Marguerite Abouet is an African cartoonist born at Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 1971. At twelve years old Abouet and her brother were sent to Paris, France to study and reside with their maternal great-uncle. After ending her studies before graduation, Abouet pursued a career in writing. At present, she lives Romainville, Paris, with her spouse and comic artist Clément Oubrerie, and their son. In Paris Abouet took up a paralegal position. During this time she wrote her most popular work the graphic novelAya. Prior to writing Aya, Abouet attempted to create Young Adult novels, although she soon ended the project in disappointment because her publishers imposed too many restrictions on the genre. She soon quit the post of legal assistant in order to focus exclusively on her writing. Since this time Abouet completed parts two and three of the six part series of Aya:  Aya of Yop City and Aya: The Secrets Come Out. With an indigent writing style, Abouet tells the story of a lively Africa before the days of the shackles of war and famine.

An appealing pleasantry ordered around several romances, Aya is a series that is more than just becoming African; it is as well an eternal narrative children around the world must read. The story is centered on Abouet’s youth in the Ivory Coast of the 1970s, a blooming, optimistic instant in culture, to recount a self-effacing and peacefully amusing description of a forgotten Africa—forceful, expectant, and resilient. This Abouet’s first published book in addition to her first endeavour into graphic novels. Iranian-born novelist’s Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis  influenced Abouet to go into graphic comics. Certainly, Aya was created to exemplify an “Africa with a spotlight on apprehensions that rise above battle and hunger—the opposite of what the media usually centres on in representing African culture” (Drawn & Quarterly). Abouet’s characters are knowledgeable, hard workers who plan their expectations and areplauged with household quandaries that happen in the Ivory Coast every day.  The film adaptations of Aya appeared from 2006-2012. Although Abouet claims that the book series is not reflexive of her life, the sense that is the Ivory Coast is real. Her situations are simply fictional, but the people in the stories are formulated on people from her infancy. Among the many accolades Aya has achieved is capturing the 2006  the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for First Comic Book, selling over 200,000 copies in France (Drawn & Quaerterly). In North America, Drawn and Quarterly issues the English editions of Aya, producing more than 10,000 copies just in the United States. Indeed, Aya is an extraordinary accomplishment for a debut graphic novel in the United States. Abouet persuaded her French press to sell cheaper, soft-cover version of Aya in the Ivory Coast.

Set in the Ivory Coast of the 1970s, the Aya series records a golden time in African culture, and the Ivory Coast nation, too—a retreat of prosperity and permanence in West Africa that is powered by an unexplainable wondrousness. Largely centered on Marguerite Abouet’s formative years in Yop City, Aya “narrates the tale of the reflective and discerning adolescent Aya, her resilient commrades Adjoua and Bintou, as well as their interfering relatives and neighbors” (Drawn & Quarterly n. pag). Aya is ironically humorous, blustery tale of the straightforward delight and personal plights of daily existence in Yop City. The series ran from 2005-2010.

In November 2005 Abouet released part one of the Aya series, Aya de Yopougon, Tome 1. In this first tome set in the Ivory Coast of 1978, family and friends meet at Aya’s dwelling almost every night to take in the nation’s first television commercial campaign endorsing the invigorating effects of the ale Solibra. Amid the hot and sunny neighbourhoods of blue-collar Yopougon (Yop City), festivals are soon coming, terraces and dances clubs busy, and news of political turmoil are starting to interest the population. Soon this ideal Ivory Coast will be filled with hunger, warfare, and a nostalgic populace that remembers an innocent time in its history. In this influential novel, Abouet demonstrates how greed has destroyed her native land.

Margeruite Abouet continued her series with Aya of Yop City (2006) with her original cast of characters. This second volume is formulated around case of parenthood that troubles the community; the new mother Adjoua has her friends to help her with her new born baby, perhaps hiring Aya too frequently. A new love affair leaves Bintou with practically no time to spend with her friends, let alone her obligations. Abouet’s women share in the Yopougon enthusiasm, however. Aya’s father is ensnared in the middle of his own assignations in addition to his boss’ dwindling Solibra beer sales, and Adjoua’s spoils herself in the city’s nightlife. Collectively, Abouet’s characters amuse the audience with vibrant descriptions and idiomatic speech establishing a piercing representation that is the truth of the Ivory Coast.

