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Aya Of Yop City
posted October 13, 2008


Creators: Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie
Publishing Information: Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 112 pages, October 2008, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781897299418 (ISBN13)

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.