" is always and ever a perfectly good word to mean "humanity." There's enough shittiness and negativity in the world for at least two genders.

But damn did every single advance for women come because a woman demanded it, fought for it, and faced down multiple men who insisted that not only shouldn't she do that, it was physically impossible for her to do it, so she should just go back her knitting and housekeeping.

(And if I hear a single "not all men," I'm going to smack you so hard. Nothing is all anything, you bozos.)

On the other hand, reading a bunch of stories like these is also energizing -- sure, a lot of horrible people tried to stop nearly every woman in the book, but horrible people are ubiquitous (insert reference to the political figure of your choice here), but every one of these women did the thing they're known for, despite that opposition.

So, yeah, people in general are the worst, but some individual people are the best -- that's the story of humanity from the beginning.

Penelope Bagieu has thirty individual stories to tell in Brazen -- all individual people, all women, and generally of the best. (There are some debatable candidates here, like the awesome but also pretty bloody Wu Zetian, Empress of China.)

Each story gets a title page, a three-to-seven page comic (nine-panel grid) telling the story of her life in as much detail necessary for the story Bagieu has in mind, and then a lovely two-page spread, more evocative than purely illustrative, of the essence of what make that woman great.

The comics are good: text-heavy, but snappy and quick-moving, setting the scene for each of these women in their very different places and times. But those spreads are even better: if there was a gallery show of them, I'd want to go to see them large and in person.

Bagieu casts a wide net here, from modern US and Europe (Giorgina Reid, Betty Davis -- yes, that's the correct spelling, it's not the woman you're thinking of -- Tove Jansson, Christine Jorgensen, Temple Grandin, Jesselyn Radack, Katia Krafft) to slightly more historical figures from the same places (the amazingly kick-ass Nellie Bly, Hedy Lamarr [1], Clementine Delait, Margaret Hamilton, Josephina van Gorkum, Delia Akeley) to women from further afield in time and space (Nzinga, Lozeb, Wu Zetian, Agnodice, Leymah Gbowee, Sonita Alizadeh). Unless you have really eclectic knowledge and tastes, some of them -- maybe a lot of them -- will be unfamiliar to you, which is a big plus.

Every story taught me something I didn't know, which may say more about me than the book. Every one was zippy and fun: Bagieu is focusing on women who succeeded at something. (No Joan of Arc here, for example -- the closest thing to a martyr is Las Mariposas, three rebel sisters from the Dominican Republic in the 1950s.)

It's all true, it's all good comics, Bagieu's closing spreads for each woman are wonderfully iconic, and you might learn something, too. Brazen is a total win all around.

[1] True story: recently, in a work meeting, the ice-breaker question was "What Hollywood star, past or present, would you want to have dinner with?" I was having trouble thinking of anyone until I remembered Hedy: she was my easy choice.

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