1. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World by Pénélope Bagieu
Pénélope Bagieu draws extraordinary women in her graphic novels. Much like the title of her book, Brazen, her protagonists are unflinching, heroic and strong-minded women. In the English translation, the graphic novel portrays the life stories of 29 women. With impressive economy, Bagieu can capture an individual’s character in just a few pages. The clear, sparsely colored drawings are accompanied by contextual descriptions. If the characters do speak themselves, they don’t usually need many words. Instead, Bagieu gives them short, humorous sentences. Each chapter closes with an elaborately drawn double-page inviting the reader to ponder and marvel. Whether it’s the astronaut, gynecologist, empress or Afghan rapper – each portrait is as artistic as it is inspiring. I, for one, am looking forward to the future appearance of more chapters about more amazing women.
2. Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans
The revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg represents fighting spirt and idealism like no other woman. Red Rosa, the graphic novel by Kate Evans, describes Luxemburg’s life in a lightly fictionalized style based on true events. Reading the book, I realized how extraordinarily brave and daring Luxemburg’s achievements were at a time when political engagement was absolutely perilous. Evans used original photos as a starting point for the realistically drawn black and white images, and incorporates slightly altered quotations and dialogue, the originals of which can be read in full in the book’s appendix. The author has also included any changes made to dates. Her graphic novel represents a perfect blend of political history and aesthetic entertainment. I only wish Red Rosa had been around during my high school years.
3. Fragments of Femininity by Olivier Pont
Pont’s graphic novel dramatizes scenes from the lives of seven women who dare – against all odds – to shape their lives in a self-determined fashion. Fragments of Femininity touches on subjects such as mobbing, political emancipation and marital problems. The protagonists’ strong characters magically capture the reader’s imagination. Despite the brief chapters, the author manages to create a captivating dramatic arc of suspense. Each individual story is inspiring, motivating and morally valuable.
4. Fruit of Knowledge by Liv Strömquist
Swedish author Liv Strömquist’s compelling graphic novel focuses on the vulva, drawing the female sex organ’s cultural history in all its chapters and absurdities. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that for a long time the vulva wasn’t even seen as a sex organ, but simply as a hole to be filled by a penis. The drawings in Fruit of Knowledge are often rough and raw and intermixed with naturalistic images. I learned a lot from reading this graphic novel, but it was also a very entertaining read. Strömquist’s style of illustration is impressive and her writing is consistently sharp and poignant.
5. About Betty’s Boob by Vero Cazot & Julie Rocheleau:
A woman lies sleeping in a dark room; crabs crawl slowly across her body, one pair of claws after another until she is entirely covered, at which point she awakes from the nightmare. The sinister, spreading forms of crustaceans here symbolize breast cancer – the illness the protagonist of About Betty’s Boob is faced with. Through imagery in reds and blacks, Cazot and Rocheleau tell the moving story of a woman battling against the societal and psychological aftermath of the disease. The evocative illustrations require almost no textual commentary. An all-black double-page with a single precise remark brings the rapidly developed storyline to a halt, and grants the reader a moment to catch their breath and reflect on what has happened. The humorous way in which the authors succeed in portraying an otherwise malicious disease – without trivializing the realities of breast cancer – is a particularly impressive feat.
Author: Konstanze Teschner