The Woman Rebel is the first graphic novel that LSi has ever reviewed and a suitable one too, as the life of its subject, Margaret Sanger, was similarly unprecedented.
As the first campaigner for readily available birth control and family planning advice for all women, Sanger faced prejudice, ignorance and outright hate due to her revolutionary ideas. Her work in a world where sex was taboo may have paved the way for women to eventually become masters of their own body but in order to allow women to make informed decisions about their own family lives, Sanger had to all but sacrifice her own.
Considering this burden of issues surrounding Sanger, it is impressive that the weighty brilliance of Sanger’s life as The Woman Rebel comes alive through the pen of the cartoonist Peter Bagge. His unconventional style sees rubbery bodies with limbs flying everywhere and faces contorting into demonic expressions of anger as people become caricatures of their emotions. These unreservedly dynamic cartoons reflect Sanger’s similarly unconventional views of her time and her disregard of society’s template for women.
The Woman Rebel tracks Sanger’s bohemian life and signposts her ever increasing sphere of influence as she moves a nurse in a decrepit housing district to giving sold out speeches to both the New York Park Theatre and female members of the KKK. While her latter choice of audience may shock some readers, it merely shows how Sanger believed that all women, regardless of their position in life, should have access to basic information about contraceptives.
Sanger’s surprise at figures such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Marie Stopes even knowing of her shows how Sanger had influence far beyond what she expected; it also makes this reviewer wonder why it is only now, in this age of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, that she is being written about.
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