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The Kiosk Reviews Guy Delisle's A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting

Updated January 7, 2014


"Review:Quebec cartoonists tell their own stories
By John Sevens
The Kiosk, Sep 13 2013

""A User's Guide To Neglectful Parenting" by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly)

Cartoonist Guy Delisle is better known for his graphic novel travelogues to sometimes dangerous, always mysterious, places like North Korea, Burma and Jerusalem, where he combines the everyday life of an outsider in such settings with an investigation of the wider political situations affecting his visit.

In "A User's Guide To Neglectful Parenting," Delisle turns inward and offers this collection of short stories -- originally published in France -- capturing the interaction between him and his young children.

Delisle's wife is a member of Doctors Without Borders, which is how he ends up in the places he does. As a freelance cartoonist working from home, it also makes him the primary caregiver to the kids wherever they are. In this collection, he's determined to present himself as with no romantic sheen -- often preoccupied, sometimes clueless, cranky and occasionally inappropriate -- Delisle tackles the queries of his kids with an exhausted cleverness that any parent can certainly identify with as they juggle aspects of their life while trying to guide their child into the world at large.

Delisle's son is at the age where he is questioning the childish reality grown-ups have presented to him, whether it's a little mouse that he's been told trades money for his tooth under a pillow or the Easter Bunny. His daughter is just coming into her own, interested in healthy Canadian cereals and fearing baby snatchers. Delisle almost always handles the situations wrong -- at least, if you're comparing it to a child-rearing manual.

In the hands of someone else, this book could all fall apart, but Delisle's irreverent style of parenting might well illicit an "I've been there before" reaction from those reading it. Even if not, it's a hilarious bit of honesty that actually offers an accessibility greater than any of his travelogues."
 
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A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting




  NUVO Magazine Reviews Pyongyang

Updated January 7, 2014


"Review: Tales From the Hermit Kingdom: Books by Blaine Harden, Adam Johnson, B.R. Myers, and Guy Delisle"
By Cameron Johnson
"Off The Shelf" NUVO Magazine, Autumn 2013

"The term hermit kingdom is an odd one. There’s something almost fantastical about it—which is fitting, since the country it usually describes,
the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is frequently presented as being so enigmatic. In the mainstream media, news about North Korea often is as bemused as it is breaking. Much of this stems from our own misconceptions and lack of information, which is perhaps unsurprising given the guarded nature of the regime. Yet the past decade or so has allowed us the occasional glimpse through the country’s heavily restricted borders. Here are four books that take very different approaches to trying to describe what goes on in one of the most insular countries in the world.

In Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean defector who escaped from the infamous Kaechon internment camp, also known as Camp 14. You may have heard of Shin, who has made the rounds in the media recently, talking about his experiences and his escape from the prison camp in 2005. His journey from growing up in such an environment—and in fact being born there—to becoming an advocate for human rights is an extraordinary one.

Shin’s father was imprisoned after his two brother —Shin’s uncles—f led south during the Korean War. This is far from an uncommon occurrence, Harden notes: “Guilt by association is legal in North Korea. A wrongdoer is often imprisoned with his parents and children. Kim Il Sung laid down the law in 1972: ‘[E]nemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations.’ ” Shin was born after his parents met in the prison
through a “reward marriage”, given out as “the ultimate bonus for hard work and reliable snitching.”

Shin was different from many others in the camp; he had never seen anything outside the electrified barbed wire fence until he escaped at the age of 23. “Unlike those who have survived a concentration camp, Shin had not been torn away from a civilized existence and forced to descend into hell,” writes Harden. “He was born and raised there.”

And it is indeed hell. Prisoners face widespread disease; “issued a set of clothes once or twice a year, they commonly work and sleep in filthy rags, living without soap, socks, gloves, underclothes, or toilet paper.” There are routine beatings and torture; at one point, Shin’s teacher “beat a six-year-old classmate to death for having five grains
of corn in her pocket.” And the perpetual threat of starvation is such that “roasting rats became a passion for Shin.” The almost constant torment that’s described can result in a sometimes overwhelming reading experience. As it should be.

Yet through the darkness is light in the form of Shin’s escape, after which he made his way to China and then South Korea, where he first met Harden. However, his integration into a more normal society is difficult, as is detailed in the later chapters. Even after his escape, Shin is not quite free; he remains haunted by the known fates of his mother and brother, who were executed after being caught trying to flee when he was 14, and the unknown fate of his father, who he expects would have been tortured following Shin’s successful escape. Escape from Camp 14 is an unflinching look at the abject misery of life in a cruel, unforgiving environment. But it’s a story that is important to hear, given that “North Korea’s labor camps have now existed twice as long as the Soviet Gulag and about twelve times longer than the Nazi concentration camps. There is no dispute about where these camps are. High-resolution satellite photographs, accessible on Google Earth to anyone with an Internet connection, show vast fenced compounds sprawling through the rugged mountains of North Korea.” Also distressing
is the dedication that opens the book: “For North Koreans who remain in the camps” (which the U.S. State Department and some human rights groups estimate to be “as high as two hundred thousand”).

The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson’s astonishing Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, begins as the coming-of-age story of Pak Jun Do, a young boy growing up in North Korea. After being raised in an orphanage run by his father, he is recruited in the military as a young teenager. “Jun Do, at fourteen, became a tunnel soldier, trained in the art of zero-light combat”; he is tasked with patrolling the tunnels underneath the Korean Demilitarized Zone, checking trip wires and looking for intruders.

Later, Jun Do is assigned to a group that kidnaps people from the beaches of Japan to bring back to North Korea. (Like many aspects of the story, this one is based on fact.) One of his first targets is a singer; Jun Do’s superior tells him, “The Tokyo Opera spends its summers in Niigata. There’s a soprano ... Some bigshot in Pyongyang probably
heard a bootleg and had to have her.” These encounters—so indicative of the frivolity with which human life is treated—prove to have no small
emotional bearing on Jun Do.

Following the book’s first half, which has its climax in an almost unbearably tense diplomatic mission to the United States, the story experiences a startling shift in nearly every sense. Suffice it to say that the twists and pacing of the plot are rivalled only by Johnson’s exceptionally descriptive writing and outstanding ability to make us so heavily invested into the fate of Pak Jun Do.

The story is an emotional reflection on the paranoia, heartbreak, and suffering inflicted on those who find themselves on the wrong side of the country’s regime. But what gives it a spark of optimism is its enduring faith in the freedom of the human spirit, even in the midst of what the author, in an illuminating interview included at the end of
the book, calls “a trauma narrative on a national scale.”

In The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves—and Why It Matters, B. R. Myers examines North Korea’s use of propaganda, first
in terms of the country’s history and then via the common and recurring themes invoked by the regime.

Much is made of the historical basis for North Korean propaganda (which has its origins when the country was under Japanese rule in the early 20th century) as well as the distinction—and Myers believes there’s a significant one—between communism and North Korea’s reigning ideology. But more fascinating to me were the assorted details concerning the society’s beliefs, as explained by the propaganda. An example is the conviction that “to be uniquely virtuous in an evil world but not uniquely cunning or strong is to be as vulnerable as a child.”

The Cleanest Race is, as expected, more academic than the other books described here. But in separating the propaganda from the issue of human rights, Myers is able to take a more clinical look at the way in which North Koreans view both their country and the rest of the world. And part of that is about clearing up our own misconceptions. We may not understand the reason for the massive statues and structures built in Pyongyang, yet “propaganda is never a mere waste of money, and its whole point is to make people feel as significant as possible.” We may use terms like brainwashed to describe the citizens, yet Myers maintains that the personality cult is naturally “much harder to swallow when regarded in isolation” and in reality “proceeds from myths about the race and its history that cannot but exert a strong appeal on the North Korean masses.” We may puzzle at the depictions of Kim Il-sung as a blank-faced boy before understanding that “because true Korean spontaneity ends where an intellectual expression begins, Kim is never shown thinking.” And Myers sums up Juche—that omnipresent but rarely described ethos that allegedly binds the country, but which the author calls a “sham doctrine”—in one sentence: “The Korean people are too pure blooded, and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader.”

In Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy Delisle looks at the country from the perspective of a visitor. Delisle, a Canadian animator, lived in Pyongyang for two months while working for an animation company. He illustrates his trip in this graphic novel, which is absorbing in its depiction of the various quirks of being a foreigner in such a place.

Some of the best moments in the book come from Delisle’s observations of the daily life. He notices that the ubiquitous (and mandatory) portraits of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung “have a wider edge above than below,” which eliminates any reflection and “also intensifies the gaze in this face-to-face encounter.” (Delisle adds, “There’s a detail Orwell would have liked.”) He visits the local department store, which resembles “an installation at a contemporary art museum”: all endless aisles of identical shoes, buckets, and pots. He is annoyed by the constant music propaganda.

Delisle stays in one of the few hotels for foreigners, a “massive 50-storey tower with a revolving restaurant” (although “all foreigners are on the 15th floor, the only one that’s lit”). Forever trailed by his guides, he takes delight in minor acts of rebellion. He tries to convince one translator to borrow his copy of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. He amuses himself by making paper planes and flinging them from his hotel window, trying to make them reach the nearby river. He sings Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” to one of the technicians in the office.

Also humorous are his constant exasperation at apparently arbitrary restrictions and the various “field trips” Delisle’s guides subject him to, including visits to the International Friendship Exhibition and the Children’s Palace. Well complemented by Delisle’s drawings, the story can be very funny, but there is a subtly sinister aspect to many of his experiences.

Late in the story, almost in summary of his time in the city, he asks, “To what extent can a mind be manipulated? We’ll probably get some idea when the country eventually opens up or collapses.” It’s a question that’s germane to how we in the West view the country, and one that, when answered, will explain so much about a place that remains so isolated."

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The Captive Reader on Guy Delisle's A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting

Updated January 7, 2014


"Review: A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting – Guy Delisle"
by Claire
The Captive Reader, Aug 23 2013

"I love Guy Delisle’s graphic travel memoirs. Shenzhen, Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem are all well observed records of Delisle’s time abroad, humourously depicting the culture shock he experiences while also addressing the very serious political issues he confronts in his travels. But as much as I love those books, it was delightful to just be able to have fun with Delisle’s most recent book, the 100% lighthearted A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting.

The book is short, just a collection of anecdotes about Delisle’s more irresponsible interactions with his son and daughter. I loved it. After a busy day last week, I sat down with it after dinner and had a very pleasant half hour giggling my way through Delisle’s missteps. I still can’t decide which vignette was my favourite. Was it Delisle repeatedly forgetting to act as “la petite souris” several nights in a row after his son loses a tooth and having to persuade his son that the mouse is running behind schedule? Or was it when he is trying to convince his daughter that she prefers sugary cereals so that he can keep his precious Shredded Wheat, brought all the way from Canada, to himself? Or perhaps when he decides to offer his daughter his professional opinion of her drawing? They are all enjoyable. If you’re looking for a fun distraction, this is the book for you."
 
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  NPR reviews A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting

Updated September 10, 2013


"Globetrotting Cartoonist Heads Home in 'User's Guide'"

by Glen Weldon
NPR, June 27, 2013

It looks like a last-minute gift, like one of those tiny tomes that live near the register on the counter of your favorite bookstore, hoping to catch the attention (or at least the impulse) of shoppers in the check-out line. Given its digest-sized dimensions and jokey title, you'd be forgiven for assuming A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting is a hastily assembled collection of cornball homilies, like those miniature books about dads, grads and golf that double as greeting cards this time of year. But don't be fooled.

Guy Delisle is the real thing: a skilled and wryly funny Quebecois cartoonist who happens to be married to an official with the international aid group, Doctors Without Borders. In previous works like Pyongyang and Jerusalem: Chronicles of the Holy City, he's employed a genially stylized line to document life as an expatriate and househusband in some of the world's most tense and troubled places. Delisle doesn't dissect the conflicts around him (as does the rigorously reported work of graphic journalist Joe Sacco, for example). Rather, his cartoons distill the experience of foreignness into a series of allusive and cannily incongruous images, like the cover of his Burma Chronicles, which shows Delisle pushing his son's baby carriage past a fortified guard post, as the armed soldiers regard him with suspicion.

There are no foreign locales at the center of A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting, and the conflicts Delisle documents this time around are more genetic than geographical. User's Guide is a deceptively light series of gags on the subject of one well-intentioned man's shortcomings as a father. The paternal failings that fall under Delisle's self-accusatory gaze are neither grievous nor shocking, they're the stuff of everyday interactions: forgetting to leave money under the pillow for a child's tooth, hiding a beloved box of cereal from a daughter who doesn't sufficiently appreciate it, playing a comically grisly practical joke on a terrified son who will likely never forget it.

Guy Delisle has published graphic novels about his travels to Jerusalem, Myanmar, Pyongyang and Shenzhen, China.Enlarge image
Guy Delisle has published graphic novels about his travels to Jerusalem, Myanmar, Pyongyang and Shenzhen, China.

Alexa Brunet/Transit/Courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly
These are petty crimes rooted in mere thoughtlessness, of course, the kind of glancing collateral damage family members inflict on one another all the time. But Delisle deftly contrasts his cartoon avatar's self-involved and self-satisfied actions with their lingering effects on his guileless, po-faced kids. In "The Little Mouse," Delisle gets so worked up by his son's demanding more money from the French equivalent of the Tooth Fairy that he accidently gives the game away in the final panel: "Next time I'm gonna give you this [one-cent coin] here instead of two euros!" The change in his son's expression is subtle – he opens his mouth slightly – but in that tiny shift we can see a long-held belief crumbling to dust.

The brevity of each vignette highlights Delisle's acute sense of timing. In "The Monkey," he allays his daughter's bedtime fears ("There's no such thing as child snatchers," he tells her. "That's all there is to it.") The next panel is silent, as we see an expression of relief cross the girl's face. In the next panel, Delisle stands in the doorway of his daughter's room, regarding her thoughtfully. Now that Delisle the cartoonist has given us readers a beat to absorb this quaint domestic scene, Delisle the dad can proceed to screw it up, as he does in the very next panel.

"There's that story about the monkey, though ..." he says, and proceeds to recount a horrific newspaper story involving a monkey, a baby, and a fall from great heights. The strip ends with the girl staring up at the ceiling of her darkened bedroom, terrified.

In "The Pretty Picture," the book's highlight, his young daughter brings him one of her drawings. At first, Delisle praises her efforts, but the longer he looks, the more his professional eye kicks in, as the girl looks on impassively:

"And ... Uh ... I don't want to be too critical, but you've got to work on your drafting a bit. You're going to have put in some effort, or else don't even bother chasing after publishers. Look at the perspective here ... Hasn't anybody told you that things get smaller the farther away they are? This is completely haphazard. I can't tell where anything is. It's not a very complex concept, you know .... I know what you're going to say ... You're going to tell me it's your "style" and that you did it on purpose. Well, kiddo, let me tell you, there's a hell of a difference between drawing like a hack and having some kind of style. Not everybody's Art Spiegelman, you know."

If A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting is significantly more slight than Delisle's travel memoirs, it's brighter and funnier as well. And it shares with his previous work a keen appreciation for the clash of cultures; this time, however, the cultures in question are those adults and children, and the damage that ensues is played for a rueful laugh.
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Guy Delisle

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Boing Boing previews A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting

Updated June 25, 2013


A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting, by Guy Delisle

Boing Boing, June 11, 2013

A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting is a funny and truthful book about being a parent, and as a bonus, it's told in cartoons. Guy Delisle, a French Canadian cartoonist and animator, is best known for his award-winning graphic travelogues about Jerusalem, Pyongyang, Burma, and Shenzen.

This book is closer to home -- it contains 190 pages worth of light-hearted stories about his relationship with his adorable, smart kids. To give you a taste, our friends at Drawn & Quarterly gave me one of the stories to share with you. It's about Delisle, his daughter, and a box of Shredded Wheat. Enjoy!
 
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  Guy Delisle's Jerusalem and Pyongyang introduce the reader to "worlds of wonder"

Updated June 5, 2013


"The Travelling Guy: Worlds Of Wonder"

By Michael Cheang
The Star Online, May 17, 2013

AS a comic book fan, my desire to escape into these fantastical worlds of wonder sometimes leads me to forget that I already live in a world full of wonders.

However, as much as I would love to travel the world and visit each and every wonderful country out there, there are still limits to where I can go.

Fortunately, we’ve got people like Guy Delisle, who has had the privilege and opportunity to travel the world and tell us about it in comic book form.

Hailing from Quebec, Canada, Delisle is a cartoonist and former animator most famous for a series of bestselling travelogue graphic novels. The first two – Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China (2000) and Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (2003) – were based on his experiences working as an animator in China and North Korea; while in Burma Chronicles (2007) and his latest, Jerusalem: Chronicles From The Holy City (2011), he recounts his experience being a stay-home father to two children in those vastly different countries.

Reading more like journals about his own experiences than a comprehensive guide to those countries, Delisle’s books are fascinating in the sense that they are set in places most of us would probably never ever set foot in, let alone survive in for a year.

Sure, China and Myanmar may not seem as exotic to us as they would to a Canadian cartoonist living in France, but his insights on Jerusalem and Pyongyang, on the other hand, are fascinating peeks into life there.

Pyongyang, in particular, seems to be the book that resonates most with readers, to the point that a movie adaptation is already planned – to be directed by Gore Verbinski (who directed the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and the upcoming The Lone Ranger), no less.

It’s hard to see Verbinski making a movie that stays true to Delisle’s book, though, as most of the pages feature the animator slouched over computers, eating alone in empty restaurants, and talking to his translator.

As an insight into the secretive world of North Korea, however, Pyongyang is a fascinating read. Drawn in a clean and uncomplicated cartoonish style, the book maintains a largely neutral tone throughout, with Delisle wisely choosing to focus solely on the things he witnesses and experiences rather than pass judgement on the country and its culture.

Hence, what we get here is a charmingly honest and frequently witty journal about an expatriate’s life in North Korea, and the culture shock that comes with it.

Sure, this sometimes limits many of his panels to lonely and sometimes mundane scenarios at his hotel, his restaurant, or offices, but these scenes feel authentic and real – not some fabricated, over-dramatised fairytale or Hollywoodproduction.

It’s not terribly exciting stuff most of the time (for instance, the opening of a new restaurant is a “big deal” in his “little universe”, while in another panel, he gets so bored that he scrutinises the toothpicks and concludes that they are hand carved), but what makes the story so fascinating are his astute observations about the eccentricities, oddities and beliefs there, which actually made me want to visit the country just to see if they are really true.

Compared to the loneliness and otherworldly atmosphere that resonates throughout Pyongyang, there seems to be a lot more happening within the pages of Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. The city is right smack in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict zone after all, so it stands to reason that Delisle would have a lot more to write and draw about in this book than in his previous ones.

Being a stay-home father in Jerusalem (his partner was an administrative worker with Doctors Without Borders) meant he was largely left to his own devices and could wander around the city making the sort of quaint observations that normal tourists probably would not notice.

To his credit, he also tries to find out as much as possible about the country as he can – making the effort to visit different significant places and proactively seeking out new experiences, including a visit to a border checkpoint where he witnesses a fracas involving stones and tear gas.

Significantly thicker than his previous books, Jerusalem is also a much more comprehensive and informative tome, with some good observations on the complicated religious, social and political structure in the city, and some detailed yet easy to understand explanation about the history of the region and as well as the conflict itself.

It’s not all guns, bombs and tear gas, of course – ultimately, this is still a book about a cartoonist and stay-home dad trying to raise his family and live a normal life in Jerusalem. Besides his adventures and his observations on the country, Delisle also writes about normal, everyday subjects like traffic jams and grocery shopping, even dedicating three whole pages to an attempt at retrieving his car keys from the gap between an elevator and the floor.

The combination of Delisle’s simple and mundane everyday life and the ways he copes with the eccentricities and obstacles he faces makes his travelogues fascinating reads.

It also helps that he’s pretty witty, and has the knack of seeing the funny and lighter side of things, even when he is writing about heavy subjects like war and oppression.

If you’re looking for a sociopolitical analysis or a detailed cultural critique on North Korea or Jerusalem, then you’re reading the wrong books. Delisle isn’t interested in telling you what to think about these countries, he merely shows you what he saw and experienced when he was there.

