Martinetti, A., Lebeau, G., and Franc, A. 2016. Agatha. London: Self Made Hero. 119 pages, £12.99 (UK).

All images copyright Hachette Livre (Paris) 2014.

So, in an ideal world, how would you bring to light some of the ways women contributed to the Trowel Wielding Sciences in the past?

  1. Add a touch of celebrity.
  2. Make the story accessible – not dumbed down, but easy to grasp.
  3. Make it a life, not an anecdote.
  4. Make it pretty.
  5. Make it a TrowelToon!

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Team TrowelBlazers was very excited when a big brown envelope turned up in the post — wrappings torn off, we revealed a brand new graphic novel  from Self Made Hero: Agatha, by Anne Martinetti, Guilaume Lebeua and Alexandre Franc. There has of course been a lot written about the Agatha of the title — she is Agatha Christie, Queen of the Murdery Mystery, who had a surprising secret life as TrowelBlazer. Christie’s life is certainly worthy of recounting, traipsing as it did from an idyllic pre-war England to the edges of crumbling colonial world; her privileged position in this changing world did not fully protect her from either personal tragedy or the those of the wider 20th century world. Agatha recounts the key moments of Christie’s life, sketching in a series of bande dessine (think TinTin) style vignettes of the child, woman, and celebrity.

Illustration is a rather different approach to biography, of course; alongside private moments from her early life that are clearly drawn from an emotional interpretation of her character, we see discussions between the lady and her  famous fictional detectives, and the characters inner thoughts appear solidly materialised in the traditional thought bubble. While many of the scenes pictured are clearly the work of interpretation by the authors, none ring overly false –each episode from Christie’s life, whether a memory of her father, or even our particular favorite, getting stuck in a sandstorm with Hercule Poirot, takes a real event in her life and imagines it distilled into a few set pieces. Each little episode carries a sense of a very human Christie, disappointed in love, complaining to her imaginary friends (and frenemies, in the case of a certain egg-shaped mustachioed detective), and of course a graphic novel is better suited to these flights of fancy than traditional print biographies. That said, there is quite a bit of life packed in — a timeline in the back gives key dates for the disoriented.

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This is not a book for those looking for the exacting details of Christie’s life; the what-where-when-how of her trials, tribulations, and triumphs. It is rather a graphic novel for those happy to immerse themselves in the imagined world of a woman who did things, who lived a very full life and created imaginary worlds for millions of people around the world. Her TrowelBlazing activities do not make too much of a splash when set against her literary career, or even the drama of her personal relationships, but that is in its way very fitting; sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the TrowelBlazers we celebrate today were women too, in their time.

Short Version:

Go find someone with a sense of adventure to give this to.

Review by Brenna

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