Delisle, Guy – Pyongyang


What rating would you give?
[Total: 1    Average: 4/5]

One thought on “Delisle, Guy – Pyongyang

  1. Profile photo of KaylaLanCaoKaylaLanCao

    All Eyes on Pyongyang
    A graphic novel review
    By: Kayla Cao E10M

    You hear all these chitchats, laughs, rumors, and sighs about North Korea. Teachers’ North Korea is always used as an example. Scholars’ North Korea is always some historical reference. Politicians’ North Korea is always a warning. What if I tell you that you’ve got a chance to go to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea? Will you go? Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is a graphic novel written and drawn by French – Canadian cartoonist, Guy Delisle. The author records the routine life that he lived while he worked in Pyongyang. Because of certain regulations and limitations, he was not able to visit certain places, or talk about a certain topic. This graphic novel Pyongyong is a collection of daily sketches done by Delisle, on things he ran into that day.

    The real life experiences in the book are all from the 2 months stay in 2001, which was when Delisle worked as a coordinator from a French animation company in SEK Studio (an animation company) in North Korea. This book provides an interesting and atypical look at the mysterious nation. Rather than having a very complicated plot line or a series of inimical events, this book remains very plain from the very beginning to the end. The story begins with Deslisle arriving at the airport and ends with him leaving Pyongyang. It may look like his life there is based on repetitive work, desperately trying to explore the city, and talking to his North Korean “guide”, but there is so much more. He pays close attention to the people of Pyongyang, trying to make out the ones and zeroes in their heads. Do they know what I know about them?

    The art and design of this graphic novel are amazing. Amazing, not because of any fancy art skills or phenomenal three-dimensional illustrations, but because of the simplicity. All sketches are printed in a black-and-white style. Accompanied by an unadorned and plain pencil drawings. The author’s choice monotony and bleak dullness show the reflection of the author’s feelings of oppression, abuse, and isolation during his visit. In a country where individualism and freedom are not cherished, any bright color would look like treason. Images of different characters in this novel are well developed. It seems like every single character has a signature look. One can tell how much he pays attention to North Korean’s daily outfits. He does not forget to always be consistent and accurate on the things people there wear. The pins of North Korea’s great leaders for an example, every time a North Korean appears in the novel, he or she is always wearing this pin that represents brainwashed patriotism. Which helps the readers to understand what it’s like to be a citizen in the country. Delisle has done a brilliant job with chapter divisions by not having any. The absence of these divisions makes readers feel as if they are also on the work trip with the narrator. The author’s Pyongyang days are shown by continuous panels of illustration, which makes this book very easy to pick up and read, but very difficult to put down. Considering that reports, photographs and interviews of North Korea are so restricted and heavily censored, as readers we must appreciate his courage and determination to expose visually what Pyongyang is like.

    This novel’s language is its weakness, not because of the content, but because of how it is being written down and how disrespectful it is. Delisle can be funny and sarcastic at times, but he can also be extremely xenophobic, sexist and racist. He objectifies women, and often looks at other people in a different racial group as animals. He also generalizes Asian countries as if there is no diversity to be found. It’s understandable that his travels within Pyongyang are limited, but that does not allow him to make offensive remarks of the city or of the people. There are statistics about the malnourished citizens and many more examples of the iron-fisted atmosphere of propaganda and fear, but his interactions with locals show abhorrence, not compassion. Delisle includes many complaints of not having enough western foods in Pyonyong. How can one whine about that while thousands of people are eating grass? The lack of communication with locals can suggest that his views of Pyongyang are insensitive, biased and objective. One could argue that this is Delisle’s travelogue, he can write down his derogatory and straightforward opinions, however he wants to. In a way, his very personal thoughts with his matter-of-fact tone make the story authentic. The flawed, selfish capitalist visits the totalitarian, broken state. Both entities are too focused in protecting their own interests to learn much from each other. The North Korean government may deserve to be criticized since it is responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in the world. But the author does not show any compassion, especially if you pay attention to the dialogues and captions. From the language and texts of this novel, it seems like he does not understand the difference between criticizing an illiberal government and criticizing an ethnic group. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, commented that humor in the concentration camps was a form of “gallows humor”. This word can describe what it feels like when joking about North Korea.

    This graphic novel would appeal to anybody who is interested in modern affairs, and human rights violations. Young audiences are not recommended because of the usage of offensive language and some amoral ideas. I would recommend Pyongyang not because I loved it, but because it made me think.

    Could this graphic novel be considered literature? This graphic novel contains one of the hottest topics of this century, and it indicates of the very strange relationships between the best and North Korea. The best way to tell a story like this is through graphic novels. Rules and governmental regulations force Delisle to have his entire experience hand drawn. He cannot photograph all the great things he sees in North Korea, so instead he draws them. And this is what will make this graphic novel special and permanent. The country may be free one day, but that does not mean we do not remember all the people that are suffering right now.

    The result of having Guy Delisle illustrates his stay in Pyongyang is that each panel feels like something forbidden, even when he’s just looking out from his window. The white and black penciling captures the dullness while the language captures the insanity.

Leave a Reply