Review: ‘Aya of Yop City’ by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
Aya of Yop City
By Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
Drawn & Quarterly, September 2008, $19.95
[[[Aya]]] was one of the surprise pleasures of last year, a slice-of-life story about three young women and their families and friends in the neighborhood of Yopougon in late ‘70s Ivory Coast. The title character was actually the least involved in the plot, adding to a slight suspicion that the story was partially autobiographical. (Abouet did grow up in Ivory Coast, though she left in the early ‘80s at the age of twelve – so even Aya’s story couldn’t be directly hers. My personal theory is that Aya is based on an older sister or cousin of Abouet’s, one of her strong connections back to her homeland.)
By the end of Aya, Aya herself hadn’t been much changed, but her friend Adjoua had just given birth to a baby she claimed belonged to Moussa, the unmotivated son of local rich man and business owner Bonaventure Sissoko. But it was also clear that Moussa was not the father of Adjoua’s child, and that Bonaventure strongly suspected that.
[[[Aya of Yop City]]] begins almost immediately after the end of Aya; it’s a continuation of the same story rather than being a new, separate graphic novel. (And so the title is appropriate, like a [[[Babar]]] or [[[Madeleine]]] novel, or a line-extending superhero comic: [[[Aya]]], [[[Aya of Yop City]]], [[[The Adventures of Aya]]], [[[The Amazing Aya]]], [[[Yop Comics Featuring Aya]]], [[[The Spectacular Aya]]], and so on.) So it begins with a full-page close-up of Adjoua’s baby Bobby, who is very cute…but also looks absolutely nothing like Moussa.
(The baby does, however, look just like local womanizer and ne’er-do-well Mamadou, which eventually leads to a resolution.)
Aya of Yop City is still not very much about Aya herself – even the one subplot that features her most is really about her father Ignace. This series is shaping up to be really about how women ignore warning signs from men and allow themselves to get hurt – since Aya is (at least, I assume) the author-insert character, she’s not the one getting hurt, but her friends Adjoua and Bintou are.
Adjoua, of course, had a fling with the dashingly handsome but utterly unreliable Mamadou, and is left with a baby and essentially no support from the father. (Though, as we see in the story and Abouet tells us in an afterword, Ivory Coast women of that era were very close-knit, in large families, so Adjoua had her “tanties” – real and unofficial aunts – and friends and neighbors to help her out.)
Aja’s other friend Bintou falls for an old friend, Gregoire, who has just come back from Paris and is presenting himself as wealthy and accomplished…but, in the world of Aya, what men say is never to be believed. We readers find out the truth by the end – and we suspected much earlier than Bintou did – but Bintou never completely loses her romantic ideals about Gregoire. (And the reader has to wonder if she will, or if she too has to be left alone and pregnant to realize what happened.)
There’s a third parallel story about the lies of men involving Aya’s father Ignace, who works for Bonaventure Sissoko as a manager of the beer company in the city of Yamoussoukro. When that business takes a downturn, Bonaventure closes that office and brings Ignace back to Yop City…and that means he has to fire his secretary. (Savvy readers will figure out where that subplot is going – and the last page gives us a cliffhanger for that storyline.)
Aya of Yop City digs a bit deeper into its characters than the first volume Aya did; we’re seeing more consequences of actions, and not just young people running around in love (or lust) with each other. Abouet’s underlying view of men is not particularly positive – there’s hardly a one in the whole book that can be counted on for anything – but it stays subtext; I’m not sure she even realizes that all of the men in this story are lying cheaters. (And we certainly don’t see any equivalent duplicity on the part of the women – they’re all deluded but honest.)
I hope that Abouet will have her characters smarten up if she continues to write about them, as it looks like she will. (Aya could have stood alone, but Aya of Yop City is clearly a piece of middle, starting and stopping rather than beginning and ending.) A continuous string of pretty young women being seduced and abandoned will make for a tedious story.
As in the first book, Oubrerie’s loose, vibrant art captures the feel of Ivory Coast – his sunlight has an almost physical quality and his line delights in the possibilities of the many bold patterns worn by the women of Yop City. His character’s expressions can sometimes feel a bit flat – he draws them without eyelids, so eyes are always wide open, with only size and shape to define emotion – but their body language makes up for that. (Bintou’s cousin, the young mechanic Herve, for example, is never drawn standing up straight – his shoulders are always stooped, and he’s always flinching a bit.)
I do hope for a bit more subtlety and breadth of theme if the series continues – and possibly for Aya to engage in the plots, instead of merely being the eternal observer – but the Aya stories are a wonderful look at a part of the world we don’t think about much, and a reminder that people are the same everywhere.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.