“Aya of Yop City”
By Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
It’s the late 1970s and the people of Yop City, just off the Ivory Coast of Africa, are having affairs, landing and losing jobs and wondering aloud who fathered young, pretty Adjoua’s new baby. Finally, an Africa that patrons of daytime television can get on board with.
For while it sounds an awful lot like a bad Maury Povich episode on paternity tests, “Aya of Yop City” is perfect for a graphic novel because this kind of grey area subject matter would be trickier than hell to pull off in print fiction (a light tone would be considered derogatory; a serious tone unflattering and racist; just think of the balancing act of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”). In graphic novel format, however, the story is…well, sweet. The Angry Black Rapper loaded down with bling and a mouth full of grillz has really demoralized the market for serious stories about black culture (I mean REAL black culture; not mediagenic black culture). And while you’d think that graphic novels – the renegades of publishing – would have downgraded black culture even further with their love of the shock element, the GN format is actually ideal for depicting the small detail, nuance, and dynamics of an African village in loving and affectionate terms. Even better, the illustrations are quietly charming with the occasional big, full-page set piece reminding you that this is an intimate epic bit of story-telling.