In her comics, Pénélope Bagieu likes to tell light-footed stories about uncomfortable and modern female characters, most recently in “California Dreamin'”about the singer of The Mamas and the Papas. Her new book “Unerschrocken” (i.e., “Intrepid”) is a collection of 15 biographical short comics that present extraordinary women who defied the social constraints of their time to lead the life of their choice.
Pénélope Bagieu, born in France in 1982, became famous for her comic blog “Ma vie est tout à fait fascinante”. Her first comic strip, “An Exquisite Corpse” (Carlsen Comics), was selected as “best newcomer” at the 2010 Angoulême International Comic Book Festival. Her series “Josephine” has already been published in numerous languages and was filmed in 2012. Pénélope Bagieu’s “Like an empty page” (with Boulet) and “California Dreamin'” have also been published by Carlsen. She is one of the most successful women in the comic industry worldwide. Elina met her in Berlin. You can read more here: https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/c40rjmqdlljt/children
You’re on a very intense, exhausting book tour right now
Just flown in from New York, today Berlin, then Stuttgart, then Frankfurt, then Spain, then Paris. How do you pack?
Pénélope: The main problem is actually the weather, because I will be in three different countries. On the one hand, of course I need something chic, which is not the case at the moment, as you can see.
Hauptstadtmutti: I think that you are dressed perfectly for Berlin. (Jeans and NYU sweater.)
Pénélope: Everyone warned me! Also that this will be the coldest place and Madrid the warmest, argh! But seriously: I am Mary Poppins when it comes to packing. I pack very little and perfectly. My suitcase packing skills are incredible.
Capital Mom: Let’s go. What’s the secret?
Penelope: Don’t overestimate clothes. No one needs a million shoes. Really looking at how many outfits you actually need for how many different occasions. And, quite honestly: I like to shop when I travel and that’s why I simply have to leave space in my suitcase.
Capital mum: You come from Paris and live in New York. For many, these are absolute dream cities. Where is it nicer?
Penelope: I need both cities.
Hauptstadtmutti: Can you recommend a favorite place in both cities to our readers?
Penelope: Definitely a break café in Paris. I miss all the beautiful outdoor areas of Parisian restaurants. I find that in New York there are not enough places to sit and eat outside. In Paris we sometimes sit so close to the street that the cars dump their exhaust fumes directly on our food. In New York I recommend the Beer&Burgers in Park Slope.
Capital Mom: Why did you move to New York?
Pénélope: A book of mine was published there three years ago and I actually just wanted to be there a little bit to promote the book and thought I would stay a few months and now it’s three years. But I definitely want to go back to France. Maybe next year. (laughs)
Hauptstadtmutti: Have you ever lived in Germany?
Pénélope: I was in a German kindergarten! Ha! As far as I know the German education system is the best in the world for the very youngest children and that’s why my parents had the big dream to put me in a German kindergarten. At that time they had, for whatever reason, money and could afford to send me to a fancy kindergarten for two years. We were so small but we were allowed to cook, bake and go to the museum! When I had to go to a French school, I got bored very quickly. And we had so many well-trained and competent teachers! Compared to the French kindergartens, the care key was very high. And that seems to be standard in Germany?
Capital city mum: Phew. I don’t know. Maybe compared to France. But I don’t think we have enough time to talk about it. Maybe it was also because it was a private kindergarten? Shall we do the interview in German?
Pénélope: Oh God no. But you will laugh, after I was in German kindergarten, I couldn’t speak French anymore! My parents were desperate! Neither of them could speak German. It was also one of the reasons why I had to go back to a regular French school, and the French children made fun of my German accent.
Oh no! You poor German child!
And now the German version of your book is finally here! WHOOHOO! Isa’s husband has had the French version for a long time and that’s why we’ve been waiting for the book eagerly, because we’re all big fans. How did you find these women? Or did they find you?
Pénélope: I found them by not looking for them. They were ready to be seen everywhere, but nobody considered them heroines. Very often they were the background characters in the biographies of other people. Their husbands, their bosses, etc. Most of them I’ve been carrying around with me for years, always with the thought that one day I’ll make a single book about them all. With a very short story, which should make you curious to learn more about these women. Katia Krafft, the geoscientist, was the impetus for the book. It all began with her. The story was first published online and immediately readers began to suggest other women to me. But very few of them passed my ‘Are they cool enough’ test.
Hauptstadtmutti: How does this test work?
Pénélope: There must be a small and a big story about the person. There are many famous women who did something for the first time, but I couldn’t find enough elements in their career that I could identify with. I needed a personal connection, I needed to be close to them. This is how I write. I don’t want to produce illustrated Wikipedia entries, so there must be an emotional connection that helps me interpret how the women would react in any situation. Even if I’m completely wrong, which may be so, I can be proud of having found my version.
Capital city mum: You can feel that! They are really all incredibly special and moving.
Pénélope: Yes! There must be a HA! moment. “Oh, we have the same mother!” or “I went through something like that at work once. Maybe there are hundreds, thousands of other women who have done such incredibly brave things, but I couldn’t make a connection, they were like strangers to me. I love these women like my sisters, daughters, friends.