By Leroy Douresseaux
May 10, 2007 - 12:31
Their recent English-language version of the graphic novel Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie is an example of D&Q’s diverse line of adult-oriented comics fiction. The winner of the 2006 award for “Best First Album” at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, Aya is a comedy – at once social, romantic, and domestic – built around the straight-laced Aya, a 19-year old African woman, with her mind focused on homework and a future professional career. The story is set in the Ivory Coast in the year 1978, a kind of economic golden age for the West African country.
Aya wants to be a doctor, much to the chagrin of her working class father, Ignace, though she gets encouragement from her mother, Fanta. Aya’s ambitions set her apart from everyone around her, especially her two close friends, Adjoua and Bintou. The only ambitions these young women have concern going out to party and have a good time with young men. Eventually, this duo finds itself at odds over Moussa, the only son of a prominent and wealthy family.
When attempting to review Aya, it wouldn’t be correct to separate the contributions of Abouet and Oubrerie because this is a united vision of two artists and storytellers. This is the first graphic novel for both, though after reading this I’m having a hard time believing that. Abouet’s matter-of-fact comedy is perfectly in tune with Oubrerie’s energetic figure drawing and expressive character faces, and Oubrerie’s warm colors match the sunny optimism of Abouet’s happy comedy.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never encountered an African story like this – one that seems so non-African considering most of my experience with African-set stories pretty much amounts to stories of war and suffering in such films Blood Diamond, Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, and Tsotsi. Aya, however, offers us a story of a young woman with her eye on a prosperous future, and there is nary a doubt in her mind that this is possible in the Ivory Coast. That her friends are more interested in having fun isn’t necessarily a judgment on them because happiness is possible in their thriving homeland. They revel in their youth because they don’t have to dig for diamonds in muddy streams (under the watchful eyes of gun-toting rebels) when life is so good.
Aya isn’t so much a coming of age tale as it is simply a story of ordinary lives. It’s a domestic comedy – a broad comedy about working, living, and enjoying life with friends and family. It’s a universal story. Abouet & Oubrerie have basically used the medium of the comic book to remind the reading public that we are more alike than we are different, and the same goes for people living in Africa.
Order directly from the publisher at drawnandquarterly.com or try the Comic Shop Locator at 1-888-COMIC BOOK.