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Aya: Love in Yop City gets a thumbs up from the Library Journal

Updated June 4, 2013


"Graphic Novels Reviews"

By Martha Cornog
Library Journal, May 15, 2013

This meaty and satisfying conclusion to a beloved series incorporates some dozen subplots. With Jane Austenesque skill, Abouet spins out and then ties up the interlocking dramas of the now-college-aged Aya and her Ivory Coast village-mates. The most disturbing subplot introduces Aya’s biology professor who makes a habit of demanding undesired and all-too-biological interactions from his female students. Meanwhile, lovable gay hairdresser Innocent makes new friends in Paris, and Moussa, slacker son of beer magnate Sissoko, runs away from home to find adventures that confound his parents. Ignace’s mistress Jeanne, babe-magnet Mamadou, smooth-talking Grégoire, and shy Félicité all have starring roles, as do Aya’s BFFs Adjoua and Bintou. The mating dance takes center stage throughout, and Abouet’s gleeful tone accompanies serious subtexts about family, responsibility, and loyalty. VERDICT The full “Aya” saga should especially appeal to fans of shojo manga. While earlier volumes have been praised as YA literature, this final volume suits older teens through adults due to its themes of sexual intrigue and assault. As with previous installments, Oubrerie’s art triumphs for its color, style, and masterly character depictions.
 
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  Aya gets the big-screen treatment

Updated May 2, 2013


"Aya of Yop City: COLCOA Review"
Hollywood Reporter, 22 April 2013

Marguerite Abouet’s animated feature recalls some of her formative years growing up in West Africa.

Graphic novelist Marguerite Abouet draws from material popularized by her illustrated trilogy about her youth in the West African nation of Ivory Coast for her filmmaking debut. Attractively designed and full of distinctive characters, Aya of Yop City will primarily appeal to festivals focusing on animation and the Francophonic African diaspora.

Set in the Yopougon district of Abidjan (aka Yop City) during the 1970s, the film centers on Aya, 19 and single, who lives with her family in a middle-class neighborhood while finishing her studies. Although she’d like to attend university and study medicine, her father is opposed, believing she should get married and start a family. When it comes to man-chasing, however, she’s no competition for Bintou and Adjoua, her two lighthearted but under-motivated best friends.

Aya’s dad and his boss, who runs a major local brewery, think she should consider marrying his son Moussa, a whiny, spoiled loser. Adjoua appears more persuadable by the boy’s negligible charms, however, and when she becomes pregnant she identifies Moussa as the father.

A hastily arranged wedding seems to amicably resolve the issue, but when their baby boy is born, he looks nothing like his supposed father, sparking a heated inquiry into the child’s parentage. Bintou, meanwhile, has found herself a handsome and secretive Parisian lover who says he’s returned to Abidjan to find a wife, but avoids introducing her to his family or friends. Forced to cover for Bintou’s clandestine love affair, Aya’s stuck with distracting her friend's nosy but slow-witted cousin who’s been directed by Bintou’s father to keep tabs on her movements.

After establishing her extensive cast of characters and their overlapping social relations, Abouet’s narrative drifts, shifting attention from Aya to her more conflicted friends and family members. The talented voice cast remains consistently endearing throughout the film however, and the vibrant cel-style CGI animation designed by Abouet’s husband and co-director, Clement Oubrerie, demonstrates a delightful familiarity with the vernacular imagery of the film’s period context.
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Library Journal reviews Aya: Love in Yop City

Updated May 2, 2013


M.C.
Library Journal, 15 May 2013

This meaty and satisfying conclusion to the beloved “Aya” series incorporates some dozen subplots. With Jane Austenesque skill, Abouet spins out and then ties up the interlocking dramas of the now-college-aged Aya and her Ivory Coast village-mates. The most disturbing subplot introduces Aya’s biology professor, who makes a habit of demanding undesired and all-too-biological interactions from his female students. Meanwhile, loveable gay hairdresser Innocent makes new friends in Paris, while Moussa, slacker son of beer magnate Sissoko, runs away from home to find adventures that confound his parents. Ignace’s mistress Jeanne, babe-magnet Mamadou, smooth-talking Grégoire, and shy Félicité all have starring roles, as do Aya’s BFFs Adjoua and Bintou. The mating dance takes center stage throughout, and Abouet’s gleeful tone accompanies serious subtexts about family, responsibility, and loyalty. VERDICT The full “Aya” saga should especially appeal to fans of shojo manga. While earlier volumes have been praised as teen literature, this final volume suits older teens through adults for themes of sexual intrigue and assault. As with previous installments in the series, Oubrerie’s art triumphs for its color, style, and masterful character depictions.
 

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  Bitch magazine is loving Aya: Love in Yop City

Updated April 4, 2013


From "Bitch in a Box: Holiday Gift Guide, Graphic Novels Edition"

Kjersten Johnson
Bitch Media, 29 November 2012

(...) The Aya series, which follows the every day life of a middle-class community living in 1970s Ivory Coast, first reached English readers in 2008. Now you can have the six-part collection all in two volumes: Drawn & Quarterly just released Aya: Love in Yop City, which collects the final three chapters of the series in one book. Like the first volume, Aya: Life in Yop City, you'll not only be treated to the story of 19-year-old Aya as she navigates romance, family, and her future, Abouet includes recipes, cultural context, and appendices that bring the world of Yop City into even richer detail. [Drawn & Quarterly]

Recommended for: Fans of the Hernandez brothers (the microcosm of Yop City will remind you of Palomar); Francophiles.
Pair with: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s seminal graphic novel and the main influence on Abouet to start writing comics. (...)

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Aya: Love in Yop City one of Library Journal's picks for African American History Month

Updated April 4, 2013


From "28 Graphic Novels to Celebrate African American History Month"

Martha Cornog
Library Journal, 24 January 2013

(...) The first three volumes of the Austenesque soap opera of Aya’s Ivory Coast youth have been praised by Library Journal (...). An older Aya must deal with a lecherous professor as well as support her friends as they move into adulthood. This omnibus collects three all-new stories from the original French series and includes plenty of back matter: history, recipes, slang, and street sketches. (...)
 
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  Ecoparent magazine praises Aya

Updated February 25, 2013


Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
By: Robin Fraser, Ecoparent magazine, Winter 2012

Here we find ourselves within the genre of the graphic novel - where anything is possible - and in rural Ivory Coast. This bright contribution is the 3rd installation of the AYA series. Abouet's autobiographical insights bring the reader so much closer to imagining 1970's West-African Village life - we are in the story; the heat, the colours, the community. Oubrerie's illustrations will make you laugh out loud and the stories buzz with delightful urgency. The harder themes are dealt alongside humour and relief. For anyone who has belonged to any such vibrant society, present or past, it will ring loud with affinity. Family, friends, and neighbours are never far away; help is there (whether you like it or not). The idea of collective responsibility is very refreshing - coming from a place with more individualistic values as we do - but it is not without drama. All of this sets the stage of an excellent story!

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"Aya: The Secrets Come Out" reviewed on No Flying, No Tights

Updated August 23, 2012


Aya, vol. 3: The Secrets Come Out

June 22, 2012
By Brazos

This installment of Aya, by Marguerite Abouet, picks up where the last one left off. Secrets do in fact come out. The first secret that we readers are exposed to involves the fallout from Aya’s father’s mistress and secretary Jeanne having exposed the affair and left her (and Ignace’s) children at Ignace’s house. This has wide ramifications, and the first part of the book deals with the fallout of this revelation from the perspective of many of the principal characters.

Aya attempts to reason with Jeanne, and through this process hears more about how her father was duplicitous. Félicité, the young maid, reacts with fear. She supposes that with this revelation the family will split up, forcing her to move back to her village. Ignace tries to explain things to his wife, Fanta, before quickly leaving to take his and Jeanne’s children back to Jeanne. While he is gone, Aya talks with her mother and the family friends about the situation.

The second big secret unearthed is that Albert’s girlfriend is discovered. Discovered by Félicité as Innocent (Inno), the male hairstylist in town. As to be expected Félicité confides in Aya, and then Aya is largely at the center of the narrative of this story. She’s the one that everyone ultimately revolves around. Inno decides the homophobia of his home is too much and confides in Aya that he wants to move to Paris with Albert. Albert has to make a big decision, family or love?

Other than the two big secrets, this book mostly focuses on the exploits of various town peoples. It also features the Miss Yopugon pageant. This pageant brings all of the townsfolk together in short order, and serves as the unifying event of this volume of Aya’s life. If all of this sounds very soap operaish, that’s because it is! This is one of the narrative’s great attractions.

Clément Oubrerie’s art is another selling point. He excels in using character body language and posture to display the subtext of a scene. This combined with bright colors gives each character a distinct and recognizable personality. The scene when Félicité confesses to Aya that she saw Albert and Inno together is one that features this talent. Aya’s posture moves from demanding to comforting as Félicité starts at reserved until she breaks down and confesses the secret with tears and a plaintive wail. The only mark against his art is that it is likely that the red jacket that Inno wears in this volume is an anachronism. It appears to be a Michael Jackson red thriller jacket, when that video did not appear until 1983 and the story is set in 1980. That being said, the art taken as a whole is superb.

As before, this volume of Aya’s story is human centric and focuses primarily on young people. The series is set in the Ivory Coast in 1980; this is what sets it apart from most other “real life” type stories told in comic form. It deftly handles serious and humorous situations without veering into the maudlin. This makes it a worthy purchase for both Academic and public libraries. High school libraries should also consider it depending on individual circumstances.
 
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  ABOUET & OUBRERIE's AYA books gain attention in South Africa

Updated May 16, 2011


Hailing from Abidjan, French award winning author Marguerite Abouet will take part in several literary events in South Africa. Abouet's first comic strip Aya de Yopougon published in 2005 propelled her to success... These comic strips follow the lives and adventures of a young woman Aya with beautiful illustrations portraying an unpretentious and humourous story of an Africa, spirited, hopeful and resilient....

Marguerite Abouet will attend several literary events in Franschhoek, Cape Town and Johannesburg:
* 13 - 15 May: encounter at the Franschhoek Literary Festival;
* 16 May at 6pm: encounter at the Alliance française of Cape Town, 155 Loop Street, CBD;
* 17 May at 7pm: encounter at the Shikisha Bar, Miriam Makeba Street, Newtown.
In conjunction with the visit of Marguerite Abouet, Jenette Reisma, French teacher as a foreign language, will lead two once-off workshops specially targeted at French teachers focusing on teaching French via comic strips (of which Aya):
* 16 May from 3.15pm to 5.15pm at Alliance française of Cape Town;
* 17 May 3pm to 5pm at Alliance française of Johannesburg.

Abouet's first comic strip, Aya de Yopougon, tells the story of a 19-year old heroine, the studious and clear-sighted Aya, and of her easy-going friends Adjoua and Bintou and their meddling relatives and neighbours. After this, she published another five volumes of Aya's adventures. It was also her first venture into graphic novels, and a collaborative effort with her husband who used Aya as his first illustrating job in graphic novels. Abouet depicts Africa with a unique voice and humour, far from any clichés. The story has been adapted into an animated film to be released in 2011. One of her latest releases Akissi: Attaque de Chats relates the story of a young, intrepid and stubborn girl who lives in Yopougon, just like Aya. Directly targeted at readers of six years old and older, the story is made up of seven mini-stories for which she taps into various subject matters with humour. Marguerite Abouet found inspiration in her childhood in Ivory Coast to imagine the tender, yet malicious and spicy adventures of Akissi: Attaque de chats, which is the first volume in a new series for children.

About Marguerite Abouet
... was born in Abidjan in 1971 where she grew up with her family in the vibrant area of Yopougon until the age of 12. Upon her arrival in Paris, she discovered the wealth of libraries and developed a passion for books. Soon, she started writing novels she would not let anyone read, then became in turn punk, super nanny for triplets and grannies and waitress among others. After a career as a legal assistant, she decided to dedicate herself solely to writing and, with the complicity of Clément Oubrerie, created the character of Aya which saw the publication of her first comic strip in 2005. Highly acclaimed amongst readers (350 000 copies sold) and by the critics (prize winner at the Festival d'Angoulême in 2006 and prize winner of the Point in 2007), the series was translated into 15 languages. Since the success of Aya de Yopougon, she dedicates her time to writing as well as running the association she founded, Des livres pour tous (Books for all), which aims at making books accessible to children of Africa, and creating home libraries in neighbourhoods. Marguerite Abouet now lives near Paris.
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Time Out New York talks about AYA: THE SECRETS COME OUT

Updated February 24, 2010


Not all of these heroes can fly, but they have Black (super) Power.

by Evan Narcisse

Aya: The Secrets Come Out is the third installment in the award-winning graphic-novel series by Abouet & Oubrerie. The latest issue follows the titular heroine and her friends as they try to navigate the pulls of love, ambition and familial responsibilities in the Ivory Coast circa 1980. There’s a soap-opera vibe throughout—mistresses are revealed while homosexuality stays closeted—but the Aya books shine a light on a full-bodied African experience that’s rarely seen. Oubrerie’s art style creates an expressive stage for the broad range of droll and dramatic moments in Abouet’s rhythmic and slice-of-life script.


 
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  AYA is a Glyph Award Nominee!

Updated February 17, 2010


2010 Glyph Award Nominees Announced

Via PR, the nominees for the 2010 Glyph Awards, honoring the best in comics made by, for, and about people of color.

Story of the Year
Luke Cage Noir; Mike Benson & Adam Glass, writers; Shawn Martinbrough, artist
The Original Johnson; Trevor von Eeden, writer and artist
Unknown Soldier #13-14; Joshua Dysart, writer, Pat Masioni, artist
War Machine: Iron Heart; Greg Pak, writer, Leonardo Manco, artist
World of Hurt, Jay Potts, writer and artist

Best Writer
Joshua Dysart, Unknown Soldier
Jeremy Love, Bayou
Greg Pak, War Machine
Jay Potts, World of Hurt
Alex Simmons, Archie & Friends

Best Artist
Chriscross, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance
Jeremy Love, Bayou
Shawn Martinbrough, Luke Cage Noir
Jay Potts, World of Hurt
Trevor von Eeden, The Original Johnson

Best Male Character
Black Lightning, Black Lightning Year One; Jen van Meter, writer, Cully Hamner, artist; created by Tony Isabella & Trevor von Eeden
Isaiah Pastor, World of Hurt; created by Jay Potts, writer and artist
Jack Johnson; The Original Johnson; Trevor von Eeden, writer and artist; inspired by the life of Jack Johnson
Luke Cage, Luke Cage Noir; Mike Benson & Adam Glass, writers, Shawn Martinbrough, artist; created by Archie Goodwin & John Romita Sr.
Moses Lwanga, Unknown Soldier #13-14; Joshua Dysart, writer, Pat Masioni, artist; inspired by the character created by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert

Best Female Character
Aya, Aya: The Secrets Come Out; created by Marguerite Abouet, writer, Clement Oubrerie, artist
Lee Wagstaff, Bayou; created by Jeremy Love, writer and artist
Michonne, The Walking Dead; created by Robert Kirkman, writer, Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn, artists
Misty Knight, Immortal Iron Fist; Duane Swierczynski, writer, Travel Foreman & Tom Palmer, artists; created by Tony Isabella & Arvell Jones
Nola Thomas, NOLA; created by Chris Gorak & Pierluigi Cothran, writers, Damian Couceiro, artist

Rising Star Award
Jiba Molei Anderson, The Horsemen
John Aston, Rachel Rage
Kerry & Tawanda Johnson, Harambee Hills
Julian Lytle, Ants
Jay Potts, World of Hurt

Best Reprint Collection
Aya: The Secrets Come Out; Drawn & Quarterly
Bayou Volume 1; DC/Zuda
Icon: A Hero’s Welcome; DC/Milestone
The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the 21st Century; Dark Horse
Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool; DC/Milestone

Best Cover
Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #1; Brian Stelfreeze, illustrator
Luke Cage Noir #1; Tim Bradstreet, illustrator
The Original Johnson; Trevor von Eeden, illustrator
Unknown Soldier #8; Dave Johnson, illustrator
Unknown Soldier #10; Dave Johnson, illustrator

Best Comic Strip
Bayou; Jeremy Love, writer and artist
Jump Start; Robb Armstrong, writer and artist
The K Chronicles; Keith Knight, writer and artist
The Knight Life; Keith Knight, writer and artist
World of Hurt; Jay Potts, writer and artist

Fan Award for Best Comic
Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel; Kevin Grevioux, writer, Mat Broome, Sean Parson & Alvaro Lopez, artists
Black Lightning Year One; Jen Van Meter, writer, Cully Hamner, artist
Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink; Eric Wallace, writer, Fabrizio Fiorentino, artist
Luke Cage Noir; Mike Benson & Adam Glass, writers, Shawn Martinbrough, artist
War Machine: Iron Heart; Greg Pak, writer, Leonardo Manco, artist

The judges for the 2010 competition are: David Brothers, comics blogger, 4th Letter!; Carol Burrell, editorial director, Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group; Brian Cronin, writer, Comic Book Resources; and Katie & Dan Merritt, co-owners, Green Brain Comics.

The ballot for the Fan Award for Best Comic is now open at the website for the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), www.ecbacc.com/wordpress, and will remain open through March 31, 2010. Write-in selections can be e-mailed to GCA Committee Chair Rich Watson at rich.watson@gmail.com. IMPORTANT: Write-in selections are ONLY for choices not on the online ballot. ANY WRITE-IN SELECTIONS FOR CHOICES ALREADY ON THE ONLINE BALLOT WILL NOT BE COUNTED AND WILL BE DISCARDED.

The 2010 GCA ceremony will be held May 15, 2010, in the Skyline Room of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Park Central branch, as part of ECBACC, which will take place at the Crown Plaza Philadelphia Center City, May 16, 2010.
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The Library Journal finds the AYA series "irresistable"

Updated February 9, 2010


From Aya to Zapt!: 24 Graphic Novels for African American History Month

Featuring Marguerite Abouet, Frank Miller & Kyle Baker

by Martha Cornog

The past year has left tweens and teens with many more quality comics that increasingly depict engaging African American main characters. Plus, we have our Main Man himself, Mr. President, the comics geek–turned–comics hero. Forthcoming from Eureka: a Graphic Classics anthology featuring adaptations of short stories by African American authors. Forthcoming from TV star Rashida Jones via Oni Press: a spy thriller titled Frenemy of the State. Stay tuned!

Abouet, Marguerite (text) & Clement Oubrerie (illus.). Aya. Vol. 3: The Secrets Come Out. Drawn & Quarterly. 2009.

Further machinations and intrigues come to light in this third installment of the irresistible "Aya" series about small-town life in the Côte d’Ivoire. With much of the story focusing on a Miss Yop City beauty pageant, the level-headed Aya helps family and friends with their problems while allowing them to find their own way. Aya’s setting and detail conjure the appeal of a different place and time, whereas the characters resonate in the universality of their hopes. The series has won a number of awards. (See LJ's original reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.)
 
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  Expatica talks to MARGUERITE ABOUET about AYA

Updated February 2, 2010


Comic book stories show another Africa

by Evelyne

The characters in ‘Aya of Yopougon’ grapple with everyday issues like love, family, growing up, pregnancy and marriage.

Marguerite Abouet's hugely popular series of books, centred on the life of a young woman in a cheerful Ivory Coast suburb, show an Africa far from stereotypes of war and disease.

The characters in Aya of Yopougon grapple with everyday issues like love, family, growing up, pregnancy, marriage -- set mostly in an Abidjan suburb that is colourfully illustrated by Abouet's partner, Frenchman Clement Oubrerie.

"We call it 'Yop City,' like in an American film," says young Aya in one of the five comic book novels.

"With Aya, the aim is that after four pages you no longer think you're in Africa but in a story which could be anywhere in the world," said 38-year-old Abouet, who lives in Paris but often returns to the Ivory Coast.

With more than 300,000 copies sold, translations into 12 languages including English, an array of prizes and a film on the way, the adventures of young Aya and her friends and family have been a hit.

