Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie’s “Claws Come Out” is a review of the Ivory Coast’s entertaining comic soap opera.
The story of Aya began 20 years ago, when Marguerite Abouet, a legal assistant from Paris with ties to Ivory Coast, collaborated with Clément Oubrerie, an animator and illustrator of children’s books, to create a graphic novel based on her childhood in Africa. This book went on to become a popular series, praised for its vibrant depiction of life in Ivory Coast during the 1970s, a time of economic growth in the country. Translated into 15 languages, it brought both Abouet and her character, Aya, international fame in the world of comics.
After a 12-year hiatus, Abouet and Oubrerie have made a comeback with their latest installment, Aya: Claws Come Out. This time, our protagonist and her friends are navigating the challenges of adulthood. The good news is that their experiences are just as captivating as before. While the new volume is filled with humor, it also offers sharp commentary. For example, there’s a couple who are unsure of how to handle their gay son and their precociously intelligent grandson – both of whom must be kept secret from their conservative neighbors until they consult a traditional doctor. Set in the 1980s, life in the cosmopolitan capital of Ivory Coast, Abidjan, is still good for many. However, corruption is on the rise, from shady pastors posing as businessmen to unethical university leaders.
Avid followers of the Aya series adore its captivating drama, and in Claws Come Out (translated by Edwige-Renée Dro), the action is as intense as ever. Aya is now interning at a law firm where she faces various forms of inequality, while her friend Adjoua, who runs a food stall, is preoccupied with her exceptionally talented baby son, Bobby, and her brother Albert’s recent departure from home after accidentally revealing his sexuality to their shocked parents. Both women are also feeling uneasy about their third friend Bintou, who has become famous for her success on a TV show and rarely spends time with them now (she hopes to pursue a career in film without having to compromise her integrity). Grégoire, who previously deceived Bintou by pretending to be a wealthy Parisian, has been released from jail and is now working for the affluent Mr Sissoko. In addition, there is another storyline taking place thousands of miles away in Paris, where Innocent is living with his beloved Sébastian and desperately trying to obtain legal documentation to avoid deportation. Will M Mitterand be able to help him? Only time will tell.
To fully enjoy Claws Come Out, it is recommended that newcomers read the previous Aya books. The fast-paced plot and strong feminist themes are some of the highlights of this series, and Oubrerie’s beautiful artwork only adds to the experience. The endpapers, influenced by African textiles, and the bonus section featuring a recipe for garba, a stew said to impress any woman, add even more charm to the book. Oubrerie’s talent as a cartoonist is evident on every page, making this a truly delightful read.
Aya, a book written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie (with translation by Edwige-Renée Dro) is available from Drawn and Quarterly for £18.99. To help the Guardian and Observer, purchase your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Additional fees for delivery may apply.