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Graphic Novel Review: ‘Brazen’ by Penelope Bagieu

Brazen: Rebel Ladies who Rocked the World from First Second Books, by Penelope Bagieu, shows the sadly too seldom told stories of women who truly made an impact. It is a masterful collection that brings to light tales of a wide variety of greatness. Many of the names are recognizable, and there are numerous others who will be new to readers from all over the world and from eras dating back centuries to today.

One of the most stunning facets of Brazen is the wide variety of women studied. People might judge that the biggest impacts come from cunning political leaders like Queen Nzinga in the seventeenth century and Wu Zetian, who ruled China 1,300 years ago. That may be so, but there is also great work by scientists like Agnodice who is said to have founded gynecology in ancient Athens, explorer and primatologist Delia Akeley, and modern volcanologist Katia Krafft.

No one would argue about the impressive cultural contributions from actresses like Margaret Hamilton whose Wicked Witch of the West is still terrifying today, or cartoonist Tove Jansson, or musician and performer Betty Davis. The list of women in Brazen goes on and on with revolutionaries like criminologist Frances Glessner Lee, journalist Nellie Bly, actress and athlete Annette Kellerman, plus so many more.

Each woman’s story is told condensed into a few pages of panels, making it palatable for quick reads, although it is hard to stop with just one. The stories give ample background to each woman, showing who she was, which is often no one in particular. As the women live their lives, however, their great efforts and resolve are shown to change the world, even if it may seem small at first.

Conservationist Giorgina Reid was an artist living on Long Island, already retired when she was told that eventually she would have to move due to erosion. She refused to give in, however, and adapted gardening techniques to halt the loss of her yard. Then she went on to use these techniques to save the famous Montauk Lighthouse, not to mention contributing her methods to conservationists all over the Earth. This is just one story of dozens of women who made up their minds what to do.

Brazen was created Penelope Bagieu, whose “about the author” section is done in the same manner as each of the brazen ladies from before. While some may consider sharing such a spotlight with oneself presumptuous, this is precisely the spirit of self-encouragement that Brazen is working to build.

Bagieu has an impressive body of work stemming from illustration, which led to comics and, ultimately, Brazen as a collection of her weekly strip of stories each about “a woman who did exactly what she wanted with her life.” Bagieu shows that there is something spectacular in all of us yearning to impact the world.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies who Rocked the World is a must-read for lovers of history, supporters of women, those who want to be inspired to do something great, those looking for a fun anthology of stories, or, really, everyone.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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