Seeing Africa differently

Elegant and talkative, Abouet was born in Abidjan's Yopougon neighbourhood, where she has set the books that feature brightly dressed characters, dusty roads and community living.

When she was 12, she was sent to live in France with an uncle who was worried she would end up "hanging out in the street barefoot and playing football," she said.

The colder climes of Paris were a wrench for a young girl from her part of sunny Africa.

"At 12 years old, you're already grown up, you know plenty of things,” she said. “I just needed to close my eyes and I'd be back in Yopougon.”

In Europe she discovered, through television, an Africa different to the one of peaceful 1970s childhood.

"It's always the same subjects -- AIDS, immigration, war," she said. "If there's a reason why Aya is popular, it's probably because her story is universal, dealing with everyday life in modern Africa, that's all."

A time before the fighting

She does not idealise the continent, though: "In parts of Africa things are all right and in others, they're not."

War came to Ivory Coast with a coup in 1999, an armed rebellion splitting the country in two in 2002, and a deadly civil war.

But Abouet has based her stories, which she began writing when she was 17, on a time before the fighting.

Born from these adolescent memories, Aya and her friends Bintou, Adjoua and Moussa tell stories of Ivorian families and culture.

While the heroine aims to become a doctor, Bintou and Adjoua want to be hairdressers, seamstresses or "husband hunters" and daddy's boy Moussa only want to have fun.

"The bit that's real is Yopougon, the joie de vivre that is everywhere," the writer said. "Me, I'm Akissi, Aya's little sister."

Books for all

The first book was published in 2005 to acclaim. The following year it took the prize for best first book at the International Comics Festival in Angouleme in western France.

"My life has changed, I stopped my job as a legal assistant,” said Abouet. “I'm lucky enough to be chased after by publishers."

She admits that in her country most children could not afford to buy the novels she has set in their midst.

This led her to create a "Books for All" foundation tasked with opening libraries in Africa and encouraging reading: the first has opened in Adjame, a poor district of Abidjan, and she hopes to open one in her native Yopougon.

"A house, a bar and a church, that's how things are right now,” Abouet said. “So adding a library to the mix will make the kids realise there's more to life than the church or the bar."

An animated film based on Aya's adventures is due for release in 2011 and the writer is working on a book called Welcome that will star a Parisian girl.


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Politics and Prose include SETH and ABOUET & OUBRERIE on their "Favorites" list!

Updated December 14, 2009


Favorite Graphic Literature of the Year, p.1

For the Literary reader: A plethora of choices,
from one part of the world to another, graphic storytelling of all sorts...

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
By Fies, Brian, Fies, Brian
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW? one of the most unique and effective graphic novels I’ve ever read. Brian Fies draws himself as a kid, giddy and amazed when, with his father, he visits the World’s Fair in New York in 1939. His excitement about the future reflects the world in which he grew up. As he gets older, attitudes around him change. Issues of “Space Age Adventures,” a golden-era style comic book Fies created, are inserted throughout and make you feel like you are rummaging through old comic books. Thad Ellerbe


George Sprott: (1894-1975)
By Seth

Originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine, GEORGE SPROTT is a masterly accomplished work of literary graphic fiction. Quite simply the life and death of George Sprott - adventurer, lecturer, and T.V. personality, it provides what many timeless works of fiction do: offering the reader a fleeting glimpse of a time past, while simultaneously stricken with the incongruities of life. Filled with subtle humor, short “interviews” with old friends and acquaintances, and the clean, well-wrought panel work of Seth, George Sprott is a must read for anyone concerned with serious, literary work, be it in graphic form or not. Adam Waterreus

Aya: The Secrets Come Out: Volume Three

is the third volume of stories by writer Marguerite Abouet and illustrator Clément Oubrerie about three girlfriends in 1970s Abidjan during a short-lived, “golden era” in Ivory Coast. Aya introduced us to the friends and family of Aya, Bintou and Adjoua, caught up in teenage romances. Aya of Yop City continued the girls’ stories and solves some mysteries about paternity. Aya: The Secrets Come Out raises the possibilities of faraway Paris. Abouet’s narratives are charming, and grounded in detail: we get an insider’s view on family, class, and the tensions between city and village lifestyles. Oubrerie’s richly colored pen-and-ink drawings bring the homes, night clubs, and streets of Abidjan to life. Each book has sweet bonuses: glossaries, proverbs, interviews, recipes, and even instructions on how to tie a pagne (with and without a baby on your back). András Goldinger


The Squirrel Machine
By Groth, Gary, Rickheit, Hans, Covey, Jacob

Every few years a graphic novel comes around that is so good you have to stop reading for a while, because if you read anything else you’d only be disappointed. A few years ago this happened to me with Tony Millionaire's Billy Hazelnuts. THE SQUIRREL MACHINE is a lot like Billy Hazelnuts, but surprisingly Hans Rickheit's work leaves Millionaire in the dust. This is a masterpiece of comic fantasy. When I finished this book, I immediately returned to the introduction and read the whole book again, and again. Read this book to see what heights serial art can achieve in narrative and in the creation of worlds that exist in one character's mind. Read it if you think you can handle it, for it abandons the typical narrative structure and accomplishes its ends as only serial art of the highest quality can. This is a fine, gut-wrenching book, written and drawn by a true master. Thad Ellerbe


West Coast Blues
By Manchette, Jean-Patrick, Tardi, Jacques

This graphic adaptation of Peter Manchette’s savage noir thriller of the same name, WEST COAST BLUES is a later work by Jacques Tardi. Especially when one compares it with You Are There, the looseness in this work is apparent and this quality perfectly compliments the gritty tale, lending his art brutality and malevolence. From the two assassins' hunt for George Gerfaut to the revenge he wreaks in the end, West Coast Blues is an unflinching story, perfect for any fan of the thriller. Adam Waterreus


A Good and Decent Man
By Tyler, C.

C. Tyler’s YOU'LL NEVER KNOW: A Graphic Memoir - Book One: A Good and Decent Man is a homage to Tyler’s father and his time in World War II, about which Tyler longs to discover the hidden details. But the book is also an impressive and beautiful history of the era; Tyler creates a panorama of images that sweep across the page as she documents her father’s childhood, her parent’s engagement, and her own young life. Her pen, ink, and color transform her creative panels (at times evoking a scrapbook) into vibrant memories intertwined by her restless imagination. Adam Waterreus


Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Deluxe Edition
By Gaiman, Neil, Kubert, Andy

Neil Gaiman’s beautifully written BATMAN: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is an ode to Batman and a capstone to the incredible events at the conclusion of Final Crisis. Bruce Wayne is dead, so what will happen to the figure known as Batman? Recounting past exploits, romances, near death experiences, and the extremely important part Batman has played in the DC universe, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusaderis a wonderfully conducted eulogy to this iconic hero. Adam Waterreus


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
By Shanower, Eric, Young, Skottie

L. Frank Baum’s original tale finds its way to Marvel readers through the artful simplicity of Eric Shanower’s adaptation which follows Dorothy and her friends as they travel all over Oz in their search for the Wizard. The imaginative visualizations by Skottie Young are sure to appeal to young and old alike. This edition of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ includes alternate cover designs for the book and varying ideas for character representations. Meghan Tucker
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Abouet & Oubrerie

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)
Aya: The Secrets Come Out




  The Montreal Gazette declares comics are for grown-ups!

Updated December 14, 2009


These comics are for grown-ups

R. Crumb on Genesis, literary icons get pulp treatment, and more

Ian McGillis

From the Garden of Eden, to today’s Montreal, to unmapped worlds of fantasy, graphic literature’s storytelling range knows no bounds. Here are some of 2009’s best.

The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb (W.W. Norton, 224 pages, $31). When the granddaddy of underground comics – a man who has been gleefully causing fits among censors and guardians of political correctness for decades – takes on the job of illustrating the first book of the Old Testament, controversy would appear guaranteed, would it not?

But while the single biggest surprise about this book is that Crumb has done it at all, the second biggest might be just how respectful he has been with the source material. (He uses mostly the modern Robert Adler translation.) Yes, some of the imagery might be bit, ahem, Crumb-like for the comfort of some – the voluptuous Eve on the cover can probably serve as a fair litmus test in this regard.

But in representing the text so faithfully, Crumb reminds us that Genesis is, after all, full of stories of people behaving in all kinds of less than perfectly noble ways. Potential detractors are thus left without a leg to stand on, and everyone else is free to celebrate a great artist rising spectacularly to a great challenge.

The Complete Essex County, by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf Productions, 512 pages, $31.95). In this family saga set in an imagined version of the author’s native southwestern Ontario, Lemire taps into some of the deepest wellsprings of Canadian mythology: hardscrabble farm life, long winters, stoicism, solitude and, as well as anyone has ever depicted, the central role of hockey. The result is a book that achieves an epic sweep even though it’s relatively light on text.

Lemire’s fluid, expressionistic black-and-white style – he’s especially effective with faces and how they echo across generations – speaks volumes by itself. As a storyteller, he’s bold enough to walk the thin line between melancholy and sentimentality, never quite succumbing to the latter. Essex County packs an enormous emotional punch.

Aya: The Secrets Come Out, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly, 135 pages, $24.95). This, the third volume in writer Abouet and artist Oubrerie’s ongoing series about life in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in the 1970s, maintains the standard that placed the first two on multiple international best lists.

Abouet’s touch as a writer is deceptively light; she sneaks in political points on class, gender and post-colonial identity among a dispassionate cross-section observation of everyday goings-on in a bustling city at a time of relative prosperity.

Oubrerie employs vivid colour and an almost Modigliani-esque sense of line to create an effect both stylized and realistic. A glossary of Ivorian terms is provided, but many may well find themselves immersed in Aya’s world to the point where they’re happy to let the context do the explaining.

Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small (McClelland & Stewart, 329 pages, $29.99). When he was 14, David Small underwent a throat operation that left him unable to speak above a whisper for years. His parents, never paragons of loving openness, had told him the procedure was to remove a cyst; in fact, as his father revealed later, it was for cancer caused by the radiologist father’s over-enthusiastic use of X-rays.

Small, a prominent children’s book illustrator, has a harrowing tale to tell of family dysfunction and deceit in baby-boom America, and his treatment shows that when a form associated with childhood (comics) is used to depict childhood trauma, the effect is doubly powerful.

The conceit at the heart of Stitches – that a boy whose voice has already been ignored, then has his voice literally removed – might appear heavy-handed if Small didn’t make it so real for the reader. Seldom in a memoir has redemption been so honestly earned.

Masterpiece Comics, by R. Sikoryak (Drawn & Quarterly, 65 pages, $24.95). On first glance, this may look like a version of the cheap illustrated pulp titles that gave countless young people their entrée into the classics. Look closer, though, and what you’ll find is a subversive mash-up that makes short shrift of any attempted distinction between high and low literature.

Characters from the canon (Shakespeare, Brontë, Homer, Kafka, Camus and more) are placed in takeoffs on popular comic strips (Blondie, Mary Worth, Garfield, Ziggy et al), where they deliver their lines straight.

Visually, Sikoryak mimics the original strips so uncannily that you can almost be lulled into thinking you’re reading them, which only adds to the sparks raised by this enforced cohabitation of two very different iconographies. Laughs are scored at the expense of both sides, but counter-intuitively, Sikoryak sends you back to the originals with a fresh perspective.

Far Arden, by Kevin Cannon (Top Shelf Productions, 382 pages, $19.95). If you only buy one madcap future-dystopian adventure comic set in the Canadian High Arctic this year, make it Far Arden. Cannon’s oddly heavily populated northern milieu – global warming a few disturbing steps down the line, maybe – teems with multiple overlapping storylines. It’s all an odd but effective cross of contemporary nerd-hero comix with Tintin-style exotica.

Cannon’s drawing style has the spontaneous feel of a lightning sketch, but there’s nothing underdeveloped about his plotting, which zips along with the manic logic of a bedroom farce.

The Hipless Boy, by Sully (conundrum press, 224 pages, $19.95). This collection of 43 loosely connected urban miniatures occupies a spot on the comix continuum somewhere between Archie (an influence the author acknowledges) and Adrian Tomine, except with far more sex than either. Sully (the pen name of poet/painter/illustrator Sherwin Tjia) sets his stories of what Douglas Coupland has dubbed Generation A (“hipless” is the opposite of hip) in a specific and meticulously observed environment. Montrealers will have fun identifying local backdrops, but anyone can enjoy Tjia’s keen-eyed, emotionally generous worldview.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon, 193 pages, $28.95). Spike Lee has told the story on film (When The Levees Broke), Dave Eggers as literary non-fiction (Zeitoun), and now Josh Neufeld’s Hurricane Katrina chronicle states the case for graphic literature as on-the-spot journalism, social history and protest.

Seven people, representing the gamut of classes and backgrounds in New Orleans, are followed through the storm’s prelude, strike and aftermath; four were refugees, three stayed in the city through the worst. Telling domestic details – a man’s anguish over the fate of his cherished comic books collection, a Spider-Man doll floating face down in a bathtub, prefiguring horrors ahead – establish the human dimension that drives home the storm’s ultimate cost; deployment of saturated colour gives each strand of the story a unique emotional flavour.

Ojingogo, by Matthew Forsythe (Drawn & Quarterly, 152 pages, $14.95). Dispensing with words, Montrealer Forsythe narrates the fantastical journey through perilous dreamscapes of a little girl and her pet squid entirely in images that are at once exquisitely simple and laden with suggestion. The world-gone-strange feel recalls Lewis Carroll and the child’s assertion of identity through adventure Maurice Sendak, with perhaps a touch of Calvin and Hobbes’s mischief thrown in, all filtered through a Korean folk lens as viewed by a contemporary Westerner. That may sound like an awful lot of referencing, but rest assured the ultimate effect is as light as a feather in the best sense.

Red: A Haida Manga, by Michael Yahgulanaas (Douglas & McIntyre, 112 pages, $28.95). There can be few better examples of graphic lit’s malleability than this. Yahgulanaas, a Haida living on Bowen Island, B.C., has adapted the visual iconography of his heritage and applied the storytelling approach of Japanese Manga comics to tell a tragic story of war and revenge – one whose themes transcend their native setting to take on a classical dimension.

The overall effect is uncanny, as if a totem pole has come to life to act out a legend. Yahgulanaas’s circular approach to narrative, in both images and words, may demand a couple of go-throughs to absorb, but the effort is worth it.

The Beats: A Graphic History, by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor, et al. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 199 pages, $27.50). Every new generation of aspiring hipsters, it seems, passes through a period of venerating Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs et al before defining its own oppositional identity. Anyone feeling ripe for the influence couldn’t ask for a better primer than this one. No snobs themselves, the original beats would surely approve of their message being introduced through the populist medium of comics; another big mark in this book’s favour is that it digs beyond the obvious names to spotlight less celebrated figures like Diane di Prima and Slim Brundage.

Hot Potatoe, by Marc Bell (Drawn & Quarterly, 273 pages, $44.95). Here is a book occupying the sparsely populated zone where alternative comix culture mingles with the gallery-driven world of fine art. Presented slightly tongue-in-cheek (the artist’s bio continues up to his death in 2075 at the hands of “former Prime Minister George Stroumboulopoulos”) as a monograph on the work of the 38-year-old, London, Ont.-raised Bell, Hot Potatoe gives a sui generis artist the large-scale showcase his fanatically detailed, ever-morphing surrealist multi-media collages demand. A cubist construction by Picasso or Braque as reimagined by a high school stoner with the technical command of Crumb is as good a stab as any at describing a typical Bell composition. Price tag notwithstanding, Hot Potatoe offers real value for money. Almost any given page of this hefty volume can be stared at and studied for hours.
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Abouet & Oubrerie
Matt Forsythe
Marc Bell

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Ojingogo
Aya: The Secrets Come Out
Hot Potatoe




AYA reviewed on Words Without Borders blog

Updated March 4, 2009


Dispatches: Aya by Marguerite Abouet
by Geoff Wisner
27 February 2009

Dispatches

Aya, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by the French artist Clément Oubrerie, is a lively and colorful glimpse of life in Ivory Coast in the late 1970s, a time when the country was enjoying unprecedented prosperity and the capital Abidjan was earning its title as the Paris of Africa. Aya was published in Montreal in 2007 by the press Drawn & Quarterly. The text was translated from the French by Helge Dascher.

A teenager in Abidjan’s working-class neighborhood of Yopougon, Aya is a thoughtful and responsible young woman who dreams of becoming a doctor. We first see her in the living room of her family, where friends and relatives are gathered together to watch a TV commercial for the beer company that Aya’s father works for. (TV commercials are still a novelty in Abidjan in 1978.)

Later we meet Aya’s father’s boss: a huge cigar-smoking tycoon named Mr. Sissoko, who lives in a flat-roofed pink mansion behind a pink wall studded with spikes. A well-connected member of the urban elite, he buys his furniture in France and casually drops the names of Presidents Houphouet-Boigny and Giscard d’Estaing.

Aya’s friends Adjoua and Bintou are pretty and popular, and considerably more easygoing than Aya. We first see Adjoua getting dressed in front of a mirror when the phone rings.

Dispatches

“I’ve got a plan,” Bintou tells her. “This little stud asked me to go out tonight…. Meet me at my place at six o’clock. We’ll waste that boy’s money, OK?” On the way out of the house, Adjoua sees Aya and invites her to come dancing with them. “No thanks,” she replies, “I’ve got homework.”

On the surface, Aya is a simple story of high-spirited youth, but the details give it a West African flavor. Much of the action takes place under the sky. Young people (and not so young) dance in a big roofless compound with colored lights strung overhead, overlooking the city’s lagoon. Lovers meet after dark in what they call the Thousand Star Hotel: the market square, where the vendors’ tables serve as beds. The artwork by M. Oubrerie combines a cartoon style, sometimes verging on caricature, with subtle effects of light and color, especially in the dawn and dusk scenes.

As a scholarly introduction to this edition explains, Ivory Coast’s prosperity was short-lived. The export profits earned by the hard work of small-scale farmers, and enjoyed even by working-class youth like Aya and her friends, were absorbed by the likes of Mr. Sissoko, and dried up in a few years when export profits fell. This book captures the fun and sense of optimism that filled the city before the party ended.

Geoff Wisner is the author of A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa, which discusses books from every African country. He also blogs at www.geoffwisner.com.

 
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Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya




  JAMITLI, AYA OF YOP CITY and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Star Tribune

Updated February 27, 2009


Books
Tom Horgen
December 25, 2008
STAR TRIBUNE

Here is proof that the power of comic books has reached a worldwide audience. And I'm not talking about all the money that superhero movies make overseas. These three stories -- set in Israel, the Ivory Coast and Myanmar -- represent the field's rich diversity, which is celebrating an all-time high thanks to publishers like Drawn & Quarterly. These comics (or graphic novels) each tell stories specific to a different small corner of the globe. Lucky for us that comics speak a universal language.

Jamilti And Other Stories
Rutu Modan

When the graphic novel "Exit Wounds" was released last year, it heralded the arrival of a top-tiered talent in Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan. Her colorful art popped off every page with lifelike movement. And her story was a page-turner, as it followed a young Tel Aviv man on the trail of his estranged father who might have been killed in the latest suicide bombing. Modan also took a controversial stance: As an Israeli, she spoke firsthand of the random violence that informs daily Tel Aviv life, but she also voiced a deep empathy for the other side.

It's a surprise, then, that Modan's second book isn't another full-length story, but instead a collection of stories, many of which aren't even new (most were made pre-"Exit Wounds"). But "Jamilti and Other Stores" is still a fascinating read. Storywise, she is again focused on the sudden violence that numbs everyday Israeli life. Artistically, you can watch Modan bloom from an early sketchy style to her current love of defined lines, which give her characters a three-dimensional quality.

