By Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Drawn & Quarterly
Countless comic books traffick in absurd and excruciatingly awkward moments to express the truth about teenage life, but not so with Aya, a tale that dives headlong into the most mundane varieties of teenage girl dramas—choosing the right outfit, chatting up cute boys, and sneaking out of the house to the disco!
Plot twists and humorous situational antics drive the story, but what really give the rather expected storyline its life are writer Marguerite Abouet’s assured characterizations and engaging storytelling style and illustrator Clément Oubrerie’s energetically rendered cast of characters, who are appropriately introduced while gathered together in front of a television set admiring a beer commercial. Oubrerie’s palate is colorful and brilliantly controlled, while his loose and confident drawing style captures the humor and mood of each scene.
The story is told from the point of view of 19-year old Aya, who sharply, but sympathetically, observes the social comedy surrounding her. More interested in her studies and aspirations to become a doctor, Aya stands out from her girl-next-door best friend Adjoua, and party girl Bintou. She’s always there as a sensible voice, listening to her friends recount their microcosmic crises, not above aiding and abetting, but all the while rebuffing the advances of the bumbling boys and grown men who cross her path.
While the story focuses on Aya’s friends plotting nights out on the town and then fretting over their boy-related problems, it is all couched in the social climbing tendencies of their parents and the societal and self-imposed limits of being a girl. Aya’s father, for example, hopes for a promotion at his beer company job, going as far as offering up his daughter to be married to his boss’ good-for-nothing son and scoffing at Aya’s career aspirations.
In the end, this is no mere indulgence in teenage soap opera. Abouet and Oubrerie have created a unique portrait of daily life in a working class African city in the 1970s. Before political and economic upheaval took over, the Ivory Coast city of Yopougan, or Yop City for short, seemed quite ordinary. But in its own peaceful way, the era existed as an exciting and hopeful exception to the mostly negative changes for Africa.
In her first go at the comic book medium, Abouet treats Aya as a minor character in the overall plot, while subtly developing the strong-willed Aya into a very thoughtful and likeable character. Hopefully, Abouet and Oubrerie bring Aya back with a more substantial story of her own, supported by the wonderful cast that they have introduced.