'Telling the story of my homeland': How Akissi shows a different view of Africa
Published on: 14 August 2019 Author: Marguerite Abouet
The Akissi graphic novels (illustrated by Mathieu Sapin) are full of adventure and fun! Here, writer Marguerite Abouet explains why she was determined to show Africa as she knows it.
Initially, Akissi was born out of my desire to tell the story of my homeland and my happy memories of being a young Ivorian girl who would leave her home too soon and head for France without her parents, like I did when I moved to Paris to live with my uncle when I was 12.
Akissi was also a product of wanting to show a different view of Africa that is full of life, rather than sorrow.
The Akissi stories are above all about the need to not focus – like most children's books and animated films do – on the folktales and legends that come from Africa, which don't represent the actual day-to-day lives of modern Africans. By publishing the Akissi stories, I can share my childhood and memories with others.
Drawing on my experiences
The character of Akissi was just like me when I was young. The whole neighbourhood was my playground and the people that lived in it were my family.
With her braids and cute, expressive face, Akissi encourages her friends and all the local children to become urban explorers. She shows that kindness and courage are what you need to forge friendships and take on everyday challenges. And she treats everyone just the same, without any judgement or prejudice regarding race, religion, ability, gender identity or age.
The stories I tell simply show Africa through the eyes of a child that has grown up there.
The characters are positive-minded for the most part. They are full of imperfections at times, but always joyful and lively, and children from all across the globe can identify with them.
What children can learn from Akissi
Akissi invites young readers to journey to an unknown country that is so close and yet so far away from them - it's a relaxed ramble in Africa. Children are impressed by Akissi and her group because they are like 'urban superheroes' trying to live in the adult world. But she shows them that this isn't easy, because living together and accepting each other are daily struggles; it demands a lot of willpower and courage.
Akissi and her friends are quite positive kids - of course they have some faults, but they're always joyful and energetic. Akissi shows the reader her world throughout her tales. She highlights companionship, encourages tolerance and reminds us how difference and diversity can be beneficial.
Akissi and her group are definitely the true heroes because they fight against fear, rejection, and ethnic self-segregation. Instead, Akissi's tales show us how to treat others with respect.
Making Akissi's world relevant to everyone
When working on Akissi stories, I make an initial storyboard which me and illustrator Mathieu Sapin will cut up while we talk about it. We read through the script together and consult each other a lot to find the right chemistry between the text and the illustrations. Sometimes our characters don't need to talk, as the illustration conveys emotion by itself.
Mathieu drew the first volumes of Akissi without having been to Africa before, and would take a lot of inspiration from the internet, books, and my own descriptions and imitations. However, more recently we visited Abidjan together, immersing ourselves in the city and its people.
Another vitally important thing for me was that Akissi's world needed to be relevant, so everything in my story had to be accurate from the outset. This meant specific places and specific children with their own particular characters. I started by creating the atmosphere, then the setting, characters and finally the tales. Readers have to believe in the characters and feel like they are in Akissi's neighbourhood.
So come and visit a welcoming and fun-filled land and discover an Africa that is so close, and yet so far. Welcome to my childhood.