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.