By the time you’ve seen these countries through his eyes (and drawings), though, you will be ready to find out even more about – and perhaps, all set to visit – these little worlds of wonder yourself.
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Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (paperback)
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




Comics Worth Reading reviews Jerusalem and The Property

Updated June 4, 2013


"The Jewish Experience in Graphic Novels: How to Understand Israel, Jerusalem, Letting It Go, The Property"

By Johanna Draper Carlson
Comics Worth Reading, May 12, 2013

...In contrast, this is far from Guy Delisle’s first travelogue. Previously, he’s shown us life in Shenzhen (China) and Pyongyang (North Korea). Those are countries we think we understand the bad things about, and his experiences there play to our assumptions. However, this book is more challenging, due to our mixed perspectives on Israel.

(Well, maybe you’re sure who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes to the Arab/Jewish struggles. I’m not. I wish peaceful solutions were more obvious, because then maybe more people could agree on them.)



Delisle and his family are spending a year in Jerusalem because his partner works for Médecins Sans Frontières, which we know as Doctors Without Borders. Their first struggle is understanding exactly where they are. Their apartment is in the east part of Jerusalem, previously an Arab village, so according to Israelis, they’re in their country, but by other versions, they’re in the West Bank, which should be part of Palestine. That confusion is only the first example of a duality that complicates the everyday events of caring for two small children in another country.

In contrast to his previous books, Delisle is much more focused on the domestic in Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City. Everything is complicated by having parallel systems. For example, whether you’re going to the Arab Quarters or not determines which kind of bus you take. The call to prayer for Muslims wakes their daughter just when she’s dropped off to sleep. Since they’re not particularly religious (at one point, Delisle declares his atheism), the way the city shuts down on Saturday surprises them. Much of his time is spent trying to negotiate getting the kids back and forth to school.

There are more disturbing challenges, as well. The couple is separated when border crossings are closed due to security events for an unknown length of time. (His wife works in Gaza, the most restricted region, with only one crossing.) Delisle visits a security checkpoint with an observation group working for the end of Palestinian occupation, which turns into a battle of stones and tear gas grenades. Whenever he travels internationally, returning is an ordeal because of the particular areas in which his wife works. Time is spent in a region full of militant settlers and worrying how to get in to help an area under heavy bombing.

Delisle’s panels don’t often use close-ups. They’re medium shots, to show us lots of the flavor of the surroundings. That approach also makes Delisle’s figures seem small and overwhelmed, sharing the complexity of living in the region. The color consists of monochrome tones of grey or taupe, creating an oppressive, unsettling mood, with the exception of full color for maps or historical moments. Yet in the midst of struggle, there are small moments of human bonding, whether attending an expat party or taking a day at the beach or simply meeting the neighbors at the local playground.

If he’d spent more time there, he would have become more comfortable. By the second half of the book, he’s found a place to work and is beginning to settle into a routine. He draws himself having an art exhibition and discussing comics with students. Just as he begins to understand, it’s time to leave.

The struggles Delisle goes through simply to live comfortably for a year may make the reader sympathetic to those being oppressed, not necessarily because of the politics, but just out of concern for those downtrodden by any bureaucracy. Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City is a dense, lengthy, rewarding read that uses the personal to shed new light on the political. If you’re only going to read one of these books, make it this one.

...

The Property
by Rutu Modan, translated by Jessica Cohen
Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 US

Like Miriam Katin, the characters in The Property are still dealing with Holocaust ramifications. Mica and her stubborn grandmother are traveling from Israel to Warsaw, Poland, in order to find out what happened to the family’s property during the War. This story is fictional, though, which means everything ties together much more neatly than you’d expect in real life.

Much like a grown-up Tintin, Modan’s story features strong, clear lines and a pervading sense of mystery. Relatives are dreaming of reclaiming property that would provide a financial windfall. A family friend, Avram, appears on the same trip, but it’s unclear what his motives are, although his pushiness quickly becomes annoying. The grandmother has mood swings and is keeping secrets from her descendent. The granddaughter meets a tour guide, who turns out to be a comic artist and becomes involved in the situation. Later, there’s a crazy historian who wants to recreate the ghetto but conveniently provides some key clues.

One nice technique is how the trilingual aspects are handled — capitals are used for Hebrew, italics for Polish, and mixed-case for English. There’s also a sequence where the grandmother, in a cab to her old apartment home, sees how the city used to look, colored sepia through the window. It’s immediately clear what’s going on, an accomplished use of the comic language by Modan.

As the two women struggle with their pasts and each other, I found myself engrossed, curious to find out what would happen. It’s a real page-turner, and the easy-to-read style makes it happen smoothly. I liked the sensation of hope throughout the story. No matter the affect of the secrets revealed, even if unsettling, there’s a feeling that things are improved because of the entire experience.

 
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Rutu Modan

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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
The Property




  Boston Globe calls Jerusalem "breath-taking"

Updated April 4, 2013


From "‘Are you my mother?,’ ‘My Friend Dahmer,’ ‘Jerusalem’"

Dan Wasserman
Boston Globe, 6 May 2012

(...) Guy DeLisle’s “Jerusalem” is not a personal memoir but a breath-taking chronicle of one year in the holy city, written by a visitor with insatiable curiosity and a sketchbook.

DeLisle’s wife works for an international relief group, and they move into an East Jerusalem apartment with their two children. While she works, he takes care of the kids and sets out to find three things: a decent playground, a quiet place to draw his cartoons, and how the residents live in this riven city. He eventually succeeds in locating the first two. In his quest for the third, he finds more puzzles than solutions. He visits the holy sites of three religions, traverses neighborhoods carved up by political, religious, and military barriers, and tries to cope with a maddening maze of checkpoints, roadblocks, and prohibitions that shift with the hour of the day, the day of the week, and the side of the street.

Wherever he goes, DeLisle draws, and the drawings are beautiful. Simple but rich, they capture the traffic jams, the claustrophobic markets, the sacred buildings, the settlers, the soldiers, and the massive security wall. They are populated with people who are alive in their warmth, their longing and their anger. DeLisle is an accomplished animator turned narrative cartoonist, and “Jerusalem” builds on the graphic chronicles he produced during earlier stays in North Korea, Burma, and China.

He is an observer, not an advocate, but as he presses his inquiries, his frustration comes through. The steady encroachment of Israeli settlers on the homes and lives of Palestinian city dwellers casts a growing shadow over his graphic diary. The house of his babysitter’s family is threatened with seizure. Others he meets fear their homes will be attacked. The recounting is not strident but evocative. Winnicott would likely have sympathized. Speaking about the Berlin Wall in 1969, he wrote, “Much of what we call civilization becomes impossible the nearer we get to the customs barrier.” (...)

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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




Paste magazine features two D+Q books as 10 Best Comic Books of 2012

Updated February 25, 2013


The 10 Best Comic Books of 2012
BY HILLARY BROWN, SEAN EDGAR AND GARRETT MARTIN
Published at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2012

3. Jerusalem by Guy DeLisle

Jerusalem addresses complex and heated issues with grace and deft charm. Guy Delisle doesn’t pick sides, and he doesn’t let anyone off the hook, but he also doesn’t preach or depict himself in any noble light. The result seems to be a very real and well-rounded picture of day-to-day life, a journal comic that happens to be as much journalism as autobiography, with plenty of lightness that also doesn’t trivialize the situation in Jerusalem. Smart and fun, Jerusalem is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this year in comics. (HB)

2. The Making Of by Brecht Evens

The Making Of is an intelligent statement about the importance of process in making art that also functions as a fish-out-of-water narrative. The book looks great, unsurprisingly, with pages that could easily stand on their own as works of art. Evens isn’t afraid of awkwardness and comedy, two aspects that frequently intersect in his work and do so beautifully here. The Making Of looks at the decision to make art without being pretentious or annoying or flippant; it’s also genuinely enjoyable to read and, at 160 pages, it’s not over before you know it. That combination makes it one of the strongest comics published this year. (HB)
 
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  Jerusalem featured as winter read on WAMU/NPR

Updated February 25, 2013


BookDragon Blogger Terry Hong selects Jerusalem as one of "the best books to keep you warm this winter" on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU/NPR, 2012.
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Montreal Gazette recommends Guy Delisle, Tom Gauld, and Chris Ware's

Updated January 16, 2013


Rewind 2012: No shortage of top-shelf titles
By Ian McGillis, Gazette Literary Critic December 21, 2012

MONTREAL - Gabriel Garcia Marquez can’t write anymore. Philip Roth says he won’t be writing anymore. Gore Vidal, Nora Ephron, David Rakoff and Maurice Sendak definitely won’t be writing anymore. With an attrition rate like that, you’d be forgiven for assuming that 2012 was, for readers, a decided downer. But as the array below will attest, it has been a year of riches.

Try as I may, I can’t read everything: Alice Munro, Peter Carey, Junot Diaz, Ian McEwan, Tamas Dobozy, Will Ferguson, Peter Dubé and Tess Fragoulis are just a few whose newest books taunt me, untouched, from the bedside table. Think of what follows, then, not as an attempt at a definitive Best of 2012, but rather an account of a year in reading by someone for whom books fall only slightly below oxygen and food in the list of life’s essentials.

Chris Ware’s Building Stories (Pantheon, $55) is so original that writing about it almost demands a whole new vocabulary. From its form (14 discrete volumes of varying size and format inside a large box) to its Escher-like approach to narrative (the volumes can be read in any order), this literary objet d’art — it can scarcely be called a book as we understand that word — can make you re-experience the thrill of first encountering literature. Best of all, the innovation is there to serve an immaculately observed human-scale story of an ordinary woman in an ordinary Chicago apartment block. You sense that if Ware hadn’t gone into cartooning, he could have been Raymond Carver. Newness notwithstanding, there’s nothing “difficult” about what Ware has done, beyond his occasional use of eyeball-straining lettering — and hey, we’ve never held small type against the compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, have we?

Chris Ware’s colossal achievement shouldn’t obscure other advances in the thriving realm of graphic literature. Tom Gauld’s Goliath (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $19.95) employs spare imagery and even sparer dialogue to render the hapless fall-guy giant of the Bible an existential hero. Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder (Top Shelf Productions, 224 pages, $24.99) further refines the emotionally affecting way with blue-collar struggle and familial conflict that won Lemire so many fans with his Essex County trilogy. Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City (Drawn & Quarterly, 320 pages, $24.95) is the most ambitious and counterintuitively funny of Delisle’s innocent-abroad accounts of everyday living in global hot spots.

 
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  The Mint praises Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

Updated January 15, 2013


Zion painter
Despite its underlying humour, ‘Jerusalem’ presents a factual, journalistic, and an all-too-human picture of reality
R. Sukumar
First Published: Fri, Dec 07 2012. 07 50 PM

There’s the Joe Sacco kind of graphic novel about places—gritty, journalistic, each panel exploding off the page—and there’s the Guy Delisle kind of one, funny, whimsical, sparse, yet insightful.
I like both.

Sacco has written on Palestine, Israel, Bosnia, and many other conflict zones.
Delisle, who lands up in newsworthy but reclusive places by accident—his partner works for non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières in French—has written on Pyongyang (the book that made him famous after Time reviewed it in 2005), Shenzhen, Burma, and, now, Jerusalem.

There have been other books on Israel.
There is Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which has featured in this column before (“The Birthright tour”, 11 February 2011). Back then, I wrote: “… a comic book is a great way to address and depict serious issues. It is as if the simplicity of the medium and the sheer incongruence of having serious issues depicted in a medium associated with men in tights and the funnies somehow increases the poignancy of the story being told.”

I couldn’t put it better.

Glidden’s book is autobiographical, and she used watercolours to get her story across.

Delisle’s books are always autobiographical, and he uses cartoon-style illustrations, but the poignancy is still there. Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City (Jonathan Cape London) is probably his most ambitious and complex work to date. Delisle’s strength has always been to use the mundane and the routine to tell a larger story. He does that to good effect; there are anecdotes about shopping, driving and maids and also about stone-throwing, checkpoints and security checks, and random acts of cruelty and violence, all of which pass for the quotidian in Jerusalem. The larger story itself is of a city that has historically been important to different people for different reasons and which is also the setting for a conflict that started in the 20th century and continues into the 21st, a conflict that is at once political, economic, cultural and military.

I could be wrong, but Jerusalem is probably Delisle’s longest book, and it is not all that hard to understand why.

It is a conflict that has affected Arabs, and it is a conflict that has affected Jews. Delisle, who strives to remain neutral, presents both sides of the story. His Jerusalem is not what you’d find either in the travel glossies or serious writing about the Palestine conflict. Yet, despite its underlying humour, Jerusalem presents a factual, journalistic, and an all-too-human picture of reality.

Yes, it’s still a comic.

R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.

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World Literature Today calls Guy Delisle "an exceptional creator"

Updated January 15, 2013


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle
Rob Vollmar
Novermber, 2012

Guy Delisle is comics’ travelographer du jour, a restless Quebecois whose thoughtful graphic narratives of extended stays in foreign locales first began washing up on anglophone shores in 2005, five years or so after he’d begun releasing them in the French market. Jerusalem, his latest graphic novel, builds on the strengths of his earlier works but adds in a layer of urgency due to the story’s proximity to violence and a greater complexity afforded by the length of the book.

Delisle structures his autobiographical excursions in short, easily digestible units that stand ably on their own. Jerusalem’s span necessitates a second scaffolding as the vignettes are grouped by months that slowly tick away as the book proceeds. While Delisle’s earlier works offered the reader an opportunity to follow him working as an animator in China (Shenzhen, 2006; see WLT, Mar. 2007, 65) and North Korea (Pyongyang, 2005), Jerusalem finds him attending to his children while his girlfriend works for Doctors Without Borders, as in The Burma Chronicles (2008). This arrangement offers both him and the reader more opportunities to interact with the location as he spends more time exploring its nuances and sketching its sights in his few free hours.

This devotion to his sketchbook pays dividends throughout the work. Delisle’s iconically rendered characters inhabit a world where the architecture and landscapes are reflective of their real-world counterparts and yet possess a designerly quality that communicates meaning to the reader more directly than that of a mechanical draftsman’s reproduction. The sum of Delisle’s detached observations and carefully metered visual narrative is a book that allows the reader to explore the territory without the ideological baggage often tagging along with a story like this. Delisle is not ignorant to the suffering that confronts him on his stay, but he presents it through an apolitical filter that sees it as a human problem rather than an ethnic or political one.

The graphic novel is certainly no stranger to the autobiography or the travelogue. In Guy Delisle, though, we have an exceptional creator who has delivered a stylistically consistent and topically timely body of work in under a decade. They constitute a major contribution to the body of vital graphic novels being published to a global audience right now. Jerusalem, the latest limb to spring from that corpus, is as close to a must-read work as any enthusiast of world graphic literature is likely to find this year.
 
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  Vice Magazine reviews Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

Updated November 21, 2012


NICK GAZIN'S COMIC BOOK LOVE-IN #72
By Nick Gazin

Jerusalem
Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly

Guy Delisle is an animator from Canada who is sent to out-of-the-way places and documents his experiences in graphic novels. His previous book, Pyong Yang, documented his time living and working in North Korea. It was released years before VICE's covertly filmed documentary about North Korea, but showed that he had to go through a lot of the same procedures and rituals that Shane Smith did. Jerusalem documents every interesting interaction and experience that Guy had while in Jerusalem, in the order that they happened, and as a result it drags on a bit. I don't hold that against the book though. Guy Delisle makes some of the most important and educational comics out there, and reading his comics is the next best thing to visiting a place firsthand.
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The National reviews Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

Updated November 20, 2012


Graphic novel offers a rare, intimate glimpse of life in Jerusalem
Joseph Dana - Sep 1, 2012

The Middle East has always been a magnet for foreign aid workers. Entrenched conflict and routine outbreaks of armed violence mean that cities like Cairo, Jerusalem and Beirut have had a strong presence of engaged foreign nationals.
Jerusalem, in particular, has a unique cross-section of foreigners, from diplomats to journalists, who exist in suspended animation; crossing from Israeli Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem to Palestinian East Jerusalem and Ramallah at will. They constitute the few people with the privileged ability to slip behind Israel's network of walls and checkpoints in order to evaluate what is actually taking place on the ground.
Given the depth of perspective possessed by many of these individuals, one would expect a wealth of memories emanating from their circles. Yet this is not the case. The recent arrival of Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, a graphic novel by the talented Canadian comic-book artist Guy Delisle, is a welcome diversion from this silence.
Delisle has a fortunate position, enjoyed by few. His partner works for Doctors Without Borders and jumps from posts in North Korea to Gaza. He dutifully follows, taking care of their two small children and stealing time to sketch the unique cities he learns for short bursts of time. With the eye of an artist and the inquisitiveness of a journalist, Delisle places himself and his journey at the centre of the cities he documents. The result in Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a rare glimpse behind the headlines at the stark contours of life in the region.
Given the intensely scripted narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the perspective of a curious foreigner, with no particular allegiance, affords the reader a perspective steeped in the flow of life, yet cognisant of all the difficulty associated with everything from movement to water access.
Delisle's choice of medium, the graphic novel, highlights his genuine curiosity as he explores his surroundings from his home in East Jerusalem. Simple tasks, such as commuting to and from his child's nursery in West Jerusalem, take on a wondrous quality which invariably highlights the general absurdity of how life functions between occupied Palestinian and Israeli Jerusalem. With the kids at school, he roams the city, sketching everything from holy sites to the heaps of refuse that clog the streets of his neighbourhood.
However, the narrative of Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City does not shy away from the controversial aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. Delisle repeatedly visits the West Bank city of Hebron, one of the most divided in the conflict, where combat soldiers detail exactly how they were told to control the Palestinian population. While the historical details of Hebron's violent history are presented clearly, Delisle depicts exactly how history is used for selective purposes.
There is an unmistakable sense of surprise apparent at every turn in the story that Delisle weaves from his experience. As soon as he arrives in East Jerusalem, with its dusty streets and utter lack of municipal services, the author scratches his head in wonder. Jerusalem was not supposed to be like this.
After travelling to Europe for a comics conference and narrowly missing his flight to Tel Aviv due to incessant questioning by airport security staff, he again is left with questions about Israel's treatment of non-Jews. Is this really how Israel behaves? Throughout the year his book chronicles, Delisle becomes uncomfortably aware of the gulf between the Israel of his Western imagination and that of reality.
Despite the turmoil associated with the situation, the subtle magic of this conflicted space is captured with a touch of humour and a light touch where needed.
On the Jewish holiday of Purim, he finds ultra-orthodox Jews, generally stoic people, embracing the Biblical directive of partying in the streets. He befriends graphic artists in Ramallah preparing to travel to London in search of careers because the design studios of Tel Aviv are off limits. He finds life flourishing despite the depressing situation created by the status quo of the conflict.
Too often, international observers like Delisle, who travel seamlessly between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, are constrained to report what they experience. Editorial lines and diplomatic protocol ensure that honest accounts remain buried under layers of narrative. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City bucks this trend with a rare and intimate account of life steeped in the absurd.

 
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  The Agenda interviews Guy Delisle

Updated November 20, 2012


Guy Delisle: In Detail

by Mary Taws Friday August 31, 2012

I’m not particularly a comics person, so before I read Guy Delisle’s work, I wasn’t sure what to expect from his particular brand of writing. Delisle writes about Israel, China, North Korea, and other complex parts of the world, in a graphic novel format.

For the past decade or so, Delisle has travelled around the world with his wife and two children, assessing the places he lives in for a year and change. If he has something to say, he says it through illustration. Not every place he travels to yields a book.

I wondered what Delisle’s take on some of the most complicated conflict-zones in the world would add to the vast literature already out there. As it turns out, what Delisle offers is accessibility. For a man who writes about complex places, Delisle doesn't take himself too seriously. The first thing Delisle said to me when we met in the TVO green room was a prime example.

“I burned through your book in one sitting,” I told him. “I couldn’t believe that only two hours had gone by when I finished.”

“Took you two hours, hmm?” he asked, pausing to take a sip of coffee. “It took me three years to write,” he finally replied, with a sly smile.

And, to me, that interaction not only summed up Delisle’s persona, but also the way he shapes his comics, including his latest graphic novel, Jerusalem. Delisle is a character in many of his books, including Jerusalem (think Woody Allen in cartoon form, but with less of a need to go on quirky tirades). He experiences the city for the first time with the reader, providing some serious lessons learned, with just the right amount of comic relief.