From these seven stories we learn that she's a bit of a mystery writer, often leading us down twists and turns until the big reveal. Take the 10-page title story that opens "Jamilti." In it, a young Israeli woman storms off after a fight with her crude fiance, only to be nearly killed in a suicide blast outside a Tel Aviv cafe. Searching for other survivors, she finds a dying man with his legs blown off. As she leans over him, he suddenly kisses her and says "Jamilti" before paramedics rush him away. Later, without mentioning the kiss, she asks her fiancé if he knows what "Jamilti" means. He says it's Arabic for "my beautiful one." It's classic Modan.

Aya of Yop City
Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie

Writer Marguerite Abouet, a native of the Ivory Coast, has done something extraordinary for her Western readers. She's given us a vision of her homeland that has nothing to do with war, famine or any of the many atrocities that clog our minds when we think of Africa. That's not to say we should forget those images of suffering; it's just foolish to view an entire continent through a one-dimensional lens.

Abouet's viewfinder is focused on everyday life in the Ivory Coast's capital city, Abidjan, a place filled with bright colors and mischievous comedy. She sets "Aya of Yop City" during the 1970s, a time when the country's booming economy was the envy of Western Africa. In a working-class district nicknamed Yop City, the characters Abouet introduced in her must-read 2007 debut (simply titled "Aya") are still struggling with one intense, uncompromising problem: young love.

Chief among them is Aya, a young woman who acts like a den mother to her group of girlfriends, each on the prowl for Mr. Right. Abouet finds humor in their unpredictable exploits, and has the perfect artist to bring it all to life. Clement Oubrerie's artwork is light, almost doodling pencils flushed out with bold colors. He adds a whimsy to every interaction. Even the panels that frame everything are loosely hand-drawn, as if they were floating on the page.

Of course, life in the Ivory Coast wouldn't always be so cheery, as the country would fall into economic and political turmoil during the 1980s. But for this moment, in "Aya of Yop City," Abouet isn't concerned with that. And isn't that a statement in itself?

Burma Chronicles
Guy Delisle

Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle has carved out a niche for himself, traveling to oppressed Asian countries and writing about his experience. He's not an aid worker or a journalist. His day job is in animation, which has landed him gigs in China and North Korea. He just happens to be a keen observer of cultural ambiguities and the way life carries on under repressive conditions. So after each trip, he publishes a comic travelogue in stylized black-and-white.

First came "Pyongyang" and "Shenzhen." Now he's on to Myanmar (formally Burma), where the country's military dictatorship made headlines in 2007 for brutally crushing anti-government protests. Delisle was there two years earlier, not as an animator but as a companion to his wife, who's with Doctors Without Borders.

Delisle is a humorist, which makes writing about Communist states or the junta in "Burma Chronicles" a bit unusual. That's why he uses a familiar comedic motif: He's a stranger in a strange land. While this approach can generate passages of humor and peculiar discovery (they play Karen Carpenter nonstop in Burmese grocery stores), Delisle can sometimes come off as the snooty foreigner. He's also prone to rambling on about his trivial, culture-clash discomforts. But all this has a purpose. Delisle loves depicting his own cultural naivete in order to give readers a better understanding of what he saw.

In one instance, Delisle naively assures his Burmese friend that change will come once the country's 76-year-old dictator dies. His friend explains that change was expected after the last dictator, but he was replaced by another. "So I don't see much reason for hope," he tells Delisle. The cartoonist doesn't say anything else.

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Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




JAMILTI, AYA OF YOP CITY and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Patriot News

Updated February 27, 2009


CHRIS MAUTNER
Novels focus on foreign culture
Friday, November 28, 2008
Patriot-News

One of the things that comics do remarkably well is provide the reader with a tangible sense of place.

Unlike prose, which must rely on verbal descriptions, or photography, which can only show you a small section of a scene, comics can immerse you in a landscape, be it town or country, giving you a concrete feel for a particular area, real or imaginary.

Three new graphic novels from the small press publisher Drawn and Quarterly underscore that idea by focusing on cultures and countries far outside of the U.S.'s boundaries.

"Jamiliti and Other Stories" by Rutu Modan.

Though not an official follow-up to her acclaimed 2007 book "Exit Wounds," this collection of short stories by Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan nevertheless proves that she's much more than a one-trick pony.

Modan's tales deal with longing and isolation, though a sly bit of satire frequently shines through, as in "The Panty Killer," an unusual murder mystery, or "Homecoming," about a family that is forever waiting for the return of the prodigal soldier son.

The early stories here tend to take on a fairy tale tone, while more recent work, such as the title story, focus on the characters and the way they brush against one another.

No doubt some of Modan's themes are lost to American audiences. You get the sense that there are issues specific to Israeli concerns. That doesn't change the fact that these are wonderful, haunting tales though, that should only further cement Modan's reputation as a first-class storyteller.

"Aya of Yop City" by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie.

This is a sequel to last year's "Aya," a charming look at life in the Ivory Coast during the late 1970s, when the country was prosperous and on the verge of modernity.

Thankfully, everything that made the first book so delightful is evident here as well. More soap opera than social drama, "Yop City" finds its characters continuing to make fools of themselves in the pursuit of love and/or success, with issues of gender, class and colonialism well hidden in the background. Only headstrong Aya, the Greek chorus of the book, has any sense.

The book risks turning its large cast into cartoonish types at times, but they remain winning and likable even when some of them are exhibiting inane or frustrating behavior.

This is a sumptuously illustrated book; Oubrerie's art gives you a real sense of the particular place and time. Ultimately though, it's the characters you remember best. Even if you don't know the country, you know these people.

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"Burma Chronicles" by Guy Delisle.

Having already chronicled his travels to China and North Korea (in "Shenzhen" and "Pyongyang," respectively), Delisle ventures into Myanmar with his young son and wife, (her job for Doctors Without Borders providing the reason for the trip).

This is Delisle's best book, a subtle yet pointed look at life in a totalitarian state. Delisle focuses on the everyday minutiae of expatriate life with humor and insight.

At times it seems as if Myanmar could be anyplace, until he abruptly runs into the poverty and cruelty pushed down upon the country. A visit with a bed-ridden elderly woman, for example, strikes home hard, and not for the reasons you might suspect.

Delisle exhibits a basic, blocky style here but is able to convey a wide range of emotions and issues. It's an indelible portrait of a people forced to live in ugly circumstances that stays with you long after you've put the book down.
 
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Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




  AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by Sacramento News

Updated February 27, 2009


Along the Ivory Coast
Megan Hanson
November 2008
SACRAMENTO NEWS AND REVIEWS


click to see larger version
Graphic novels, arguably the bastard child in the family of literature, might make you want to turn up your nose, but before you do you might use it to sniff out some truly delightful reading and artwork. It’s like when we were kids and our books had pictures, except now we’re not reading about distressed princesses, perseverant little engines, or bears that can speak.

Adult issues coupled with vibrant aesthetics are the perfect blend for the graphic novel: Aya of Yop City. The story, by Marguerite Abouet with artwork by Clément Oubrerie, collaboratively weaves several lives of women living on Africa’s Ivory Coast in the seventies. Aya of Yop City is the sequel to Marguerite Abouet‘s first graphic novel, Aya, which earned critical acclaim when it debuted in 2007.

“Men are jerks.” We‘ve all heard it, and half the population has experienced it. This doesn‘t exclude the women of Yop City, who struggle throughout the novel with an assortment of unreliable, unfaithful men. However, Abouet manages to maintain a fairly lighthearted and often humorous tone while dealing with this sensitive subject. Oubrerie only complements her style with energetic, vivid depictions of the cast of characters and their surroundings.

And who is Aya? She is the character from whom the book takes its name; a young, African girl living in Yopougon (called Yop City, it is a community in the city of Abidjan, Cote d‘Ivoire). Oddly enough, she plays a very minor role in the various plots within the story. Instead, Aya is more of a silent witness to all the drama her friends and family endure throughout the book.

Although you could certainly pick up the series beginning with Aya of Yop City don‘t think that you are going to get away with ending your literary journey to the Ivory Coast of Africa there. Abouet ends her novel with a real cliffhanger that will most likely keep you awake at night until you read the third volume, which Abouet promises is on its way.
For now though, consider getting both your art and literary fix in one place, Yop City, with Aya as your guide.

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Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City




AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by Mercury News

Updated January 29, 2009


By Randy Myers
Contra Costa Times
01/25/2009

"Aya of Yop City," by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95, 112 pages) The second chapter in this series about a tight-knit group of friends and relatives living on Africa's Ivory Coast in the '70s is even better than the original. The steadfast and reliable Aya finds her girl pals learning humorous and painful lessons about responsibility, the opposite sex and familial relations. From its compelling storytelling to its robust illustrations, "Aya" bursts with energy and honesty. It successfully evokes a time, a place and numerous characters. May this series continue for a long time.
 
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Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City




  RED COLORED ELEGY, MILK TEETH and AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by LA CityBeat

Updated November 28, 2008


Comicopia
By Gabrielle Paluch
November 5, 2008
LOS ANGELES CITYBEAT

In many ways, this year marks the tragic end of an era in political cartoons. In case you needed another reason to believe life was ironic and cruel: The iconic New York Review caricaturist David Levine is suffering from macular degeneration, and may be slowly going blind. On the upside, Fantagraphics Books is putting out a collection of his drawings of American political figures which truly highlight the incredible sensibility and wit that will be missing from the comics world. For those of you in need of guidance, wanting a comics/graphic novels fix and not knowing where to turn – enjoy our picks!

Red Colored Elegy
by Seiichi Hayashi (Drawn and Quarterly)
If you ever look up at the moon and think it’s crying, that means you’re either drunk or depressed and sexually frustrated. Or all of the above, perhaps, in Japan in 1971 – how romantic!

Red Colored Elegy is the tale of Japanese illustrator Ichiro, his relationships, fears, and bent head all rendered in minimalist fashion. Author Seiichi Hayashi uses sparse line work and animation techniques borrowed from film to express the troubled relationship between Ichiro and his girlfriend Sachiko stylistically, resulting in a moving and stunningly poetic work that inspired an album of the same title by Japanese folk singer Morio Agata.

The romance between Ichiro and Sachiko not only inspired a romantic ideal for a generation of Japanese readers, it also offered a representation of how centuries-old customs in traditional Japanese culture have influenced relationships in modern times, as though Ichiro and Sachiko were wrestling not just with each other in the images on the pages, but also with all the implicit expectations of their ancestors. As is typical of much Japanese film and literature, it’s unclear by the end what exactly has happened, who loves whom, and who is whose sibling, stuff like that. But that’s half the fun!

Hayashi’s influences include underground Japanese comics of the time (which broke with traditional manga subject matter) as well as French New Wave cinema – two forms which sound like they would have a really cool hipster baby. Drawn and Quarterly has been releasing lots of underground manga from the ’70s translated from the Japanese, like Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Good-Bye. The manga from this period as well as the Nouvelle Vague which inspired it share a common disjointed form of storytelling, something that seems to be very of the moment in contemporary media. Now we can enjoy the confusion and frustration of generations past in all its sublime beauty without even having to learn Japanese. (GP)

Milk Teeth
by Julie Morstad (Drawn and Quarterly)
There are as many ways to tell a story as there are stars in the sky. Julie Morstad tells stories in images from imagined places in this collection of her drawings, published in the petits livres format by Drawn and Quarterly. The amount of work that went into this tiny little book is astounding. While there is no linear narrative to speak of, each drawing tells the story of an idea – the story of the girl with bees flying out of her ear, or the man with the fishbowl beard. It seems only appropriate to respond to Ms. Morstad’s charming, brilliantly idiosyncratic creations in kind. (GP)

Aya of Yop City
by Abouet and Oubrerie
(Drawn and Quarterly)
Let me break it down for you. Most characters in this book are connected, like the skirt chaser Mamadou, who is the real father of Adjou’s baby, but everybody thinks that the rich boy, Moussa, is the father, because Adjou’s parents want to believe the lie, only to get the money that comes from a rich family. And that’s only one part of the story in the second book from writer Marguerite Abouet and artist Clement Oubrerie.

In Yoptong on the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, the hip wear bellbottoms and brightly colored pagnes (skirts). Though the African continent is so far away from us, character’s problems are similar to ours – or at least to an episode of Jerry Springer. Abouet’s story is a soap where old world traditions clash with Afros and reckless young adults just want to drive their Toyotas.

We are treated to the citizens of Yop and their lives – the promiscuous young adult community often meets in the public park after nightfall and most of the children of the city are conceived on park benches. The tone of the book is so hopeful, because it’s told through Aya’s reactions – so when Hyacinte is caught dancing with a girl the same age as his own daughter, people get mad, but the situation becomes a cartoon cloud of fists and shoes.

Oubrerie’s art makes for a colorful Africa, where characters mime their feelings in exaggerated motions – like Moussa, who wants to be a playboy, but his character looks like a snake slithering up to women. Colors go from neon bright on clothes to faded and washed out in the heat. Panels that take place outdoors show the heat shimmering from the ground, making faces and shapes seem distorted and desperate.

Starting the series on the second book makes for a good read – it stands alone as its own separate story – but after the cliffhanger ending, you’ll want to go back and read the first and devour the third book, whenever it comes out. (Nathan Solis)
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Abouet & Oubrerie
Seiichi Hayashi
Julie Morstad

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Milk Teeth
Red Colored Elegy
Aya of Yop City




AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by Sequart.org

Updated November 28, 2008


Public and Private: Aya of Yop City
Rob Clough
31 Oct 2008
SEQUART.ORG


The pleasures to be found in Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie's AYA OF YOP CITY are small but not inconsequential. Abouet has a way of gently exploring a number of different tensions in this slice-of-life story that are both provincial and universal. The book is the second volume in a series about a young woman living in the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, her friends and her family. Abouet skillfully stitches together a number of characters' narrative threads, balancing soap operatic tension with considerable comic relief. What's remarkable about this book is that without having read the first volume, I was not only able to instantly understand what was going on in the story, I also found myself quickly swept up in the lives of her characters.

Abouet chose this era in Ivorian history because it marked a brief moment of optimism in a region the West regards as in perpetual suffering. With that optimism came cultural changes, especially with regard to gender. AYA OF YOP CITY captures the way these changes played out on a daily, personal level. One of the essential tensions in the book is Traditional vs Modern. The young women in the city of Abidjan are respectful of their elders: older women are referred to as "Tantie" and men as "Tonton"--"aunt" and "uncle", respectively--as a sign not just of respect but that everyone is part of the same community. At the same time, Aya represents a new generation of woman that is independent, seeks higher education and her own identity. The "Ivorian Miracle" of prosperity at that time made it possible for a number of cultural mores to shift quickly and dramatically.

Another tension in the story is Urban vs Rural. In this respect, AYA OF LOP CITY reminds me a bit of Lat's TOWN BOY. With urbanization also comes the influence of Western culture, and so there's also the tension of Ivorian vs the Other. One of the story threads in the book involves the father of Aya's friend Adjoua desperately trying to prove the paternity of Adjoua's infant son. To that end, he goes back to his family's village so as to take photos of everyone--but the villagers are delighted to be shown the "respect" of a family visit. While in some ways we see the characters abandoning their roots, they still stay true to them in terms of the way they interact with and support each other--especially in the way everyone takes care of children.

The main tension in the story is Provincial vs Universal. Abouet is very careful to write a story dealing with a number of familiar themes and tropes, especially regarding the way that relationships involve deception. Adjoua claims that nerdy Moussa is the father of her child so as to gain the favor of a rich family. Another of Aya's friends, Bintou, deceives herself into thinking that a smooth talker from Paris is actually the man of her dreams. Adjoua's brother Albert hides the identity of his lover from his family. The book ends on the revelation of perhaps the biggest deception (and betrayal) of all, giving us a cliffhanger with a punchline. There's a familiarity of technique that Abouet employs to also give her book its universality, meshing the melodrama of soap opera with the delightful quotidian observations and concerns of slice-of-life fiction. The result is a book that's in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, yet flies by on the strength of the active nature of its characters. The characters--for good and ill--don't sit around waiting for things to happen; instead, they're always trying to enact their own ideas and changes. Moussa, the book's most passive character, is also its biggest buffoon.

With the universality of the story installed as the book's backbone, that allowed Abouet to digress into any number of specific cultural references. This also reminds me a bit of TOWN BOY in terms of the sweeping panoramic shots of city life, the cleverly-rendered locals and their garb, and the simple details that define time and place. There's a richness to this book that transcends its more conventional narrative framework. That depth is fueled by Abouet's obvious affection for her old country (she currently lives in France) and what this particular era meant for women in the Ivory Coast. The specificity of the time and location is a perfect framing device for exploring the way the characters' public and private lives blur. There's a simultaneous pull towards merging the two when a character is in need and a pull toward separating the two when a character is pursuing an affair, and it was the Ivory Coast's newfound prosperity that allowed this kind of split to even exist.
Abouet chose to work in comics because she found other venues too restrictive in terms of content and editorial concerns. Oubrerie is a perfect partner for bringing the story to life. His character design is lively, his line has a wonderful looseness to it and his use of color really brings the story to life. The story originally appeared in French in a publication edited by Joann Sfar, and one can see why--AYA fits right in Sfar's aesthetic wheelhouse in terms of the expressionistic use of color, the quality of his line, the gentle pokes at social conventions and the vividness of the characters. It's also a natural for Drawn & Quarterly, a publisher that never interferes editorially with its artists and has a visually striking but restrained sense of design. I'll be curious to see if Abouet is able to maintain the light tone of the series in the next volume, which promises to feature a far more turbulent story. The melodrama of the story is cut by the sense of time, place and Abouet's comedic touch, and I imagine it's not easy to keep that balance between soapy revelations and light-hearted quotidian details.
 
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  AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by Comics Reporter

Updated November 26, 2008


Aya of Yop City
Creators: Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie
October 13, 2008
COMICS REPORTER

I don't know that there's a more pleasurable new comics reading experience out there available to you than the two Aya books from the team of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, Aya and it recent sequel Aya of Yop City. The second book continues the first's exploration of overlapping lives in an Ivory Coast community in the late 1970s. It can be outright funny as it picks at its character's broadly-played appetites and delusional behavior, and the reading experience remains genial even when skirting along the edges of darker subject matter. The full-color artwork is frequently pretty enough that you'll almost certainly revisit certain pages and panels after reading the story a first time; the establishing shots in particular are lovely, pull-out-the-stops efforts. I could read one of these a month like friends of mine have devoured the entirety of Armisted Maupin's San Francisco saga in serial fashion. It's perfectly measured entertainment of its kind. There's even a twist ending.

Where Aya of Yop City differs from Aya is that Abouet and Oubrerie no longer get a boost based solely on revealing the cleverness of their central idea, their use of soap opera as a sociological excavation tool. That element remains, for sure. There's even a welcome but obvious reference to the television show Dallas, if you had any doubts as to the authors' general intent. Why the new book succeeds I think is that it continues the bouncy tone of the first volume but intensifies its use of familiar narrative structure to peel back the layers of life in Yop City not just to the secrets and ambitions of various characters, but into what those things say about these characters' lives and prospects for happiness. When Bintou invests a portion of herself into a secret romance, we know from watching years of these kinds of stories that there's probably something not-right about the whole affair. She sure doesn't, though, and the innocence of it, the hopefulness behind it, breaks your heart a bit and makes you question just how many options are open to her. The suggestion I felt was being made is that those elements of interest and excitement in various characters lives are the exact things that restrain and immobilize them. Even Aya, the calm center around which flit many of the narrative's more flamboyant characters, can be seen to rattle a bit against the cage-like aspects of her father's concerns for her future.

If I had to pick one thing to which a lot of people might react negatively is that it's unclear just how much depth many of the characters truly have. The creative teams skirts a fine line between type and stereotype, and as a result I think there's some question as to how long they can support an increasingly seriously storyline without its caricatured personalities turning into a facile narrative shortcut to get from one place to another. I could even see the characters becoming imbalanced in a way that would have an unflattering effect on how we view the authors' general intent. Dividing the characters into buffoons and more enlightened people would require that we look who goes into each grouping and why. For now, though, I just want to know how the drama turns out. As seems to be the case with the hopeful leads of this vibrant comic, my gut tells me the harder questions can come later.
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AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by Newsarama

Updated November 26, 2008


Best Shots: Supegirl, Namor, Terror Titans, Aya and More
Aya of Yop City
Written by Marguerite Abouet
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah
2008-10-06
NEWSARAMA

A sequel to last year’s Aya, writer Marguerite Abouet returns to the Ivory Coast of her youth with another story about the romantic entanglements, responsibilities, fun times and adventures of three young African women. As with Aya, Aya of Yop City is a fast-moving, fun portrait of African life rarely seen amid the headlines of genocide and starvation. Abouet captures the cadence and liveliness of youth culture in the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, reminding readers that young people are young people, no matter where they live.

