March is International Women’s Month, the perfect time to celebrate fantastic women throughout history. But sometimes it’s hard to find those women, as they’re often written out of history books. Luckily for us, Parisian cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu is bringing us Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World!, a wonderful collection of comics based on some of the most incredible women who’ve changed history as we know it. We chatted to Pénélope about creating Brazen, discovering her childhood heroes, and the importance of remembering radical women.
Like many of us, Bagieu grew up struggling to find herself in the pop culture she loved. “I grew up identifying with the cool male characters and celebrities—artists, scientists—and that wasn’t a problem because, well, that’s what girls did,” Bagieu said. “We wanted to be the cool guy because the woman is usually the damsel in distress or, at best, the sidekick. But then I realized I did know a lot of super awesome brave women.”Bagieu named a few figures who had particular impact on her as a child: “That volcanologist I saw on TV as a kid, that illustrator who created The Moomins I loved, they really inspired me,” she said. “But since they’re not labeled as ‘heroes,’ they don’t have books or movies about them. I started looking around a little and these amazing women were everywhere, [so] I just felt like I wanted everybody to know them too and fix that injustice!”
One of the best things about Brazen is the eclectic collection of women Bagieu spotlights. “I wanted a variety of backgrounds, origins, and also of gravity in their situations,” she said. “Some of these paths were cheerful, others were heartbreaking. Some fought domestic violence or childhood arranged marriage, some wanted to be with the person they loved no matter what. My point was that regardless of their skin color, the era they lived in, their sexual orientation, or their religion, whether they won the Nobel Prize for Peace or opened grocery stores, they have one thing in common: women always fight twice as hard and always have.”
So how do you go about choosing which radical women’s stories you want to tell? Bagieu had an interesting test. “I had to enjoy telling their story over and over again, to the point where everybody around me begged me to move on,” she explained. “That’s usually good material. I had to love them so much and feel connected to them personally, for any reason, whether their background, the hardships they faced, the way they handled it. Sometimes it’s very obvious, sometimes not at all.”
She continued, “I also didn’t want them to be too well-known. And for those among them that some people do know about, like Josephine Baker or Hedy Lamarr, I wanted to focus on parts of their lives that were more mysterious.”
The Brazen stories were originally created for Le Monde newspaper, which made them a fantastic creative challenge for Bagieu. “It was an amazing writing exercise for me, and a great training in quick and purposeful drawing,” Bagieu said. “It’s also why I decided to go for a very simple palette of colors, very distinctive for each story—four or five shades at most. But the biggest part of the process of Brazen and I should say, of the year I was making it, was actually reading. Autobiographies, old newspapers, interviews, parts of other people’s published biographies, anything I could get my hands on, facing the problem of the lack of material on these little known women.”
And what does Bagieu want for people to think when they pick up Brazen? “I really hope they exclaim out loud, ‘Wow! How come I’d never heard of that one?!’ And then I hope that they discover many, many more amazing women, everyday, everywhere.”
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World is out on March 6th from First Second Books!
Images: First Second