The Future of Graphic Novels
In the final installment of our web-exclusive Agenda in the Summer video series, "Imagining the Future," Guy Delisle talks about what the graphic novel industry might look like in 20 years.
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Now Toronto reviews Jerusalem: Chronicles From The Holy City

Updated November 20, 2012


Oh, Jerusalem
By DAVID SILVERBERG
JERUSALEM: CHRONICLES FROM THE HOLY CITY by Guy Delisle

Few can pull off the graphic novel travelogue. But Quebec’s Guy Delisle is a pro at turning his trips into gorgeous comics of world capitals sizzling with political tension.
Fresh off the acclaim of Pyongyang, he turns to another fractious city in this report on his year-long sojourn in Jerusalem.
It’s the true story of his work as a cartoonist while accompanying his wife, who works for Médecins sans Frontières. Thanks to that point of entry, Delisle’s perspective isn’t limited to that of a tourist, but instead reveals the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts you might come across working for a frontline NGO. Thing is, he does a lot of waiting for things to happen, just like, you know, in real life.
His insights are often clearly based on authentic encounters, as when homeless boys kiss his hand when approaching him, or the moment on Remembrance Day when everything comes to a halt in Jerusalem, at airports and on the street. Delisle doesn’t usually declare his feelings about such things, instead letting readers come to their own conclusions about the wonders and weirdness of life in Israel.
At 320 pages, it’s an exhaustive memoir, and much of it records days spent drawing checkpoints or synagogues. But Delisle isn’t interested in self-editing for the sake of pacing, and thus gives us a more profound portrait of life as an observer in Jerusalem. At times he found it mundane, at others exotic and fascinating. He didn’t let himself paint just the pretty colours.
Get this travelogue to learn about Jerusalem’s multiple personalities, as frustrating as they may be. You might never look at Israel – or graphic novels – the same way again.
 
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  Santa Barbara News-Press reviews "Jerusalem"

Updated August 27, 2012


GRAPHIC NOVEL: Jerusalem: Holy land and wholly amusing

Katie Haegele
June 10, 2012

Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City
Guy Delisle
Drawn + Quarterly

Since publishing Pyongyang, a travelogue-in-comics of his time in North Korea, Guy Delisle has been known as a kind of political cartoonist — the memoir-style, down-to-earth kind. In his newest book he chronicles the year he spent in Israel, another volatile place, where his wife was stationed as an administrator for Doctors Without Borders. The organization placed the family in Beit Hanina, an underserved, mostly-Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem. According to the Israeli government, the area belongs to Israel, as Delisle learns during his first days there. But according to the world community Beit Hanina is in the West Bank, which will become Palestine, if that day ever comes. It’s the first description of the place that Delisle finds confusing, but not the last. Indeed, his book is unlike other comic memoirs that illustrate Eastern cultures for a Western readership — like Vietnamerica or Persepolis — because it’s from the point of view of a total outsider. The result is a fresh, unbiased, and sometimes humorous take on a place not often associated with light-heartedness.
We follow along as the author learns his way in the colorful but often frustrating city. He tours holy sites and shuttles his kids to and from school and on daytrips to the beach. He gets held up at checkpoints — they seem to be countless in number — over and over again. He tours a small synagogue that has windows painted by Chagall and befriends a Lutheran priest, who lets him use a room in his church as a studio. And he draws endless sketches of the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank, which seems to fascinate him. By demurring to those who ask about it that he finds the wall
interesting only “graphically,” he’s telling us subtly that he finds it too sad to discuss. The threat of violence is an everyday reality; Delisle depicts people walking their babies or going for a jog with automatic rifles lashed to their backs. Then in December the Israeli army begins bombing Gaza in an attack that lasts for less than a month and
leaves more than 1,000 Palestinians dead. But what ultimately makes Delisle’s narrative fascinating is his interest in every mundane detail around him — the broad brush- strokes of history as well as the quirky individuals he meets.
He approaches sensitive political issues with no personal axe to grind. (In fact, a French-Canadian and a non-religious Christian, the author seems unusually ignorant of basic Jewish and Muslim religious beliefs. “I thought Yom Kippur was a war,” he tells his neighbor on the holiday. “That was in ’73,” the man replies as he washes his car. “We lost.”) And his humor, when it does appear, works because it’s gentle but not irritatingly reverent — always a hazard in depicting a foreign culture. One evening he sees a Muslim wedding from his living room window — there are lights and music but, to his surprise, only men — and remarks, “What a strange party. Not a girl in sight. Just like a
comics festival.”
Down-to-earth, insightful, and eye-openeing, Delisle’s book is an education and a
pleasure to read.
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Bookgasm reviews Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem"

Updated August 23, 2012


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City


by BRIAN WINKELER
JULY 26, 2012

Because of his wife’s work with Doctors Without Borders, illustrator Guy Delisle has been essentially leading readers on a tour of Countries Where People Are Dicks to Each Other. His first (and greatest) book was 2005′s PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA, a peek into the mundanities of totalitarianism.
He followed with the enjoyable but less fulfilling SHENZEN: A TRAVELOGUE FROM CHINA and BURMA CHRONICLES, and is now back on the new releases wall with JERUSALEM: CHRONICLES FROM THE HOLY CITY. And it’s a fine piece of work.
An animator by trade, Delisle is an expert graphic storyteller. In many ways, JERUSALEM is easier to digest than his previous work because chapters last only a handful of pages. It’s his most anecdotal work yet, though its fair to say that his aim is not sweeping narrative — it’s transcribing mostly small moments of his own ineptitude as he struggles with differences in language, culture and geography. His simple linework gives his art an easy readability, and his restrained use of color (the book is mostly highlighted in warm and cool grays) occasionally gives it almost a feeling of cartoon photojournalism.
If there’s any shortcoming, it’s maybe only found in those (like me) who’ve read all of his work. PYONGYANG was a bracing, provocative read simply because North Korea is mostly uncharted territory (especially in graphic literature) so every page was a new discovery of an alien culture.
Published by Drawn & Quarterly, JERUSALEM treads no new ground, though it does stand out amongst other books on the area (most notably Joe Sacco’s PALESTINE). It’s no political screed or statement; it merely contains the trademark Delisle focus on the mundane inconveniences of modern life. And maybe that alone is something worth celebrating. —Brian Winkeler
 
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  Jerusalem on AM NY

Updated July 30, 2012


Guy Delisle: Tales from the Holy Land
4/23/12
By Scott A. Rosenberg
AM New York

After chronicling his time in China, North Korea and Burma, cartoonist Guy Delisle is now taking on the Holy Land.

During a year spent living in Jerusalem, Delisle - whose wife is an administrator at Doctors Without Borders - took care of his children, explored, sketched and experienced the diverse cultures there.

The result was the brick-like graphic memoir "Jerusalem," which won Best Album this year at the Angouleme International Comics Festival. It features countless short stories that build a compelling narrative of his experience in Israel, from serious political and religious machinations to charming moments with the author and his family.

amNewYork spoke with 46-year-old Canadian artist, who currently lives in France.

How do you and your wife decide on your next destination? Now, I go where my wife goes. I used to travel in animation. To wherever they would outsource [me] - at the time it was China, North Korea and Vietnam. Then I decided I was just going to do comics and I wasn't going to travel anymore. My wife decided to [work for DWB] and I just follow... she doesn't really decide. They propose a few places... and choose one place.

Do you know right off the bat that you're going to be doing a book when you go to these exotic locales? I don't know before. I've been in a few places where I was thinking I might do a book, and then I came back, read my notes and there wasn't much to say.

What did you learn about yourself from living a year in Jerusalem? I'm not a very religious person and being in Jerusalem, seeing what religious people do there, didn't make me a more religious [person], that's for sure.

After living in China, North Korea, Burma and Israel, do you ever long to just travel to an easy, safe place? No, they're quite easy places, even though they sound sometimes complicated or dangerous. [DWB] only sends people places where there's no danger. The funny thing is, we were supposed to go to Guatemala - Guatemala sounds like a very safe place - but the head of mission said, "I don't want to have a family there because it's too dangerous." So, they said, "We're going to send you to Burma," and for me, Burma was clearly dangerous. But no, it was not. It's very quiet.

Your fellow cartoonist Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel "Persepolis" was turned into an animated film. Is that something you'd like to see with one of your books? I come from an animation background, so I see the work that it would demand - and it's really tedious and [you] would have to stop for three years, like Marjane did for "Persepolis." I don't see movies as something exceptional that I should spend three years doing that. I'd much prefer to stay home, at my table, and in three years, I could do two books ... I can take a pencil tomorrow and I can start whatever I want.
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A portrait of Guy Delisle from Comic Book Resources: memory, travel, and "Jerusalem"

Updated July 25, 2012


Guy Delisle Chronicles a Year in "Jerusalem"
April 26, 2012
Alex Dueben
Comic Book Resources

Guy Delisle has worked in animation for many years and created a number of books for children and adults, but he is best known for his travelogues. In the books "Shenzhen" and "Pyongyang," He wrote about his experiences working on short-term contracts for animation companies in those cities. His last book, "Burma Chronicles," was a little different, following a year in the secretive country as Delisle accompanied his wife -- an administrator with Médecins Sans Frontiéres, or Doctors without Borders -- with their infant son.

Delisle's latest book is "Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City," published by Drawn & Quarterly. Earlier this year, the book received the Fauve d'Or or Best Comic Book Award at the prestigious Angouleme Comic Festival. Following a year that Delisle spent in the city with his wife and two children, the book doesn't avoid politics, but is more concerned with everyday life in the city. The challenges of getting from one side of the city to another, dealing with life abroad with two young children and the stories of the people he meets from all walks of life. Widely considered to be Delisle's best book to date, the cartoonist is currently on tour promoting it in North America including stops at Skylight Books in Los Angeles this Saturday and the Toronto Comics Art Festival next weekend. CBR News spoke with Delisle about the book, the research that goes into his graphic novels and what he has planned for his next project.

CBR News: While your previous books have been about places that are not well known, that's not the case with "Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy Land." And it's a place where, no matter what you say, it will bother or anger someone. Did this affect how you worked on it?

Guy Delisle: Not so much, actually. When I came back, I read my notes just like I do with all the places I've been. For this one, most people know Jerusalem and know the basic facts about the government and the politics. I didn't want to be too complicated because it's a comic book. I didn't want to write a thesis. My challenge was to explain more than what we usually know about the situation, [but] not so much that the book would be boring. I don't want it to be too serious. That was different from the other ones, that's for sure, but I just started reading my notes and put everything I thought would be interesting in the book.

The book was a great source of information about odd details about how the city operates, like the parallel transit systems. How important was it to present all that information?

I don't try to explain the whole situation. I think that would be impossible. I said right at the beginning that this is going to be the story of an expatriate who doesn't know much about the conflict. Which is true. The reader knows who is going to walk in these streets and have these observations. I walk on the streets of East Jerusalem. From that point of view, I see [the Arabs] have their bus and it's not taken by the Jews, and the Jews have their own bus. I'd never read about that in any article.

I just want to take my time. I have the whole year, so I just take notes. I much prefer to work with small details like that about the way people live there. For me, that's very important. These two bus systems reflect more than just the bus going from one place to the other. It's about the way they live. That was interesting to observe. After three hundred pages of small observations, you kind of have a general picture when you look from far away.

Your work really has that feel of giving a sense of place through the accumulation of small details.

I don't try to explain everything. I spent a year there talking with journalists and humanitarians and UN people and I had a lot of information. [Laughs] If I spent a year in a place, what would I see? What interesting things would I see if I would spent a year in the East Village of New York like I am now? That's what I have done with East Jerusalem. [I show] what I see when I'm there. I didn't want to explain the whole history of the area.

It's always felt to me like you're creating a comic about your daily life, and it stands out because you're telling stories about unusual places.

Yeah, I don't chose the places. [Laughs]

How do you work? In "Pyongyang," you mentioned that you would sketch on the right hand page, take notes on the left hand page and you would construct book from that. Is that still how you work?

Essentially. I just take every day notes. It's nothing spectacular. It's not literature, just, we went there, we saw that, blah blah. Sometimes I forget a few things, so on the left page I write more details or do a very quick sketch if it's easier to sketch, but usually it's just text. When I come back, I need a little distance of a few months. I forget a lot of stuff. I read the notes and go, oh yeah, that was very interesting. I remember I should talk about that because later in the year it became more interesting.

Why do you need a few months distance?

I made the mistake when I was in Burma. I was reading the notes I'd been taking after being in Burma for six months and thought, I can do a book with this. It's interesting enough. I started to do the book based on things that were happening at the time. I'd say, oh this was fun today so tomorrow I'll draw about that. When I came back to France and I finished the book, most of the stuff I drew while I was in Burma didn't work. It was working at the time in Burma, but with the distance it didn't work, so I removed almost twenty pages. I learned that I really needed the distance; it's better to work from memory and my notes. Our memory kind of filters the things that are not so important and for me, that's precious.

Do you read many travel books?

I've read a few. Not because I was thinking I should learn from them, but I've always been interested. There's Nicolas Bouvier whose "L'Usage du monde" is such a masterpiece. An interesting one is Nigel Barley. He's an English guy, an ethnologist, and he went to Africa. He's quite funny because he tells more behind the scenes work than what he was doing as an ethnographer. All the problems he had with the tribes and the people that tried to rip him off and he's very funny. His books are a lot of fun and you get to learn about ethnology at the same time. I really like that mix. That has probably influenced me talking about my work. In "Shenzhen," I explained what it is to do animation in some detail. I knew that it would work because I really liked when he was explaining his work as an ethnologist and then you go back to more narrated stuff. I like that mix.

Do you see any cartoonists doing something similar to what you do? People sometimes mention Joe Sacco, but you two are very different.

I agree. We are very different. I've seen small ones, but they're French and I don't think they would be names you would know. There is one book about a guy who was in Afghanistan called "Kabul Disco" that I thought was interesting. He was there for about a year, I think, and he talks about everyday life in Kabul. That really looked like the stuff I do and it was well done. I liked it.

Before you go on these trips or afterwards in France, do you read a lot about the country?

No. I've done that once only, when I went to Pyongyang, because I knew that I would be with translators and they would give me the basic propaganda answers all the time. I thought, well, before I go there I'm going to read as much as I can. That was before September 11 and North Korea was not as well known. It was this forgotten, remote country. There were about five or six books I found, and I read them all. They were always mentioning George Orwell's "1984." I read it when I was younger, but I read it again. I was halfway done and I thought, well, I'll bring it with me and finish it there. I didn't know I would pass it around or that the guy in the border would look at my bag and say, "What is that book?" [Laughs] It was very strange. That was the reason I brought the book, just to finish it.

That was so I had enough information so when I was asking, what's this or what's that, I knew actually a lot of stuff. I was waiting for their answer to see, okay, they're saying this to me, but not that. I didn't do it with "Jerusalem" or "Burma" because I knew I would be surrounded by people who have been there for years. It was very easy whenever I had a question to go to these guys and to talk to them.

"1984," I would imagine, was a handy reference for Burma as well.

Yeah. I was blown away. [George Orwell] wrote that in '48 and that was just the beginning of some of these countries. He anticipated the whole thing so brilliantly. It's such a fantastic book. And reading it there was quite an experience. [Laughs]

I can imagine. Now, you've done other books which are more comic, besides working in animation. Do you think they have anything in common with your travel books.

Somehow they do. I'm more of a comic type of guy; I just happen to be in serious countries.

But to do a book for children is very interesting for me, too. I've done two children's books and two more for adults, and I've used actually these tools in some of my books. They cross over, somehow. In "Burma," I wanted to explain the touristy place we visited because it was a bit strange from the rest of the year. For me, the best solution was to use a different type of language.

Have you ever thought of assembling a book of your architectural drawings or sketches?

Yes. That's going to be released this year from my publisher. We decided to make an extra book for the ones who are interested in seeing the sketches. I didn't put them in the book because, graphically, it just didn't fit in the comic.

Just sketches from the year you spent in Jerusalem or sketches you've made over many years?

I's a companion to the "Jerusalem" book, so it will just be from the year I was there in Jerusalem. I have hundreds.

I read a while back that your wife changed jobs.

Yeah. We've been traveling with children and they don't do that too much in MSF. It's much more for bachelors with backpacks than families, really. We tried that for a few years, but on the last one it was quite complicated. I mentioned it a little bit in the book, but it was quite hard on me. The kids are now eight and five, and it's time for us to stop doing that. She knew she wouldn't do that all her life, so it was time for us to stop.

Do you have a next project in mind?

Well, I have different small ones that I'm putting on my blog. I think one of these will make a small book. I have a bigger one I keep postponing. I'm going to start working when I finish here and I have a more quiet life in September. For once, I'm going to write about someone else's experience. That's going to be a change for me. This guy in MSF who was an administrator and he was abducted in Chechnya. He managed to escape three months after he was abducted. I've worked on a first draft and he read it and it's going to be a big one as well. That should be a year or two.

Have you thought about creating book about your life in the South of France? Or Quebec, where you grew up?

I don't know. I'm going to go to Quebec this summer and I'll see how it goes. I'm going to start with just a few sketches I want to do about the city of Quebec. In France, I don't think so, because now I've spent half my life in France. I like to have that culture shock distance, but that's gone now. Now I'm too much in the place. I don't see it. [Laughs]

You're on tour here in North America. Is there anything looking forward to seeing?

No, nothing specific. I have a few hours here and there. I'm just going to walk around and see as much as I can. I'd like to see the White House because I'm going to be in Washington for a day and a half. That's about it.
 
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  Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" reviewed by The New Statesman

Updated July 25, 2012


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City - review
The New Statesman
HAYLEY CAMPBELL
17 JUNE 2012

The thing with cartoonists is this: no one really knows what to do with them. I have known many who have trouble getting through customs barriers simply because when they hand over the landing card, their occupation – inked tightly in perfect capital letters – is an absurd anomaly, and by extension so are they: cartoonists are not a thing uniformed guards deal with regularly. I have seen gleeful cartoonists snip neat squares of text out of local newspapers to present them at the desk as more efficient and believable versions of their official documents: "I am a guest in your country," they will plead feverishly, "Look! They wrote about me in the newspaper!" before adding: "I really did win an award!"

Simple difficulties like this make the cartoonist’s travelogue a different beast from your regular Lonely Planet guide. Explaining your flimsy career to tired workers at an Australian customs barrier is one thing, but to drunk teenage soldiers with guns at one of Jerusalem's many checkpoints? Near suicide. It makes you look at a country differently, usually through the frosted glass of some official cell you’ve been temporarily held in while they go through your stuff.

By this point in his career Guy Delisle must have countless stories of customs barriers, with at least five of them making it into his latest graphic novel, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. As a result of his wife’s job with Médecins Sans Frontiéres, or Doctors Without Borders, Delisle often spends extended periods of time in politically unstable places – Shenzhen, Pyongyang, Burma – reporting back on each place in increasingly excellent autobiographical comics. And through the course of these works the irony of his wife’s job and the borders he is personally up against on a daily basis is not lost on Delisle: while she works he explores the city, going to the very edges of the Israeli/Arab borders and seeing what he finds there, how the cultures clash at the meeting point. Sometimes it is a physical barrier, like the high separation wall he becomes obsessed with and sketches from countless angles before he is moved on by confused officials playing it safe. Sometimes it’s a mental one. In the case of transport, Delisle unwittingly found the root for China Miéville’s novel The City and The City in which two cities co-exist on the same geographical location but “unsee” the other’s infrastructure and people: Jerusalem has a transport system for Israeli buses that travel everywhere but the Arab quarters, and vice versa. When Delisle mentions this to his Israeli cab driver he is baffled. "The Arabs have buses?"

Jerusalem is Delisle’s biggest and most accomplished work to date, not just because of the page count or because he’s inside the walls of one of the most secretive places on earth, but because he’s coming at it from a very specific place: one where he is as excited to find the an ancient church as he is to find a playground with a really good slide. Transporting your own kids to a city of major violent conflict would undoubtedly put them at the forefront of your mind – it’s little wonder his wife’s job is usually one reserved for single people rather than parents with young families to worry about – so many of the vignettes are about the how all this stuff affects the children who are frequently on the rough end of violence they don’t understand. While it is their stories that break Delisle’s heart the hardest, an MSF psychologist tells him it’s the kids who bounce back after just a couple of months of therapy. The adults: not so much.

Delisle’s graphic novels are not dry politics, nor are they Joe Sacco-style politics. He never picks a team, but reports stuff anecdotally as he sees it from his position on the sidelines, somehow avoiding any subjectivity. Sacco, who is best known for his 1992 graphic novel Palestine about the plight of the Palestinian people in the West Bank of the Gaza Strip, gives a variety of silenced people a voice – Delisle’s is strictly his own head on paper.