Abouet understands the rhythm of dialogue, and her ability to establish each character with clear speech rhythms establishes each character’s personality quickly and firmly. By playing different personalities against one another, Abouet is also able to round out each character and provide plenty of spice to keep readers interested. Though a few characters seem impossibly dense to what’s going on around them, the narration keeps characters distinctly in the dark about coming surprises, so there are plenty of revelations to watch the girls play off.

Although the three heroines are often hard to distinguish from one another, Oubrerie’s art is quite good. He’s able to frame shots effectively, using zooms and angles to keep the reader’s eye excited. Capturing the African origin of the characters without resorting to ethnic stereotypes, Oubrerie’s character designs (stronger with the male characters; not as distinct when it comes to the three protagonists at the center of the tale) and subtle character acting make it easy to connect with and relate to each character. The backgrounds are full of urban details that ground the scenes in a cosmopolitan setting.

The book’s biggest failing, perhaps because Abouet recognized the success of Aya and planned for a series of books, is the open-endedness of the experience. A cliffhanger pertaining to Aya’s father, a shadowed lovers’ liaison, Bintou’s “Parisian” boyfriend, Hervé’s struggle to find his calling and Mamadou’s move to embrace responsibility for himself and Adjoua ... it’s too much to leave so untidy. Aya of Yop City is a delightful book, a fiction built on an author’s upbringing, but hopefully the next volume will provide some closure to at least a few of the threads Abouet is weaving.
 
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  JAMILTI, BURMA CHRONICLES and AYA 2 reviewed by The National Post

Updated November 26, 2008


Sharpening themes, gaining focus
Ian McGillis
Friday, October 3, 2008
Nationalpost.Com

Jamilti and Other Stories
By Rutu Modan

Aya of Yop City
By Marguerite Abouet
and Clement Oubrerie

Burma Chronicles
By Guy Delisle

Even at this advanced date, reviews of graphic literature are apt to slip into a faintly apologetic tone. Praise is common but often qualified, as if it's assumed that true literary depth comes in spite of the form instead of growing naturally from
it.

Well, can we all just get over that? No less a figure than Chip Kidd has observed that "graphic novels have taken over the conversation about American literature," and a similar trend is happening worldwide. The field, in which Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly is arguably among the world's top two or three publishers, is experiencing a renaissance that shows no sign of fading. Three of D&Q's new titles, coincidentally all drawing on international themes, can serve as perfect examples.

Held up by consensus as one of the peak achievements of the genre is the Israeli Rutu Modan's 2007 book Exit Wounds, a novel that - in its classically clean visual lines and sharp, unsentimental portrayal of young love amid political turmoil- feels like a dream fusion of Herge, Truffaut and Coetzee. Jamilti and Other Stories now gives fans a chance to see how Modan honed some of the elements that came to full fruition in Exit Wounds.

Often depicting how everyday life learns to accommodate random violence, these stories also trace Modan's arc from an artist prone to romanticizing others' pasts into a confident chronicler of her home country's present reality, with special emphasis on family and identity.

As Modan's themes sharpen and gain focus, so too does her visual style, to the point where the final piece, Your Number One Fan, leads seamlessly into the flawless economy of Exit Wounds.

Aya of Yop City continues the story begun in Marguerite Abouet's award- winning 2007 debut, Aya. Set in a working-class district of Cte d'Ivoire's former capital city, Abidjan, in the late 1970s, the books offer a time-capsule slice of life in a place that, at the time, was a shining example of indigenous post-colonial success.

In many ways, Abouet's deceptively complex interwoven narratives - of female bonding, awkward courtship, class tension, unwanted pregnancy - could be happening in any reasonably comfortable late-20th-century setting. But that, paradoxically, is the key to Abouet's power: She presents her stories with unassuming universality, letting the specific political dimensions work their way in from the margins by implication.

Aiding her immeasurably is the French artist Clement Oubrerie; theirs is the perfect complementary relationship, producing something greater than the sum of its considerable parts. Saturated with rich colour, Oubrerie's work is stylized enough to evoke West African folk art without losing the crucial element of realism that gives the reader a you-are-there sensation.

The Aya stories have attracted a strong following among African expatriates in France, as well as readers internationally, so it will be very interesting to see whether Abouet - and, one hopes, Oubrerie along with her - extends the chronology into Cote d'Ivoire's more recent history. The essential sweetness of the Aya books would presumably come under severe stress should harder times be depicted; how the authors respond to that challenge would surely make for a fascinating continuation of an already unique body of work.

Quebec comics artist and animator Guy Delisle made his first book-length impact in 2006 with Pyongyang, an autobiographical account of a surreal stay in North Korea. That book's strength was its ability to inspire amused sympathy for its feckless (and not always likeable) narrator while offering documentary-quality perspective on a mystique-shrouded hot spot. The author's follow-up, Shenzhen, employed a similar strategy, and now Delisle returns with Burma Chronicles.

This time the everyman is a house husband, largely confined to Rangoon while his wife does field work with Mdecins Sans Frontires. The necessity of caring for his preschool son, and the occasional forays afforded by his wife's job, give Delisle the opportunity to mix domestic minutiae with broader observations and reportage.

There's little narrative flow to this account, something emphasized by Delisle's style of inserting blocks of explanatory type at the top of his small black-and-white frames while employing minimal dialogue.

Nor is the incorporation of historical background always handled smoothly. Nonetheless, by the end, the reader has a real sense of the strangeness - sometimes sinister, sometimes comical, sometimes downright baffling - of life under an oppressive and secretive regime.

"In a country without journalists, gossip is king," observes our narrator.

Delisle provides his own kind of journalism, though, one that incorporates gossip and seemingly everything else an observant if often queasily disoriented visitor can glean.

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Abouet & Oubrerie

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AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by The Wall Street Journal

Updated October 10, 2008


Adviser -- Comics / 'Aya of Yop City': The Cartoon Heart of Africa --- A New Book Examines Everyday Life in the Ivory Coast
By Davide Berretta
5 September 2008
The Wall Street Journal


The graphic novel "Aya of Yop City" aims to show a new side of Africa. Marguerite Abouet, who wrote the book with her husband, illustrator Clement Oubrerie, says she "didn't want to write about war, famine and AIDS. We know these things happen." Instead, she writes about Aya, a young woman living in the Ivory Coast dealing with problems like a friend's unexpected pregnancy or awkward suitors. Set in the late 1970s, when exports of coffee and cocoa fueled a short-lived economic boom in the African nation, the drawings tell tales of ordinary life in Yopougon, a suburb in Abidjan, the country's capital.

Ms. Abouet, 37, grew up in the Ivory Coast, but now lives in Romainville, a suburb just outside of Paris. Trips back to her native country helped inspire her to write the comic. "I go there and young people there have the same problems as young people everywhere," she says. "So I wanted to show an urban Africa, and apparently this works, because people pay attention to these stories."

The first volume of the series, "Aya," was published in the U.S. in 2007 by Drawn and Quarterly, a Canadian publisher that distributes many prominent graphic novelists in the U.S., like Chris Ware and cartoonist/war-reporter Joe Sacco. Ten thousand copies have been printed, a significant number for a debut graphic novel. The second volume, "Aya of Yop City," is due out in the U.S. this month.

"Aya" comics have sold more than 200,000 copies in France, where four volumes of the series have been published. Marc Szyjowicz, the owner of BDNet, a busy graphic novel shop near the Bastille in Paris, says the comics appeal to a wide range of readers, but especially to African immigrants. "There are not many graphic novels on Africa," says Mr. Szyjowicz.

By her own admission, Ms. Abouet can't really draw. She works as a legal assistant near her home, and had always dreamed of writing novels. Instead, now she writes the dialogue and plot for "Aya" and sketches out the page layout for Mr. Oubrerie, who then fully illustrates the comic.

Mr. Oubrerie, 42, had never illustrated graphic novels before "Aya." After quitting college without a degree, the Parisian-born artist moved to New York City to illustrate children's books. On the side, he babysat and worked as a waiter in a French restaurant. He later returned to France.

Ms. Abouet convinced her French publisher, Edition Gallimard, to sell cheap, soft-cover copies of her comic in the Ivory Coast, and the series has developed a following there. While signing books in Africa or in Europe, Ms. Abouet says, "people start giving me advice. They tell me they have this cousin whose story I should talk about next time."
 

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  JAMILTI, BURMA CHRONICLES and AYA reviewed by The Onion AV

Updated October 10, 2008


Reviewed by Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Tasha Robinson
THE ONION AV
September 29th, 2008

Rutu Modan's acclaimed graphic novel Exit Wounds offered a fine introduction to her spare style and clear-eyed representation of life, love, and armed conflict in modern Israel, though the story itself played out a little flatly—like a dry, well-meaning indie film. The pre-Exit Wounds collection Jamilti And Other Stories (D&Q) gives a fuller representation of Modan's talent, jumping from true-crime stories to subtle slices of life, with varying art styles and structural approaches. The book's best story is "Bygone," a tale of insurance fraud and non-traditional families that builds to a touching surprise ending, but really, all seven stories in Jamilti deal smartly and unconventionally with the idea of fluid family relationships and how they influence individual identity. Exit Wounds may have been overpraised, but Modan is still clearly one of the most promising creators working in comics today…A-

After the immersive "on assignment in a repressive country" stories of the superb Pyongyang and Shenzhen, animator/cartoonist Guy Delisle takes it relatively easy in The Burma Chronicles (D&Q). Delisle accompanied his wife—a Doctors Without Borders administrator—on her 14-month posting in The Union Of Myanmar, but since he wasn't working there in any official capacity, he doesn't have as many anecdotes this time out about dealing with the government via terrified low-level bureaucrats. Instead, he spends most of his days taking care of his infant son and taking note of the petty problems of authoritarian states: Internet filters, censored news reports, power shortages, and the like. At 262 pages, The Burma Chronicles is a little too exhaustive, but the accumulation of detail about supermarkets, bookstores, and local festivals goes a long way toward humanizing a country that barely gets mentioned on the evening news unless something awful is happening there…B+

In Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie's debut graphic novel Aya, Abouet introduced an eclectic cast of middle-class and scrambling-to-get-by characters living in the Ivory Coast in the late '70s. Aya Of Yop City (D&Q) picks up where the first book left off, with the teenage title character serving as the calm center of a whirlwind of extramarital affairs, babies born out of wedlock, and her best friend's romance with a rich kid. As with the first book, Yop City suffers some for being so episodic, without a clear beginning or end, but Oubrerie's art retains its delightful mix of cartoony simplicity and vivid detail, and Abouet continues to write these characters as though she just talked to them yesterday. The Aya-verse is getting richer, and more complex… B+
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Burma Chronicles
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AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by Boston Bibliophile

Updated October 10, 2008




Aya of Yop City, by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clement Oubrerie. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, September 2008.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2008
BOSTON BIBLIOPHILE

Aya of Yop City is the charming sequel to Abouet and Clement's previous collaboration, Aya, which came out last year and I reviewed here. Both stories are set in Ivory Coast in the late 1970s, a relaxed time of peace and prosperty when a young girl's biggest concern was sneaking out to meet with her boyfriend or entering a beauty contest against the prettiest girl in town. The characters are a diverse mix of personalities- good girl Aya and her friends Adjoua and Bintou, their families and friends.

At the end of the first book, Adjoua just had a baby and inadvertently revealed that the father was not who she told her parents. The second book picks up right away, with Adjoua and her family and friends helping raise little Bobby while Aya tries to convince her father to take her seriously, and Bintou meets a Parisian playboy who charms her with fancy meals and hotels. The boys, Bintou's cousin Herve and Adjoua's exes Moussa and Mamadou, have adventures of their own as they navigate young adulthood with clumsiness and humor.

Aya of Yop City is even more charming and slapstick than the first book. I have to say I enjoyed this entry quite a bit. The action was a little easier to follow, and the characters split up and went on their own adventures even as they helped new mom Adjoua take care of her baby. Oubrerie's illustrations are identical to those in the first book, light hearted, colorful and expressive. Like the first Aya, this book includes some back matter about Ivorian culture- in this case, the way Abouet explains women and families come together to help new mothers and raise children as a community. Abouet even explains how to make the baby backpack shown on the cover. There is also an interview with Abouet included. It's a fun read, and if you liked the first, or enjoy stories about women, families or Africa, I'd reccomend it.
 
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Aya of Yop City




  JAMILTI, AYA OF YOP CITY and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Gazette

Updated September 24, 2008


Graphic novels with drive
Local publisher brings us tales from around the world
Jamilti, Aya of Yop City and Burma
Ian McGillis
Friday, September 19
THE GAZETTE

Even at this advanced date, reviews of graphic literature are apt to slip into a faintly apologetic tone. Praise is common but often qualified, as if it's assumed that true literary depth comes in spite of the form instead of growing naturally from it.

Well, can we all just get over that? No less a figure than Chip Kidd has observed that graphic novels have taken over the conversation about American literature," and a similar trend is happening worldwide. The field, in which Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly is arguably among the world's top two or three publishers, is experiencing a renaissance that shows no sign of fading. Three of D&Q's new titles, coincidentally all drawing on international themes, can serve as perfect examples.

Held up by consensus as one of the peak achievements of the genre is the Israeli Rutu Modan's 2007 book Exit Wounds, a novel that - in its classically clean visual lines and sharp, unsentimental portrayal of young love amid political turmoil - feels like a dream fusion of Hergé, Truffaut and Coetzee. Jamilti and Other Stories now gives fans a chance to see how Modan honed some of the elements that came to full fruition in Exit Wounds.

Often depicting how everyday life learns to accommodate random violence, these stories also trace Modan's arc from an artist prone to romanticizing others' pasts into a confident chronicler of her home country's present reality, with special emphasis on family and identity.

As Modan's themes sharpen and gain focus, so too does her visual style, to the point where the final piece, Your Number One Fan, leads seamlessly into the flawless economy of Exit Wounds.

Aya of Yop City continues the story begun in Marguerite Abouet's award-winning 2007 debut, Aya. Set in a working-class district of Côte d'Ivoire's former capital city, Abidjan, in the late 1970s, the books offer a time-capsule slice of life in a place that, at the time, was a shining example of indigenous post-colonial success.

In many ways, Abouet's deceptively complex interwoven narratives - of female bonding, awkward courtship, class tension, unwanted pregnancy - could be happening in any reasonablycomfortable late-20th-century setting. But that, paradoxically, is the key to Abouet's power: She presents her stories with unassuming universality, letting the specific political dimensions work their way in from the margins by implication.

Aiding her immeasurably is the French artist Clément Oubrerie; theirs is the perfect complementary relationship, producing something greater than the sum of its considerable parts. Saturated with rich colour, Oubrerie's work is stylized enough to evoke West African folk art without losing the crucial element of realism that gives the reader a you-are-there sensation.

The Aya stories have attracted a strong following among African expatriates in France, as well as readers internationally, so it will be very interesting to see whether Abouet - and, one hopes, Oubrerie along with her - extends the chronology into Côte d'Ivoire's more recent history. The essential sweetness of the Aya books would presumably come under severe stress should harder times be depicted; how the authors respond to that challenge would surely make for a fascinating continuation of an already unique body of work.

Quebec comics artist and animator Guy Delisle made his first book-length impact in 2006 with Pyongyang, an autobiographical account of a surreal stay in North Korea. That book's strength was its ability to inspire amused sympathy for its feckless (and not always likeable) narrator while offering documentary-quality perspective on a mystique-shrouded hot spot. The author's follow-up, Shenzhen, employed a similar strategy, and now Delisle returns with Burma Chronicles.

This time the everyman is a househusband, largely confined to Rangoon while his wife does field work with Médecins Sans Frontières. The necessity of caring for his preschool son, and the occasional forays afforded by his wife's job, give Delisle the opportunity to mix domestic minutiae with broader observations and reportage.

There's little narrative flow to this account, something emphasized by Delisle's style f inserting blocks of explanatory type at the top of his small black-and-white frames while employing minimal dialogue. Nor is the incorporation of historical background always handled smoothly. Nonetheless, by the end, the reader has a real sense of the strangeness - sometimes sinister, sometimes comical, sometimes downright baffling - of life under an oppressive and secretive regime.

"In a country without journalists, gossip is king," observes our narrator. Delisle provides his own kind of journalism, though, one that incorporates gossip and seemingly everything else an observant if often queasily disoriented visitor can glean.
click here to read more


Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by The Wall Street Journal

Updated September 5, 2008


The Cartoon Heart of Africa
A New Book Examines Everyday Life in the Ivory Coast
COMICS | 'Aya of Yop City'
Davide Berretta
WALL STREET JOURNAL
September 5, 2008

The graphic novel "Aya of Yop City" aims to show a new side of Africa. Marguerite Abouet, who wrote the book with her husband, illustrator Clément Oubrerie, says she "didn't want to write about war, famine and AIDS. We know these things happen." Instead, she writes about Aya, a young woman living in the Ivory Coast dealing with problems like a friend's unexpected pregnancy or awkward suitors. Set in the late 1970s, when exports of coffee and cocoa fueled a short-lived economic boom in the African nation, the drawings tell tales of ordinary life in Yopougon, a suburb in Abidjan, the country's capital.

Writer Marguerite Abouet, left, and her husband, illustrator Clément Oubrerie.
Ms. Abouet, 37, grew up in the Ivory Coast, but now lives in Romainville, a suburb just outside of Paris. Trips back to her native country helped inspire her to write the comic. "I go there and young people there have the same problems as young people everywhere," she says. "So I wanted to show an urban Africa, and apparently this works, because people pay attention to these stories."

The first volume of the series, "Aya," was published in the U.S. in 2007 by Drawn and Quarterly, a Canadian publisher that distributes many prominent graphic novelists in the U.S., like Chris Ware and cartoonist/war-reporter Joe Sacco. Ten thousand copies have been printed, a significant number for a debut graphic novel. The second volume, "Aya of Yop City," is due out in the U.S. this month.

"Aya" comics have sold more than 200,000 copies in France, where four volumes of the series have been published. Marc Szyjowicz, the owner of BDNet, a busy graphic novel shop near the Bastille in Paris, says the comics appeal to a wide range of readers, but especially to African immigrants. "There are not many graphic novels on Africa," says Mr. Szyjowicz.

By her own admission, Ms. Abouet can't really draw. She works as a legal assistant near her home, and had always dreamed of writing novels. Instead, now she writes the dialogue and plot for "Aya" and sketches out the page layout for Mr. Oubrerie, who then fully illustrates the comic.

Mr. Oubrerie, 42, had never illustrated graphic novels before "Aya." After quitting college without a degree, the Parisian-born artist moved to New York City to illustrate children's books. On the side, he babysat and worked as a waiter in a French restaurant. He later returned to France.

Ms. Abouet convinced her French publisher, Edition Gallimard, to sell cheap, soft-cover copies of her comic in the Ivory Coast, and the series has developed a following there. While signing books in Africa or in Europe, Ms. Abouet says, "people start giving me advice. They tell me they have this cousin whose story I should talk about next time."

