fans ofAya from Yopougon (Gallimard Jeunesse) found their heroine a few weeks ago with the publication of volume 7 of the comic strip which takes place between Côte d’Ivoire and France, which are respectively the countries of origin and adoption of her screenwriter, Marguerite Abouet. Maintenance.
Franceinfo Culture: Aya is back in service more than a decade after the last part of her adventures. What did you do between these two albums?
Marguerite Abouet : For twelve years, I left Aya aside while doing many things with the one who is a beautiful cultural ambassador. Many young girls identify with them. Thanks to Aya, I met many young people in France and elsewhere in the world. The comic is translated into 15 languages. I was able to open youth libraries in Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, after volume 6, there was the film which took us a lot of time at Clément Oubrerie [illustrateur de la BD] and to me, three years in this case.
In my case, other comics: Akissi, Commissioner Kouamé, Welcome… I also did series: That’s life ! in Dakar (Senegal), Shuga Babi in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire)… I am campaigning for Africans to appropriate the entire value chain in the creative process by becoming professional and this was the case when I had the opportunity to do these series. It has allowed us to train more than 1,000 young people. Thanks to this project, young girls have become, among other things, chief operators or directors.
What guided the writing of this volume 7?
Aya ended up missing Clément Oubrerie and me and then I had a lot to say about values that I have always defended, on very important subjects which have made me the woman I am, such as living together, integration, citizenship, equal opportunities… I am from elsewhere and I have made this country of France mine. I believe that these subjects are today trampled on and flouted.
What could I do then? My stories being my fights, I took my characters and integrated all these themes into their stories. My characters are my spokespersons. They are activists, even more, in this album. They open a window on the reality of life and allow me to address issues that challenge me and are shared by others. I thought it would be difficult to reconnect with Aya, but it really isn’t. And I see that people are happy to find it.
You refer us in this volume 7 to the 80s. Why this time to evoke these subjects which are so close to your heart?
I arrived in France in 1983. Later, I experienced the arrival of the Pasqua laws which complicated the life of foreigners. The character of Innocent (a homosexual who is an activist for LGBT rights and who is in an irregular situation in France) comes up against all these problems in his approach to getting regularized. With him, I discuss issues related to immigration. For me, history repeats itself. Except that before, there was no hate speech. We did not come to pour out our hatred like today in the media. Besides, it doesn’t shock anyone!
Moreover, in the 1980s, young French people born to immigrant parents claimed to belong to this country. Which is no longer the case. Those I meet today in schools speak differently from what I knew. They don’t feel at home in France even though they were born here. They all want to return to the “bled”, a bled that young people of their age flee by crossing the sea in the hope of being in their place in France.
In this world that you describe, what makes Aya unique?
When readers come to tell me about what Aya’s stories bring them, they say they are touched by her desire for emancipation. Aya is a feminist but not a rebel. She’s a woman who feels good about herself, intelligent and lives with the times. Tolerant and human, she remains attentive to everything that happens around her.
Aya is also appreciated for her altruism which goes against the tide of the attitude of many who look at their navel. Aya respects her father, her family while wanting to make her own choices: to study, to choose the man she loves… All this without ever condemning her girlfriends who do not have the same aspirations as she. She appeals because she’s a real heroine and I don’t think you need to have superpowers to be one.
Why did you choose comics to express yourself?
When we were younger, I stole the rare comics belonging to my brother when he was not around. For him, girls should not read comics. But I was not a girl like the others. So I read them with my girlfriends, in secret, and besides, we weren’t all obliged to know how to read. In my district of Yopougon, this was the case for many children. The big advantage of a comic strip is that everyone can understand the story. Later, when I started to want to tell about my happy childhood in Yopougon, this is the format that seemed to me the most suitable.
Before Aya, there was Akissi, to whom you have dedicated yourself in recent years…
My first project was Akissi ! I was 12 when I arrived in France. My new friends in 6th grade were asking me weird questions: Do you have cars? Do you live in houses? This shocked me and I found them silly because we in Côte d’Ivoire knew how “little whites” were living. I was immediately guided by the idea of re-establishing the truth by telling them about my Africa, my country, Côte d’Ivoire, and my neighborhood. I thus became the attraction during recess. First because I didn’t have my tongue in my pocket, which is quite normal when you come from Yopougon (laughs), and then thanks to my maternal grandfather who taught me how to tell stories.
Later, I babysat and got tired of reading them stories with only white heroes. I then began to tell them mine, those of my childhood in Abidjan. In the end, I amused them so much that they didn’t want to hear about Snow White and all the others. They wanted the stories of “Marguerite petite” and their parents encouraged me a lot to do something with these stories. Then life went on and, one day, I took out the stories of Akissi without knowing what to do with them. I was then introduced to Clément Oubrerie who was a youth illustrator: Aya from Yopougon is his first adult comic. At the time, I had shown him the stories around little Akissi. He drew the boards of my story from the photos I gave him of my childhood in Côte d’Ivoire. It was great !
How did Aya supplant Akissi in your creative process?
In 2003, Clément sent our project to Thierry Laroche, publisher at Gallimard who was not doing comics at the time. But he contacted us to explain that they were putting together a new collection of comics for adults, Bayou, directed by Joann Sfar. Thierry Laroche then asked us to grow little Akissi. I told them that I had only lived my childhood in Abidjan while offering them the adventures of Akissi’s big sister. We started working on Aya from Yopougon in 2004 and the first volume was released at the end of 2005.
Are we going to find Aya again at the cinema?
Many people have met Aya through the film. When Netflix released it, young people discovered it again. This new generation calls for a sequel. We are thinking about it and if the project takes shape, it should rather take the form of a premium series, still in animation.