It’s a conversational dialogue in which he jumps deftly between the sacred and the mundane. Like we all do on holiday, he points out strange fashions that still exist like they’ve crawled off into pockets of the world and resisted evolution, as if no one told them about Hitler or his facial hair. Tourists who rent huge wooden crosses so as to travel in the footsteps of Jesus probably don’t notice the poor guy who has to carry them back down off the hill, three in one go, but Delisle does. They’re stories of human minutiae in a place we only see in times of political strife on the news, when it blends into all the other stories of political strife and we become numb to it. Without Delisle we might never learn what it’s actually like to live in a place like this, or get a realistic idea of the people we would meet if we did. He’s clear-eyed, good-hearted, he takes what he sees and he turns it into art. Even the stuff about customs.
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Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" and Free Comic Book Day on the Montreal Gazette

Updated July 25, 2012


It’s Free Comic Book Day, but Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem is one you’ll want to pay for
May 4, 2012
Ian McGillis
Montreal Gazette

Free Comic Book Day, you say? There’s got to be a catch, right? Weirdly, there isn’t. Participating stores all over North America and indeed around the world, including several in Montreal, will be giving away a variety of items all day today, Saturday, May 5, and some the following day as well. I’ll be dropping in to Drawn & Quarterly and maybe a couple more, trying not to look too eager. See you there.

You won’t be given a copy of Guy Delisle‘s Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City, but if you’re looking to keep up with the state of the art, the $24.95 asking price for the hefty and visually arresting volume will be money well spent. Delisle, a native Quebecker now living in France, has reached the fourth installment (Pyongyang, Shenzhen and Burma Chronicles being the first three) in a series chronicling the expat experience in places where foreigners seldom visit, let alone live. Delisle’s wife works for Medecins sans frontieres; it’s her job that takes the couple and their growing family to a variety of global backwaters, trouble spots and no-go zones, and it’s Delisle himself who ends up with most of the childcare and domestic responsibilities.

Their Jerusalem home base is Beit Hanina, a Palestinian enclave in East Jerusalem with strained infrastructure (garbage collection is something we take for granted until it’s not getting done) and a lengthy blockade-strewn commute from seemingly everything Delisle needs and wants to do. So, above and beyond the thicket of local politics (a couple of headline-grabbing incidents occur while he’s there and they are duly noted) what Delisle portrays are the everyday hassles and irritants almost everyone else leaves out of their travel accounts. I was reminded of the time I visited Old Goa, just outside Panaji in India, where amid the surreal experience of wandering through decaying sixteenth-century Portuguese churches set amid coconut groves what actually occupied my attention most was the preponderance of apparently ownerless (and for all I knew, rabid) dogs wandering around, growling and menacing and making it impossible to relax. For spooky dogs substitute uniformed men with guns, and you’ll have a sense of the general mood of Delisle’s Jerusalem.

Delisle himself has matured over the course of the series. Unlike the more callow visitor of Shenzhen and Pyongyang he never gives the impression of looking down his nose at the locals. He has gradually grown out of the role of befuddled foreign everyman–though there’s still enough of that to provide some laughs–and into a more compassionate, if still often confused, observer.

When I’ve described Jerusalem to comics-inclined friends, invariably they mention Joe Sacco, whose comics-as-journalism dealing with Bosnia and Gaza–the latter the overlapping point with Delisle–have revolutionized the form. But all the two really have in common is excellence. Where Sacco’s work places the reader in a densely packed you-are-there historical diorama, Delisle’s impact is more quiet and cumulative, best taken in single concentrated sittings. Quotidian details and small revelations add up until it dawns on you that you’re being presented, bit by bit, with a remarkably rich picture of a place you may well never see for yourself. It’s no coincidence that Jerusalem, his longest book yet, is also his best.

Ian McGillis
 
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  "Jerusalem" reviewed by the Portland Mercury

Updated July 25, 2012


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly)

by Alison Hallett
June 28 2012

Even-keeled comics memoirist Guy Delisle has documented day-to-day life in Pyongyang, Shenzhen, and Burma; for his newest book, he packs his pencils and heads to Jerusalem with his partner, an administrator for Médecins Sans Frontières. While his partner is in and out of Gaza, doing important doctor-type work, Delisle spends his days taking care of the kids, exploring religious sites, and learning new ways to navigate Jerusalem traffic. It's a remarkably level account—Delisle is clearly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but it's only with extreme reluctance that he refrains from shopping at a grocery store in an Israeli settlement. (It stocks his favorite brand of cereal.) Most of his commentary is limited to the "Whoa, that's weird!" of seeing men out for a job with guns casually strapped to their backs. The decision to emphasize the mundane, rather than the political, is paradoxically what makes Jerusalem such a quietly compelling read. AH
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Drawing the Wall: Guy Delisle on "Jerusalem" in Quill and Quire

Updated July 25, 2012


Guy Delisle’s dispatches from a divided city
By Katharine Robertson
May 3, 2012
Quill and Quire

The first time Guy Delisle glimpsed Israel’s West Bank barrier during his year-long stay in East Jerusalem, he found it disturbing.

“I didn’t think it would be so high,” he writes in the graphic travelogue Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, Drawn & Quarterly’s lead spring title. In the book, Delisle has drawn himself wide-eyed, looking up at the stark, striking wall that divides Israel from the West Bank. The wall became a bit of an obsession for the Quebec City native. He estimates that over the course of the year, he made about 300 sketches of the barrier, many of which are scattered throughout the book.

“When I see the wall, it’s horrible for what it represents. It separates and divides two nations,” the 46-year-old says. “But you just get used to it. I started to draw it, working with grey marker. I’d just paint the whole piece of concrete grey in the middle of sketches, from so many perspectives. It’s like a big snake going through the valley. It was really interesting to draw.”

It’s this kind of painstaking attention to detail and observation, combined with a certain ambivalence, that provides readers of Delisle’s work a unique perspective on some of the most fascinating – and politically fraught – locations in the world. Pyongyang (2005) gave readers unprecedented insight into the daily lives of the citizens of North Korea’s capital. In Shenzhen (2006), Delisle shared his experiences managing a team of animators in the industrial, heavily guarded Chinese city. After that came Burma Chronicles (2008), which followed Delisle and his wife, Nadège, an administrator with Médecins Sans Frontières, to the isolated country.

Jerusalem, which again piggybacks on one of his wife’s humanitarian missions, is poised to reach his largest audience yet. The book has already received critical acclaim in France, where the author has lived for the past 20 years. In January, the book won the Fauve d’Or, the most prestigious award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, one of the largest comic book festivals in the world; in the two months following its November release, the French-language edition sold 60,000 copies.

Illustration from Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles of the Holy City (Photo: Drawn & Quarterly)

In May, Delisle will be the guest of honour at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which will host an onstage interview and screen a documentary by filmmaker Phillip Rashleigh, The Guy Delisle Chronicles.

“Guy’s work is exceptional for its restraint,” says Helge Dascher, who has translated four of Delisle’s books from French to English. “He has an exceptionally sure sense of what is sufficient, and also an extraordinary trust in the cumulative effect of impressions and experiences that could appear mundane in themselves.”

In Jerusalem, those first-hand impressions have resulted in a surprisingly revealing account of an extremely complex place. A vignette about stocking up on diapers illustrates the high level of security average citizens encounter at every turn. A trip to the beach in Tel Aviv at the close of the short but bloody Gaza War shows how desensitized to violence the population has become, as the author sunbathes while watching military jets taking off and landing in the distance. Seemingly with every excursion beyond his East Jerusalem home comes a checkpoint, a barrier, a group of police with machine guns, an interrogation.

Delisle’s work calls to mind that of U.S. comics artist Joe Sacco, who published the award-winning Palestine in 1996. But Sacco employs a journalistic approach, something Delisle consciously shies away from.

“I want to show what it’s like to be there,” Delisle says. “I see it as the opposite of journalism, a kind of small-details ethnology. I collect all of these details and put them in my scrapbook to make one big picture at the end.”

The author does not plan to follow up Jerusalem with more books about dangerous, far-off places. With two kids now in school, he says he’ll have to think of another topic to work on from their home in Montpellier.

“I don’t want to repeat myself,” he says, “and I want to do other, different types of books. This time, maybe a children’s book, or an autobiography.”

And so it’s back to the drawing board.

“I’ll have to take a look at what I have,” he says, “and start with a big, first, rough-draft sketch.”
 
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  "Jerusalem" reviewed in the Star Tribune

Updated July 25, 2012


GRAPHIC BOOKS: "Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City," by Guy Delisle
Article by: TOM HORGEN
April 20, 2012

Guy Delisle is an unlikely star in the world of comic books. Once again, the Canadian cartoonist has produced a riveting portrait of a far-off city and its people, all while visiting as a self-described "housewife." In "Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City," Delisle is along for the ride as his wife -- who works for Doctors Without Borders -- takes the family to the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He crafts a fascinating account of the cultures and religions that are woven together in this ancient city. His naive curiosity propels him from one comical situation to the next. Of course, life inside this militarized area is no joke. For Palestinians, it's a deluge of Israeli-run checkpoints and bulldozed homes. For the author, the giant wall separating Jew and Arab becomes a visual magnet. He encounters hypocrisy on both sides, but leaves the commentary to the rabbis, aid workers and neighbors.

Later in the book, Delisle chats with a young Palestinian about comic books. The man lives in nearby Nablus and hasn't left in three years. Israel's military presence makes it feel like a prison, he says.

"You could do a comic about that," Delisle tells him.

The young man responds: "Nah, who'd want to read it?"

Delisle has no words for him. But after finishing "Jerusalem," you get the feeling that much of this masterful graphic novel was written with that young man in mind.
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Palestine and Diapers: Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" on Newsday

Updated July 25, 2012


'Jerusalem,' 'Daniel Clowes,' 'Graphic Canon'
June 5, 2012
Newsday
By SAM THIELMAN

It's almost gotten to the point where we can expect a graphic novel about the Israeli / Palestinian conflict every few months. There was Joe Sacco's scorching "Footnotes From Gaza," about the injustices visited on a section of the Gaza Strip and how the victims misremember the abuses, then "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less," Sara Glidden's everybody-has-some-good-points memoir of her Birthright Israel trip. Now comes Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City" (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95). The cartoonist, whose wife works for Doctors Without Borders, has written dispatches from Myanmar, North Korea and China -- wherever his family is stationed -- but "Jerusalem" is easily his best travelogue to date.
Rather than compose soul-searching memoirs or rigorous investigations, Delisle works more or less in the style of a daily gag cartoonist, illustrating a little mishap or joke or incongruity for every few days of his year in the country. Yes, there's material about mistreatment of the Palestinians, and discussion of the morality of the West Bank settlements, but it's all through the eyes of a guy who's trying (and failing) to buy diapers, or who spends an afternoon running errands and trying to work with his toddler lengthily recapping a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon in the background. Funny stuff, and though it's frequently trenchant, it never scolds.

 
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  An Interview with Guy Delisle on the A.V. Club

Updated July 25, 2012


Guy Delisle
By Noel Murray
April 30, 2012
A.V. Club

During his years working as an animator, Guy Delisle traveled all over the world to consult with other studios. At one of those stops—in Shenzhen, China—Delisle started recording his reactions to the culture and to the work. Delisle then turned those notes and sketches into a book, Shenzhen, and followed that up with Pyongyang, a book about a similar assignment in North Korea. Since Delisle quit animation to become a full-time cartoonist, he’s continued to tour the world with his partner, who works with Doctors Without Borders. Their travels with their children have thus far produced two books: Burma Chronicles and Delisle’s latest, Jerusalem, now available from Drawn & Quarterly. Delisle spoke with The A.V. Club about his work and travel habits, and about what he has planned for the future.
The A.V. Club: Where are you living now?
Guy Delisle: I’m in the South of France, in Montpellier. That’s where we’ve beenfor a very long time; I’ve spent half the years of my life here. I’m still Canadian, but I left when I was 20, and I’m 46, so I’ve spent half my life in France. And my wife isn’t going to do humanitarian work anymore, so we’ve settled for good.
AVC: Is it strange not having a big travel destination in mind in the near future?
GD: No, actually. It was okay for a while, but now with the kids it’s just too complicated. For the books, it’s not really a problem. I’ve done four books more or less about different countries, but it’s always about the culture gap and the way you adapt in a foreign country to a strange situation. I wouldn’t mind doing autobiography again, because I really like using that character, but it’s not going to be with one big country where I go for a year and come back and do a book. It’s going to be shorter stuff.
AVC: You said “character.” Do you think of yourself in these books as “you” or as somebody that you just draw?
GD: Well, it’s both. It’s me, definitely, because I take the notes and I draw myself in these situations. At the same time, it’s just a few facets of my character. I don’t have time to show everything; that’s not the point. This very naïve and stoic aspect of myself is there in front. I have many more facets, but these aspects are very convenient to tell what I have to tell.
AVC: Do you work on the books while you’re on location, or do you do most of the work when you get back?
GD: The Burma book I tried to work on while I was there, but it’s not very good for me. I would experience something, and then the next morning I was drawing it on paper, and it looked okay while I was there, but when I was almost halfway done with the book, I read the 200 pages back and I realized that it didn’t work. As a foreigner, I need that culture gap to do it right. If I’m doing it in the country, it doesn’t really work. So now I just try to enjoy or understand whatever I’m seeing while I’m there, and it’s better. I get to meet people, have different experiences, and then come back and decide if I do a book or not. I don’t go anywhere thinking I’m going to do a book. I had that experience, working, for example, in Vietnam, and thinking, “Well, I’m going to do a book about Vietnam, that’ll be fun.” But I came back, I read my notes, and I didn’t have much to say, so I didn’t make a book. Now I always go into it thinking, “I’m going to take notes, and then I’ll see once I get back.”
AVC: You structure your books chronologically, as in Jerusalem, where you go month by month. Did everything in that book actually happen within those exact months, or did you move some events around to give the story a better structure?
GD: No, I don’t really move… Actually, no, I did move a few things in Burma. The thing about the censors. I had these censored books in my hands throughout the year but I concentrated on this topic of censorship in just a few pages, so that was something where I was taking things apart and putting them together for the sake of that subject. But otherwise, no. The only liberty I take is to read my notes and choose what fits: what’s funny enough, weird enough. Or something that in the future is going to be useful to know, like my discovering the old city at the beginning of Jerusalem. After a week, we finally get into the old city; so then I take my time to discover the Jewish side, the Armenian side, the Catholic side, to explain right at the beginning how the city is laid out. And it’s true that I got lost as well, so I just turned it into a little story, and it was convenient to put all that at the beginning. But I don’t change more than that.
AVC: As the book goes along, you begin to give more and more of your point of view on the Palestinian/Jewish situation. Did you come to Jerusalem with some definite opinions in mind, or was your opinion shaped by the time you lived there?
GD: It was the same as with North Korea, except that before I went to North Korea, I read as many books as I could on the subject, because I knew I wouldn’t find anyone to give me information there. I was ready to go to North Korea and find whatever, maybe even find people who resist, like Cuba a long time ago. People who are very proud, and just fighting against the way things are. But after two months, I made up my mind that these people are just trying to survive, and it’s a horrible country. I wasn’t thinking much about Jerusalem and the Middle East ahead of time since I knew that once I was there for a year, same as with Burma, I would meet people. I was regularly talking with journalists who’d been there for eight years, so they knew a lot about the country. That was really interesting. Every question I had, they could answer really precisely.
Since I have to talk about politics, the biggest thing for me in the book was to give enough information that you learn something, and since most of the readers have basic knowledge of the conflict, I had to go further than that. But I didn’t want to put too much, so that it would be too serious. Because I like to have my books fun, and the reader turns the page and is enjoying himself. I don’t mind explaining a few things here and there a little bit, but not too much. Same with the religion; I wanted to explain a few things here and there, but not too much. Since I’m a left-wing guy, I guess it shows up after a while, because I was mainly meeting Israeli left-wing people—that’s what they’re called, left-wing—and we were sharing views together. I toured some really right-wing centers, but in everyday life, not so much right-wing Israeli people.
The book, I would say, if I were to go back today, would be probably very different. I would meet different people, have different experiences, and maybe I wouldn’t have enough information to make a book. It’s really a picture of one ex-pat trying to figure out what’s going on in 2008-2009. I work more like an ethnologist. I go there and I try to take in information here and there, try to understand. And I’m trying to let the reader make up his own mind, if possible.
AVC: One thing that does come across, though, is the idea that in Jerusalem, or in Israel in general, there are places you can go where you can have a brief moment of unfettered freedom, like at the beach, or at a café. There’s a real contrast between those moments and the rest of the time, where there’s all this tension and people walking around with rifles.
GD: Yeah, and I wanted to show that in the book when I go with my girlfriend on the roof and we have a coffee. I mean, it’s beautiful; you have the sunset going down on the city and it’s just one small place where you can go and just relax and enjoy. And then I go to this market and you have that funny guy who calls the Shabbat and you follow all these men and ladies in black and at the sunset on Friday they go to the Wailing Wall—it’s quite moving. My drawing is limited, but I was trying to show the majesty of a religion like that. I’m not a religious person, but I really respect people who have that faith and are religious. So yeah, I wanted to show what I lack.
AVC: As a parent, you also take time in your drawings to emphasize where the playgrounds were.
GD: [Laughs.] Yeah, well that was a very big part of my year. I don’t talk too much about being with the kids because I’ve talked a lot about that in the Burma one. I didn’t want to do it again because then I would really feel like I was repeating myself, so I just really quickly have a few pages of struggling with the bus and trying to find a playground. But it was a big part of my year, with the kids.
AVC: Who are your own favorite comics artists?
GD: One passed away one week ago. Moebius was one of them for sure. And then I have to mention Art Spiegelman, who did Maus. Before that, there’s a French guy, Gotlib. And even Lucky Luke and Tintin are some of my favorites.
AVC: Did you always see yourself as becoming a comic-book artist? You were in animation for a long time.
GD: No, not really. When I was young, yeah, I wanted to be a cartoonist, but I kind of stopped reading comics after a while ’cause I was traveling in Europe a lot. I was in Germany and everything I could find from the French comic scene was not too much my cup of tea. It was a period of time where it was just science-fiction and fantasy books. I was a bit fed up with that, so I stopped reading. Then when I arrived in France, I discovered this small publishing house, and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting, because these are people of my age doing comics for people of my age.” I sent them a few short stories and I’d been publishing with them for a long time before I even thought of doing a book. I was working doing animation and short stories, and thinking I would do that all my life.
But then these short stories became a bit bigger, and then one of them became a book, Shenzhen, and then I did Pyongyang. These books were done just for fun, because I was doing animation, but then I thought, “Oh, I think I can do this, it would be interesting.” Pyongyang worked better, and it was translated a lot. These publishing houses became much bigger, and now some of them are quite big. It just became bigger and bigger, and I became bigger with them. After Pyongyang, I realized, “Maybe I can just try to focus on that and stop doing animation.” So I tried that for five years, just to see how it’d go.
I had some more classical stuff out, but that didn’t work, and then Burma Chronicles worked well and Jerusalem is working even better. I stopped doing animation after Pyongyang. It wasn’t animation anymore, it was just supervising. There’s not a lot of animation in France like there used to be, because there were studios all over the place, like in Montpellier. That’s why I’m here. There were two and even three studios at one point, and now they’re all gone. They don’t exist anymore; everything is outsourced in animation.
I have different projects now. I’ve done books for children; I’d like to go back to that as well. All sorts of stuff I want to try to see if it works, and maybe present as a book.
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Delisle's "Jerusalem" in the Los Angeles Times

Updated July 25, 2012


Review: 'Journalism' by Joe Sacco, 'Jerusalem' by Guy Delisle
These two books show comic artists and writers depicting a very real world.
By David Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Critic
June 17, 2012

...A similar sensibility informs French Canadian comics artist Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City," although he and Sacco have different points of view. Delisle, after all, is not a journalist; he is a father, in Jerusalem for a year with his young children and girlfriend, who works for Doctors Without Borders. Still, if his book is less reportage than travelogue, a biblically inflected "Stranger in a Strange Land," the intent, to re-create real events in comics form, is very much the same.

"Hey! These paving stones date back to the first century," Delisle realizes, wandering the Old City. "Baby Jesus could've walked on these … And Judas … And Paul and James and Luke and John and Peter and Andrew … and Simon and Matthew and Mark and … uh … I've hit a wall." That tone of both discovery and befuddlement becomes the defining sensibility of "Jerusalem," which is, remarkably, a book about the miraculous serendipity of the everyday.