 
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Aya of Yop City




  AYA OF YOP CITY give a starred review in Publishers Weekly

Updated September 2, 2008


Aya of Yop City Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-897299-41-8

Abouet and Oubrerie's sequel to their 2007 graphic novel Aya is a charming comedy of manners about a group of young women—a sort of Jane Austen scenario transplanted to the Ivory Coast of the late '70s. Aya's friend Adjoua has a new baby, and everybody's pitching in to help take care of him, although he looks rather less like the purported father than like an irresponsible bounder by the name of Mamadou. Meanwhile, their starry-eyed friend, Bintou, is plunging into a new romance with a man whose urbane extravagance blinds her to his sneakiness. Mostly, though, this volume is about the cheerful, communitarian spirit of the place and time it sketches out—a moment of postcolonial African history when people didn't have a lot of resources (Adjoua is entering a beauty contest in the hopes of winning cooking oil for the fritters she sells), but had high hopes for the future. Oubrerie's scrappy, witty pen-and-ink artwork is a small delight: everybody's got exaggerated but subtly expressive body language and facial expressions, and the story's dashed-off but dead-on settings—with traffic blocked by wandering sheep and tin roofs near ambitious office buildings—make its tone of historical transition between tradition and modernization even more vivid. (Sept.)

Starred

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AYA reviewed by Canadian Family Magazine

Updated June 11, 2008


CANADIAN FAMILY MAGAZINE
Canadian Family's 4th Annual Book and Entertainment Guide
By Melissa Carter with files from Jen Grimbleby and Shannon Phillips
Summer 2008


Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie (Drawn and Quarterly, $21.95,
978-1-894937-90-0)

Set in prosperous 1970s Ivory Coast, Aya follows a groupe of naive but spunky teen girls on the quest for love. Led by the analytic protagonist, the story offers a glimpse into a part of Africa's history that has been forgotten. Squashing modern stereotypes, it's a relatable story conveyed by a bold palette of gorgeous illustrations. Look for a stellar sequel in July. Ages 13+.
 

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  AYA chosen as one of PSLA's Top 40 Young Adult Fiction Titles of 2007

Updated June 11, 2008


PSLA's 2007 Young Adult Top Forty Fiction List

Abouet, Marguerite. AYA. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2007. 978-1-894937-90-0. 96p. $38.60. Gr. 10-12.

This graphic novel is about a carefree, happy time in 1978 in Africa's Ivory Coast. Aya is a studious 19-year-old with parents and a little brother. Her friends, Adjoua and Bintou, are only interested in boys, dancing, and dressing up. Aya is working hard because she enjoys knowing she will become a doctor and make something of herself while her friends have only amorous ideas. Oubrerie's illustrations evoke the beauty of the people and the village. Since the country is now wracked with civil unrest, it is enjoyable to read about a lighthearted, prosperous time in Aya's town of Youpougon, a working class neighborhood. Oubrerie's illustrations evoke the beauty of the people and village life. --BJ Neary

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AYA chosen as one of Booklist's Editors' Choice 2007

Updated January 17, 2008


Booklist: Editors' Choice, 2007
1 January 2008
Booklist

Adult Books

The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year's outstanding books for public-library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary, intellectual, and aesthetic excellence with popular appeal.

AYA. By Marguerite Abouet. Illus. by Clement Oubrerie.

Set during the late 1970s in West Africa, this engaging graphic novel about an older teen girl who is frustrated by less-forwardthinking friends and family is strengthened by memorable characters and universal emotions.
 

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  AYA, EXIT WOUNDS on The Washington Post's A list

Updated January 10, 2008


The A List
WASHINGTON POST
January 2008

Aya By Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie, Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95

Exit Wounds By Rutu Modan, Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95
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EXIT WOUNDS, SHORTCOMINGS, SPENT, AYA on Panels and Pixels Best of list

Updated January 10, 2008


Overall, 2007 could be called a banner year for comics as the medium continued to garner mainstream traction.

The death of Captain America won major newspaper headlines, Naruto dominated the best-seller landscape, and Stephen King and Buffy the Vampire Slayer attracted scores of people who had never set foot in a comic shop before.

It was also a great year for high-quality books. Here’s a list of some of my own personal favorites:

Best Graphic Novel of the Year: “Exit Wounds” by Rutu Modan. Few books this year had the emotional heft and warmth that Modan’s story of romance and estranged family set in Israel did.

Runners Up: “Shortcomings” by Adrian Tomine; “Laika” by Nick Abadazis; “Alias the Cat” by Kim Deitch.

Best Nonfiction Comic: A tie between Bryan Talbot’s “Alice in Sunderland” and Larry Gonick’s “The Cartoon History of the Modern World, Part One.”

Runners-up: “Red Eye, Black Eye” by K. Thor Jensen; “Spent” by Joe Matt; “American Elf Book Two” by James Kochalka.

Best European book: “Aya” by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie. An African expatriate and a Parisian artist tell charming slice-of-life story set in the Ivory Coast.

 
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  AYA mentioned by The School Library Journal

Updated December 21, 2007


Best Adult Books for High School Students 2007
By Francisca Goldsmith
1 December 2007
School Library Journal

Identifying and reviewing those books published for adults but that also have appeal to high school students keeps nearly 30 school and public librarians busy as professional critics. In 2007, this review crew—who work with teens in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Alberta, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Washington—read and considered whether to recommend each of more than 600 adult titles. Because this column’s policy is “recommend only,” fewer than half that number were reviewed. So, we’re already starting off with a group of “better” books. How to differentiate the “best” from these? Well, that takes even more reading and critical thinking and discussion. These bests all sport a few things in common, whether fiction or nonfiction: excellent writing, thought-provoking and engaging content, and topics of keen interest to teens. Beyond that, each one–like a gem–is unique.—Francisca Goldsmith, Chair, Adult Books for High School Students Committee

Fiction

ABOUET , Marguerite, Aya . tr. from French. illus. by Clement Oubrerie. Drawn & Quarterly. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-894937-90-0.

The perennial themes of adolescent friendship, careless romance, and family expectations are made vivid in this graphic novel, set nearly 30 years ago on the Ivory Coast.



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AYA on The Montreal Mirror's Best of list

Updated December 21, 2007


MONTREAL MIRROR
December 20th, 2007

10. Aya by Marguerite Abouet, illustrations by Clement Oubrerie. I don’t want to take anything away from this year’s successful books by and about African boy soldiers. But Abouet’s lovely graphic novel about coming of age as an African teenage girl in the ’70s is a reminder that life in Africa is always hard, but not always misery, war and squalor.
 
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  AYA on the ALA's great graphic novels list

Updated December 10, 2007



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SHORTCOMINGS, EXIT WOUNDS and AYA make PW's Best of List

Updated November 16, 2007


Comics
Shortcomings
Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)
A lacerating, falling-out-of-love story that profiles Ben Tanaka, a crabby know-it-all with an eye for white girls; his Asian-American activist girlfriend Miko; and the dissolution of their relationship.
Alice in Sunderland
Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
The history of Sunderland, an obscure British city and a haunt of Lewis Carroll's, provides the metaphor for a dizzying survey of the ways ideas and people have connected over the centuries.
Exit Wounds
Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)
While searching for his father, a young Israeli taxi driver discovers unexpected truths about himself and contemporary Israel.
All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC)
A glorious postmodern return to what made Superman super, as the man from Krypton deals with supernovas and his own conventions.
I Killed Adolf Hitler
Jason (Fantagraphics)
Hard-boiled hit men, a time machine and a quest to save the world add up to a story about the permanence of love in this darkly humorous tale.
Laika
Nick Abadzis (Roaring Brook/First Second)
The story of the first dog in space is a known tragedy, here rendered with an eye to historic fact and without sentimentality.
The Salon
Nick Bertozzi (St. Martin's)
A period fantasy involving Picasso, Braque, Satie, Gertrude Stein and a potent brand of absinthe offers a dizzying tour de force of art styles.
Aya
Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly)
The charming story of a smart teenage girl and her boy-crazy friends, set in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, during a period of peace in the 1970s.
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni)
Our slacker hero is still playing in a band, still dating the mysterious Ramona Flowers—and dealing with her seven evil ex-boyfriends—but he decides to get a job!
Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White
Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz)
Two street urchins—one called Black and the other White—with unusual powers take on the police, the yakuza and the citizens of Treasure Town in this poignant, experimentalist manga.
MW
Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
A young boy who survives a horrific military accident develops into both a powerful businessman and a warped murderous psychopath in an exploration of the modern reality of evil.
MPD-Psycho, Volume 1
Eiji Otsuka and Sho-u Tajima (Dark Horse)
A police detective tracking a serial killer descends into multiple-personality syndrome after his wife is found murdered and mutilated in this psychologically disturbing manga.
 
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  EXIT WOUNDS, AYA reviewed by The Guardian

Updated November 1, 2007



Graphic novels
A sketch of life
Craig Taylor
Saturday October 27, 2007
The Guardian

Aya
by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)

Marguerite Abouet's comic tells of a lost age, a time in the late 1970s when the Ivory Coast was basking in the glow of an economic boom, when disco seeped from the open air clubs in Abidjan and teenage girls such as Aya, Adjoua and Bintou were able to enjoy one last flirtatious summer before adulthood. Free from stereotypical African imagery of emaciated Aids victims and bloated famine kids, her slice of history reads like a familar coming of age tale. The young women sneak out at night to the Thousand Star Hotel, aka the market square, and make furtive romantic moves when they can find the right person in the moonlight.

Article continues
Clément Oubrerie paints his panels with warm washes of pink skies over the dusty roads. His portraiture contains touches of cartoonish humour - such as the green shade of a young man's face when he admits to impregnating a girl. The tones match the wry humour of the writing, particularly when Abouet brings the working-class residents into contact with the richer neighbourhoods of the city. "It's like Dallas," remarks Adjoua's father, wide-eyed, as he sits in the house of a nouveau riche. The real star is the backdrop, the city itself, its marketplaces, foods and customs. Abouet's is a gentle, nostalgic account of the lives it held for a brief, optimistic time.

Exit Wounds
by Rutu Modan (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)

A bomb goes off in a bus station in Israel, leaving a few bodies, including one that can't be identified. Later a cab-driver named Koby is approached by Numi, a young woman serving in the Israeli army. That dead man, she tells him, is your estranged father and I was his lover. And so the mysteries of a parent are slowly revealed in Rutu Modan's excellent, searching examination of modern Israeli life; and she doesn't shy away from moments of black humour as the unlikely duo search through morgues and markets and graveyards. Drawing her characters' faces with minimal detail - two black dots represent most eyes - Modan is too smart to simply parade the violence of Israeli life for its own sake. Each incident connects to the central mystery and leads to a satisfying and very human end, leaving both Numi and Koby uncertain about the man they thought they knew and the way they feel towards each other.

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AYA reviewed by PopMatters

Updated July 10, 2007


Aya
by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
by Megan Milks
POPMATTERS
9 July 2007

Aya tells a story both familiar and refreshingly new, at least to those of us who have little exposure to media that show more of African countries than civil war, AIDS, and poverty. In a way, Aya is just another coming-of-age story, dramatizing the period when protagonist Aya, 19, and her two best friends, Adjoua and Bintou, grow into adulthood and begin to grow apart. We know this story, probably all too well. But Aya is set apart from most coming-of-age stories in that its setting is distinctly localized to 1978 Yopougon (aka Yop City), a working-class neighborhood of Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. That the story is rendered graphically underscores its emphasis on the local, with vivid panels bringing the neighborhood and its residents to life.

Narrated from Aya’s perspective, the story begins with her family and friends gathering to watch Ivory Coast’s first television ad campaign: the ad is for Solibra, a local brand of beer and the company for which Aya’s father is manager. From there, the narrative follows the escapades of Adjoua and Bintou as they sneak out to meet up with boys and go dancing, while ambitious Aya, who wants to become a doctor, stays home and studies. Pretty soon Adjoua and Bintou are fighting over the same loser dude, who just happens to be from a wealthy family—let the catfights begin. Aya is a fly on the wall to her friends’ antics; she stands by bemused, uninterested in the men her friends can’t get enough of and looking forward to the day she can go off to university and work toward a career in medicine.

Aya is a whimsical exploration of the class and gender politics of working-class Abidjan in 1978, a time that was la belle époque to many Ivorians. As Alisia Grace Chase explains in her preface, Ivory Coast in the two decades after it won independence in 1960 saw a time of “unprecedented wealth.” Its capital, Abidjan, was considered the ‘Paris of West Africa,’ its cultural cachet rising with the GNP: This is the time period that Aya takes place in. Just a few years after the events of the novel, the economy would begin to stagnate, resulting in social unrest. In the decades since, Ivory Coast’s wealth and stability has steadily declined in the face of a serious recession, a wave of crime, and a series of coups and rebel uprisings that ultimately led to civil war.

The book serves as a reminder of a period of greatness for a country that is now struggling to regain its footing. As such, the story is awash in nostalgia. As wise and compassionate as its titular protagonist, the book is a charming cultural ambassador from Ivory Coast to the hip North American audience cultivated by Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly. Written by Ivorian ex-pat Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie, and translated from the French by Helge Dascher, Aya is a tidy little package of cultural exchange, accompanied not only by Chase’s contextualizing preface, but also an appendix including a map, two recipes, a glossary of Ivorian slang terms like “freshnie” ("a nice looking girl"), and an illustrated guide to wearing a pagne, a versatile, sarong-like cloth worn by women. The appendix is written in the same whimsical style as the text of the novel; what could come across as overearnest cultural exportage comes off instead as a number of fun and educational bonuses.

Abouet keeps her writing to a minimum, adding in the occasional narrative exposition but keeping her words mostly to the lively dialogue that moves the book forward. Oubrerie contributes to the book’s momentum by placing the characters in action; he’s an expert at articulating emotion through body language and facial expression. Oubrerie is similarly skilled with setting: he’s as adept at creating strong, distant cityscapes as he is at populating Yop City’s busy maquis and imagining the interiors of Aya’s home. His illustrations are playfully drawn and semirealistic, deriving most of their aesthetic impact from their color palette.

While time cues are used from time to time, sometimes the authors neglect to provide any signal for a new scene, leading to a book that seems disjointed in parts. For the most part, however, Abouet’s modest exposition and Oubrerie’s shift in color palette work together to signal new scenes and connect the narrative as a whole.

Even as I was drawn in to Aya’s life, delighted by her friends’ sassiness and the beautifully drawn streets and maquis of Yop City, I had this nagging suspicion that something was missing. Upon further thought, I came to understand that what I believed to be missing from Aya was that element of soulcrushing oppression—ironic, since the story’s lack thereof is exactly what makes it a joy to pick up and savor.

At least in the U.S., if people are going to read about the huge, heterogeneous continent that is Africa, they’re generally more likely to veer towards heavy, heartwrenching reading material about child soldiers, famine, corruption, and the AIDS crisis than anything as supposedly simple as a few days in the life of an ambitious young woman with boycrazy friends. For whatever reason, we seek out stories of oppression from Africa that ask us to become a mock-horrified voyeur all too eager to see how terrible the world is for people who are not us. Then maybe we’ll be ‘INSPI(RED)’ to help all the sick people by buying a t-shirt at the Gap.

While epic novels of crisis have and deserve their place, light comedies like Aya are easily dismissed when compared with them. Should such a comparison even be made? Probably not. But such a small sliver of African and African-centric literature(s) is translated into English that it’s usually the so-called Important stuff that gets translated while more modest stories never make it to an English-speaking audience. Those modest stories, like Aya, are just as important—especially those that demonstrate strength and resilience, in this case through a slim slice of one young woman’s promising life.
 
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  AYA in The Boston Globe

Updated June 18, 2007


By Matthew Shaer | June 9, 2007
Aya
By Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

"You can really talk white," a friend tells the narrator of Marguerite Abouet's debut graphic novel, and he doesn't mean it as a compliment. At 19, Aya has already outgrown the intellectual confines of Yopougon , the working-class Ivory Coast neighborhood where she was raised. To her peers, Aya's careful diction is apostasy, or at least impudence; Clément Oubrerie, the book's illustrator, often draws her with her head tipped backward , her nostrils flared.
But why shouldn't she hope for more? In 1960 , a charismatic former union leader named Félix Houphouët-Boigny had pushed Ivory Coast to independence, and by 1978, the year in which Abouet stages "Aya," the Ivorian economy is thriving. Even Yopougon is affected, its narrow streets and cluttered plazas suddenly flush with all-night dance parties, entangled lovers, and souped-up sports cars.
One evening, buoyed by the "holiday feeling" in the air, Aya blurts to her father, Ignace: "I want to be a doctor."
"A doc-what?" he replies. "What for?"
Like most of Abouet's characters, Ignace is trapped between two worlds. On a business trip in Abidjan, the economic hub and main port , he catches a glimpse of the other, rich side of Ivory Coast, with its noisy metropolises -- those Westernized paradises of hulking buildings and wide boulevards. Yes, Aya could be a doctor, but why would she want to be a doctor when she could wed a city man and make her entire family happy?
"Finish high school first," he decides, finally, between mouthfuls of food. "Then we'll see."
Abouet, who was raised in Ivory Coast, has attempted to create something very brave in "Aya" -- an intimate portrait of the African world that exists outside the glare of the media spotlight. Occasionally it works. Oubrerie's artwork is exacting; he sends the characters dancing and flirting and sweating through a backdrop of ochre and violet, and allows them little pause. Limbs shake. Sweat collects on necks, on foreheads. The afternoon sinks into red, and the next day arrives in gold.
In the most haunting scene in the book, Adjoua and Bintou , two of Aya's friends, weave their way through a party outside of Yopougon, intent on catching the attention of the men lined up against the bar. When her rich escort, Moussa, tries to apologize for a faux pas, Bintou demurs.
"Not now!" she says, her index finger extended to the sky. "They're playing the new François Louga ."
Oubrerie fills the next frame with a dozen bodies clustered on the dance floor, while Louga's lyrics float above Bintou's head: "I sailed off by day under a burning sun, leaving my father and country."
Ivorians in 2007, their homeland desiccated by government infighting and split apart by poverty, know much about the burning sun and self-made exile. Adjoua, Bintou, and Moussa don't, yet. This is Abouet's big tell: The truest history is the history of community, and it moves very slowly.
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EXIT WOUNDS and AYA nominated for the Quill Awards

Updated June 4, 2007


Two D+Q titles nominated for The Quill Awards. In the graphic novel category, we have:

Exit Wounds
Rutu Modan
Drawn & Quarterly

Aya
Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie
Drawn & Quarterly

Making Comics
Scott McCloud
HarperCollins

Ode to Kirihito
Osamu Tezuka
Vertical

Alice in Sunderland
Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse


"The Quill Awards are the only book awards to pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz. They are the first literary prizes to reflect the tastes of all the groups that matter most in publishing--readers, booksellers and librarians.

NBC is the official broadcast partner for the The Quills. The Quill Awards are the only televised literary prizes."
 
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  MOOMIN, LUCKY, CURSES and AYA in Punk Planet

Updated May 25, 2007


PUNK PLANET

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Sequential Tart reviews AYA

Updated May 25, 2007


SEQUENTIAL TART
Grade: 9

The Ivory Coast. 1978. A time of great economic growth and optimism. Aya is nineteen, a good student and eager to go to college. Her father Ignace is the local Solibra manager; every time a commercial for that beer comes on, he makes everyone sit down and watch it. Her mother Fanta is a secretary and part-time healer. Her best friends are Adjoua (secret boyfriend on the side) and Bintou (who only wants to dance). They all live in Yopougon, aka Yop City, a working-class neighborhood in Abidjan. Life is good; quiet and uneventful ... until the girls meet Moussa, the son of Ignace's boss .. and suddenly things change ....

I loved Aya. It's a fascinating, funny, insightful slice-of-life once upon a time tale. Most of the news coming out of Africa these days is tragic and depressing — but Aya presents an entirely different picture. Abidjan is a beautiful, colorful city filled with hard-working, hard-partying people. These are all people I know, or would like to know; caring Fanta; Felicity with her funny hair and Herve, who wants to be a mechanic; even the snooty Sissoko's and their lazy son Moussa. I want to hang out at the maquis, drinking strong African beer and dancing; or just hang around in Aya's backyard, talking with the girls.

