Cover image for Brazen : rebel ladies who rocked the world / Pénélope Bagieu ; English translation by Montana Kane.
Brazen : rebel ladies who rocked the world / Pénélope Bagieu ; English translation by Montana Kane.

First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York, New York : First Second, 2018.

Physical Description:
291 pages : chiefly colour illustrations ; 23 cm
With her characteristic wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Penelope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies.
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Library Branch
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1 Bob Harkins Branch 920.72 BAG Book Junior Collection
1 Nechako Branch 920.72 BAG Book Junior Collection

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Throughout history and across the globe, one characteristic connects the daring women of Brazen : their indomitable spirit.

With her characteristic wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies.

This title has Common Core connections.

Author Notes

Pénélope Bagieu was born in Paris in 1982 to Corsican and Basque parents. She is a bestselling graphic novel author, and her editorial illustrations have appeared all over the French media. In America, her graphic novels include Exquisite Corpse and California Dreamin' . She blogs, plays drums in a rock band, and watches lots of nature shows.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Story collections about famous women often include figures like Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale. Bagieu (California Dreamin') goes further afield, creating short graphic biographies about inspiring women from many unexpected times and places, such as Las Mariposas, sisters from the Dominican Republic who worked to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo; Katia Krafft, who fought to be recognized as a volcanologist; and Leyah Gbowee, an organizer whose part in ending the civil war in Liberia won her the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. ("How about a drink?" Liberian negotiators say to Gbowee. "I don't drink with murderers," she snaps.) Bagieu's writing is sly and understated, and her panels combine impish comedy with unexpected moments of sensuousness. The women in these biographies pursue political freedom, love, artistic fulfillment, and-sometimes-the joy of their own bodies: Peggy Guggenheim mourns the death of her lover John Holms "on the shoulders of (lots of) new lovers." Any one of these stories would make a rousing picture book biography; 29 of them in one volume produces a work whose energy and wit will spur readers to get going and change the world. Ages 14-up. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