This is not to say Delisle is oblivious to the conflicts of life in Israel, nor that he is apolitical. Yet the power of "Jerusalem" lies in its essential good-heartedness, Delisle's curiosity. He seems open to every experience and every type of person, from the priest who offers him studio space to the Arab Israeli who explains why he lives in a Jewish settlement: "Many Arabs have moved in for economic reasons, and little by little, our numbers are growing.... It's like we're resettling the settlements. Ha ha!" Later, at a comics workshop in Nablus, Delisle discovers a different kind of culture clash, offending many of the young Palestinians by showing images of nudity.

Still, when he encourages the remaining artists to work from their experience, the connections (and the point) are palpable. "Nablus … the big prison. That's what we call it here," a student says. Delisle's reply? "You could do a comic about that." It's a small moment, a throwaway even, but if "Jerusalem" is any indication, he is right.
 
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  Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" reviewed in the Telegraph

Updated July 24, 2012


Guy Delisle's Jerusalem: Not Just Another Brick In The Wall

Rupert Christiansen discusses Guy Delisle's endearing graphic novel of day-to-day Jerusalem life.

By Rupert Christiansen
25 Jun 2012


At intervals through my adult life I’ve struggled to understand the volcanically simmering conflict between Palestine and Israel, not least because its explosive eruption could bring the world as we know it to an apocalyptic end. I’ve read books and essays from both sides of the Wailing Wall by writers such as Bernard Lewis and Edward Said, I’ve watched documentaries and films like Waltz with Bashir and I’ve listened to friends who support either the Arab or Zionist cause. I creep away with the lame conclusion that so many wrongs cannot be turned to one right, and that I really should go and see it all for myself.
To anyone in my position I’d like to recommend a wonderfully candid book, which makes the situation’s hideously insoluble complexities more vividly understandable than anything else I have encountered. It’s called Jerusalem, and no, it’s not the recent heavyweight historical bestseller by Simon Sebag-Montefiore, though I’m sure that tome is as authoritative as the reviewers have claimed. This is a much more humble thing, published this month by Jonathan Cape, by a Quebecois cartoonist called Guy Delisle who has clearly been inspired by Hergé’s Tintin to write and draw in the frame-by-frame graphic format which the French call bande dessinée.
Delisle has previously produced several such books based on his sojourns in tricky places, among them Pyongyang, Shenzhen and Rangoon. All these chronicles rest on the same premise: Delisle as an endearingly klutzy figure, an ordinary guy with ordinary assumptions, baffled and buffeted as he tries to steer his way through minefields of cultural difference as well as life-threatening dangers.
Delisle isn’t properly classified as a travel writer inasmuch as he’s not in transit – his experiences and perspectives are those of an expat who settles in these cities for a year or so and tries to work. In the case of Jerusalem, he lived in the Holy City in 2009-10 while his partner Nadège was working for Médecins Sans Frontières in Gaza. The couple have two small children and lived in a rather nasty apartment block in the east of the city.
An innocent abroad, Delisle presents a visual diary of his daily negotiation of school runs, traffic jams, shopping expeditions, weekends with friends and dealings with utility companies as well as the preposterous bureaucracy and anti-terrorist restrictions which make living in Jerusalem such a nightmare.
Wryly ironic observational comedy dominates, but Delisle is no cynical satirist. He genuinely wants to understand, and in the course of his little adventures, he stumbles on some of the strangest elements in the city’s demography, such as the Samaritan minority and the communities of Arab Christians living in the Jewish settlements. Repeatedly, he also finds himself confronting the city’s adamantine physical barriers and the triviality of its tit-for-tat mentality, compounded by the sheer stupidity of intolerance, fanaticism and superstition.
Sebag-Montefiore will give you the bigger picture of Jerusalem, but Delisle offers an equally valuable sense of what it actually feels like to be there.
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Praise for "Jerusalem" from The Telegraph

Updated July 24, 2012


Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel, and Jerusalem by Guy Delisle: review

Tim Martin applauds two fresh, perceptive memoirs written in comic-book form by Alison Bechdel and Guy Delisle.

By Tim Martin
28 Jun 2012

...The Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle works at a different kind of memoir, though one no less quietly perceptive. His three previous books of comic reportage, from China, North Korea and Burma, were produced as he accompanied his wife on her missions to global hot spots for Médecins Sans Frontières; the fourth, on Jerusalem, continues the tradition.
Like Joe Sacco, Delisle specialises in recording glimpses of daily life in closed-door regimes that are usually denied to those bearing cameras. Unlike Sacco, however, Delisle keeps a charming distance from overt political engagement, instead casting himself as a bumbling family man with eyes on stalks and sketch book at the ready. He comes across by turns as maladroit, curious, harried and ignoble – wrestling with the morality of funding Jewish settlers by buying Shredded Wheat in their posh mall in their new village, or wondering whether he can get away with a shortcut through the Orthodox district on the Sabbath – but his quizzical, bemused approach comes as a breath of fresh air on a topic fraught with political division. It is also well suited to reporting from Jerusalem, a city that wears its complexities and inequities so firmly and vocally on the outside.
Delisle’s book, like Bechdel’s, runs to some 300 pages (and the high production values of both books, incidentally, make them extraordinary value for money), though its construction goes by vignettes and sketches rather than a continuous theme. Delisle is routinely chased away from sites of interest, and there are running gags about his attempts to outwit the legendarily fierce security screenings at Ben Gurion airport or visit the perpetually closed landmarks of Christian and Muslim history.
The utterly distinctive drawings are as enchanting as ever, but Delisle plays a sly double game with his stylised characters. When one Orthodox rabbi runs for office and uses a cartoon of himself on his posters, Delisle adjusts his portrait to depict the man with pitiless and immersion-breaking fidelity, while the rest of the characters are an amiable jumble of trapezoid faces and beady pinprick eyes.
He also nails the tiny incidental details – a scrawl of “Arbeit Macht Frei” on the huge concrete wall enclosing Gaza, an Orthodox yeshiva on Purim full of black-clad beardos dancing and embracing in drunken abandon, or a gang of aggressive settlers who tunnel through a wall in the dead of night to occupy a house they feel should belong to them. His portrait of the city, though unapologetically incomplete, still feels startlingly real.
Delisle is as alert to the ironies that haunt his own life as he is to those in the lives of his subjects. When one student at a comics class in Nablus in Palestine describes how infuriatingly circumscribed his life is – “Nablus is the big prison, that’s what we call it here” – Delisle hopefully suggests the boy should write a comic about it. “Nah,” says the boy. “Who’d want to read it?” Mrs Bechdel might well approve. Readers of these fine memoirs certainly won’t.
 
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  Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" on Crass Sophisticate

Updated July 24, 2012


“Thank you, God, for making me an Atheist”July 14, 2012
by Crass Sophisticate

With the increase of technology, certain traditions and artistic mediums decrease as they are replaced with less personal applications for human expression. In the future, there will be no reason for handwritten letters or travel journals with skillfully drawn sketches and thoughtful observations of foreign cultures – people will be more comfortable receiving updates from loved ones traveling abroad through texts messages, emails and Facebook updates containing 180 characters or less. Guy Delisle has published several books that capture the same poetic feeling a person would get from reading a handwritten letter or personal journal.

Delisle has become the expert on graphically novelizing personal travel experiences. In previous novels he traveled to North Korea, Burma and China – visiting secluded cities few people get to visit. Throughout Delisle’s previous books, we learned that his girlfriend is an administrator for Doctor’s Without Borders and that they have a couple of kids – who have grown a little bit in each book. Delisle is French Canadian, which is fortunate because an American traveling to these places would probably lack the open mind and cultural sensitivity Delisle portrays.

Here’s the breakdown:

Story:
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is Delisle’s longest book, with good reason – he spent a year in the Holy Land during the Gaza War (it’s difficult to find a year that didn’t have some horrible massacre). Delisle most likely intended this book as another “stranger in a strange land” graphic novel, and he certainly includes the comical situations that have made his other books so enjoyable, but this book becomes more than just cultural peculiarities and unusual customs. Delisle no doubt was affected by the fucked up shit that goes on in Jerusalem, and it shows more as the novel progresses. When you consider Jews, Christians and Muslims living together all believing their religion is the one true religion it’s almost mind boggling that they don’t see each other as the biggest sign that all religion is full of shit.



The Jews are like that kid everyone picked on Freshman year, then over the summer he learned martial arts and by Sophomore year he starts kicking everyone’s ass, even if they only look at him funny. It’s not hard to see the Jews as the bullied people, even God bullied Abraham into almost killing his own kid – it’s easy to see why the Jews are the way they are.

The Christians are pretty far out, too. If your lord and savior died and came back to life….let’s face it – you’re worshiping a zombie.

As for the Muslims, it’s clear they take their religion way too seriously. They’re even more confused than the Samaritans.

The book is true journal of Delisle’s year in the Crazy Land, and the reader is sure to learn a lot about Isreal while becoming a big fan of the main character.

Artwork/Layout:

Delisle’s style keeps improving. This time around there’s colored shading, as opposed to only black and white. The pinks and blues are helpful in establishing mood, as well as time of day. And every now and then there is a splash of color. Delisle is a cartoonist at heart and an animator by trade (although he recently retired from animation to pursue other projects).

In any sense, the book feels like an anthology of Sunday newspaper comics. Every sequence is short, and he uses small panels – rarely going larger than a third of a page. The characters are cute and comical, even when running from gun fire and bombings. It’s an engaging book and I hope to see more from Delisle in the future.
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Haaretz interviews Guy Delisle on "Jerusalem"

Updated July 24, 2012


The graphic complexity of Israel, through the eyes of a cartoonist

The award-winning Chroniques de Jerusalem, recently released by Quebcois comic book author Guy Delisle, is the latest graphic novel to explore the intricacies of Israel and its geopolitics.


By Eva Blum Dumontet
Feb.23, 2012

Israel – its conflict and its paradoxes – has become a source of inspiration for cartoonists from all over the world, who seek to explore this hot topic through a combination of graphics and narration.

In 2008, the Quebecois comic-book author Guy Delisle moved to East Jerusalem for the year, following his wife, who worked at the time for Medecin Sans Frontiere.

“We only found out we were going there a month before we moved. We thought we were going to Japan. I had no particular interest in Israel and the conflict at the time,” he says in an interview with Haaretz.

It is probably this fresh look on the conflict that has made Chroniques de Jerusalem – the graphic novel he would eventually publish at the end of 2011 – so appealing to the French audience, where it is now becoming a best-seller.

Neither Jewish nor Arab, Delisle explores Jerusalem and is able to observe this strange world with candidness and humor. He spent his year in Jerusalem as a self-described “attentive observer”, dedicating his time to a blog, filled with sketches and anecdotes. When he returned home, his blog turned into a book.

Guy Delisle is not interested in writing about geopolitics – others have done it before him. Hewould rather talk about the complexity of buying nappies in Beit Hanina when the Arab store is closed (and when he has been told not to buy at the settlers’ supermarket nearby), and wonders - what if Arabs themselves do buy from this store?

Humor rises from those daily anecdotes told with expressive drawings and a deliciously ironic tone. But most of all, those stories convey what life in East Jerusalem is about for an expatriate.

“We are told a hundred times in the news what a colony is. But until you go there and see what it is, it is impossible to understand,” says Delisle.

Guy Delisle had a whole year to learn and observe everything. Drawing in corners of rooms, sharing moments of life with Jews, Arabs and fellow expatriates, he reveals his experiences without aiming at objectivity.

“No one is really ever objective anyway. Of course, I have a left-wing perspective.” A man once criticized him during his year in Israel for his lack of objectivity, he says. That man was a settler, he adds.

Delisle's is not the first graphic novel to explore Israel in its complexity.

In 2010, American cartoonist Sarah Glidden published How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a graphic novelbased on her Birthright trip. Close to Delisle in her approach, she arrived in Israel with a skeptical outlook and attempted over the course of her experiences to make sense of the country she discovered.

Cartoonist Joe Sacco's Palestine, a graphic novel released in 1996, contained much more of a political bent than seen in either Delisle's or Glidden's works. Sacco had spent two months in the West Bank and Gaza during the first Intifada, asking Palestinians to share stories of their daily lives, their struggles and humiliation.

Delisle's graphic novel, Chroniques de Jerusalem,is the most recent graphic novel to be published on the subject and was awarded best comic book of the year at the comic book festival of Angoulême.
 
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  Cult MTL spreads the word on Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" signing at D+Q bookstore

Updated July 24, 2012


Guy Delisle and Jerusalem Come to Montreal

By Emily Raine
Jul. 20, 2012

Initially trained as an animator, Quebec City native Guy Delisle turned to comics as ever more of animation is outsourced abroad. Traveling alongside his wife, a Doctors Without Borders administrator, and children, he has gone to some of the least-travelled and most politically unsavoury—and, let’s face it, most dangerous—places on earth, recording his experiences in a series of comic travelogues.
His latest book, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, is being celebrated tonight, Friday July 20th at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly. The book follows up on his last several books, Shenzhen, Pyongyang and Burma Chronicles, and it shares these books’ striking greige palette, accessible narrative and compelling insights into places many of us have not and may never go.
His voice is fresh, funny and exceedingly honest, and he’s not afraid to poke at nationalist foibles and cultural clichés, while still giving privileged access to the cities and countries he visits by engaging with unique characters that fall far outside the expected.
Delisle will be give a presentation about his latest book at 7 p.m., followed by a signing session, and copies of his gorgeous book will of course be available for sale on-site. ■
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Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" reviewed by The Reporter Group

Updated July 19, 2012


Book review - Telling fact and fiction, graphic style


Rabbi Rachel Esserman



A sample page from "Jerusalem" by Guy Delisle (Copyright Guy Delisle 2012. Used with permission by Drawn & Quarterly) Some graphic works open with written prefixes explaining historical or personal details in order to put the story into context. Not so two recent books – the novel "Unterzakhn" by Leela Corman (Schocken Books) and the nonfiction "Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City" by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly) – which plunge readers directly into their tales in an almost cinematic manner. While at first a bit disconcerting, the method works because it isn’t difficult to puzzle out most of the missing details and fill in the blanks.
"Unterzakhn" takes place on the Lower East Side of New York City during the first quarter of the 20th century. The story follows Jewish twin sisters, Esther and Fanya, as they grow from naive young children to mature and jaded adults. While Fanya works for a "woman doctor," learning about abortions and contraceptives, Esther earns money helping out at a burlesque theater and whorehouse. Once close, the sisters’ personal lives take them in very different directions, until fate forces them to reconsider the painful decisions they’ve made throughout the years.

Corman’s plot is fast-paced and absorbing, making "Unterzakhn" a grand melodramatic look at immigrant life. As young children, Fanya and Esther grapple with a world outside their understanding. Their bedtime scenes – when the two young girls try to make sense of grown-ups’ concerns – were my favorite sections of the book. There is also a flashback, portraying their father’s travels from Europe to New York City before the turn of the century. The author does assume that readers understand Yiddish; there is no glossary and the title (which means "underthings") is only explained on the back cover.

The black and white drawings in "Unterzakhn" are beautifully done. When young, the sisters look so adorable – especially when they’re cranky or trying to comprehend the crazy adult world – that I wanted to hug them. Even better, they look truly Jewish, as do many of the other characters. At first it was hard to tell the twins apart, but their different natures and approaches to life made it easier after they entered their teen years. Although children are featured in the story, this is definitely a book for adults: It contains graphic sexual content and an unflinching look at life’s hardships. However, it is also a moving and engrossing story.

While the story in "Unterzakhn" takes place throughout several decades, Delisle’s tale focuses on a single year. Although third in a series, new readers must discover why the Canadian Delisle and his family are moving to the eastern section of Jerusalem. As soon becomes clear, the cartoonist’s girlfriend or wife (both terms are used in the book) is a member of Doctors Without Borders and is in Israel for a year to work in Gaza. Delisle, who is not Jewish, spends his days drawing, watching his two children and learning about the country. The memoir’s main focus is the problems and foibles of daily life: the difficulty of buying a car, of finding schools and daycare for his children; the problems of traveling through check points, etc. Of course, since this is Israel and Delisle lived there in 2009 during the Israeli military operation called Cast Lead, politics play a role in his tale.


A sample page of "Unterzakhn" by Leela Corman (Copyright Leela Corman 2012. Used with permission of Schocken Books)
Delisle’s visits to the separation wall and Israeli settlements are among the most controversial sections, although he usually relates his visits without much commentary. His tone struck me as fairly even-handed, which means there’s something to irritate almost all sides of the political spectrum. Delisle also visits Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious sites, noting their different customs and cultures – for example, capturing the clerical styles of the six priests who share the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A few of his details about Judaism are incorrect (people fast the day before Purim, not on the holiday itself; Passover is not the Jewish Easter, even though the two holidays occur near each other), but the author doesn’t claim to be an expert, rather someone learning about these religions as a uninvolved bystander. Delisle comes across as mild-mannered, but with an understated humor: When noting his disappointment with his fellow Christians, he thanks God for making him an atheist.

The drawings in "Jerusalem" range from simple lines drawings (the author’s face is rendered like a cartoon) to more complex, realistic depictions of people and places. The majority of Delisle’s work is in black and white or beige and brown, with color used selectively for emphasis. The author made for a pleasant companion, although perhaps one not quite as naive as he pretends to be.
 
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  Review of "Jerusalem" on Booktrust

Updated July 19, 2012


In the past, Guy Delisle has made a career of drawing short graphic vignettes and stories about his travels in countries such as Burma and North Korea, discussing the foibles of the country and the real life day-to-day impact of its politics on its citizens. He is fair and sensitive and funny and authentic. The character of him is two parts buffoon to one part mildly irritated, and this brings the vignettes and short stories to life with an incredible amount of verve.

So why should Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City be any different?

Jerusalem takes Guy's slightly befuddled, easily flustered cipher to… yes, you guessed it Jerusalem, where he finds himself in the seat of many religious interests. He visits both sides of the wall. He encounters bureaucracy, idiosyncratic transport, bizarre social occasions, and the unifying togetherness of human concern. What we're left with is a book that is fair about the conflicts and difference of religions but also manages to capture the human spirit in all its contradictions and emotions. It's a dazzling brilliant book that is subtly political, never heavy-handed and always cast with a fair eye.
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20SomethingReads recommends Pyongyang for those working while traveling

Updated July 19, 2012


Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea

A westerner's visit into North Korea, told in the form of a graphic novel.

Famously referred to as one of the "Axis of Evil" countries, North Korea remains one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. In early 2001 cartoonist Guy Delisle became one of the few Westerners to be allowed access to the fortresslike country. While living in the nation's capital for two months on a work visa for a French film animation company, Delisle observed what he was allowed to see of the culture and lives of the few North Koreans he encountered; his findings form the basis of this remarkable graphic novel. Pyongyang
 
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  The Halifax Reader recommends Delisle's "Pyongyang"

Updated July 19, 2012


Pyongyang: a journey through North Korea (M)

by Guy Delisle



P.E.I. recently announced Guy Delisle's Burma Chronicles as the latest selection for their One Book - One Island reading initiative. Intrigued by this selection of a graphic novel, I picked up a copy and have now become a big fan of Guy's work. I loved his matter of fact observations of the Burmese, seemingly without judgement. I feel like I learned a lot about Burma as well as being quite entertained. Given that success, I am going to read more of his work, starting with Pyongyang: a journey through North Korea:



"Pyongyang documents the two months French animator Delisle spent overseeingcartoon production in North Korea, where his movements were constantly monitored by a translator and a guide, who together couldlimit his activities but couldn't restrict his observations. He records everything from the omnipresent statues and portraits of dictators Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to the brainwashed obedience ofthe citizens. Rather than conveying his disorientation through convoluted visual devices, Delisle uses a straightforward Eurocartoon approach that matter-of-factly depicts the mundane absurdities hefaced every day." Publisher's Weekly
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Tablet Magazine highlights Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem"

Updated July 19, 2012


Cartoon Politics: New graphic novels by Harvey Pekar and Guy Delisle illustrate different takes on the Israeli-Palestinian mess
By Amy Klein
July 19, 2012
Tablet Magazine

“They could file last month’s story today—or last year’s, for that matter—and who would know the difference?” a frustrated journalist character says in Joe Sacco’s 2009 graphic novel, Footnotes in Gaza (Metropolitan Books). “They’ve wrung every word they can out of the Second Intifada, they’ve photographed every wailing mother, quoted every lying spokesperson, detailed every humiliation—and so what?”