Aya is a wonderful coming of age story. It even comes with a glossary, instructions on how to tie a pagne (cloth skirt), how to roll your tassaba to catch a man (take a guess), and recipes for gnaman koudji and peanut sauce. Yum! Highly recommended to fans of True Story Swear to God, Crazy Papers, and literate comics in general.
Written: March 29, 2007
Published: April 1, 2007
 
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  AYA in The Patriot-News

Updated May 25, 2007


GRAPHIC LIT
Friday, May 25, 2007
BY CHRIS MAUTNER
THE PATRIOT-NEWS

"Aya" by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie,

Set in the Ivory Coast circa 1978, "Aya" is a disarmingly sweet and funny soap opera about a group of young people falling in and out of love. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the book is that Aya isn't even the main character. Instead, she serves as a Greek chorus of sorts as she observes her friends make incredibly poor romantic choices. The kind you make when you're 20 and the future seems too far away to think about.

Despite the cultural differences, "Aya" is filled with characters that will resemble you or people you know. Issues of class and sexism swim underneath the surface, but again, seem intimately familiar. No doubt that's the entire point.

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Marguerite Abouet interviewed by Wild River Review

Updated May 22, 2007


Drawing on the Universal in Africa:
An Interview with Marguerite Abouet
by Angela Ajayi
05/07
WILD RIVER REVIEW

Too often, it is easier than we realize to forget the intimate details of a childhood, especially one lived thousands of miles away in a different country. As the years pass by, distance and time make fading memories more difficult to recall. Slowly, a new — and hopefully better — life takes over our days, making it even harder to remember little details.


Marguerite Abouet

Like Marguerite Abouet, I left West Africa at an early age. And like her, I too, long to remember and write about what it was like then, for in the back of my mind West Africa is always present. It comes as no surprise to me that Abouet’s only comic book in English, Aya, is her very powerful visual and literary expression of this longing, this deep need to hold onto childhood memories filled with “unbelievable” stories about neighbors, families, friends — all in an Ivory Coast that had recently gained independence from France and was enjoying a new middle class society.

Set in a bustling city in Ivory Coast, Aya is a witty, urban story. One, Abouet says, could have taken place anywhere in the world. She is right, in theory, for there is a universalizing force that seems to drive Marguerite Abouet, the writer.

So come along and let her show you why, and literally through pictures, how, just as they might do in Europe or America, young girls sneak out to meet guys at night — or go to a party and flirt with the most attractive guy there. This is no difference worldwide, really.

And yet, Aya is also an urban story that takes place, specifically, in Ivory Coast — a country which now experiences what many other African countries have faced after decades of colonial rule: political corruption, disease, civil strife, and staggering poverty.

Days after I finished this interview with Abouet, I realized that in it I had brought attention to the current harsh realities for Africans in Ivory Coast, and for those who migrated to Europe. Perhaps, as someone who was raised in Africa, I felt I had to... and it was the responsible thing to do. Perhaps it may always remain so; I don’t know. Thankfully, Abouet was generous and warm in her response to my questions, always unapologetically reaching for honesty in her own reflections.

At a panel discussion at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York City, Abouet spoke of how she often feels a certain responsibility as an African writer because she wrote the book Aya. It was unclear to me whether this feeling of responsibility, like mine, had everything to do with addressing the current crisis in many parts of Africa. But I secretly wished it didn’t, and that part of it also meant continuously drawing attention to the universal and relatable aspects of Africa, which Abouet has indeed successfully done in her engaging work, Aya — and in her interview with me.


WRR: Tell me about moving from Ivory Coast to France at a very young age (seven?) — and how this experience, coupled with living in France from thereon, might have influenced the course of your life and your writing of Aya (if at all).

I came to France at the age of twelve. Because the Ivory Coast is an old French colony, I spoke French very well — obviously with an accent! Culturally speaking, I also did not have great difficulty integrating into the society.

Then, as the years went by, I had the desire to write Aya.

I had always felt the need to recollect my youth down there, the silliness I got into, the unbelievable stories about the quartier, the families, the neighbors. I did not want to forget that part of my life, to hold on to those memories, and the desire to recount them got stronger with age. I felt a little guilty for being content in another country, far away from my family; in addition, I got so annoyed at the way in which the media systematically showed the bad side of the African continent, habitual litanies of wars, famine, of the ‘sida,’ and other disasters, that I wished to show the other side, to tell about daily modern life that also exists in Africa.

Aya is therefore an urban story which could have taken place anywhere in the world.

WRR: Ivory Coast enjoyed what some have called la belle époque in the 1970s when President Houphouet-Boigny’s free land policies enabled economic boom — and thus the emergence of a middle class was possible. This is indeed something that is sorely lacking in many African countries today. In Aya you capture the middle class society so well that I wondered if your family was part of it. If yes, what were some of its societal norms at that time. I ask this because in Aya, there is a focus on societal norms and a testing of them by some of the main characters like Bintou, Adjoua, and even Aya herself. For instance, in the book, Aya tells her father she wants to become a doctor and he discourages her because “university is for men, not girls.”

After gaining independence, a new middle class appeared on the Ivory Cost. Many peasants’ children had the opportunity to study in the city. Thus it was necessary to provide housing for these young people, and new additions and areas began to crowd Abidjan. Helped along by the economy of the time, all these new graduates found jobs. For relaxation, they formed clubs where they met after work or on weekends. That is also where they socialized and married. Their parents no longer had great influence on their life choices; they had been surpassed by the changes in the country and by this new freedom brought about by the “Ivorian miracle.”

Women above all were influenced by the Western media and were emancipated. They no longer yielded to their parents’ authority in choosing a husband. Their level of education made them aware of their rights: the right to divorce, access to the pill, opportunities for professional careers.

It is true that Africans had a strong desire for a male as the eldest child. It is he who would carry on the family name and would contribute to the support of the family by caring for aging parents. As far as a girl was concerned, she was often a responsibility and was married very quickly, mostly to the advantage of the parents.

But here, as in the Ivory miracle, men justifiably chose women from these clubs; they knew that they were very modern and cultivated, and financially independent.

My parents were a part of that middle class. They were well off before they met. When they decided to get married, their parents both approved the match because their children already had a place to live and a job.

It is true that in Aya the father tells his daughter that great accomplishments are made by men.

This comment must be taken in context: this is only fiction, and fortunately not all African fathers are like Ignace. His only goal is to marry his daughter to the son of his patron. He is so intent on this that he urges her not to go too far in her studies.

WRR: In Aya, the modern (telephones, fancy dresses, and cars from Paris, etc.) and the traditional (wearing of traditional waxed cloth-like pagne, etc) seem to coexist well and without much friction (except perhaps when norms are obviously challenged). You seem to be saying something about the impact of modernity on women in African society in the book though, both good and bad. Please elaborate more on this if you can.

It is true: Africa is torn between tradition and modern times. That is the logical result of the meeting between Africa and the West in the media where many European and Brazilian programs are replayed. Actually, the women in Aya avail themselves of certain rights, even though they are subject to numerous patriarchal dictates: the right and choice of working (that is true for all yopoupan mothers), control over household funds, also the choice to have fewer children (true for Bintou’s mother), the right not to accept polygamy, access to a basic level of education (true for Aya’s mother), also the right to divorce.

It is the good side of modern times that can well coexist with tradition. The tradition of Ivorian hospitality that is characteristic to young and old is one of respect for family environment and for the aged. That is why girls adhere to traditional values in Aya, in spite of the freedoms they have.

WRR: You’ve chosen the comic book to convey your story. Is there a specific reason for this or was it coincidental? I read that you are currently working on some novels. Do you find the creative process different from when you wrote a comic book like Aya? Harder? Easier? Not comparable at all?

Novels written for young people are subject to a host of commercial constraints such as age, purpose, themes, and editors who do not shy away from endless correcting and reworking of the text. That is a problem that I did not face in Aya. By addressing myself to adults as well as to the young, I had great freedom to create.

WRR: There is a lot of humor in Aya, even when the characters show questionable moral behavior like promiscuity and infidelity. It seems to me that humor could be the vehicle you’ve used to draw attention to these particular aspects of 1970s urban life in Ivory Coast. Please elaborate on your use of humor in the book.

The people of the Ivory Coast are known for their sense of humor, particularly with regard to things that are not humorous. Their motto is: as long as no one has died, life continues. Whatever the conflicts or the problems, they will be resolved by following the advice of the sages at the foot of the talking tree (tree of advice), and then one can reconcile by celebrating with a feast.

The humor in Aya is not limited to the 70s; it is equally appropriate for today, because there are new things to laugh about (all the coup d’états and their successive presidents, the conditions of emigrants in Europe and in the United States, prostitution, corruption, etc.). Moreover, one need go no further than listening to the songs and reading the humor magazines like ‘GBICH’ to realize that Ivorian humor has grown.

In Aya I only paid homage to the kind of humor that is part of me and with which I grew up.

WRR: What is your life in France like at the moment? And as an African woman who immigrated to France, what do you think of the current socio-political situation in the country in regards to immigrants, especially North Africans?

My life is quite normal. I live with my husband and our two-month-old son. I stopped working as legal assistant and I am trying to write every day.

From the very beginning, I believed that the socio-political situation in North Africa and that in West Africa are totally different.

As an African from the West, I would like to point out that the French had the black Africans brought over to do the jobs that no one else wanted to do. As long as the Blacks stayed in their assigned place — as supermarket attendants, house maids, street sweepers, in child and geriatric care, or at most, as artists and athletes — all went very well. But now some of the offspring and young children of those first arrivals are doing more than that. At the price of a difficult struggle, they are becoming company owners, cadres, intellectuals, and they are more visible. These Blacks sense more discrimination because they have abandoned their role. This kind of racism is more frequent when the economy is doing poorly.

Today’s real danger is not idiotic racism and the increase in nationalists. We know how to deal with it — it is evident in ordinary attitudes which convey the worst paternalistic and condescending clichés that symbolically destroy Blacks even more surely than the overtly racist insults.

I believe that Blacks have just need for a Republic that is accessible to all and allows each one to find his place in society according to his talents.

WRR: Today, many people in Africa are obviously experiencing serious economic hardship and struggle to survive on a daily basis — and the American media via films such Blood Diamonds and The Constant Gardener continuously portray an Africa that is wrought with violent civil war, corruption, etc. The post-colonial Ivory Coast in Aya is a totally different one — almost unrecognizable, especially given the media’s images. Life was refreshingly simple, peaceful, and people were obviously enjoying themselves. What do you think of how the West (more so America, I think) portrays Africa in general nowadays--and was Aya an attempt to respond to that at all? If not, inadvertently, you have a portrayed an Africa that seems almost non-existent now, one that we really don’t see or hear much of anymore. Wonderful, I think.

We are often told that Africans live in famine, illness, tribal wars, poverty, with a hand extended, begging aid from the West.

It is interesting to confirm that the easygoing and careless impression of Africa that is found in Aya fortunately still exists, even today. It would be nice if the African continent were evoked dropping the stereotypes of suffering because Africa is really quite a large and diverse continent, and as everywhere else — particularly in the United States, there are enormous differences in social classes...

Paradoxically, it is a form of well-disposed racism when I hear some people say that they will never go to Africa for fear of seeing this suffering.

One needs to know that Africans are about more than the side of misery that is persistently shown of their continent. Africans have only had their independence for forty years, compared to a century for France; it seems fair to give Africans time to free themselves of old crocodiles in power and to evolve.

I can assure you that the Ivory Coast remains a beautiful country with nice quartiers (living areas), superb beaches, and a magnificent fauna and flora, despite its disasters. African women finally share the same dreams of other women on the planet, and I wish only to show their daily lives filled with hopes and desires to perform as modern women in Africa.
 
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  AYA in the Comics Reporter

Updated May 16, 2007


Aya
Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie
THE COMICS REPORTER
Tom Spurgeon
May 14, 2007


On the second to last page of Drawn and Quarterly's handsome mounting of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie's Aya, it's noted that artist Oubrerie served jail time in New Mexico for working without papers, perhaps the only person of Parisian descent to fall prey to the state's firm attention to undocumented workers. There are quirky pleasure like that throughout the comics narrative as well, bits of throwaway dialog or incidental visuals that may fail to push the comic to a single goal but provide color and entertainment along the way.

Despite the fun to be had along the way Aya will likely be remembered for its central conceit, a creative choice about as astute and compelling and ultimately fruitful as any in recent years. Marguerite Abouet's story is set during a brief, flush period of hope and optimism in the history of the Ivory Coast. As a narrative, it unabashedly embraces the tropes of soap opera, specifically the misunderstandings, romantic longings and attention to class that comes with that genre. This gives the story its narrative backbone as we watch couples, friends and families negotiate various romantic affairs as well as moments of vocational and family achievement. The choice further provides the writer a chance to meditate on the values involved in the culture by contrasting how certain characters participate in the story, and, best of all, covers the whole period of time in a romantic sheen, playing up its vulnerable qualities in terms of the life of its heroines but also creating a warm light that reflects back on the community in which they participate.

I do think it's possible just to enjoy the ride, because it's a fun book and Oubrerie's art is expressive, his characters breezily designed and the entire bookis easy on the eye. The creators provide a few first class, gently humorous set pieces, like a father counting feet sticking out from under covers to make sure all his children are safe and sound, or a girl upon hearing she's pregnant immediately stating she's never had sex. A lot of the book should put a smile on anyone's face. What has me anticipating the next volume, however, is the underlying fragility, the sense we get from life and in history that things depend on arbitrary events, either far outside of our control or beyond our ability to seize it.
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Marguerite Abouet interview on bookslut.com

Updated May 8, 2007


May 2007
BOOKSLUT.COM

An Interview with Marguerite Abouet

Marguerite Abouet was raised in the Ivory Coast until she and her brother moved at the age of twelve to France with a great uncle. Over the years, she has been working as a legal assistant in Romainville, a suburb of Paris, where she has been writing books for young adults as well as the acclaimed graphic novel series Aya de Yopougon. With the first volume’s recent translation into English, Abouet gives American readers insight into the Ivory Coast of her childhood. This is an Ivory Coast which stands in stark opposition to the images of civil wars and AIDS dominating the African continent. The book’s preface quotes Myriam Montrat’s 1988 essay From the Heart of an African:

“The vision of Africa in the American mind is shaped by films, music, art, entertainment and the news media… (but) only the news media have the mission to inform. With regard to Africa, the media fail in this mission.”

Abouet’s book attempts to rectify this failure. It is a glimpse into an adolescent girl’s life in Abdijan circa 1978 under Ivorian president Félix Houphouët-Boigny, an Abdijan known as the “Paris of West Africa.”

On April 26, 2007, Abouet sat down with Neil Gaiman for an event assembled for the PEN World Voices festival of international literature in New York. The two discussed the idea of being an expatriate, noting that Abouet moved from her home to the colonizing nation. After the event, I sat down with Marguerite for a short interview. Keeping with the themes presented throughout the week-long PEN festival, the interview was conducted in translation between English and French.

The Ivory Coast as presented in Aya is a much different picture than what we are shown every day through the Western media.

Yes, I have relatives living there, and I’m visiting often. There are even people living there now just like Aya, even though the story is set in 1978. They want to advance their lives, they have good relationships with people and their relatives, and everything’s going fine, even though there are problems with AIDS. It’s everywhere. It doesn’t only happen in the Ivory Coast, it’s in every country. But people are still living normally.

As an African person living in France, I don’t want to see how badly the media represents the Ivory Coast. The African people have enough of these very bad, miserable images of Africa that the media will show. Even now people will still say to me, “I’m not going to Africa because I’m really afraid to see all these miserable people.” It’s almost as easy as saying you don’t want to go to the United States because you’re afraid to get a bullet in the head.

Your bio mentions that you write novels that you have yet to show to your publishers. How does writing prose differ from writing comics, and what are these novels like?

It’s easier to do a graphic novel. Even if I don’t know how to draw -- I’m not an illustrator -- I have more liberty in the graphic novel. Also, the audience is broader.

Before, I wrote novels for young adults. There are a lot of rules and codes for writing young adult novels, and you have fewer liberties. You’re not allowed to talk about sex; there are many taboos. In the publishing house, after you write your novel for young adults, there are people going after you and getting rid of everything that can be shocking. After that, you are not the writer anymore. I stopped writing novels for a moment because I didn’t have time anymore. But now I want to do a comics thriller and another story about AIDS.

Where did Aya come from, and is it autobiographical?

It’s autobiographical in the way that it’s the Ivory Coast that I know. The characters are based on my neighbors. They had complicated stories and affairs with men. So the characters and places are things I know in real life. The story itself is fiction.

What made you start writing for comics?

Marjane Satrapi is really the one who gave me the idea to write comics -- at first I was absolutely not a comics writer. And Joann Sfar is my editor in Paris. I like what he has been doing and what he is doing now. For a long time in France there were only comics with superheroes. But with Joann Sfar there appeared what we call the graphic novel, le roman graphique, and that is more what interests me.

I feel like girls were not really involved in comics, and comics were not really for girls. I hated when I was young to read superheroes. Except for Spider-Man. He was a normal guy -- he was having affairs with girls. He had complicated stories with girls and his aunt and everything, so I felt he was closer to me. And he was beautiful also. I was in love with Spider-Man. But otherwise I didn’t feel close to the superheroes. I wasn’t concerned with them.

And now with Satrapi and Sfar, who are telling real stories about real life, there are more and more women doing comics and graphic novels. So now it’s really open to a broader audience, including girls. Really it’s Marjane Satrapi who influenced me to start doing graphic novels.

You’ve published two volumes of Aya de Yopougon in France, and a third is on its way. Will those also be translated in the future?

I hope so. Then Americans can buy it.
 
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  AYA in Code Z

Updated May 1, 2007


Postcolonial Comedy
Review by Ed Hall
CODE Z

In Aya, (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007) most of the men behave like wayward boys, the boys treat girls like distant targets, the girls remain in motion to set the rules for "target practice," and the women shake their heads over it all. Creators Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie set their sequential-picture narrative ("graphic novel" always strikes me as a glib misnomer) in late-1970s working-class Abidjan, at that time still the capital of Ivory Coast. Their story has familiar elements of postcolonial literature, but Native Ivorian Abouet and Paris-born Oubrerie play things largely for laughs.

Nineteen-year-old Aya sounds like the voice of reason as she watches a TV ad for Solibra, "the strong man's beer." Why, she wonders, would anyone "think of beer as a vitamin"? Also watching are her father, who markets Solibra, and her friends Adjoua and Bintou. These loved ones of Aya's lack her perspicacity: Dad sucks up to his ominous caudillo of a boss, Mister Sissoko, and on business trips he cozies up to women other than his wife. Bintou would "rather dance than study," and Adjoua makes a habit of chasing young men Bintou is already dating.

So hapless and clownish are the boys in Aya that readers might wonder what the attraction is. The answer, of course, is that these characters are teenagers. How much the males change with age is the question that keeps returning, though. Bintou even gets caught nasty-dancing with Adjoua's father (which might explain Adjoua's later misbehavior), and Aya has to enlist strangers to help fend off one fellow's increasingly aggressive come-on.

All of which sounds dire indeed, which Aya is not. It feels, instead, more like a bedroom farce, minus the bedrooms, as its teenage paramours resort to coupling wherever they can manage. Oubrerie excels at the depiction of indigoed nightscapes amid the Abidjan equivalent of Lovers' Lane: the market square after hours, here nicknamed the "Thousand Star Hotel." Turns of phrase, including that one, and her low-key, on-target dialogue are Abouet's strengths. Together, they create a (mostly) gentle comedy of manners that brings a faraway place and time to vivid life in the reader’s hands.
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AYA in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated April 24, 2007


WORDS AND PICTURES: Justice League of America #1-7 and Justice Society of America #1-4.
By Khari J. Sampson, Ed Hall, Jonathan Williams
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
04/21/0

Aya. By Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95. Mature readers (sexual situations).

As a comedy of manners set in late-1970s working-class Abidjan —- when that city was still capital of Africa's Ivory Coast —- "Aya" has many favorable qualities. As a graphic novel whose text has been translated into English, this attractive volume has some instructive problems.

