FOR HIS LATEST graphic novel, Woman Rebel (Drawn and Quarterly), Peter Bagge chose to illustrate the life of Margaret Sanger. Sanger was an outspoken advocate for birth control in the early 20th century. In defiance of obscenity laws, she gave speeches and wrote and circulated pamphlets educating women on "family limitation."
Her eloquence, theatricality, and flair for public relations drew attention to her cause and made her a constant annoyance for the legal, political, and religious figures who disagreed with her. Sanger's uncompromising, freethinking ways meant that even her personal life was marked with conflict. Bagge illustrates these episodes, both private and public, in his portrayal of a true social pioneer.
MERCURY: You make it obvious in your afterword how fascinating you find Sanger. Do you admire her?
PETER BAGGE: Yes, I admire her greatly. First, I thought her cause was more than worthwhile, and it's outrageous how much opposition she faced over it throughout her life. Secondly, I can't believe how much she alone accomplished. She was a highly skilled multi-tasker and a real workaholic.
Do you think it's still possible to lead the kind of life that Sanger did? It would be difficult to reenact that sort of sustained impact on today's culture.
It's hard to say who the "Margaret Sanger of today" is while events are still unfolding. I'd say her closest contemporaries are Ed Snowden and Julian Assange—people willing to risk imprisonment to do what's right. But then they'll have to remain activists for another 40 years to do as much as Sanger did!
A few years ago I saw you read at Powell's, and you talked about shifting from writing comic books to graphic novels. Do you enjoy finding subjects and stories for book-length projects? Has it been working out for you as a writer and artist?
I actually still prefer and miss the shorter comic book format, but that format is no longer economically viable, so there's no point of conceptualizing work in those terms. Still, even my HATE work was a graphic novel of sorts, since there was an overriding story arc to the connecting stories. So I've been thinking in epic-length terms for quite a while now.