Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
by Peter Bagge
Drawn and Quarterly
2013, 104 pages, 6.8 x 9.1 x 0.7 inches (hardcover)
When I think of Peter Bagge, I think of his work in Hate or Neat Stuff, both comics about teenage angst and living in suburban malaise. Therefore, when I saw he wrote Woman Rebel, a biography of Margaret Sanger (the woman responsible for Planned Parenthood), I was curious. Once I started reading, it made perfect sense. Discontent, anger, and frustration with the status quo translate perfectly to the life of Ms. Sanger. Margaret Sanger is most famously known as the founder of Planned Parenthood and for her endless fight for women’s access to birth control in the early 20th century. The book highlights key moments in Sanger’s life – it starts with her childhood (she was born in the 1880s to Irish immigrants) and takes us through her early work as a nurse, mother, and eventual activist.
What makes this biography unique are Bagge’s illustrations. His faces, especially the contorted, frustrated ones that work in Bagge’s earlier work (say, on his teenage anti-hero Buddy Bradley) cross over really well. There is a lot of sadness and anger in Sanger’s life, whether it was her mother (who had 18 pregnancies in 25 years) or Sanger herself facing the many smug and misogynistic critics attempting to halt her progress. There is a lot of emotion in this book, the same that made Sanger persevere.
After reading Woman Rebel, I went online to learn more about Sanger and was immediately slammed by my own ignorance as to what a controversial person she is today. Aside from any expected generic criticism of Planned Parenthood, she is described as a "racist eugenicist” and guilty of “black genocide.” Bagge addresses this controversy in his afterword “Why Sanger?” He delves into how she advocated birth control to women of the KKK (that’s right - the KKK - another reason why this book is full of surprises) as well as black women living in Harlem. Bagge gives lots of examples of how her legacy has been dissected over time, and Bagge’s description of her critics is great: “It’s an irony festival!"
Regardless of how you feel about Margaret Sanger’s legacy, this book is an illustrated education into a woman, that as Bagge puts it, “lived the lives of ten people,” and is directly responsible for the access women have to reproductive health care in 2016. The only actual criticism of this book for me is that I wanted more. The book could be twice the length, and dive deeper into more details of her life, because it seems they are endless.
– Amy Lackpour