Black History Month 2011: Marguerite Abouet

February 15th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

art by clement oubrerie

Marguerite Abouet
Selected Works: Aya, Aya of Yop City, Aya: The Secrets Come Out

The thing about race and comics, or race and anything really, is that it’s vastly more complicated than people often think it is, but it’s really pretty simple at the same time. It’s complicated because every culture has something weird that they do, a certain set of values, and a wide spectrum of experiences. It’s simple because every culture is weird when you’re on the outside looking in. The unfamiliar is weird, that’s just how life works.

Once you peek beyond the surface, though, you’ll find that most cultures are actually pretty similar. We go through the same journeys, have the same problems with our family, and so on. The specifics of different, sure, but life on Earth is a lot more universal than some people realize, I think.

I don’t have much at all in common with most Africans, beyond a skin tone and some distant ancestor. I don’t know what Africa’s like to live in, and I’ve never been, but the most surprising thing about Marguerite Abouet’s Aya, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie, was how familiar Aya’s life was. This is a book that’s supremely easy to relate to if you’ve ever been a teenager. Every family in the book is familiar, from the stuffy businessman’s house to the fake aunties. Aya is just about real life.

Books like Aya remind me that it’s bigger than just some black/white dichotomy or being mad about some black character that’s only been in two good stories ever getting disrespected and dismissed in Cape Comix Cuarterly. Being black, and being able to recognize my life in a fictional account of someone else’s life decades ago, is a better thing, and a beautiful thing. It’s just another reminder that being black is normal. Being black is being human. While that seems like a weird thing to need reminding about, but take it from someone who knows: it helps.

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Glyph Comics Awards Winners

May 17th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Johanna Draper Carlson has the details on who won what at this past weekend’s Glyph Comics Awards at ECBACC. She also has some interesting remarks on the awards, particularly in terms of women represented and the number of projects that won multiple awards.

Here’s the list, and commentary/thoughts from me below.

Story of the Year
Unknown Soldier #13-14, Joshua Dysart, writer, Pat Masioni, artist

Best Writer
Alex Simmons, Archie & Friends

Best Artist
Jay Potts, World of Hurt

Best Male Character
Isaiah Pastor, World of Hurt, created by Jay Potts, writer and artist

Best Female Character
Aya, Aya: The Secrets Come Out, created by Marguerite Abouet, writer, Clement Oubrerie, artist

Rising Star Award
Jay Potts, World of Hurt

Best Reprint Publication
Aya: The Secrets Come Out, Drawn & Quarterly

Best Cover
Luke Cage Noir #1, Tim Bradstreet, illustrator

Best Comic Strip
The K Chronicles, Keith Knight, writer and artist

Fan Award for Best Comic
Luke Cage Noir, Mike Benson & Adam Glass, writers, Shawn Martinbrough, artist

I’m not sure of the protocol on judges speaking after the fact, so if I’ve over-stepped, please forgive me. I co-judged this years awards, and I’ve got to say that I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out. Here’s a few brief anecdotes/bits about the winners-

Unknown Soldier 13 and 14 are collected in Unknown Soldier Vol. 2: Easy Kill. Dysart discusses a few of his favorite pages from that volume on DC’s Graphic Content blog. I talked a bit about Unknown Soldier last year as part of BHM, but I’m well past due for an update.

-In the “Small World” department, it turns out Alex Simmons co-created the dead and forgotten DC hero Orpheus, who I did a poor job of writing about a few years back. Simmons has been telling all-ages tales on Archie & Friends for the past couple years, in addition to documentaries, biographies, working with MoCCA, and launching a comic convention. The paths people take in comics are kind of funny sometimes. I think Tom DeFalco and Herb Trimpe have both done work on the Archie comics in recent memory, to name a couple other names you probably recognize. Archie & Friends All-Stars Volume 3: The Cartoon Life Of Chuck Clayton is the trade collecting the story of Chuck Clayton, “teenage cartoonist” and former Generic Comic Book Black Guy.

-Jay Potts cleaned up! Read my interview with him and then go read World of Hurt.

I’m glad Abouet and Oubrerie’s Aya got some attention.

Luke Cage Noir is out in a premiere hardcover, and it was a pretty good tale. I didn’t talk about it on the site, but the Funnybook Babylon gang mostly dug it. I liked how it played upon some of my preconceived notions going into the book, and the creators did a good job of telling a solid done-in-one tale. Here’s the cover:

-I like that most of these aren’t from the Big Two. I don’t say that to be mean or whatever, because the Big Two do what they do fairly well for the most part, but I think the really important work, the stuff you need to be paying attention two, aren’t going to come out of their factories. Supporting black comics isn’t supporting Luke Cage. It’s supporting the people who make the books. I think the Glyph awards do a great job of representing that. Bravo.

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Fourcast! 38: Smile, Aya!

March 22nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-It’s another Girlcast! We’ve got a couple of book reviews this time.
-First up is Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya of Yop City
Aya of Yop City is basically a straight up soap opera.
-Second is Raina Telgemeier’s Smile
Smile is also pretty soap opera-y– it covers a few years of Telgemeier’s middle school/high school life, with the connective tissue being the fact that she had to get braces after a very relatable catastrophe.
-Disney digression.
-See you, space cowgirl!