“So what?” is a great question for anyone covering—or following—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East: the rockets traded back and forth, the bombings and arrests, the dispatches about the so-called peace talks, which everyone (except it seems the Obama Administration) realizes were dead and buried somewhere around the time of the Second Intifada. History books are dull, narrative nonfiction didactic, newspapers confusing, TV and film gruesome. But the pictures about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in graphic novels continue to tell a thousand new stories.

Most graphic novels, it should be said, aren’t pro-Israel. The genre itself is subversive, trying to give voice to the underdog, people who aren’t often heard in mainstream media. In 2002, Joe Sacco pioneered the war graphic novel with his stark black-and-white drawings of the First Intifada in Palestine (Fantagraphic Books). Others have followed suit with drawings of the region, like Sarah Glidden’s light and colorful How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (Titan Publishing, 2011), which is less reportage and more about her journey as a liberal, American twentysomething Jew visiting Israel for the first time on a free Birthright trip. For Glidden the underdog sometimes means both sides, but for others working in the genre, including Guy Delisle, Sacco, and Harvey Pekar, “the underdog” is definitively the Palestinians. But objectivity shouldn’t be expected in a graphic novel, even one that purports to be journalism. It’s a personal narrative seen through the author’s eyes.

Now two new graphic novelists have still more to say on the subject, and they have very different visual and reportorial approaches. On one hand, Harvey Pekar, who defined the genre until his death in 2010, penned his last memoir: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (Hill and Wang, 2012). Written with J.T. Waldman, the work tries to encapsulate the entirety of Jewish history to understand Pekar’s own changing views on Israel. On the other hand, Québécois graphic novelist Guy Delisle attempts to capture only one year of his life in Israel in Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City (Drawn and Quarterly, 2012). Delisle, a stay-at-home dad who lives in East Jerusalem while his girlfriend works as an administrator for Doctors Without Borders, has no affinity for either side and few preconceptions about the region. Both artists, though, are changed by what they learn...A good graphic novel literally illustrates stories from the region—and that’s where Delisle does an excellent job. In Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City, his deceptively simple, one-dimensional drawings—with none of Pekar’s details and shading—depict a more nuanced country.

Delisle’s wife works with Palestinians, and Delisle witnesses daily indignities living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, such as checkpoint harassment, house demolitions, inadequate local services, and (from afar) attacks in Gaza, but at least Delisle is there. On the ground. Living in Israel, if only for a year.

Chronicles lacks Pekar’s comprehensive history of the Jewish people that puts much of the fighting in context, but Delisle captures scenes that give a much more nuanced sense of what life is actually like in Israel: He spends days at the beach in Tel Aviv, marveling at the whole city’s normalness, and he watches how the Israeli press is more critical of Israel than anyone outside of Israel. After he passes a group of people gathering on a corner commemorating the Sbarro bombing in 2001, he learns about the 55 suicide bombings that have occurred in Israel since the Second Intifada in 2002.

This is not to say that Chronicles is objective. Israel hardly comes off well in Jerusalem. But Delisle—who also did the same stranger-in-a-strange-land shtick in his books Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China (2000), Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (2003), and Burma Chronicles (2010)—is an artist who clearly just draws what he encounters. He doesn’t have an agenda, like Pekar, who wants to upend everything he learned as a child. Or like Glidden in 60 Days, who says: “I came here, I think I wanted to know for sure that Israel was the bad guy. I wanted to know that I could cut it out of my life for good. But now I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I can see why Israel did some of what they did. You guys are good people. At least, some of you are. Or maybe I’m just being brainwashed just like everyone said I would be.”
 
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




  Guy Delisle's snapshots of the Holy City

Updated June 18, 2012


Drawn Dispatches
by Tobias Grey
June 9 2012
The Financial Times

...The Quebecois cartoonist Guy Delisle relates, in his latest comic book travelogue Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, how Sacco’s name came up when he tried and failed several times to get permission from Israeli authorities to enter Gaza.
Delisle, a former animator who has produced previous comic books about Pyongyang, Shenzhen and Burma, shares Sacco’s gift for capturing life’s absurdities. The tone of his work – in which he features as a paunchy father of two whose wife works for the French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières – is by turns gently humorous and dumbfounded.

His drawing style, though much more rudimentary than Sacco’s, suits his brisk, snapshot approach. For Jerusalem, he recounts a year (2008-2009) living in Beit Hanina, an ill-served Palestinian neighbourhood in the eastern part of the Holy City. At no time is the disconnect between expectations and reality more evident than midway through his stay, when Israel launched a three-week-long invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks. Predicting clamour in Jerusalem, Delisle instead discovers a city where “the streets are calm, the atmosphere strange. When you think that nearby, they’re bombing people with fighter jets ... ”
Delisle is just one member of a generation of artist-journalists following in Sacco’s wake. Others include the German Olivier Kugler, who won last year’s V&A Illustration Award, and the Frenchman Emmanuel Guibert, whose book The Photographer, a mash-up of text, illustrations and photos, documented a photographer’s assignment to Afghanistan.
Though still in its infancy, comic book journalism has already shown that it can bring difficult subjects alive in ways that are both visually arresting and dramatic. These same qualities can occasionally subside into oversimplification or emotional flag-waving – something to be expected of a medium that does not make a virtue of dispassion. But while this may mean that the Pulitzer prizes are still some way off, the legitimacy of comic book reporters and their craft seems only set to grow...
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Delisle's "Jerusalem" blends reportage with everyday observation

Updated June 18, 2012


Jerusalem: the graphic novel
By Keith Kahn-Harris, June 1, 2012
The Jewish Chronicle

Jerusalem, by Guy Delisle, Jonathan Cape, £16.99

Jerusalem as seen by Guy Delisle
French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle draws himself with minimal detail: dots for eyes and barely any mouth. As an anonymous everyman he tries to see what others don’t in some of the most remarkable places in the world.
After his graphic books reporting from Pyongyang, Shenzhen and Burma, he has turned his attention to Jerusalem.
Accompanying his wife (who works for Médicin Sans Frontières) on a year-long rotation to the Palestinian territories, Delisle struggles to make sense of one of the world’s most contentious places. Based in an apartment in a Palestinian area of East Jerusalem, he potters around taking care of his two young children, sketching, travelling and conducting workshops with Palestinian artists.
Given his wife’s duties, Delisle spends most of his time in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories. He conveys his bewilderment, from getting stuck at checkpoints to finding a decent playground for his children. Although he loves the Jerusalem zoo and the beach in Tel Aviv, his experiences in Israel and with Israelis are often frustrating, as in the lengthy interrogations he is subjected to flying in and out of the country and when he is repeatedly moved on by the army while trying to draw the security wall.
Delisle is not a reporter and makes no pretence of getting to the heart of the conflict. Although he is at one stage mistaken for graphic novelist Joe Sacco, he doesn’t share the author of Palestine’s willingness to spend endless days in uncomfortable war zones seeking out stories. Delisle doesn’t attempt to grapple with the big political issues.
And Jerusalem (sub-title: Chronicles From the Holy City) is all the better for that. Quietly living his life and observing what goes on around him, Delisle captures the craziness, beauty and tragedy of the Israel-Palestine conundrum.
It is the little details that make this book so enjoyable and so acute: the kids smoking cigarettes in Mea Shearim on Purim; the concentration-camp tattoo on the arm of the Israeli who plays with his son on the plane; the old-fashioned rifles carried by the guards on Birthright trips.
 
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  Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" a "dark but gentle comedy."

Updated June 14, 2012


Comics
‘Jerusalem,’ by Guy Delisle, and More
By DOUGLAS WOLK
June 1, 2012
New York Times

The Canadian artist Guy Delisle has made a career of moving to foreign places and drawing casual vignettes on cross-cultural confusion. Over the past few years, he’s documented his tenures in Pyongyang, Shenzhen and Burma (now Myanmar). Like the books that resulted from those trips, JERUSALEM: Chronicles From the Holy City (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) isn’t exactly reportage. It’s a series of brief strips, many only a page or two long, depicting his experiences caring for his kids, seeking opportunities to draw local landmarks without being interrupted by soldiers, and trying to comprehend how the residents of a heavily contested territory live day to day. Delisle, a former animator, has a knack for visual shorthand (his self- portrait is a few jauntily canted lines with dots for eyes) and for drawing environments: religious shrines and settlements, but also grocery stores, playgrounds and checkpoints — lots of checkpoints. The cultural and physical barriers among the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in and around Jerusalem, and the compromises and work-arounds the city’s residents have been forced to devise, become the source of dark but gentle comedy: absurdity teetering on the edge of tragedy. ...
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How "Jerusalem" artist Guy Delisle spends his weekend

Updated June 14, 2012


Cartoonist Guy Delisle's Chronicles From Fatherhood
May 31, 2012

By JAVIER ESPINOZA
Wall Street Journal
The French cartoonist talks to The Wall Street Journal Europe about how he starts his weekend.

Guy Delisle has made a name for himself documenting some of the world's hottest spots—from Pyongyang to Myanmar—in his comic books.

The Quebec-born cartoonist's latest journey to Jerusalem, where he spent a year with his wife and two children, is depicted in "Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City" (Jonathan Cape), published in the U.K. this week. In the book, Mr. Delisle outlines his everyday life as a naive outsider in this complex ancient city in the narrative style that has become his trademark.


Abi Hardwick for The Wall Street Journal
"For storytelling purposes, I have to limit my character to a few aspects of my personality. I use the ones that work well with the story I want to convey—the naive side of someone overwhelmed by the situation, lost somewhere," he says.

Now, he has turned his attention to the more lighthearted topic of parenthood. "I am working on an autobiography on more casual things. I've done sketches where I talk about being a father with two kids and the frustrations that you get from that, but it's on the humorous side. It's called 'A Bad Dad Guide,' " he explains.

These days, his weekend is dominated by his children's schedules in Montpellier, in the south of France, where he lives.

"The kids, who are 8 and 5, have schedules that I never had," he says. "So you spend weekends going from one birthday to another place. We are devoted to whatever they have to do."

How do you start your weekend?

I go with my kids to the café. There's a nearby market, so the kids go there to buy food. They buy shrimp—I would have never bought shrimp when I was 8 years old—and they come back and we have coffee outside with some friends. There's a pedestrian area and the kids just walk and run around…. It's so much fun.

What's Montpellier like?

It is a small town, with a lot of university students. It's next to the beach and it's relaxed.

Do you often head to the beach with your family?

Yes. We live a 15-minute drive from the beach. I go early in the morning and bring the kites. There's a great café and park on the sand, so the kids can play and if they fall, they fall on sand. It's a simple life.

What else do you get up to during your free time?

I go to exhibitions. There's a good exhibition on W. Eugene Smith right now. He's from the old guard of Life magazine.

What's the exhibition about?

He was one of the most famous photographers of Life and then one day he just quit and said he needed just a few pictures for Pittsburgh and spent one day, one week, one month and then [three years] taking 17,000 pictures of Pittsburgh. He went crazy on the whole subject.

What's your Saturday night like?

I don't go clubbing anymore. But I am going to go see some concerts next week because there's a huge electronic- music festival. We don't get to see bands that I like very often.

What about a recent Saturday night?

There was a festival in Montpellier where there was surfing, skateboarding, a BMX show and you had a 17-meter ramp that kids could bike on. That was very impressive. It was all free and it was great. It was packed with 16-year-olds drinking beer, but I was there earlier with my kids and it was OK.

What would you do if you had more time?

I'd like to go back to sports now that the kids are getting older. I did some cycling with a friend last weekend and it was a lot of fun. We cycled to the beach, which takes more than half an hour. We bring our swimsuits and swim and then come back. We should try to go higher into the mountains. The tops are flat and look like the moon.

Do you cycle with your children?

My 5-year-old daughter has just learned how to cycle. Last week, we spent half a day going to my friend's place because I wanted to borrow a comic book. She followed me on the bike and for what is normally a 10-minute ride, we spent close to an hour getting there. She had a little pink helmet. She is so cute. Then it took us another hour to get back.
 
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  "Jerusalem" an insightful and "even-handed" portrait of the complicated city

Updated June 14, 2012


Guy Delisle: 'The challenge is not to explain too much'
Veteran graphic novelist Guy Delisle talks to Rachel Cooke about his acclaimed travelogues and the art of telling a tale at street level
Rachel Cooke
31 May 2012
The Guardian

When Guy Delisle arrived in Israel in 2009, he thought: a year here will make a change from our usual third-world destinations. He and his family – his wife, Nadege, an administrator with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); his children, five-year-old Louis and two-year-old Alice – gazed at Ben Gurion airport's modern terminal with anticipatory awe. But then he saw east Jerusalem, where MSF stationed its employees, and he began to wonder. The non-existent pavements, the cratered roads, the piles of rubbish... his new home sure didn't look like the travel guides.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
by Guy Delisle

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Day one in this strange new land saw Delisle going out to buy disposable nappies. Except it was a Friday; everywhere in Arab east Jerusalem was closed. His only option was to use the supermarket in a nearby Israeli settlement. "So the conflict and everyday life were mixed right from the start," he says. "Which was perfect for me. My books are always at pavement level. That's what I do."

Delisle is a comics writer whose books – Shenzhen, Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles – document his travels so vividly that you return to your Rough Guide, your Lonely Planet with a heavy heart. Funny, precise, and unafraid to mention national foibles, Delisle begins his narratives as the baffled outsider: the galumphing expat who must cope with all the boring logistics of life, from finding a playground for his children to predicting the vagaries of the bus service. Once embedded, though, he moves carefully beyond all this quotidian stuff. He meets people and asks them questions, some basic, some tricky. He goes on day trips, albeit not necessarily to the tourist places. The blinds roll up. Places that seem fuzzy and complicated – or, in the case of Pyongyang, completely invisible – appear before you, clear and bright.

His new book, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, won the main prize at the 2012 Angoulême International Comics festival (the graphic novel equivalent of the Palme d'Or) and has already sold 110,000 copies in France alone. And no wonder. The bar is set extremely high when it comes to graphic books and the Middle East: one thinks of Joe Sacco's Palestine, Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. But Jerusalem, I think, beats them all.

Given the millstone of history, you could have forgiven Delisle for flunking this one. Yet his book is a small miracle: concise, even-handed, highly particular. Within its pages, you will find the settlements and the "security" wall. But you will also witness the one night of the year when the Haredim get paralytically drunk; meet the priest who keeps a collection of horror films at his church on the Mount of Olives; and find out what happens when Delisle shows Nablus art students scenes from one of his old strips.

The book, like Burma Chronicles, was written at home in Montpellier, after the family's 12-month posting was up (Delisle is a Quebecois; his wife is French). "Out there, my head was full. I wondered where I would ever start. Back at home, I waited for two months, I read back all my notes, looked at all my sketches and then I did as I always do.

"The challenge is not to explain too much. I didn't want to write about the Yom Kippur war or whatever. I love comics because they are so efficient. If I need to draw a little arrow, or a map, then I do. If you did those things in a documentary, it would look like a PowerPoint presentation. But in a comic, it's fine. I can explain the entire history of the Temple Mount in three pages!" On a settler-organised tour to Hebron, Delisle counters a piece of misinformation not with long-winded arguments, but simply by drawing the look he flashes at his companion. One frame is all he needs.

Does he rearrange things, the better to improve his narrative? The book begins with a touching scene in which a Holocaust survivor – Delisle sees the camp tattoo on his arm – plays with Alice on their flight out to Israel, which seems a little neat: a way of establishing sympathy for the Israeli state's beginnings before he says anything else. "No, not at all. The only thing I do is remove the boring stuff." Is the Guy of the books – deadpan, unflustered – a character he has created or is this really him? "No, no, that's me. I do have quite an English sense of humour. I'm stoic. My emotions are way back."

Delisle, who began his working life as an animator, is thrilled to have reached a point where he can make a living from comic books alone (he is translated into 13 languages, though, so far, no one has asked to do Jerusalem in Hebrew or Arabic). But this may be the last of his big travelogues. He and Nadege have decided that, for the sake of their children, they must stay in France for the time being. "Don't worry," he says, seeing my face fall. "I have ideas for other books and MSF has asked me if I would like to do reportage for them." And will he? "I don't know. I don't want to look like... a tourist. I like to go deeper. Once, you see, I went to Vietnam. I had a great time, I took lots of notes. But there was no book." He grins. "It's a pity, but fun doesn't necessarily result in a book."
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Lauded graphic memoir "Jerusalem" brings divided city to life

Updated June 14, 2012


Identity Politics
May 9th, 2012
Francisca Goldsmith
School Library Journal

Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem won the Best Comic Book Award this year at Angoulème, the premier international comics festival. A Quebecois who now has his home in France but keeps on the move to such rarely touristed places as North Korea, Delisle is the perfect investigator into life on the ground in East Jerusalem. As a foreigner (and nominal if unbelieving Christian) he had relatively free access to neighborhoods and historic sites ranging as widely as the Dome of the Rock to a bend in the wall that divides the city and bounds one man’s back yard (formerly a small farm), from a classroom at Al-Quds University to an Orthodox Jewish Purim celebration and an unexpected opportunity to see the Armenian Quarter.

Delisle’s genius both as a cartoonist and as a human is his unassuming presence in places most foreigners can’t go (North Korea, Burma). Unlike cartoon journalist Joe Sacco, Delisle travels en famille (his daughter spends the year in an East Jerusalem kindergarten while his son is enrolled in primary school on the other side of the wall, in West Jerusalem) and takes on the basic housekeeping as it is his partner’s work with MSF that has placed the family in this particular part of the world. In short, Delisle can reveal the profound and profuse machinations, indignities, and conceits suffered and exerted by the diverse inhabitants of Jerusalem because he looks, listens, and asks simple questions; he doesn’t take on the role of judge, mentor or mouthpiece. And in keeping his approach both simple and unsimplistic, he is able to bring the reader right into all the possibilities there are for allegiance, reliance on history, power, habit and tenacity.

Not only does this make Delisle’s current book a grand success but it also offers a springboard for introspection and discussion in our own politicized and diverse culture: who are the neighbors, and why are we more concerned about their ancestry than whether they can get to the hospital by a less circuitous route than around a wall?

* DELISLE, Guy. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. Tr. from French by Helge Dacher. illus. by author. 336p. Drawn & Quarterly. 2012. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-77046-071-3. LC number unavailable.

Adult/High School–A prize-winning Canadian cartoonist shares the year he and his family lived in Jerusalem, east of the Israeli built wall that stands as one of many constant witnesses to the multiple divisions of land and people. With his partner deeply ensconced in her work with MSF (Doctors without Borders), Delisle pursued his own divided life: he explored and collected imagery and experiences in his role as a cartoon documentarian of parts of the world most travelers rarely get to know, while also performing the duties of primary caretaker of his children and general housewifely duties. Delisle is inquisitive but sensitive, aware of when he misstepped by pressing strangers for information, but also eager and willing to discuss Palestine and Israel, as well as life in general, with folks he met who ranged from a local Lutheran pastor to a young Muslim women who attended his art lectures to another stay-at-home daddy. This is a rounded, insightful way to explore and become acquainted with how history, culture, ritual, and human emotions shape and misshape a storied part of the world most Americans know only through politically charged news accounts. Delisle always represents himself in these visits and musings, so readers knows exactly the narrator’s standpoint. Delicate and detailed cartoons inhabit mostly small and always bounded panels, with color accents highlighting sounds, sunsets, and points on the maps Delisle mentions to clarify how locations are connected–and disconnected–in the contemporary Middle East.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA
 
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  Politics meet the everyday in Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem"

Updated June 14, 2012


Cartoonist Guy Delisle’s world travels take him to an explosive new setting: Jerusalem
J. Caleb Mozzocco
May 9, 2012
Las Vegas Weekly

Cartoonist Guy Delisle married well. His wife works with France’s Medecins San Frontieres, and he travels with her to far-flung parts of the world that become his subjects. While she works he draws, and eventually, he produces thick, brick-like books about life in places like China, North Korea, Burma and, in his latest, Jerusalem.
This locale differs from his past subjects in that it’s a place where English is common and he could pass as a resident. But it’s a city so unlike any other that, in many ways, it might as well be another planet.
Delisle is an atheist, making him even more of an outsider in the Holy City, where Jews, Muslims and Christians (and seemingly infinite sub-divisions of each) jostle to dominate land and culture. Despite potentially explosive events—there are, literally, explosions—Delisle’s default mode is more bemused than political.
It would be wrong to call him objective or completely unbiased, but his main focus is, as always, not on telling readers how things should be, but rather on how they were while he was there.
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Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" is a "meditation on politics and religion"

Updated June 14, 2012


An Expat Dad's Cartoon Adventures in the Holy Land
By Erika Eichelberger
Mother Jones
May. 8, 2012

Guy Delisle makes comic books. But not that kind. A "graphic memoirist," he creates thoughtful autobiographical travelogues about off-the-beaten-path locales. His latest, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, follows French-Canadian househusband on a yearlong stay in the the fragmented, violent, often absurd world that is Israel and the Palestinian territories.

