Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

An eclectic collection of illustrated biographies celebrating thirty ‘Rebel Ladies’ who, in the author’s own words, ‘did exactly what they wanted with their lives.’ From a 7th-century Chinese concubine who rose to the position of Empress, to an actress who refused to submit to Hollywood beauty standards and found success playing iconic villains; from a gynaecologist in Ancient Greece who disguised herself as a man, to a Liberian social worker who founded a women’s peace building network, the scope and variety of the stories that Bagieu has chosen to tell is genuinely exhilarating.

Brazen stands out from other such feminist-focused collections. It’s translated from the French, offering a welcome change of perspective, and it doesn’t shy away from depicting violence or sexual content. Bagieu first made her name drawing comic strips, and her multi-panelled illustrations are somehow both slyly subversive and emotionally sincere, full of pointed angles and playful details. They contrast sharply with the lush, graphic double-page spreads that she uses to separate each entry. This deliberate disjointedness is also reflected in the seemingly random order of entries.

This is a distinctive, political, and highly personal piece of work. I didn’t agree with the author’s framing of every figure presented, but that was half the joy of reading Brazen, and I found myself disappearing down a research black hole after almost every entry.