In college, my playwrighting professor taught us that the first – and perhaps most important – thing a playwright had to do when embarking on a new work was to answer the question, “Why does this story need to be a play?” If you can’t explain why something is best presented in that difficult form, perhaps what you’re looking at shouldn’t really be a play.
I really wish more graphic novel creators asked themselves that question.
Aya has a good story: older teens navigating the turbulent waters of family expectant, personal desires, romance, and sexuality. It happens that this is taking place in the late 1970s in the Ivory Coast, and thus we, your standard American reader (of any color), get a glimpse of how life is different and yet exactly the same someplace else.
But perhaps it shouldn’t really be a graphic novel.
Visually, it was uninteresting – a straightforward panel layout, typically a 2×3 grid, never deviating from strictly outlined rectangles – with boring art, sometimes poor placement of speech bubbles and no real sense of movement or flow between images. It also lacked visual or textual break between sections; where a prose work would have chapter or section breaks, or a well-designed graphic novel might have a wordless splash page, a change of border or style, or a title heading the new section, it merely had page breaks, often leaving me to flip back and forth to see if I’d missed a page. I’m a huge fan of comics and graphic novels; unfortunately, Aya didn’t take advantage of the many opportunities the form offers.
Actually, perhaps its composition of brief vignettes slowly coalescing into a sense of overarching plot would have been better served as a play.
Oh, the irony.