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Black Future Month ’10: Life in Marvelous Times

February 23rd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I almost called this one “The Importance of Being Aya,” but Mos Def’s “Life In Marvelous Times” from The Ecstatic is a much better fit. In it, Mos Def paints a picture of the intersection between the past and the present, conjuring images of starving children with gold teeth and life in the projects, before ultimately concluding that “we are alive in amazing times,” despite all of the poison and destruction and hate. This 360 degree view of life allows him to say that we are living in marvelous times, with “wonders on every side.”

Black history, as it was taught to me growing up, was more limited. The picture that was painted for me portrayed a very poor, down-trodden, and miserable existence. An existence punctuated by regular lynchings, scarred backs, and burning towns. We learned about Martin Luther King, Dred Scott, WEB Du Bois, the high points of the Harlem Renaissance (pretty much Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston), a little bit about the Great Migration (black people moved, the end), a little bit about Malcolm X as Boogieman, and maybe a little something about Marcus Garvey, if the teacher was brave. Black history generally stopped with the death of Martin Luther King.

The problem with this teaching is that you don’t get the whole picture. The idea of blacks as victims is left reinforced and ingrained in your head. It turns life into warfare, a constant struggle for life, liberty, and happiness. Due to that, you miss out on hearing about the other parts of black history. The dapper dressed gentlemen taking their lady friends out to cut a rug, the kids in the ’60s who were born into a brand new world, and the normal folks making a normal living. Black is never normal.

It’s fair to say that we’re in a new age of comics now, one that allows for comics that I would’ve never found when I was a kid. Take Aya for an example. I can go out to the store and buy a hardcover book about a black (strike one) girl (strike two) living in the Ivory Coast (strike three) who is basically living a soap opera (you’ve been out for ages kid, get out of here). Back when I was trapped in the bad old days of Wizard and superheroic speculation, the weirdest thing I read was Frank Miller’s Sin City, a book with no capes, a lot of actual curse words, and a healthy dose of nudity. Nowadays, if I want to read a soap opera starring a girl in Africa and her friends, I can do that.

I never saw that kind of thing when I was a kid. Black folks in comics were generally sidekicks or supporting characters. They were Ron Troupe and Robbie Robertson, or Luke Cage and Bishop. Born and bred in misery, but managing to struggle above into the light, or simply there to dispense useful advice or be the token negro in an otherwise all-white cast. Sometimes both. Sometimes neither.
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Everybody Knows Aya

June 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I think what I enjoy the most about Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya is that it isn’t really about anything. I don’t mean to say that it’s aimless, or doesn’t have a plot, or anything like that. What it isn’t, is an afterschool special or sociopolitical statement. It isn’t a book about how “Africans are normal people, too!” It’s just a story about young girls living in Côte d’Ivoire.

In a way, it succeeds as a statement for those same reasons. The usual mental image the word “Africa” conjures is one of mud huts, bone noses, and warlords running roughshod over the countryside. Aya presents a scenario that is made of the same kind of drama that small town life anywhere is buried in. There are teens going out to the designated make-out spot, a father sucking up to a local high powered businessman, a girl who wants to sidestep all that drama, and surprise pregnancies. Who hasn’t had a friend hook up with somebody you liked? Aya is, at its heart, about small town relationships.

Aya is the main character of the book, though a few characters end up being the ones who drive the story. Aya observes what’s going on, dancing in and out of the drama, while trying to make her own way in the world. One of the first things she does is ditch a party to finish her homework. Later, she explains to her father that she wants to be a doctor so that she can help people. She isn’t a nerd. It isn’t about how a Nerd With a Heart of Gold walks through the valley of the shadow of death, showing the Jocks and Frat Boys and Mean Girls what’s what. No, she’s just a normal girl. She’s studious, and aware of who she wants to be, but that’s not anything exceptional. She isn’t a flower.

Aya’s surrounded by a decent sized cast. She’s got her family, including a little sister, her friends, who in turn have their own family, and then the various boys that are interested in one girl or another or both. Oubrerie’s art does a good job of differentiating between them. Their faces are distinct, obviously, but there are even little differences in posture and body language.

The scene where one girl explains to her boyfriend that she’s pregnant is a great one. Oubrerie isn’t afraid to do a bit of cartooning, and it’s employed to great effect here. I like that he employs some classic techniques to get his point across. Proportions warp, eyes bug out, shadows cover a face, stars and sweat drops abound… I like it. I could totally see this as a cartoon. Something like Home Movies after it dropped Squigglevision.

I really dug Aya, and I’m probably going to order the next volume, Aya of Yop City, this week. I’m a little irritated at myself for never having tried it before now, but Drawn & Quarterly did good bringing it over.

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Keeping It Real

May 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Yesterday, Justin suggested I pick up Aya from Drawn & Quarterly. I’ve got some spare Amazon credit, so I’m going to order it today I think.

I want a couple of other titles, too, though. Esther and Gav have superheroes pretty well locked down now, so I get to indulge myself with a bit of non-Big Two (or non-Big Four) fare. Sell me on a book that’s published by houses like Top Shelf, D&Q, First Second, Fantagraphics, and so on. No qualifiers or reservations or pickiness on my part– just tell me why you like it. I’ll pick it up if I like your pitch and review it when I finish.

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