SOMETHING ABOUT THE cover of the French graphic novelist Penelope Bagieu's new book, "Brazen," makes you want to keep touching it. It's textured, with 12 striking cartoon portraits appearing in perfect circles so shiny they look like collectible pin-back buttons I'd like to have. Behind them is a pale gold image of the sign for female merged with a power fist. The book's tag line runs right down the middle: "Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World." I recognize a few of the faces right away: Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins cartoon characters; and a green-faced Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West; and the one who is winking, is that Josephine Baker? It is. But who is the woman with the tight Afro? Or the one wearing the hijab? Or the older woman with the big, wild sunglasses? And one has a beard. It looks luxurious. Who is she? This feels like an invitation. I open the book and there she is. Clementine Delait, born 1865. Facial hair started coming in at puberty, she made a habit of shaving, married a man with rheumatism, ran into another bearded lady at a carnival and from then on decided to just let it all grow out. She became famous for her beard, opened a popular cafe, sold souvenir photos of herself, became the mascot of some World War I soldiers called the "Hairy Ones," adopted a kid, performed live cabaret acts with a parrot and, according to Bagieu's version, lived happy and well until she died of a heart attack in 1939. The woman in the hijab turns out to be a contemporary Afghan rapper and refugee, Sonita Alizadeh, born in 1996, whose lowtech, unflinching music video about the fate of young girls sold into marriage went viral and helped her escape her own fate as a child bride. Alizadeh raps, "Let me scream, I'm tired of silence," while lifting a Western-style wedding veil. Beneath it her face is made up to look as if she's been beaten: swollen eyes and bruised jaw. It's a powerful image, one that Bagieu doesn't hesitate to draw into the strip. And Bagieu's drawings are wonderful. Though sometimes spare, with minimal effort spent on backgrounds, her line manages to flow and skate through 29 stories of remarkable women. These drawings can act. They are alive with gestural attitude. They move, dance, struggle, fight back, fall in love, resist and wonder at the world. Some ham it up. Some suffer terrible abuse. To her credit, Bagieu doesn't back away from drawing the marks of violence on their faces and their bodies, which may come as a surprise to those who are expecting a rah-rah young adult girl-power sort of read. Bagieu calls these comics "broad stroke portraits," and explains the sometimes too breezy storytelling this way: "This book is by no means a thorough scholarly work; rather, it's one woman's tribute - my homage to the full, daring lives they lead, often against great odds." All of her stories follow a similar pattern. Almost every page has nine frames and each biography begins with a portrait drawn in a beribboned oval template. They cover the birth, life and death of each of her subjects in a way that can feel a bit formulaic, but this seems to have more to do with the fact that the English translation is typeset rather than in Bagieu's handwriting. In the original version of these strips, which are luckily available in French on the Le Monde website, where they originally appeared, the difference is instantly apparent. The nature of handwriting gives the portraits a more personal "voice." It feels as if Bagieu herself is telling you these stories. They lose their Wikipedia tone and become more intimate, more like that of a cool fairy godmother recounting tales you need to hear without too much worry about sources, originality or historical accuracy. Her handwriting preserves her passion, along with clear intent to both delight and embolden the reader. It's painful to see this crucial part of her work replaced with type. It changes everything about how the stories are received. The reading speed is altered. The tone and the visual relationship between the text and the drawing just isn't there. It's her handwriting that makes these panels spring to life. Panels that seemed awkwardly composed suddenly become elegant and beautifully balanced. It's hard for people to understand the importance of a cartoonist's handwriting. In the same way melody transforms lyrics, handwriting transforms words and can have a profound impact on how the story is received and understood. Sadly, nearly every scrap of Bagieu's lovely handwriting has been scrubbed and replaced in this translation, even when completely unnecessary. The only clue to this "voice" is a rare lettered sign here and there, and her name, "Penelope," sweetly signed at the end of each strip. These "rebel ladies" come from all over the world (though surprisingly over a third of them are American). They also come from all points in time, like Agnodice, whom Bagieu presents as a gutsy gynecologist from ancient Greece, to the astronaut Mae Jemison (the one with the tight Afro), to the "Animal Whisperer" Temple Grandin and the "Lover of Modern Art" Peggy Guggenheim (she's the one with the wild sunglasses). Bagieu includes sets of siblings, like the Wiggins sisters, who were forced by their father to form a rock band called "The Shaggs," and "Las Mariposas," the Dominican Republic's Mirabel sisters, who were murdered during the Trujillo regime in 1960. And she profiles too one of my favorite women, Frances Giessner Lee, who helped crime scene investigators hone their craft by creating intensely accurate miniature replicas of rooms where murders took place. Bagieu has dedicated this book to her own daughters, and I kept that in mind as I read it. When I imagine her telling these stories to them, I'm reminded of something my grandmother would say when she told me these kinds of tales. "Of course it is only a story my dear. But it is true!" Bagieu's pen transforms these true stories into something that has the tone of a personalized fairy tale. And in the end, this turns out to be just perfect. These drawings are alive with gestural attitude. They dance, struggle, fight back and fall in love.

Library Journal Review

First appearing as a comic strip in the French daily Le Monde, this volume features 29 women whose histories span time, geography, and circumstance. Actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr, painter Tove Jansson, and journalist Nellie Bly are some of the more famous names; rapper Sonita Alizadeh; Nzinga, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba; and gynecologist Agnodice are less well known. In densely packed, nine-panel pages, Bagieu (Exquisite Corpse; California Dreamin') recounts the cultural and personal factors that shaped our heroines, the key moment when they decided to forge their own paths, and the effects of their decisions. Both art and text are clever, smart, and distilled for maximum impact. The women are not idealized, nor are their flaws ignored. Instead, they are treated with wit and empathy. Featuring vivid colors, lyrical compositions, and surprising power, the two-page illustrations of each subject are beautiful portraits that could stand on their own. Verdict At first glance, Brazen feels like yet another collection of biographies of extraordinary and underappreciated women, but Bagieu has created something remarkable. A fresh and joyous look at women's history that is sure to delight even the most jaded readers.-E.W. Genovese, Andrew Bayne Memorial Lib., Pittsburgh © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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