A quick search of Margaret Sanger biographies on Amazon nets over 500 results. Chances are none of those works is as lively and colourful as Peter Bagge’s recent graphic biography.
The dark-minded alternative comics legend, who found acclaim in the 90s and 00s for his Hate series, keeps the pace brisk over the course of 80 pages. He had no choice, given how action-packed Sanger’s life was.
Born in 1879, she was a nurse and mother before becoming a birth control activist, educator and founder of Planned Parenthood. She also kick-started the creation of the birth control pill when she was in her 70s.
Woman Rebel is no unbiased bio. Bagge clearly adores and admires his subject, but he doesn’t shy away from the controversies that plagued Sanger in her lifetime, in particular the dire effects on her family of her dedication to the cause.
Even then she comes across as sympathetic – a woman ahead of her time doing, not always gracefully, the difficult work of carving out a path for and bettering the lives of future generations of women.
Sometimes the book feels like a breakneck-speed, blow-by-blow account of Sanger’s work and personal life. (The latter half focuses on her myriad lovers – of both genders.) And it’s unlikely to sway her detractors.
But it will hopefully introduce Sanger more thoroughly to a new demographic. And Bagge keeps the humour quotient high, the dialogue curt and snappy and his drawing style warped and bendy, so things always stay interesting.