His earlier travel books have covered sojourns in China and North Korea, where he worked as an animator, and Burma, where he tagged along with his wife, Nadège, who worked for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders). He says he didn't sell a huge number of his first book, Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, "but things have changed a lot." Jerusalem, the English language version of which just came out in April, hit the top of the New York Times Graphic Novel bestseller list and just won the prestigious Fauve d'Or prize for best comic album at this year's International Comics Festival in Angoulême, France. The 46-year-old Delisle says the political subject matter appeals to people who usually regard comics as frivolous: "People go for these works—for more mature subjects."

But even though Jerusalem is a meditation on politics and religion, it seems inadvertent. Delisle says he knew nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian situation when he landed at Ben Gurion airport in August 2008, accompanying Nadège on another MSF assignment: "I was a blank slate. I didn't even know what a settlement was. I imagined it as a couple of little houses on a hill."


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What is most delicious about Jerusalem is its feeling of simplicity and detachedness. Delisle's cartoon character—let's call him Guy—is basically just a large angular nose with two dots for eyes and a plain boxy body. His personality is simple, too. Delisle says he uses specific elements of himself that work for a character who is just an observer: "He's kind of naive, and stoic. Because it's a different place, and there's no way to judge or analyze what you are seeing." There are plenty of scenes of Guy just sitting in a café, or, with his back to us, facing an austere landscape, sketching near an olive grove, or looking out at the Dead Sea.

In Jerusalem, Guy's daily routine involves juggling daycare pickup, errands, and navigating his Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, all while trying to find time to sketch. But the personal becomes political. He's always stuck in traffic because of the ubiquitous checkpoints and roadblocks. On the way to meet Nadège outside a crossing into Gaza, his driver tells him the tiny piece of land has been blockaded "because they voted for the wrong guy," referring the Palestinian parliamentary election of 2006 that resulted in a victory for Hamas. And why does his family's apartment have such crappy water pressure when "there's a water tower right above our heads"? That water is for the settlements, his landlord explains.



"Newspapers are so partial and fragmented," Delisle says. "I'm more of an ethnologist, but without the analysis."
But Delisle and his cartoon counterpart "don't do all the questions of the journalist: who, what, where, why, when." He finds that those questions and their answers still don't give you the big picture. "Newspapers are so partial and fragmented," Delisle says. "I'm more of an ethnologist, but without the analysis."



If Delisle doesn't do editorial, the commentary comes in the form. The simple lines, chunks of blank space, and removed vantage point give the reader a nice bird's eye—or God's eye—view. In one scene, Guy looks down from his window on a party of Orthodox Jewish men. They look far away, but so does he. He climbs church stairs as we watch him from down below. He puts his daughter to bed and we pan back from her drowsy eyelids to a quiet dark square of bedroom. He sometimes seems like the Little Prince, a small man standing in a vast universe. From this perspective, everything is either beautiful or ridiculous.

Delisle's own creative process is detached, too. He says he doesn't start working on a book while he's still living in the country. He takes notes, and then a few months after he's back home, he decides if he has enough to work with.

So what's next? Nadège is no longer with MSF, and their kids are older, so the family does not travel as much from their home in Montpellier, France. Maybe he'll do a piece on a MSF member who was kidnapped in Chechnya. Maybe he'll just keep up his blog (in French) with small pieces about fatherhood. It doesn't really seem to matter to him.

For now, I'll just imagine him as his cartoon self at a simple pen-and-ink table at some café, watching life go by, and then doing some sketching.
 
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  Delisle sketches the "puzzling" urban space of Jerusalem

Updated June 14, 2012


MONDAY, MAY 7, 2012

Comics without Borders: Review of Guy Delisle's Jerusalem
Look Back to Galilee

Guy Delisle’s new graphic travelogue, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City (Drawn & Quarterly, 2012), is framed with images of a plane arriving and then departing. In between, he recounts a narrative of the year he spent in East Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank with his wife, who was assigned there for Medecin sans Frontieres (and who remains a distant presence, perpetually busy with her NGO work, throughout his book) and two young kids, Louis and Hanna, who occupy far more of his time.

A Quebecois animator and graphic novelist, Delisle strikes a wry, self-deprecating persona: a kind of bumbling house-hubby Everyman, naive, prone to faux pas while also quietly judging people based on how much they know and like comics. In Jerusalem, the world's most complex city—an urban jigsaw puzzle drawn by Franz Kafka and die-cut by M.C. Escher—he finds an endless supply of paradoxes and ironies to befuddle him. What has become "normal" in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank appears in all its tragedy and folly when described in minute journalistic detail. But the “journalism" practised by Delisle is as much eavesdropping and observing as researching and interviewing.

His sense of bewilderment begins when old Russian man with concentration camp tattoos lifts up and calms his crying daughter on the plane. It continues when he says “Shalom!” to the driver who picks them up at Ben Gurion Airport—and realizes he should have said “Salaam!”

The next day, an MSF officer tries to explain the political-geographical complexities of the city after Guy and his wife get settled into an apartment in East Jerusalem: They are in the capital of Israel according to the Israelis but in the future state of Palestine according to the international community, many of whom consider Tel Aviv the capital of Israel.

“I don’t really get it,” Guy reflects, “but I tell myself I’ve got a whole year to figure it out.”

By the end, though, it’s hard to know if he knows whether he has come closer or farther away from understanding the funhouse mirror chamber of identity and ownership in this densely packed (with people, with cars, with history, with religion) urban space.

He finds himself constantly caught off-guard by the the quirks, the rituals and the conflicts of all three major religions: the wail of the muezzin that wakes his daughter just after she goes to sleep; taking his family to lively West Jerusalem, only to discover it completely deserted on shabbat (“It reminds me of Sundays in Pyongyang,” he says); feeling guilty about munching an apple on Ramadan; the literally and figuratively Byzantine politics of the various Christian denominations jostling for influence (sometimes physically) over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; or leading a comics seminar for veiled Muslim women, who are studying to be art teachers yet are prohibited by their religion from drawing people or animals.

When he mentions to a shawarma shop owner, in East Jerusalem, that his girlfriend “works for Doctors without Borders,” there is a long pause, as the owner slices off strips of meat, and then replies: “There’ll always be borders.”

Delisle tries to negotiate, as an outsider, the perplexing political nuances of life in East Jerusalem. He checks out a supermarket in a nearby Jewish settlement but resists buying his favourite cereal (Shredded Wheat, which he can’t even get in France) so as not to support the controversial West Bank settlements. But then, as he is leaving, he spots “three Muslim women loaded down with bags". He visits protests at the checkpoints around the Separation Barrier and sketches the wall obsessively.

He gets moved most noticeably from his otherwise resolute neutrality—more a knowingly ignorant curiosity than high-minded journalistic objectivity—by three separate visits to Hebron: one led by an MSF staffer; another by a member of Breaking the Silence, the NGO that records testimony from Israeli soldiers; and a third by a right-wing religious settler who elides or even contradicts the stories Delisle has heard on the other tours. (The settler mentions only one of the city’s two infamous massacres.) The bitter separation between the tiny Jewish community and the larger group of Palestinian citizens of Hebron is poignantly symbolized by the netting strung over the souk, to catch garbage hurled onto Arab passers-by by angry religious settlers.

The month by month chronology of his family’s year in East Jerusalem gives the book an anecdotal quality, which gains resonance with repeated images or visits to different sites (like Hebron, or the wall, or Tel Aviv). No single incident acquires more prominence—not even Operation Cast Lead, the IDF assault on Gaza midway through his stay, which draws NGOs, like his wife’s, into a flurry of activity. Delisle’s later attempts to negotiate access to Gaza for himself get rebuffed when officials find out he is a comic artist. The imbroglio over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed has been in the news; Delisle also wonders if he hasn’t been mistaken for the more politically motivated comics journalist Joe Sacco.

One mini-chapter that most resonated with me is Delisle’s first visit to Ramallah, driven there by an acquaintance form the Alliance Francaise. “I’m quite surprised,” he notes. “I thought Ramallah would be a dead city, crippled by the conflict.” He meets a Palestinian animator who says it is easier for him to “get to London than travel five km to Jerusalem” for work. A foreign correspondent tells him: “Ramallah is like the Tel Aviv of the West Bank. People are freer and more open-minded here.”

Then Delisle’s acquaintance, who still has other business, suggests he take a bus back through the army checkpoint to East Jerusalem—technically, not allowed under MSF rules. What follows is the darkest page and a half of the book (literally, in the inky shadowing of the frames): 10 panels, without any text, in which Delisle depicts his claustrophobic point-of-view amid the crush of people queued to pass through the barred-in checkpoint for bus and foot traffic through the Qalandia checkpoint. (It immediately brought back my own memories of an hour and a half lined up at the same checkpoint.) He emerges into the light from the prison-like enclosure with a swirl of incomprehension over his own cartoon head.

That scene could be a metaphor for the book as a whole: a wise narrative filled with insightful observations that only prove how darkly puzzling and incomprehensible life in the holy—and wholly divided—city of Jerusalem really is.

Jerusalem is a must-read for anyone interested in this part of the world. (Download a preview here.)

I realize, of course, that there is not a single mention of a kibbutz in his book. But that fact is also telling: Delisle's chronicle is about life in modern Israel, and especially the city of Jerusalem, and the kibbutz, as an institution that long symbolized the modern Israeli, is now increasingly divorced from and irrelevant to this reality.
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Guy Delisle brings humor to difficult situation in "Jerusalem"

Updated June 14, 2012


Guy Delisle: Interview
Jonathan P. Kuehlein
The Toronto Star
Guy Delisle can find humour in even the most complicated places.
May 7 2012

The Canadian cartoonist’s travels to cities like Pyongyang, North Korea; Shenzhen, China; and Yangon, Burma have yielded comical — yet often very thoughtful results — in three critically acclaimed graphic memoirs released over the past decade.

But, of course, there comes a time to settle down.

“There’s not going to be anymore books like that because we’ve decided to stop going abroad like that,” said the 46-year-old native of Quebec City, who now resides in Montpellier, France. “My wife is going to stop doing humanitarian work with Doctors Without Borders because the kids are getting too old — they’re 8 and 5 now — and it’s really complicated, for them and for us, to have them away like that for a year.”

This doesn’t mean Delisle, one of the featured guests at this weekend’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, is done making light of himself and his misadventures.

“I’m still going to do autobiographical books — they’re a lot of fun to do — but it’s not going to be about visiting a country for a year. It’s going to be more casual stuff.”

He isn’t moving on without delivering one heck of a parting gift for his fans, though.

His fourth major travelogue, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, released in April, finds him tiptoeing back and forth from the light to the heavy side of one of the most complex cities on the planet.

The result is another series of charming and deceptively complex vignettes, but ones with even more depth than he’s ever achieved. More balanced and accessible than many other works on the complex region, it is a perfect conclusion to his worldwide storytelling.

Delisle, who studied animation at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., said the tone of the book, covering a period from July 2008 to July 2009, didn’t exactly start off on a humourous note.

“We arrived in July, when there was a guy with a tractor that tried to run over people,” he said, of an incident that saw three people killed and 46 injured.

But that frightening incident didn’t prevent him venturing out into the streets of the ancient city and making his usual shrewd observations.

While he learned a great deal about the Jewish, Muslim and Christian people who occupy the majority of Jerusalem, he said there were many others that shaped his experiences.

“I discovered quite a lot, actually. The Bedouins, who we don’t talk very much about that live in the desert, they were really interesting to me,” Delisle said. “Same with the Samaritans. We never really talk about these guys, but they have a really fascinating history.

“I also made friends with a bishop who was Lutheran and I thought that was a really interesting way of expressing Christian faith.”

This epic travelogue also includes something new for Delisle: use of colour.

“They said, ‘well, we can do colour if you want because it’s not going to be a big difference in cost,’ and I thought ‘yeah, I’d like to try that,’” he said.

“There’s only one colour in Jerusalem, they only use one type of stone (the so-called Jerusalem stone) so everything’s this sort of sand colour . . . in the old town and the new town as well. I wanted to capture that feeling.

“Then you have a cold season, so I have a colder (palette) with sepia and blue. I thought that was enough. I didn’t want to have more colour than that.”

Knowing that he’s not planning any more 365-day trips, Delisle said he treasures the time he got to immerse in other cultures.

“You get to see a bit of how people live and how they react to things in a different way,” he said. “You get to share that with the people for a year and you get to understand their point of view, why they react the way they do and you get a frame of mind that you can carry with you to other countries.

“It broadens your view. You have a more of a global view of the world. That’s what travelling is for. Any country I’ve visited has just added more to that.”
 
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




  Review: Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" looks "lovely"

Updated June 14, 2012


Chelsea Novak
Geist.com

The final nominee list for the Joe Shuster Awards won’t be announced for at least another week, but in the meantime longlists for the five Joe Shuster Awards (down from seven in 2011) have been posted. Included on the list for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist is Guy Delisle for his graphic work Chroniques de Jerusalem. My French is a bit rusty, so I picked up a copy of the English version, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, translated by Helge Dascher.
I haven’t looked at any of Delisle’s work before and I have to say that the art is amazing. He uses two hues for most panels—black and then a second hue at varying saturations—but sometimes throws in splashes of other colours. Delisle uses this technique to bring the reader’s attention to specific details or to indicate loud noises. The visual effect is lovely.
Delisle’s lines are simple, his page layouts straightforward. The simple visual storytelling is what makes his reportage so impressive. The book chronicles the year that Delisle and his family spent in Israel while his wife worked for Doctors Without Borders. While the reader doesn’t really get a proper introduction to the conflict in
Israel, Delisle’s attention to the day-to-day details of life in Jerusalem makes the reader want to learn more.
Delisle’s focus on being a primary care giver, and his constant quest to find his kids a better playground, is charming. Although I found his repeated use of the term “housewife” to be a little condescending. Maybe something got lost in translation.
He also explores the challenge of working as a cartoonist while caring for his children and trying to move around, out of, and back into, Israel. There are several scenes in which Delisle is detained for questioning at airports while traveling to comics festivals and on many occasions a soldier tells him to leave the spot where he has been sketching. He takes a particular interest in the Israeli West Bank barrier and sketches it often.
Jerusalem is a beautiful book—in either language, I’m sure—and I think we can expect to see it on the final nominee list next week.
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




Delisle illuminates life in the Holy City in "Jerusalem"

Updated June 14, 2012


Book Review: Jerusalem, by Guy Delisle
Stephen Carlick
May 4, 2012
National Post

In the opening spread of graphic memoirist Guy Delisle’s new book, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, a jovial old Russian man on the plane to the city calms Delisle’s cranky child by hoisting her in the air. Our narrator is surprised to see concentration-camp serial numbers tattooed along his forearm: “We’ve seen so many horrific images from that time in history,” Delisle remarks, “that my imagination just takes off. But I’m treated to a whole other picture tonight, as this old Russian plays with my daughter thousands of feet in the air.” The scene serves an important function to Delisle’s narrative, as he warns himself (and by extension, his readers) not to let the images and stories he’s seen and heard about Jerusalem affect his impression of the city.

In his three previous travelogues, Shenzen, Pyongyang and Burma Chronicles, Delisle’s attention to the minutiae of his day-to-day helped evoke the fascinating differences, both subtle and overwhelming, between the cultures of the cities he visited and his native Canada. In Jerusalem, this skill does him additional wonders; even readers with only a passing knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will find Delisle’s account of life in the holy city illuminating. By admitting ignorance and committing to an unbiased mindset at the book’s outset, he allows himself to ask basic questions (In Jerusalem: “So … we’re in Israel, right?” — the answer isn’t as simple as you think), the answers to which establish factual groundwork that’s fundamental to understanding the more complex and loaded issues he’ll encounter throughout his year in the city. In this way, Jerusalem provides both an excellent introduction to the conflict in the Middle East and a fascinating close-up of what it’s like to live in the most sacred city in the world.

With so much to see and learn about, Jerusalem was always going to be his longest work, but it’s his juxtaposition of the various points of view — Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, that of Médecins Sans Frontières, and his own — that makes it his best. The tension in the Holy City between what is how sacred to whom is central to the success of Jerusalem, largely because of the clear-eyed way Delisle depicts the struggles of daily life in a city where so many strongly opposed factions coexist. The city of Hebron, for example, provides a microcosm of the deeply rooted strife in Palestine. Delisle guides us through the Old City section of the West Bank community, where Israeli settlers live on one side of the street, and Palestinians on the other, between which famously documented hanging nets prevent them from throwing stones and refuse down onto passersby of the opposite religion. Both sides cling to past massacres (an Arabic rampage in 1929 and a Jewish gunning in 1994) as justification for hatred of the other. That they live so close to each other, despite their mutual disdain, is the defining characteristic of the West Bank and Gaza, and the source of its conflict. Both sides lay claim to the same sacred places, a fact that Delisle’s account of life in and around Jerusalem demonstrates well.

Delisle’s attempt at straightforward reporting is of course coloured by his secularity, so while he does his best to remain unbiased on all of his excursions, he can’t help but be perturbed by what religion has wrought in the Middle East. There are times when he seemingly borders on insensitivity, but it’s hard to condemn him, even when he calls Tel Aviv a “normal” city with “normal” people, for privileging a more “Western” lifestyle — it’s at least somewhat justified by the tremendous tension of living in the cloying religiousness of Jerusalem, where even the act of buying shredded wheat at a grocery store is fraught with moral concerns. Doing so from a grocer in an Israeli settlement slowly creates more conflict in areas to which Israeli Jews, sponsored by American Jews and Evangelical Christians (the latter of whom believe that the Jews must “occupy all of the Promised Land, including Palestine, before Jesus can return to Earth”), are now immigrating in huge numbers, creating conflict where once was peace.

Delisle is astounded at the desensitization of Jerusalemites to repression. Men go for jogs with assault rifles strapped to their backs, and whether or not one can visit certain neighbourhoods depends on a number of factors, including your ability to cite the proper religious prayers, your dress, the day of the week and which soldiers are on duty. Getting on planes and through the various checkpoints of the wall around Gaza are even more dependent on military conditions, and even stopping at an intersection with the wrong emblem on your car (“Médecins Sans Frontières,” for example) can incite problems.

From which party, specifically, the majority of those problems derive is a topic of much contention (to say the very least), but by the end of his narrative, it’s clear that Delisle sympathizes with one side more than another. He’s taken the same tour of Hebron with an Israeli settler and a member of “Breaking the Silence” (an organization of former Israeli soldiers who break the military code of silence to speak about the situation in the Occupied Territories), and it’s clear that one of the two is reconstructing historical narratives to better serve his religious view.

Wisely, though, Delisle never divulges outright with whom he sympathizes. Instead, he leaves readers with a compelling image, on the penultimate page of Jerusalem, one that both depicts the realities of modern life in the Holy City and reflects his own feelings. The image also reiterates the defeated sentiments of a street vendor Delisle met in the first month of his visit, who, prompted by Delisle’s mention of Doctors Without Borders, wearily responds: “There’ll always be borders.”
 
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  Everyday life in chaos: Delisle's perspective on "Jerusalem"

Updated June 14, 2012


Guy Delisle's Jerusalem
By Peggy Roalf
April 25, 2012
Dart Design Arts Daily

Graphic memoirist Guy Delisle will be in Cambridge, MA tonight to present his latest book, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, which was released by Drawn & Quarterly yesterday. Delisle and his wife, an administrator for Doctors Without Borders, spent a year with their young children in East Jerusalem. During their stay, they witnessed the short but brutal Gaza War and a military strike that claimed more than 1,000 Palestinian lives in three weeks.
While his wife is at work, Delisle, a self-described “housewife," spends his days exploring both sides of the walls separating Jews from Arabs. In one surreal situation after another he encounters truth and hypocricy on both sides, but tries to live neutrally among Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Atheists. One opportunity for comic relief after another unfolds: amidst armed checkpoints, bulldozed homes, and stone-throwing confrontations, he reveals the frustrations and small victories of everyday life such as searching for booze in a Muslim supermarket and trying to outsmart the legendary security guards at Ben-Gurion Airport.

