Aya is the first-ever graphic novel that I’ve read. I stumbled upon it at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and I even got to meet the writer, Marguerite Abouet. The name of the series is based on the lead character, Aya, a young woman named who lives in the Ivory Coast during the 1960s. When I think about graphic novels, comics like Batman, Green Lantern and Spiderman come to mind. I definitely would not think about a feminist, activist, political shero – which is exactly who Aya is.
There are only 3 novels in the Aya series and I devoured the entire collection in about 3 days. (Marguerite Abouet, if you’re reading this – please write more!) Based in Ivory Coast during the 1960s, a Golden Age for the nation, Aya is a young University student. Aya and her two good friends find themselves dealing with taboo topics like rape, homosexuality, and gender justice in the community called Yop City. Aya is a feminist and advocate of women’s rights, which at that time in Ivory Coast, was a radical and progressive position. But the novels aren’t all about politics, they also deal with love and romance that remind me of the relationship headaches that are so common at Aya’s age. The book opened up my eyes to a side of Africa that we don’t usually get to hear about in the media. The media tends to present the African continent as a monolithic place, but the Aya graphic novels series dismantle the usual tropes we see about Africa and shows us multiple, rich and layered stories about Africa. I’m learning to seek out more books that show complex stories about Black people. (Check out this post on Edwidge Danticat’s book Krik? Krak! that I wrote recently – her book takes a nuanced look at people living in Haiti.) There are a few copies of the Aya books available at the Toronto Public Library, otherwise the book is available for purchase on Amazon.