The title character and her two best friends, all African teenagers, discover a mysterious race of beings: boys. The girls' parents —- like girls' parents everywhere —- provide the friction and laughter here. My favorite bit has a dad who returns home slightly inebriated but not too much to do his nightly foot count. Division by two tells him that his six kids, two nieces and "that good for nothing nephew" are all in bed, as they should be. What he doesn't know is that one pair of feet belongs to a ringer and that his daughter Adjoua is out dancing.

"Aya" is a strikingly beautiful book, thanks to the skillful cartooning and lively palette of Paris-born Clement Oubrerie. The script, by native Ivorian Marguerite Abouet, is sure and full of intriguing local detail.

The aforementioned problems affect Abouet's dialogue: The hand-lettered speech balloons sometimes show lax planning as words collide or letters are squeezed in order to fit. Whether this trouble stems from "Aya" being a work in translation is unknown, but at least one exchange also suffers from a misplacement of the balloons themselves that breaks the natural flow of conversation.

These lapses scarcely detract from the entertainment that "Aya" offers, but they seem uncharacteristic for a comics publisher of Drawn & Quarterly's experience. The analogy that comes to mind is a nice foreign film with a few illegible subtitles. Sure, it happens . . . but why?

—- Ed Hall
 
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  AYA in New Jersey Record

Updated April 24, 2007


AYA
by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
THE RECORD
EVELYN SHIH
15 April 2007

Two recent graphic novels are distinctly adult offerings - but, stylistically, that's where their similarities end. One is a tale of 1970s Ivory Coast told in a narrative French graphic-novel style, the other a pin-off story in the style of America's superhero comics.

"Aya" is a story that captures a rural town in a newly independent, post-colonial Ivory Coast through the stories of the eponymous young woman and her friends. It's a bright patch in the soon-to-be-bloody history of that country, written by a woman who immigrated to France at the age of 12. Less political than the work of Chinua Achebe, "Aya" nevertheless demystifies African life with a warm and energetic new voice.
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AYA in Washington Post Media Mix

Updated April 16, 2007


COMIC
Aya
By Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

BASIC STORY:

This award-winning graphic novel tells of the titular heroine's attempts to balance the pull of romance and personal ambition across a huge class divide in the Ivory Coast in 1978.

SAMPLE GRAB:

"As if being pathetic wasn't enough, you've started reproducing!"

-- Would-be Lothario Moussa is reprimanded by his mother for getting a girl pregnant

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE:

Oubrerie's style animates both the broadly funny and painfully grave moments in Abouet's rhythmic slice-of-life storytelling.

WHAT YOU WON'T:

Despite the distinctive setting of 1970s Africa, "Aya" hews to too many cliches in the girl-coming-of-age genre. -- E.N.

GRADE: A-
 

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  AYA in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Updated April 16, 2007


COMICS There's a world of comics out there
BY VAN JENSEN
12 April 2007
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette

In that vein is Aya (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95), the story of three teenage girls living on the Ivory Coast. While the plot is nothing remarkable, the setting of this slice-of-life tale makes it worthy. As with Kampung Boy, Aya gives readers a full picture of its setting - Africa's west coast - and shows people as complex characters who make mistakes and grow from them. It's universal in that respect.

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AYA in the School Library Journal

Updated April 16, 2007


Aya
ABOUET, Marguerite
Clement Oubrerie
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
March 2007

Studious Aya and her flighty party-girl friends, Adjoua and Bintou, live in suburban Ivory Coast in 1978. Aya hopes to continue her studies and become a doctor, while her father, a manager at a local brewery, would rather see her marry well. Unfortunately, the mate he has in mind for her, the son of his boss, is an even bigger partier than Bintou and Adjoua–as all will soon find out. Aya is actually more observer than participant–most of the action revolves around the peripheral characters–although she is often an instigator. This realistic story immerses readers in the life of an Ivorian teen of the period. Yet for those familiar with the civil unrest occurring in this part of Africa during the ensuing years, the simplicity of life depicted can’t help but be extra poignant; the subplot of one teen’s unplanned pregnancy has universal elements. Oubrerie’s images are comic and light, somewhat reminiscent of Joann Sfar’s, who edited this collection when it was first published in France. There is also some fun back matter, including a glossary, how to wrap a pagne (skirt cloth), and a few recipes. This pleasing volume will make a good addition to graphic-novel collections.–Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD
 

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  AYA in Metro News

Updated April 2, 2007


published february 12, 2007
Aya a wonderful journey into Africa



Aya
Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie
Drawn & Quarterly
$21.95/$19.95 US (Hardcover)
**** (out of five)

The best works of literature have the ability to effortlessly transport you to different times and places and will surround you with characters full of depth and richness to complete your mind’s journey.
Reading Aya is like taking a luxury cruise to late-1970s Africa — Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast to be more specific — where we are immersed in the lives of the title character, her two best friends and a colourful and quirky cast of characters.
Writer Marguerite Abouet and artist Clément Oubrerie deliver a fun and quick-witted tale of teen pleasures and troubles as the sensible Aya watches with fascination while her friends outwit their parents and sometimes even themselves in pursuit of fun times.
The wonderfully immersive setting of the book is working-class neighbourhood of Yopougon with its vivid colours and distinctive tastes — offering a sadly seldom seen more joyous and identifiable side of African life that is truly fascinating.

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AYA in the Wichita City Paper

Updated April 2, 2007


Aya celebrates life
By Mark David Bradshaw
mbradshaw@wichitacitypaper.com

Mar 15, 2007
First-time graphic novelist Marguerite Abouet achieves a very rare and winning tone in Aya, her newly released book from Drawn & Quarterly. She sets this teenager’s story in her native Ivory Coast in 1978, during that West African nation’s brief stretch of halcyon years between the end of French colonialism in 1960 and a near economic collapse in the early 1980s. During the span of the “Ivorian Miracle,” the country stood as a counterpoint and dot of inspiration for a liberated but tumultuous Africa.

Aya is a suburban girl in a working-class neighborhood of the capital city Abidjan. While her father, a quickly climbing beer salesman, and his businessman friends plan and strive to take advantage of their country’s good fortune, Aya’s young girlfriends are captivated by the beat of late-night disco and enthralled by the power they wield over young men. Much of the drama of the book revolves around their romantic plotting, which gains them free drinks and excitement but also brings them unexpected (though not unsurprising) consequences.

Aya herself mostly stands apart from all this. She’s a very intelligent girl who only has eyes for her schoolwork and who thinks of her broad future in medicine rather than of the sharp, fleeting present. There’s something of a Georgian or Victorian heroine in her stern yet smiling composure. As her friends sweat to lure away each other’s men, Aya is content to laugh and occasionally play match-maker, pairing her ardent male suitors with girls more their speed.

Through these amorous sub-stories, Abouet strikes many incidental notes of heyday Ivorian culture — the gossip, the courting, the fried plantains at the market — but she also plays the immediately familiar chord of suburban life. There is passion here, in anger, in wanting, and in miniature betrayals, but it’s not the desperate lust of wartime or the sick, swallowed need of famine. Instead, it’s the workaday passion of an Africa rarely glimpsed amid the many news reports of upheaval and strife.

It’s this atmosphere of days spent in vibrant, fragile living that give Aya its perfect tone. Abouet’s script is easy and involving, and the illustrations by Parisian artist Clement Oubrerie are playfully understated but rich in sunlight, color, and graceful lines. He delineates each character in face and hairstyle and especially in the ways they move: heavyset fathers shake awkwardly on the dance floor as their gazelle-like daughters lithely escape their bedroom windows.

The one weakness of the book is that its hero, Aya, never becomes its protagonist. She’s the background character to the stories of her friends and family — the girls who disco, the boys who pursue, the father who rises and arrives — but her own story, whatever it may be, never fully takes off. Thus, the book has the feeling of being the “early chapters” of Aya’s life, when she’s still relegated to being an observer, albeit a sensible and admirable one, of other people’s mistakes. With her composure and her smarts, she’s like a capable Nancy Drew not yet enlivened by a mystery or any itch for a solution.

It would be fantastic to see Abouet recount Aya’s continuing experiences and hoped-for medical studies in further volumes: in fact, she has already published a sequel in French, and it can’t make its way into English fast enough. With Aya, she and Oubrerie have created a remarkable setting and cast of characters; what still remains is for them to use those excellent elements to tell an equally remarkable story.
 
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  AYA reviewed on Newsarama's Best Shots

Updated April 2, 2007


Aya
Written by Marguerite Abouet
Illustrated by Clément Oubrerie
Published by Drawn + Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Aya is Abouet’s first graphic novel. It’s worth mentioning, because you wouldn’t guess it from reading the book. Born and raised in the Ivory Coast, Abouet’s intention seems to have been to write a book about the daily culture of her homeland, offering a vision of the African continent that is rarely seen amid the regular reports of starvation, genocide and internet swindles that seem to be Africa’s only news exports.

However, Abouet goes well beyond a simple look at the life of the millions living on the so-called dark continent. She also delves into the darkest and most intimidating territory of all – the hearts of teenage girls! Aya tells of three young girls – titular and scholarly Aya, along with easy-going, fun-loving friends Adjoua and Bintou – and their relationships with each other, friends, family and *gasp* teenage boys.

Set during the Ivory Coast’s golden era of the late 70s, Aya offers an intriguing vision of how similar and how different these girls are from American girls of the same age. Abouet captures readers with the social institutions of her homeland by providing each girl’s perspective on social interaction and comparing those ideals against the expectations of the girls’ friends and families. Aya’s parents want her to get together with Moussa, because his parents are wealthy, but Aya wants no part of him; she’s rather study and become a doctor and provide for herself. Meanwhile, Bintou won’t give Moussa the time of day, until she finds out his family’s well-to-do status, and then she can’t wait to spend time with him. And Adjoua … well, that would spoil it.

Abouet fills the book with a gentle, dry humor that makes all the characters, despite their flaws and in support of their charms, instantly appealing. (The two pages devoted to a date between minor characters Féli and Hervé is a particular highlight.) The familial dynamics are all recognizable, but the obsession with public image and the community-wide hoohah associated with a wedding is something that most Americans don’t see as stringently today as in years past.

Oubrerie’s art is a slightly mixed bag. Sticking to a six-panel grid, his storytelling is rock solid, with clean panel progressions and enough variety of angles to keep the reader engaged. His loose, slightly sloppy lines carry the emotions of the characters effectively. His one great failing is his inability to establish Aya, Bintou and Adjoua as physically distinct women. Readers have to pay attention to dialogue cues to tell which of the girls is present in certain scenes. (Try to remember that Aya’s hair is pulled back, Bintou wears braids, and Adjoua has the chin-length locks).

Aya is more than just a good comic book. It’s a historical document, a window into the recent past of a country whose better days weren’t so long ago. It’s a testament to the inherent humanity that crosses race and geographic borders. And it’s a warm, charming reflection on the universality of teenage girls, arranged marriages (for reasons that marriages are still arranged even in this country today) and societal expectations.
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Aya, We Are On Our Own and Abandon the Old in Tokyo picked for Booklist's top 10 Graphic Novels

Updated March 30, 2007


Top 10 Graphic Novels
Olson, Ray
609 words
15 March 2007
Booklist

Abouet, Marguerite and Oubrerie, Clement
Aya

Oubrerie suffuses Abouet's gently nuanced story with the ambient sunlight of the late-1970s Ivory Coast, where smart young Aya begins to find her way despite less-forward-thinking friends and family.

Katin, Miriam
We Are on Our Own

Animator Katin brings high artistic skills to a first graphic novel recounting her and her mother's escape from Nazi-occupied Budapest and her mother's search for her husband after the war.

Tatsumi, Yoshihiro
Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Tr. by Yuji Oniki. Ed. by Adrian Tomine

Comics-for-adults pioneer Tatsumi's powerful stories characteristically feature weary, emasculated working-class men, often paired with resentful women and typifying those who remain defeated even during the Japanese economic miracle of the 1970s.
 

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Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Miriam Katin
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya




  Aya in Ottawa Citizen

Updated March 30, 2007


The Citizen's Weekly Arts & Books
The other Africa: A comic-book return to the Ivory Coast
The Ottawa Citizen
25 March 2007

Aya
By Marguerite Abouet
Illustrated by Clement Oubrerie

The Ivory Coast, an African nation that belied the tragedy befalling most parts of Africa in the 1970s, is the setting for a new graphic novel by a French writer and illustrator.

Aya is written by Marguerite Abouet, who was born in Abidjan and lived in the Ivory Coast capital until she was 12, and illustrated by Clement Oubrerie, a children's books artist and co-founder of a 3-D animation studio in France.

The book tells the story of a teenager growing up and dating in Yop City in 1978, during the Ivory Coast's "golden time" when the country stood out as an oasis of affluence and stability in West Africa. It had received independence in 1960 and under the leadership of its charismatic president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was flourishing.

Abouet's book, which has already won an international comics festival award, has been called an "irresistible comedy" without any political agenda -- "capturing the country's brief flicker of postcolonial peaceful prosperity before descending into the modern maelstrom of corruption and violence we know only too well."

As the book notes, during the time in which Aya's story takes place, the production index was the highest in Africa and what was commonly referred to as the "Ivorian miracle" resulted in unprecedented wealth.

Alisia Grace Chase, who wrote the preface for Aya, also points out that Abouet's "gently comic" narrative and sexily piquant recipes, coupled with Oubrerie's drawings, "remind us of art's power to make another time and place come alive."

The Ivory Coast was virtually an anomaly, she says. "Looking back on it, however, many economists wonder if this miracle was only a mirage."

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Aya in Miami Herald

Updated March 30, 2007


Graphic novels
rap@WordsOnWords.com
CARTOONS ENLIVEN HISTORY LESSONS

• Aya. Marguerite Abouet (story) and Clément Ouberie (art). Drawn & Quarterly. 112 pages. $19.95 in color.

Aya is a delightful tale centered around a teenage girl, her friends and their community in the African nation of Ivory Coast during the late 1970s. Whether strictly autobiographical or not, the life of Abouet, its author, informs this cheerfully sudsy story of love and friendship, evocatively illustrated by Parisian Ouberie. Despite geographic and cultural differences, teenage girls (and boys) display common foibles, strengths and dreams, and Aya left this reader yearning for the next chapter in the lives of these vibrant and vivacious characters.

RICHARD PACHTER
 
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  Aya in Venus

Updated March 30, 2007


'Aya' by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
Venus

What was West Africa like in the 1970s? This graphic novel presents a rare glimpse through the lifestyles of teenage girls on the Ivory Coast
by Lisa Brunton

The Women’s Movement was in full roar in the Western part of the world in the late 1970s, but for Aya, a 19-year-old West African native living in the francophone Ivory Coast of 1978, it’s a different story in Marguerite Abouet’s graphic novel named after its title character.

Aya and her two friends, Adjoua and Bintou, live in the working-class town of Yopougon (glamorized by the locals as “Yop City” to sound more American). They experience the same challenges young women in 21st century America struggle with: sex, parents, and life after high school.

While Adjoua and Bintou dance the night away with any man who will foot the bill and have steamy midnight rendezvous at the empty market square, known locally as the Thousand Star Hotel, Aya seeks out a different kind of rebellion. She prefers to stay home studying and nursing her dream of becoming a doctor, not exactly realistic for a woman at the time. Aya’s father is completely opposed to her ambitions, and more tensions between the generations heat up when all of the parents try to control their children who do not want to be considered children any longer.

Aya unflinchingly displays the personal lives of African young women as they encounter serious life events, like sexual advances from older men, domestic abuse, rivalry, pregnancy, and economic prejudice. While the characters and scenarios in Abouet’s story present a day-to-day view of West Africa barely seen outside of newspaper blurbs summarizing the country’s political strife, at times it feels as if Abouet, who herself spent her childhood in the Ivory Coast’s capital city of Abidjan before moving to France, barely scratches the surface of her characters’ deeply complicated lives. With most stories lasting no longer than a two-page spread, Aya suffers from a lack of emotional depth that could have made it excellent.

The illustrations, however, are hands down wonderful. Clement Ouberie, a native Parisian children’s book illustrator, provides softly rounded drawings full of movement and expression. They bring us into Africa by creating distance between the reader and the characters to include active city backgrounds and wide-angle expository pictures, an Africa colored by French pop music and Dallas episodes.

For the culturally curious, a special bonus section at the back includes Ivorian fashion, recipes, and slang. You can learn how to roll your tabassa, wear a pagne, make an African ginger drink, and cook a peanut sauce, giving you a taste of real African traditions.
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Contra Costa Times reviews Aya

Updated March 30, 2007


Contra Costa Times
Section: Time Out
Published: 03/25/2007
The graphic novel biz is going gangbusters
Byline: Randy Myers

"Aya," written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95, 112 pages). This "My So-Called Life" set on the 1978 Ivory Coast gracefully immerses us into the rhythmic everydayness of African village life. Three women in their late teens _ the showy Bintou, the secretive Ajoua and the loyal Aya _ find their friendships and families weathering surprising revelations and entanglements. Abouet and Oubrerie act as convincing tour guides, presenting us with a lush, funny and humane Africa, one that's rarely depicted. B+
 
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  Aya editor's pick in Body + Soul

Updated March 28, 2007


Aya (Drawn and Quarterly) by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie is a graphic novel (grown-up comic book) about a spirited and single 19-year-old Ivory Coast woman dealing with family, work, friends, and romance. A cliché-busting glimpse into life in modern Africa.
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D + Q spotlighted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Updated March 26, 2007


graphic novels
By Cliff Froehlich
SPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH
03/25/2007

Smaller than Fantagraphics but just as ambitious in its aesthetic goals, the Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly (www.drawnandquarterly.com) publishes some of graphic lit's finest artists, including Chester Brown, Joe Sacco, Jason Lutes and St. Louis' Kevin Huizenga.

Through the various incarnations of its titular anthology, "Drawn and Quarterly," the company also has helped introduce English-speaking audiences to an impressive array of significant international artists, a mission it continues to fulfill with books by such talents as Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Tove Jansson, and the team of Phillipe Dupuy and Charles Berberian.

Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie's "Aya" (112 pages, $19.95) is D&Q's latest cross-cultural gift, a charming and unexpectedly cheery coming-of-age story set in the Ivory Coast during the late 1970s. Refreshing as it is to read a tale of Africa that doesn't deal in genocide, famine or general strife, "Aya" sometimes veers dangerously close to the life lessons of young-adult lit, with the eponymous good-girl heroine hectoring her boy-crazy friends Adjoua and Bintou about their scandalous ways.

But if the general outlines of the story are familiar, the specifics are delightfully exotic, with Abouet vividly sketching the environs and rituals of Abidjan during its regrettably brief time as the "Paris of West Africa." She's considerably aided by Oubrerie's loose, energetic and vibrantly colored art.

In addition to its more traditional graphic-lit offerings, Drawn and Quarterly dabbles in what might be termed art books with comics connections. Some are quite elaborate, such as artist Steve Mumford's "Baghdad Journal," a hardcover compendium of drawings and watercolors made in Iraq during the war.

But the company also publishes a line of small paperbacks called Petites Livres. The latest is cartoonist Charles Burns' "One Eye" (144 pages, $14.95), a collection of digital photographs in which the artist juxtaposes two pictures to alternately ironic, disquieting and amusing effect. Photos of toys, pets, body parts, food, household objects, landscapes and architectural details play off one another in fascinating and often disturbing ways, eliciting the same creeping unease as Burns' eerily perfect drawing style.

Cliff Froehlich is executive director of Cinema St. Louis, presenter of the St. Louis International Film Festival.
 
