In the West, there are few topics of conversation more rife with generalities, prejudices, and fear than that of Africa—especially sub-Saharan Africa. How easy it is for us to make a vaguely ridiculous, generalized statements about the Earth’s second largest and second most populous continent without fear of scrutiny! Racism, the legacy of colonialism, and the pervasive, disfiguring, narratives attached to this legacy has bred an easy sort of ignorance about the histories, cultures, and day-to-day lives of the people(s) who call the African continent their home. Aya of Yop City offers a wonderful response to (or perhaps a reprieve from) the monolithic narratives that crowd our perceptions about “Africa.”
Written by Marguerite Abouet and drawn by Clément Oubrerie, this colorful, refreshing, and vibrant comic follows the adventures (and many misadventures) of the eponymous character and her two best friends as they navigate adolescence. The story takes place in Yopougon-Koute, which is a large suburb of Abdijan, the economic capital of the Ivory Coast. We enter the story at a particularly interesting point in the history of the Ivory Coast. Set in the 1970’s, Aya and her friends are living during the time of the “Ivorian Miracle,” a time at which there was a thriving middle class and unparalleled wealth and opportunities. Theirs is a moment of burgeoning freedom, and a large part of the fun of this book is watching as the young women contend with the values of their parents and elders while forging their own identities in a rapidly changing social and economic landscape.
Just as the main characters in “Aya” face issues that range from the most superficial teenage spats, to questions of their aspirations being limited by their gender, so too did our discussion range from larger sociopolitical realities evinced by the nuanced characters and stories in the book, to the pert and twinkling humor throughout. Helmed by our fearless leader, Justin Alba, our wonderful cast relived our teenage years while confronting our own biases and pre-conceived notions about “African” stories. Bintu Conteh, Columbia grad and arts administrator/producer at-large offered her fruitful insights as a student of history and culture, as well as a person of Sierra-Leonean descent. The effulgent Amna Pervez (who introduced Justin to this book), also provided personally relevant anecdotes interspersed with laser-sharp political and literary analysis. ComicsVerse writer and intern, Tim O’Reilly proved to be an incredibly insightful reader and thinker in this, his first ever podcast!
If you’re in the mood for a witty, subtle, and enlightening read, be sure to pick up Aya of Yop City. In the mean time, enjoy the podcast!