Aya, Aya of Yop City, Aya: The Secrets Come Out
Marguerite Abouet (writer) and Clément Oubrerie (artist)
The year is 1979. The place is Cote d'Ivorie. Do you have any idea what's going on? Me, either, until I read three Aya books. This seems to be the goal of the authoress; to show people a thriving, peaceful region of Africa, and not the war-torn, starving imagery that most westerners retain. I didn't really appreciate the full scope of these works until I read reviews by others who had also spent a lot of time on the Ivory Coast - they raved that the region was captured so beautifully, through color and cultural detail, that it was an immaculate translation of their own memories.
Aya is sort of an endearing shojo chronicing the day-to-day dramas within a group of friends. The title character is nineteen years old; mature, smart, and aspiring to become a doctor in a rather misogynistic micro-culture. Older teen girls could do well by these tales, as Aya is a headstrong source of sanity while her friends get into trouble, doing things that teen girls do. The storylines are not unlike That '70s Show, but in Africa. And the artwork is cute... it makes infidelity and mild beatings palpable to a casual reader. Somehow it strikes a good balance.
I had trouble keeping all the characters straight through the first book. There's Aya, her two friends, their parents, several boyfriends, all their households, and several more townspeople introduced each book. Adding to the reader's plight are a smatterings of "dêh"s and "kêh"s, as well as other local dialect to spice things up. What helps is a character tree in the front of the book, and a glossary in the back. (A nice little bonus are the character-"written" pages with local recipes, dating tips, and more.) So if you're going to approach these books, really be prepared to engross yourself in the full Ivorian experience.
Cairo: A Graphic Novel
G. Willow Wilson (writer) and M.K. Perker (artist)
While this work showed a ton of promise – the first few pages hooked me – I was extremely disappointed that it was rushed. It's a light read, and perhaps worth reading, but not something for my shelf.
A good-for-nothing smuggler runs into a smuggled Israeli soldier, and there begins a sordid journey with two American characters, a jinn, and a smattering of other who-knows-what mythology. Lots of surprises! Parts of it were very slick and enjoyable – like a waxing-philosophical genie wearing a suit and garnished with his own slightly-scripty typeface – but others were kind of cheesy and rushed. The art is a strong black-white-and-gray scheme... sometimes anatomically questionable, but never distracting enough that it loses motion. By the end, it was trying to close up like a 2-hour film epic, but I just didn't feel the full impact. So, all in all, it was okay, but ultimately disappointing.
For me, this illustrated the need to really let a comic book breathe, and reach its full potential – it should have been longer, or a series. For me, this is an important warning!