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  Aya and One Eye in Onion

Updated March 23, 2007



Apparently, cartoonist Charles Burns' predilection for juxtaposing the mundane and the bizarre extends to his photography. In One Eye (Drawn & Quarterly/Petits Livres), the Black Hole graphic novelist combines separate images into single pictures, sometimes accentuating the beauty of a nature scene, and sometimes making industrial landscapes, motel rooms and found objects look extra creepy. Aside from a one-paragraph intro at the start of the book, none of the disjointed visions herein are given any context. But then how much context does a shot of a pound cake fused to a shot of ground meat need? It's almost more disturbing without explanation… B+


The Marguerite Abouet-written, Clément Oubrerie-drawn Aya (Drawn & Quarterly) is the latest example of the burgeoning "growing up in exotic lands" genre, though Abouet lightly fictionalizes her girlhood on the Ivory Coast, working it into a multi-character, episodic story about teenagers in trouble during the waning days of an African nation's boom years. Abouet has lived in France since she was 12, and seems to have internalized the French method of comics storytelling, which emphasizes vivid moments over narrative payoff. Still, those moments are frequently poignant and—as drawn by Oubrerie—filled with the atmosphere of a hot, dusty country flush with excess cash… B
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The Montreal Mirror spotlights Aya

Updated March 21, 2007


Teens in Abidjan
Marguerite Abouet draws a happier picture of ’70s Africa in her graphic memoir Aya

Aya by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated
By Clement Oubrerie, Drawn &
Quarterly hc, 102pp, $21.95

Aya, the heroine of Marguerite Abouet’s first graphic novel, is exactly the kind of girl you’ll probably find in Oprah Winfrey’s recently unveiled élite school for girls in Africa. Though born into a small, working-class town on the Ivory Coast, she believes she can become a doctor if she keeps her mind focused on staying in the “science stream” of her local public high school.

Her friends Bintou and Ajoua, on the other hand, are the kind of girls you’ll be more likely to find on Dr. Phil, should he ever decide to go in and start solving Africa’s problems: sexy, teenage small-town girls vying for the attention of guys who aren’t worth the energy. The only difference between them and their North American counterparts are the insults: “Shut up. That mouth of yours is bigger than a cow’s behind!” and my personal favourite, “Who’s talking? You flat skulled lizard!”

It may seem incongruous in this day and age, when Africa is facing devastating political, health and economic crises, when the continent is so desperate for attention and help with the chaos of the here and now, to review a graphic novel set in a relatively happy time and place in Africa’s history, 1978 Abidjan. And yet there’s something deliciously ironic about the release of this book (originally written in French) in a North America where so many people believe that African women have never known wealth, glamour and education until Oprah Winfrey took it upon herself to teach them about it.

The book’s preface, however, does a great job of reminding readers that Africa has never been entirely bereft of good times. They just weren’t times that had a chance of lasting. One example is the 30-year administration of charismatic president Félix Houphouët-Boigny, once referred to as the “Ivorian miracle.” An economy based on small-scale agriculture, instead of large industrial projects, meant that, for a time, the Ivory Coast was able to boast the highest GNP in Africa. Abidjan, its sophisticated wealthy capital city, was often referred to as the “Paris of West Africa.” Sadly, as the famous African saying goes, things fall apart. This is especially true of laissez-faire economic policy, the mirage upon which the “Ivorian miracle” was based. Today the region is now more often used as an example of the consequences of economic growth without sustained development.

Even if that time is gone, Abouet’s quirky and charming memoir is a gem. It tells the story of a small gang of teenagers negotiating life amidst the ice-cream-coloured squalor of a working-class town. Every night, propelled by the discovery of disco and the country’s first national beer campaign, the village youth escape from the vanilla, pink and green concrete houses where their families live. The village square is loud, fun and sexy. But healthy poverty is still, unfortunately, poverty. Lurking on the outskirts of the dances where gorgeous teenage girls shake their “tassaba” are the wealthy sons of Abidjan’s upper class looking for any chance to exploit a naïve dream of social mobility.

Spoilt heirs are hardly the only villains lurking in the shadows. Randy fathers relentlessly rub up against the daughter’s best friends. Aya, not much of a partier herself, spends too many of her days outrunning lecherous alley stalkers. And the village healer charges 10,000 francs for an abortion, which she’s more likely to perform with knitting needles than mysterious herbs. But whatever the challenges these kids face, these times are a far cry from genocide, AIDS and lost boys.

Clèment Oubrerie’s rich and entertaining illustrations do much to re-create the feeling of tenuous creativity and fun that keeps these kids from grinding cynicism. In an age when all we ever see of Africa is graphic violence and despair, somehow it feels oddly right to take a moment to appreciate this small but impressive work of graphic hope.
 
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  Aya in The Comics Journal

Updated March 21, 2007


Aya
Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Drawn & Quarterly
112 pages, $19.95
ISBN-10: 1894937902
ISBN-13: 9781894937900


The titular heroine, too smart to stay in the limelight for long, and her two closest friends, who aren't. Sequence from Aya, ©2007 Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie.
Marguerite Abouet's fictionalized account of 1970s village life in Africa's Ivory Coast takes two themes — sex and wealth — and weaves them into a rich and inviting soap opera. At its most basic level, Aya is a fairly straightforward account of young adults pairing off and exploring romance: some making life-altering mistakes along the way; others hanging back and watching others make their mistakes. Among the latter is the nominal lead character, Aya herself, practically sidelined by her relative lack of interest in either sex or easy prosperity. Aya avoids men because she sees how much the mating dance has shaped the lives of her friends; she studies diligently in hopes of becoming a doctor, so that she might be able to fashion a better life with her own two hands. These are both wise and worthy life choices for a teenager, but they also render her a supporting character, the self-appointed Greek Chorus observing life as it swirls around her. She'll undoubtedly join the chaos once she's ready, but for the moment, she's content to watch those around her provide object lessons in what not to do.

The setting adds a thin veneer of exoticism to the proceedings. It's a false veneer, but it may take a few pages to realize this. Aya is engaging in the way it depicts the everyday lives of ordinary people: Folks go to school, trudge off to work, plan for the future and allow themselves to be ensnared in domestic entanglements on the Ivory Coast the same way they do everywhere else. The rich segregate themselves off from the peasants and delude themselves into seeing their differences as having some deeper meaning than mere money and leisure time — perhaps a little more overtly there than here, but the principle is roughly the same regardless.


Wealth is implied by open interior spaces and bright, lifeless color. Sequence from Aya, ©2007 Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie.
In fact, despite the seemingly overwhelming emphasis on the courtships between boys and girls, it's the class distinctions and the power of wealth to dictate one's surroundings that truly sit at the heart of this story, informing many of its characters' actions and dictating the resulting consequences. Men defer to the rich because it could lead to improved job prospects. Girls are attracted to men with money, hoping that the security offered by others will take the onus to forge their own futures off of them.

These twin themes come together in the relationship between one of Aya's friends and Moussa, the son of the local oligarch. At first, it seems as though they fall together through sheer happenstance. It's only after you hit the final page that you realize that one of the two has been playing fast and loose with the truth in order to get what they wanted. It's a neat trick insofar as you don't see it coming, yet it makes perfect sense in the face of what you've learned about the assumptions of the town's inhabitants.


Dancing at night, enveloped in warm colors. Sequence from Aya, ©2007 Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie.
Marguerite Abouet weaves her tale with a rich sense of character and a keen eye for detail, the two elements that invariably separate good melodrama from mere soap opera. She doesn't call attention to the specifics of life in the Irovy Coast; rather, she wraps her characters in subtle detail and lets them fulfill their roles at a natural pace, allowing incidental business to keep the eye busy while the story unfolds. The way women dress, the way men chase after them — these are presented as well-worn paths, and Abouet's characters walk along them and go about their business without pausing to notice such surroundings. A lesser artist would have stopped at every point along the way, noting the details and revelling in the chance to show his or her readers Life On Another Continent, but this strategy would only make the surroundings seem exotic and artifical, pushing the audience away and blunting a sense of indentification. That's not what happens here.

Clément Oubrerie adds life and flavor to Abouet's tale, rendering her detailed world in a warm, cartoony line that completes the illusion of a lived-in world without smothering it in excess detail. His sense of color is immaculate, shifting from warm tones to cool according to how Abouet wants the reader to approach the scene. Evening scenes may be bathed in dark reds or deep blues and purples, depending upon the required mood. It's as masterful a performance as the storytelling of its author, and the seamless way that art and writing blend together successfully paints a warm, vibrant tale of small-town life and the people who live it.
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Aya in Publishers Weekly Comics Week

Updated March 20, 2007


Aya comes to America
by Kate Culkin, PW Comics Week -- Publishers Weekly, 3/13/2007

Drawn and Quarterly has published the English-language version of Aya, a charming, award-winning graphic novel written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, that follows a group of young people coming of age in Ivory Coast in the 1970s. Originally released in French by Gallimard Jeunesse, Aya was awarded the Best First Album prize at the 2006 Angoulême International Comics Festival.

Just released in the U.S. with an initial print run of 10,000 copies, Aya portrays a more hopeful, prosperous Africa than the one typically seen in Western news. Abouet, originally from Ivory Coast and now living in Paris, explained in an e-mail interview with PW Comics Week, “I was so annoyed by the manner in which the media systematically showed the bad sides of the African continent, the usual litanies of war, famine, AIDS, and other catastrophes.” She added, “I wished to show the other side, to straightforwardly tell about the daily life of Africans.”

By turns humorous and touching, the book vividly depicts a specific time and place and addresses themes familiar to anyone who has endured adolescence. Aya, a serious, ambitious teenager, lives in the working-class neighborhood of Yopougon in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. She looks on with a judging eye at the romantic escapades of her two best girlfriends, Adjoua and Bintou. Aya’s father, who dismisses her plans to become a doctor, is promoted to traveling salesman which puts pressure on his marriage. The rest of the book’s supporting cast of family and friends is equally engaging and comical. A 10-page online preview of Aya is available here.

Oubrerie’s sun-washed illustrations bring the neighborhood of Yopougon to life. The artist, who has used visits to Ivory Coast to inform his drawings, explained in an e-mail interview with PW Comics Week that “walking through places like Yopougon's market is unique, and I did my best to transcribe those kinds of atmospheres with drawing and color.” The book also has a charming bonus section at the end offering local Ivorian recipes, a glossary of Ivorian terms—even instructions for tying a pagne (a cloth used as a skirt or head scarf) and how to use it to catch a man’s eye. The book also offers an introduction by Alisia Grace Chase, that adds historical context about the period in which the book is set.

Abouet originally planned to write a children’s book focused on Aya’s younger sister. But after showing her initial attempts to Oubrerie, they worked together to create a full-length graphic novel. Oubrerie, who has published over 40 children’s books, helped Abouet understand the special requirements of the form. He explains: “I preserved the element of graphic unity, which implies in a comic book that the writing and the drawing interact and adapt to one another.”

D&Q, which has published numerous foreign-language works in English, learned of Aya soon after it won the First Album prize. Helge Dascher translated the work into English. According to Peggy Burns, D&Q publicity director, Dascher “is very in tune for translating for a young adult audience, as well as deciding whether to keep colloquial references and phrases or finding a suitable English replacement.” Aya has already been translated into German and Spanish, but, as Oubrerie notes, “reaching the States, where comic books are popular, is a great opportunity for the book.”

“The book has so many possible audiences that we reached out to all of them with the galley,” Dascher says, including American Library Association members and professors and journals of African literature. The company also completed a large mailing of finished copies to library, academic, mainstream and targeted press lists including African-American book review and consumer periodicals.

To attract female readers, D&Q took the unusual step of running press spots in such urban lifestyle and pop culture journals as Vibe Vixen and Body+Soul. Abouet will appear at the Pen World Voices Literary Festival in New York City in April and may attend the International Festival of Authors in Toronto and the Vancouver International Writers Festival. The ALA has nominated the book as one of its 2008 Great Graphic Novels for Teens.

Aya 2 was published in France in November 2006, and Abouet and Oubrerie are currently working on the third volume, each of which D&Q has expressed interest in publishing. Both creators believe that Aya will change readers’ understanding of Africa. Abouet explained: “I wanted to show that African women really have the same dreams as all other women on the planet, and to show their daily life with their hopes, their dreams and their desires to fulfill themselves as modern women in Africa.”
 
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  Aya reviewed by the Daily Cross Hatch

Updated March 7, 2007


March 5, 2007 at 8:15 am | In Reviews |
Aya
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.

-Elizabeth Chou
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Aya reviewed by Las Vegas Weekly

Updated February 28, 2007


COMICS: A must-read Ivory Coast comic
And a return of the reptilian hominids
By J. Caleb Mozzocco
Aya
Drawn & Quarterly


Genocide, AIDS, poverty, warlords, marathon runners, civil war, starvation and lions—does that pretty much sum up the first things that come to mind when you hear the word "Africa"? If so, blame the media. The entertainment media tends to accentuate the negative, and the news media tends not to cover the continent at all. All of which makes Aya seem all the more unique and refreshing. Author Marguerite Abouet was born in the Ivory Coast's capital city of Abidjan in 1971 before moving to France in the '80s, and her graphic novel is set during the late '70s' so-called "Ivorian miracle," when the West African nation initially flourished shortly after gaining its independence from France.

The Abidjan of Abouet's youth isn't really there any more, as political upheaval and economic turnaround has since struck, but she and her artistic collaborator Clement Oubrerie bring it back to vivid life in this lighthearted French import. Their characters all seem so familiar that you might mistake them for your own neighbors, were it not for all the immersive regional slang.

The title of the book is also the name of the studious, levelheaded main character, but it's the romantic misadventures of her two best friends, unrepentant party girls Adjoua and Bintou, that actually drive the plot. Abouet's story reads like a multigenerational ensemble romantic comedy, and its familiarity despite its faraway setting makes it seem all the more exotic. It's easily the first absolute must-read of 2007.
 
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  Booklist gives AYA a starred review

Updated February 28, 2007


This is a starred review!

Abouet, Marguerite and Oubrerie, Clement. Aya. Feb. 2007. 112p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95

Intelligent, practical, and kind older teen Aya has best girl friends besotted by romance and sex. She also seems to know a plethora of guys who are either intoxicated with their own studliness or a bit dim. Set in late 1970s Ivory Coast, this accessible, engaging story features a relatively simple plotline—smart girl frustrated by less-forward-thinking friends and family––and delightfully thorough characterizations that resound with emotional universality as they manifest the particulars of a time and a place American readers otherwise rarely glimpse. In perfect keeping with the narrator’s youthful perspective, the young people’s parents are visually exaggerated to go with stunted personalities. The locale is evoked handsomely in scenes set in Aya’s working-class neighborhood, in her father’s boss’ chic mansion with its multiple living rooms, and during luminous nights some of the youngsters spend at the Thousand Star Hotel––that is, the nocturnally deserted market square. References to the period’s worldwide hit TV show, Dallas; the aural backdrop of French pop music; and the cast’s Ivorian traditional garments given a disco-twist vivify the rich cultural mixture of Western and newly independent African elements that Aya depicts. Abouet’s storytelling is straightforward but gently nuanced, while Oubrerie’s cartooning mixes sepia with bright hues that seem to reflect the ambient sunlight. ––Francisca Goldsmith

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Aya reviewed by Best of Most of

Updated February 14, 2007


Abouet, Marguerite and Oubrerie, Clement. Aya. Feb. 2007. 112p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95

On the heels of being underwhelmed by Anders Nilsen's "comics as abstraction" exercise in The End #1, we shift gears completely to look at a book that delivers on its promise of "an irresistible comedy, a couple of love stories and a tale for becoming African." If you're going to reset the Mainstream, you need a balance of books that includes material that's just a joy to read. Writer Marguerite Abouet's novel, Aya, with art by Clément Oubrerie, really captures the simple joys, and the pitfalls, of teenage life in Africa's Ivory Coast.

Set in the nation's more prosperous times of the late 1970s, Aya is a young girl with a solid head on her shoulders. Interested in becoming a doctor, Abouet sets her up as one almost to be ridiculed by the majority for her studiousness, while her friends fall victim to the cultural mores that lead teenager girls to believe their best hope for happiness is found at the foot of a man.

This isn't a dreary tale of an AIDS-infected, draught-ravaged Africa, but it also doesn't abandon the lessons of a culture where the self-image of the young is driven mainly by their sexual identity. Abouet creates very defined personalities for each character in the book and accomplishes her goal in showing men and women of this African country as more than just a starving, dying race that so dominates images from the Western media. It also works as a cautionary tale for young women. Abouet layers in the teenagers' previous generation that symbolize centuries of male dominance. Aya is juxtaposed against her friends whose thoughtless actions run them the risk of traveling down the same path.

Abouet's ability to capture the sexual politics forced on these young teenagers is as exact as it is unfortunate in black culture. Being engaged to a 29 year-old Jamaican girl (who spent the first 14 years of her life in a small parish in the centre of the island), the adventures of Aya's friends are exactly like her tales of how men judged their (and judged others) young masculinity in terms of sexual prowess. I could hear her words in Abouet's female characters that have identical stories of (even with mountains of historical evidence in their own family) carelessly caving into - sometimes even desiring - advances that would cost them their entire childhood. Unwanted (but shouldn't have been unexpected) pregnancies, and even death by STDs, marked generation after generation. The character of Aya is symbolic of a women's path to independence through education that is sometimes the exception in cultures that have very deep roots in the domination of man over woman.

Clément Oubrerie does an excellent job infusing warm, vibrant colours into what most people perceive as a country whose only colour is mud. His ability to capture the look of African townships is spot on...

Drawn and Quarterly is the publisher of this English version of Aya's first volume that won the 2006 award for Best First Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. The production values are excellent, the colours used by Oubrerie really shining on the page. It's a great slice of African life, and a welcome addition to a graphic novel scene that needs more books that celebrate life, rather than grovel in nihilistic self-pity at life's misfortunes. The irony is that African nations have millions of people that could bemoan their fate (far worse than 99% of us in North America) and it's important to have books like this celebrate the resilience of the human spirit. It's also just an easy, humourous read with bright, colourful artwork that leaves one smiling upon conclusion.
 
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  AYA reviewed in Publisher's Weekly

Updated January 5, 2007


Aya

MARGUERITE ABOUET AND CLÉMENT OUBRERIE. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (112p)
ISBN 978-1-894937-90-2

Abouet could have just wanted to tell a sweet, simple story of the Ivory Coast of her childhood as a counterpoint to the grim tide of catastrophic news, which is all most Westerners know of Africa. But in Aya, Abouet, along with Parisian artist Oubrerie, does quite a bit more than that, spinning a multifaceted romantic comedy that would satisfy even without any political agenda behind it. Set in 1970, Aya follows the travails of some teenage girls in the peaceful Abidjan working-class neighborhood of Yopougon (which they call "Yop City, like something out of an American movie"), as they strive for love and the right boyfriend. Yop City, as detailed in Oubrerie's fluid and cartoonish black and white drawings, is a mellow place where disco rules the night and practically the worst thing these girls have to worry about is the disapproval of their parents--or in the case of the quiet title character, criticism from those who wish she were more boy-crazed and less focused on a career. It's a quick piece of work, but memorable in mood, capturing the country's brief flicker of postcolonial peaceful prosperity before descending into the modern maelstrom of corruption and violence we know only too well. (Feb.)



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AYA gets a Starred Review in Library Journal

Updated December 21, 2006


This is a starred review!

Abouet, Marguerite & Clément Oubrerie (illus.). Aya. Drawn & Quarterly. Feb.
2007. 112p. ISBN 1-894937-90-2. $19.95. F

This fun and charming story of a bygone era recounts a few days in the life of 19-year-old Aya and her friends Adjoua and Bintou. Set in the working-class neighborhood of 1978 Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, we see the girls deal with friends, family, school, love, dating, dancing, and an unexpected pregnancy. Based on Abouet's remembrance of her childhood in Abidjan (she left for France when she was 12), the story, along with French illustrator Oubrerie's artwork, brings to life an Ivory Coast not seen before—a place overflowing with vibrant, rich textiles, new words, music, food, and lively characters filled with humor, love, and the hope for a better life. A wonderful glossary, illustrations on tying a pagne (a brightly colored cloth used mainly for skirts), and recipes are also included. Mature themes and issues will appeal to adult audiences, but the unique Ivory Coast setting and the female central characters make this book ideal for harder-to-please older teenage girls (ages 15+). Highly recommended. [This GN was reviewed from a black-and-white galley; the final version will be in color.—Ed.]—Melissa Aho, Metropolitan State Univ., St. Paul, MN
 

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