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posted May 14, 2007
Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie
Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 132 pages, March 2007, $19.95
1894937902 (ISBN10), 9781894937900 (ISBN13)
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.