Claws Come Out
The interwoven stories picks up where the previous edition left off with Aya and her friends, relations, and enemies in the exciting, evolving world of 1980s Côte d’Ivoire. Abouet and Oubrerie pack the comic with universal themes of seeking optimism in an unjust world, as well as making the work inherently Ivorian with lively cultural discussions, frequent use of African proverbs, and even a recipe for garba in the appendix.
Aya: Claws Come Out follows a wide cast of characters, all connected to Aya, a “clear-eyed college student” who is trying to navigate law school internships and family complexities. Her brother Albert struggles to find student housing after being estranged from his parents for being gay. Her friend Innocent has fled to Paris to live with his boyfriend Sebastien, although there is constant fear of immigration sending him back to Côte d’Ivoire.
There are also TV star Bintou trying to break into movies, irresponsible rich kid Moussa, and Gregoire, a Parisian former pastor on parole after being arrested for fraud.
Readers quickly get a feeling for the protagonist in each of the varied storylines within the first panel of the scene. Even if they do not know Bintou, they will immediately see her home-wrecking lifestyle but also sense the deeper self-image issues she must wrestle with as she makes demands for decency for her characters on screen and faces threats on the streets. Such a massive cast might cause confusion, but Abouet and Oubrerie’s character designs make each stand out. Readers will likely pick a favorite and eagerly await their next appearance to see how their story develops.
Secrets, Curses, and Gifts
The plots are packed with twists and surprises. Some of them come from old secrets, others from dramatic decisions characters must make to get ahead. Some of the best are rooted in Ivorian culture. Aya and Albert’s father believes that Albert must have been cursed by the neighbors for his orientation, and so he hatches a plan to reverse the spell with an old healer in the more traditional north.
The rest of the family is more concerned with baby Bobby, who is able to read at age three. Aya finds it wonderful and proclaims him “gifted.” Others take it as an abnormal sign, and they fear what else might be different about him, perhaps something sinister or spiritual.
Many of the pages in Aya: Claws Come Out follow a six-panel, two-column, three-row standard, which makes the major splash pages stand out even more vividly. The style matches the quick-cutting storytelling well. It is almost as if it were a regular strip with the scenes following the regular beats of pages, keeping the rhythm and making openings of new scenes bold with grand establishment shots.
Just as in any other great soap opera, the last page leaves the reader desperate to find out what will happen next.