In The Secrets Come Out (2007), Aya’s father’s mistress proliferate the tension and drama as she unexpectedly presents herself with two children belonging to Aya’s father. Intensely humiliated by her father’s actions she implores her mother to give her errant husband a lesson. Yet, this episode is rapidly eclipsed when Bintou’s father, Koffi, pronounces his intention to marry a woman who is as old as his daughter. His announcement generates a raucously comical effect in the area. These scenes are part of what makes The Secrets Come Out the most humorous of the series. As an alternative to focusing on the many banes that curse Africa, The Secrets Come Out highlights the rapidly shifting destiny of the Ivory Coast. The reader witnesses an African continent sated with deception, exquisiteness, and hilarity. Abouet’s Yop City satirically draws parallels with topics that are relevant to North America, including homosexuality, disloyalty, and the altering position of women.

Aya: Life in Yop City (2008) summarizes the first two parts of the Aya sequence. Abouet’s third volume intertwines a variety of subplots that focus on Aya. Distinct from her friends, Aya works hard at school with the expectation of achieving academic success and someday going to medical school. In contrast, “her two friends, Bintou and Adjoua, who are more characteristic of Abidjan teens, are resting their hopes for the future in finding a man, marrying, and raising a family” (Jaffe n.pag). Bintou, for example, has great ambition to attract Moussa, the son of an affluent trader, or a Parisian who will take her to France. Adjoua and Bintou’s lives are interwoven secondary story lines. In sum, each character has their own subplot creating several temporal shifts to form a complex narrative structure.

Aya: Love in Yop City (2009) includes three chapters that uphold the series’ recognizable quality, rapid speed, and enjoyment. In this penultimate piece Aya and her friends begin to make important life choices. A major dilemma arises when one of Aya’s teachers attempts to sexually harass her. At this point Aya’s plans to one day become a medic are set back, and she swears to retaliate against her teacher. The close district of Yopougon nevertheless helps Aya win her battle and the entire community becomes closer. A major theme in part five of Aya is that through honesty, hard work, and a strong social fabric, both a community as well as an individual can overcome almost any obstacle.

In Abouet’s final arc, Aya de Yopougon, the stories unravel while the truths burst and each character must face their destiny. Starting with Aya, who still has a score to settle with her harassing biology teacher, the story unravels the complexity of contemporary African society. According to Abouet’s, community unanimity can always triumph over corruption. Ultimately, the story ends in France, where Aya falls in love with her friend Sebastian. While they are trying to obtain permanent status in France, Sebastian’s mother falls ill. At the hospital Sebastian’s father invites the couple to stay with him. After several weeks together, Sebastian’s father eventually discovers his son’s homosexuality and the family comes closer together. Again, Abouet stresses the theme of family and community unity in addition to ultimately advocating that there exists a powerful social fabric that ties humanity together.

Each Aya chronicle includes a lexicon that defines the work’s key terms and phrases. The terms are arranged in alphabetical order and also contain illustrations of important rituals—especially those having to do with hair styling and dance to clarify any uncertainties the reader might have with regards to the character’s actions and their appearance. In doing so, the lexicon offers Abouet’s reader a penetrating portrait into the subtleties of culture in a small community in the Ivory Coast.

A symbol of cartooning Marguerite Abouet’s art has become iconic of an Ivory Coast prior to the corrupting power of malnourishment and militants. Her work is an emblem that innocence is possible through art and that undignified madness has not completely obliterated the moral fabric of African culture. Future generations will benefit from Abouet’s inviting work for its realistic portrayal of a land that has experienced better times. Abouet argues that a return to this ideal is possible only if humanity avoids the harmful influences of corruption.

Gerardo Del Guercio

Further Reading