Lately, I've found myself drawn to comics depicting places and times that I am unfamiliar with but curious about. "Aya," written by Cote D'Ivorian writer Marguerite Abouet and drawn by French artist Clement Oubrerie, is a perfect example of this, depicting life in the working class suburb of Yopougan (or Yop City) in the late 1970s when Cote D'Ivoire was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa.
The comic revolves around Aya, a responsible young woman who wants to study hard and become a doctor eventually. Her two best friends Adjoa and Bintou, however, are more interested in partying and dancing with boys instead. Aya's father works for an industrialist named Mr. Sissoko, the owner of Solibra, a popular beer company, and is enjoying this time of great prosperity and opportunity for his country. Mr. Sissoko's son, Mousa, likes slumming in Yop City, and is courting both Bintou and Adjoa. A shy cousin of Bintou, Herve, has been instructed by her father to watch her to keep her out of trouble. And finally, there is Mamadou, a handsome young man who just seems to be everywhere either Adjoa or Bintou happen to be.
Given that the book is named after her, Aya strangely barely appears in the story. She's just there to tell the story of the less responsible individuals around her. This is much more the story of Adjoa and Bintou, and the unknowing love triangle they fall into with Mousa (as well as with the irrestible Mamadou). And it is a very interesting and satisfying story, very much an African tale and not a European. It is funny and absurd, and is full of open air restaurants, dancing, and the "Thousand Star Hotel," an open expanse of a marketplace at mighttime where lovers come to be alone. It is a story both different from the romantic comedies I was used to and very much true to its time: i could easily believe that situations similar to this happened to Marguerite Abouet in her youth.
The drawing style by Clement Oubrerie was very nice, somewhat similar in style to Joan Sfar (which makes sense, as Sfar was apparently the editor of the French version), and it really helps evoke both the place and time in which it is set and the emotions of the characters within the story. Mr. Sissoko's immensity and shadowed eyes give him a threatening aura, while Aya's father is broad but with big eyes, making him seem friendly if a bit foolish. it really contributes to the storytelling incredibly well.
Included in the back of the comic is the "Ivorian Bonus," which includes a glossary of Ivorian slang, the meaning behind the colorful cloths worn by women throughout the story, and recipes for ginger juice and peanut sauce. All of these really helped to grasp the fine points of Ivorian culture and feel more immersed in the world of the comic.
All in all very good and well worth a read. Pick it up and check it out if you see it.
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