Written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Mathieu Sapin, the second volume of the popular French comics Akissi stories from Flying Eye Books is another delightful collection of short strips to appeal to all ages. For those who have yet to experience the character and her world, Akissi is a mischievous West African school girl, with Abouet drawing from her own experiences growing up on the Ivory Coast in bringing her exploits to the page.
While that autobiographical element gives the book its specific authenticity, the recognisable joy of Akissi is in its universality. It’s a beautifully written, pacily illustrated kid’s eye view of the world. One that acts as a constant reminder of our childhood years, when every day was a huge adventure awaiting us and our juvenile logic tried to make sense of the strange eccentricities of the adult world. Each 6-or-so-page story is a complete tale in itself but with ongoing themes and plotlines that can carry through multiple episodes.
In this collection we see Akissi getting into scrapes with her friend Edmond (who is often obsessed with the super-heroic character Spectreman), deal with the child-hating new teacher Mr. Adama, and form a rivalry with new girl Sido as the politics of the schoolyard come to the fore. What makes Akissi as a character all the more relatable is that Abouet depicts her as someone who can sometimes be thoughtless or selfish (one story sees her jealously hiding her one-legged classmate Sido’s crutch for example) but who, for all her naughtier moments, remains at heart a good-natured child.
Sapin’s art is a fitting match for Abouet’s stories with its bustling energy and enchanting characterisation perfectly channelling the writer’s witty re-creation of younger years. One series of episodes breaks out into allegorical dream fantasy, recasting the characters in a sidestep from the usual slice-of-life standards of the strip but for the main part each story provides a snapshot of Akissi and her vibrant cast’s daily routines, constantly disrupted by her inquisitive interactions with her environment. Sapin’s busy, and even occasionally frenetic, pages and eye-catching use of colour play a huge part in bringing the vitality of that world to life.
The best word I can use to describe the Akissi stories is simply “joyous”. Ultimately this is a book that doesn’t need critical dissection; it needs to be lived not analysed, absorbed not over-thought. A standout celebration of childhood. We can only hope that more translated editions of Abouet and Sapin’s all-ages masterpiece are in the pipeline.
Margaret Abouet (W), Mathieu Sapin (A) • Flying Eye Books, £12.99
Review by Andy Oliver