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.
Their story has familiar elements of postcolonial literature, but Abouet and Oubrerie play things largely for laughs.