In one episode, Israeli guards close a checkpoint crowded with Arabs trying to get into the Holy City in time for prayers. In a cloud of tear gas, a veiled woman gives the guards an earful while a UN truck collects garbage and a vendor hawks his sesame bread at the top of his voice. The Arabs give up on the idea of getting to the mosque, then unroll their rugs for prayers amid the rubble. “What a sad sight,” says an onlooker. “I swear, it’s nothing to be proud of,” replies her companion.
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




"The real face of globalization: a grinning red cow:" Guy Delisle's travelogues

Updated June 14, 2012


Guy Delisle: stranger in strange lands
The Canadian cartoonist chronicles the world’s political hot spots in his comic book travelogues
by Nicholas Köhler
April 26, 2012
MacLean's

Guy Delisle
Over the past 10 years or so, while few people in his native Canada have taken notice, the comic book artist Guy Delisle has been busy writing wry, sharply observed graphic novels depicting life in some of the world’s most remote, strange and forbidding cities. Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China describes his stay at ground zero of the country’s wild economic ascent. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is a postcard from the hermit capital. Burma Chronicles is the story of Delisle’s life as a househusband in Rangoon, where his wife worked as an administrator with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. “Some products have managed to take over the entire world,” Delisle, in one typically sardonic slice-of-life observation, thinks to himself in a Rangoon supermarket while holding a package of The Laughing Cow cheese. “You can’t go anywhere without finding Nescafé and The Laughing Cow. Here, this is the real face of globalization: a grinning red cow.” Later, spotting a man in robes and a shaved head at the same supermarket, he exclaims: “Wow, a monk in the cookie aisle.”

His latest book, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, just released in English by Montreal publishing house Drawn & Quarterly, describes his time as a stay-at-home dad at the centre of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In sometimes amusing, often painful detail, Jerusalem outlines the absurdities of the city’s sectarian stalemate from the point of view of a mild-mannered Canadian cartoonist living in an Arab section of Jerusalem who just wants to find a decent school for his kids, buy diapers on the Sabbath, and maybe pick up a bottle of wine.


The book is fair, but it doesn’t pull punches either. As an outsider, Delisle can float above the political fray, pointing out the absurdities on all sides. “I try to be just really precise and honest with what I’ve seen and—that’s it,” Delisle says. “The reader can make up his own mind. He doesn’t need me.” While acting as an observer at a checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem, after a kerfuffle prompts soldiers to fire tear gas into the crowd, Delisle sees a “vendor weaving his way through the chaos, hawking sesame bread at the top of his lungs”—a “surreal scene.” He witnesses Muslim women emerge from a lavish mall in an Israeli settlement laden with shopping bags; he himself has been too abashed to buy anything, heeding lectures that doing so would be to support what are widely viewed as illegal colonies. Elsewhere, strolling through West Jerusalem with his small son, Delisle recalls that “this is the spot where a bulldozer plowed into the crowd last July”: the Palestinian driver killed three and injured 46. The details spool over an otherwise ordinary walk among strangers, an eerie reverie. “I swear, when you see the spectacle religion puts on around here, you don’t feel like being a believer,” he writes. “Thanks, God, for making me an atheist.”

Jerusalem’s appearance in North America is sure to stir up controversy among those with deeply held positions on the advisability of the Israeli settlements, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and Zionism in general. And it will no doubt cement Delisle’s reputation as a master cartoonist working at a time when mainstream North America grows increasingly accepting of the graphic novel—a grudging acceptance, albeit, still developing almost 25 years after Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer for Maus, a graphic narrative of the Holocaust. All of Delisle’s books have been highly praised and widely translated. The French edition of Jerusalem, released in November, sold 70,000 copies in two months and won the Fauve d’Or at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the comic book equivalent of best film at Cannes. “He’s a star in France,” says Bart Beaty, head of the English department at the University of Calgary and author of the upcoming Comics Versus Art. “He’s very much a key player in the new comics movement of the last 20 years—this generation of people who grew up reading adventure and humour comics like Tintin and so know how to do them, but who have applied those skills to genres like travel writing and autobiography.”

Delisle will soon be better known on this continent: the impeccably credentialed U.S. magazine Foreign Policy recently ran an excerpt of Jerusalem—it particularly notes his attempts to “outsmart Ben Gurion airport’s legendary security screenings”—and Delisle is about to undertake his first-ever North American book tour. At 46, he has lived most of the last 25 years in Montpellier, in the south of France. He likely would not have made it in comics had he stayed in Canada, and he is in many ways a European cartoonist, with a sensibility indebted to artists who remain largely unknown in this country. He grew up in Quebec City, where his father was a technical draftsman at a pulp-and-paper mill and his mother was a teacher. His early reading included all the Franco-Belgian classics—Astérix, Tintin, Lucky Luc—but he later gravitated toward a wave of cartoonists who in the 1970s dared to aspire to an adult audience: Marcel Gotlib, Philippe Druillet, and Jean Girard, also known as Moebius (whose architecturally grand sci-fi visions are echoed in Delisle’s depictions of austere Pyongyang, “a city lit only by the headlights of cars and monuments to the glory of the great leader”).

He studied animation at Sheridan College, outside Toronto, and animation work kept him busy in the 1990s in Germany and France. But he began contributing comic shorts to Lapin, a magazine printed by a small, Paris-based independent publisher, L’Association, responsible for introducing an influential cadre of French cartoonists to readers in the 1990s, including Lewis Trondheim, David B., and a score of others. More and more Delisle came to subsidize these personal projects with contracts in children’s animation. “I was thinking I’d do that all my life,” he says, “and I would have never guessed at that time that books like Pyongyang or Shenzhen would sell so much.”

It was the new vogue in outsourcing cartoon grunt work to cheap Asian studios that first sent him outside Europe to live. In 1997 he set out to write a short work about life in the new China, and hit upon the idea of casting himself as the naive protagonist—he compares his Chaplin-esque alter ego to Voltaire’s Candide—eating dog, watching the mad erection of buildings and seeing first-hand the ideological ambivalence of the urban Chinese. “In France we have Communists in the government,” he tells a portly colleague in Shenzhen; the man responds with an uproarious belly laugh. “In China, laughter masks a variety of emotions that are difficult for foreigners to interpret,” he writes. “I’m afraid of Communists,” the portly man abruptly tells us in the next panel. In Pyongyang, Delisle smuggles George Orwell’s 1984 into North Korea. Later, his North Korean translator asks if he has any books he can borrow. “I’ve got just the thing,” Delisle says, handing him the Orwell novel. “It’s science fiction.” The gesture proves deeply awkward for the translator: “I don’t really like science fiction,” he tells Delisle later, overcome with the jitters; he’s clearly read it and recognized his reality in Orwell’s fiction. (Delisle has heard North Korea’s apparatchiks were unhappy with Pyongyang.) “When I do these books I have the feeling I’m writing a long postcard to my mom,” Delisle says. “Except now I write for my readers. And I really feel the reader sitting next to me and I say, ‘Let’s go over here, there’s a great place I want to show you.’ ”

In Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem he’s no longer the animator abroad, but a dad—his next book, Bad Dad Guide, will lampoon his own parenting—and husband to Nadège, an administrator with Doctors Without Borders, known in French as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF. His eye is as sharp when it comes to the foibles of the expat community. Of one of his wife’s colleagues, he observes: “Asis, like just about all the MSF doctors I’ve met, smokes a pack of cigarettes a day.” In Burma he uses his toddler to try to charm his way through a military checkpoint outside Aung San Suu Kyi’s home. In Jerusalem his clueless comic book alter ego finds the streets of East Jerusalem strewn with trash and asks an expat: “We’re in Israel, right?” “Well,” goes the reply, “it depends.” The book ends up being a useful primer for readers mystified by the Arab-Israeli conflict. “I’d feel embarrassed to put in anything fictional,” he says. “I get lost easily, but I’m curious. I want to know what’s going on and I want to go there if I can.” All the more reason to lament that Nadège has left MSF, and that Jerusalem may be Delisle’s last time discovering a city and showing us around.
 
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




  Guy Delisle shares his feelings on North Korea, compassion, and the writing of "Jerusalem"

Updated June 14, 2012


Cartoonist Guy Delisle on His Year in Israel and Creating Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City
Mike Rhode
Apr. 25, 2012
Washington City Paper

Guy Delisle is a French-Canadian expatriate cartoonist who specializes in travelogues. He’s made books about Shenzen, China, and Pyongyang, North Korea, both of which he visited as a supervising animator. He spent a year in Burma after starting a family with an employee of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders. After leaving the country, he produced Burma Chronicles, a book of vignettes about his experiences there. His latest book, Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City (Drawn & Quarterly, $25), is his most ambitious so far. In 320 pages, Delisle covers the year he spent in the Israeli capital. Delisle gets lost in the streets of the city, both on foot and in a secondhand car; meets members of the region's three major religions; and experiences “the glamorous life of a housewife.” On his travels he meets and shows his readers a variety of people including Israeli Jews in the military, Bedouins, ultra-extreme Jewish settlers, Palestinian student cartoonists, and a Christian minister (who provides him with studio space). Unlike his earlier books, here Delisle stretches into cartoon journalism, when he’s asked to do a story on Doctors Without Borders and “what they’re doing in Hebron, a West Bank city where the settlers are known to be especially militant,” he explains. For fans of his earlier works, Jerusalem still focuses plenty on Delisle's visits to historic and religious sites.

Delisle appears tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at Politics & Prose. I recently interviewed him, and I've tried to keep the feel of his excellent French-inflected English in this transcription.

Washington City Paper: Where is home for you now?

Guy Delisle: I’m in the south of France, in a small place called Montpelier. I’ve spent half my life here now.

WCP: So you’ve been out of Canada for a long time?

GD: Yeah, I left when I was 20-something and I traveled for a year and a half, and then I settled in France.

WCP: So did you meet your wife in France then?

GD: Yes, that’s right. I met her in Montpellier.

WCP: I know she’s your partner and you’re not formally married… How does your family feel about the books and their depictions in the book?

GD: My kids haven’t read it. They know what’s the idea behind the book, but my son’s too young to read it. Basically he thinks since he was on the cover of the Burma book, he thinks that I make books for him, just like I would write him a long letter or something like that. And I did two other books, but they’re for children—Louis au Ski and Louis a la Plage—so that’s why he probably thinks every time I do a book it’s about him.

WCP: It seems to me that this time the book was more about journalism and less about autobiography—would you agree with that?

GD: Well, I have to agree, but that was not of my choice. It’s because of the place. It was easier in Burma to say a few things about the place and my friends and most people would learn something. For me that was good enough. I didn’t want to go into detail, because then it gets very abstract. But for Israel it’s different because most of the basic details are known, so I had to go further than that and explain more than anyone could know by reading the paper or just going there for a week. So I had to explain more, and more completely. I wanted to explain enough to give a good basis, but not so much that it would be just too tedious and too boring to my readers. It was quite a challenge, because when I came back home from Jerusalem, I thought, “Wow, there’s no way I can do a book about that because it’s too complicated.” I spent my year talking with journalists who live there all the time, especially in East Jerusalem and UN people and humanitarians so I had a lot of stuff in my head about the conflict, but I couldn’t fit them all in one book, because it would be too big. I thought, “It’s too complicated for me.” And then I started the book with the first page with the first thing that happened to me when I was there and it went OK. I put everything I wanted to put in, knowing that I didn’t want to do a thesis. I just wanted to do a pleasant comic book.

WCP: Obviously you’re familiar with Joe Sacco’s work Palestine—I believe you name-check him in the book…

GD: [Laughs] Yeah. You know people confuse me with Joe Sacco somehow.

WCP: Have you read Sarah Glidden’s book about traveling to Israel?

GD: Yeah, I did and I know Sarah now because I keep seeing her in festivals—we had a conversation in Germany with our books. I like her book and I like her a lot. We were in contact when I was in Jerusalem doing my blog. I think it’s an interesting book.

WCP: The question sort of becomes…did you feel there was still space for your book—which is not a question anyone would ask in any other field except for comics?

GD: Yeah, because if you look at what you have just in novels on Israel or Jerusalem, you have plenty. Here, on Israel, you have Joe Sacco and that’s it, and now you have Sarah. The books' aspects are so different between my and Sara’s book or Joe’s book…they are very different in approach and in narration and just in the way of thinking. I think mine is as different as the other ones. I think there’s still space. I was reading in France a few others…there’s one that I’ve put on my blog as one of the few books I’ve read about it. It’s very nice—more fictiona—but the drawings are superb and I think he did a good job. Another one is by a girl who was sending letters to her sister telling her what she was doing there and she just illustrated these postcards and it’s successful. It’s just on the West Bank so it’s interesting as well. All these books are interesting—they’re all in the form of comics, but they’re all so very different. It’s the same subject, but then in the end they’re so different that it’s good to have them all.

WCP: When you were going to Israel, did you have any preconceptions about …this is too simplistic, but who’s right? Did you feel like you’d be taking sides, or did you go in with a pretty open mind?

GD: I have to confess I think I went there with a pretty open mind. I think being Canadian and being far from the conflict—I don’t have any relatives who have been involved in the conflict like you might have had in Europe. I didn’t know much about the conflict when I arrived there, I have to admit. I wasn’t very keen on going to the Middle East. I’d never been there. I’m more of an Asian or South American—Asian probably—type of guy.

We learned just a month before leaving that we were going to Jerusalem, so I did not have time to check stuff out, and anyhow I knew that I would find people there who would know so much about the place. So I guess I went there with the same mentality that I went to North Korea, where of course there’s a dictator and all that, but then you think, “Well maybe there’s something wrong and the people are really proud to fight and all that…” but I didn’t find that at all in North Korea. They were just living, that’s all. I felt very sorry for them. So I guess in Jerusalem I was thinking maybe it was going to be very different from what I thought, but actually I hadn’t thought about it much, so I said to myself I’ll check and see. To be honest, that was my basic course—trying to understand from one year of being there.

WCP: In the end, would you say that you tend to fall more on the Palestinian side? That’s what I thought I took away from the book…

GD: Yeah, kind of. Well, at first the general idea is that all the Palestinians are suffering unfairly from what the Israelis are doing to them. I guess that’s the feeling I came out with. Being with the Israelis, you know why they’re so paranoid and security is so high, but then again they feed the paranoia to themselves with the media and all that—a bit too much to me. I don’t talk about that in the book. I came back—I’m a left-wing guy, so of course to see what’s going on there and what happens to the Palestinians—you feel sorry for them. I don’t know anyone coming back from the humanitarian work in this region who says, “Everything’s fine.” That’s not possible. They all come back and say, “That’s so unfair.”

WCP: Do you find yourself suffering from compassion fatigue as you go to these places? You’ve been to three very difficult places.

GD: Oh, compassion fatigue? That’s interesting. What is that? When you’ve been in so many places with people suffering that you actually don’t feel for them so much?

WCP: Yes.

GD: I guess doctors feel like that because they see so much illness and suffering. I was talking to a doctor who works with Doctors Without Borders—they’re in so many extreme situations—I think doctors have to feel like that, otherwise they’ll just go nuts. And I think the same for someone who wants to do a book or reporting—I think it’s better to be kind of cold about the situation and then you don’t get too involved. You can feel for the people, but if there’s not much you can do—well, it’s just the way it is. You can talk about it…you’re going to help them…and that’s it. You’re not going to live their lives, they’re not going to live yours, and that’s how I felt when I was in North Korea. I would feel sorry for these people, but once you go, you can’t even be in contact with them. I think it would be dangerous for them, and that’s it. You just say bye-bye and you know you’re never going to see them. I feel terrible, but I think I have that distance that I can really look at the people. Even though the Palestinians are suffering, some of them were not very nice people and it’s not because they’re suffering that they have all the riots or they should be able to do whatever they want. And both peoples are in different situations—the Israelis, the Jews, they feel like they are the victims, of course, of the history of Europe. And then the Palestinians are the victims as well of something else, so you’re between two victims. Sometimes you just don’t feel sorry for any of them because it’s too much. They’re just showing so much victimization…it’s not because you’re a victim that you’re right somehow. It’s a feeling you get when you’re with the Palestinians for a long time, even though they are in an unfair situation of course.

WCP: Let me go back to the family question briefly. Obviously, when you did your first books, you were not together with anyone. You could go to North Korea on your own. Do you worry now that you’re taking your family? It looks like there is some of that in Jerusalem, where you have to worry about your children—do you think this will affect where you’ll go in the future, or your wife’s career, or is it something you’ll just work past?

GD: It’s not going to happen for a simple reason. My wife has stopped doing humanitarian work after Jerusalem. We decided it’s a good time for us to stop, mostly because the kids are eight and five now and it’s a bit complicated with the real school, because before it was just kindergarten. So we’ve stopped. But MSF [Medicine Sans Frontiers, aka Doctors Without Borders] sends families into countries that are not dangerous. Burma was very quiet, and Jerusalem is very quiet now, so there is no danger while you’re there. I didn’t feel at ease with soldiers with guns around, but I think that’s my imagination. It’s the same in France—in the airport we always have one or two guys in the army walking around with guns—I don’t feel comfortable with that at all. In Jerusalem they’re all over the place, so I just don’t like that. I think when you’re with kids and you walk around and you have soldiers with guns…I didn’t like it at all. I never really got used to that, and I think you can feel it throughout the book. At the end I was relieved to go away from the tension with the soldiers and the conflict.

WCP: What do you see your next book being now if you’re not going to necessarily be doing a travelogue?

GD: I’m not saying no to autobiography, but it’s not going to be a long trip like that where I go for a year and then I come back and I do the work. I might try a few things, mostly the relation with father and kids that you have to deal with when you’re a father. That’s just fun. That’s very relaxing for me [he laughs]. It’s just storytelling, fun storytelling which I really enjoy. And there’s another project I kept postponing since I did Shenzhen (in 2000), so it’s a long time ago. It’s the story of someone else. I always wanted to try that for once. It’s this guy I met in Doctors Without Borders, as well. He was an administrator and he was kidnapped for three months in Chechnya on his first mission. After three months he managed to escape, so at four in the morning he was at a Chechnyan village thinking, “OK, now how do I get to the embassy?” He succeeded and I thought it was a great story because of that inside stuff where you try to cope with whatever you can in your mind because you’re just sitting there for days, hours, weeks, months and how do you cope with that? How do you not go crazy? So that’s really the part that I want to focus on. And of course he escapes at the end, so that’s a fun part as well. I’ve already started to work on that. I worked on it when I was in Jerusalem and I think in September when things are going to be a bit more quiet for me, I’m going to go back to that.

WCP: Getting back to Jerusalem briefly, I noticed that this book has color in it, although it’s accent color, not complete color. Can you talk about your decision to start using color, and if you’re going to use more in the future?

GD: I don’t know. It depends on the book. This one was the first time that I was with a publisher, and this the second book I’m doing with him, so from the beginning I had the choice to do it in color or not, which was not the case with the other one. The Burma book was supposed to be done with another publisher, and they don’t do color. This company is a bigger publisher and for them color is not a big deal. The book wouldn’t be much more expensive, so I said, “Oh, sure, I’ll try it.” Jerusalem is quite specific in color. They only used one stone (in building) and that goes back to the English Mandate that tried to unify the whole thing with architecture—they would use the same stone and it’s always beige, like a sand color, and it’s all over the new and the old town. Not only the old town, so everything is the same color. That’s why, in my mind, I was seeing Jerusalem in a very unified color all the way. It’s colder in winter so it’s blue in the winter and more sand in the summer, and that’s all I wanted to use.

WCP: Drawn and Quarterly—did you approach them or did they approach you?

GD: D&Q approached [my French publisher] L’Association after I published Pyongyang, and the book was doing fine for them. I guess they thought they’d try it. I was very happy because I like what they’re doing and they’re Canadian so I thought it was perfect.

WCP: So is Jerusalem your breakthrough book? Is this the most successful book you’ve done?

GD: Yeah, it’s been piling up. Burmese Chronicles was successful—well for me was very successful, but this one even more. Maybe because it’s Jerusalem, but I think people are seeing this as the fourth chapter of myself going around and traveling and I think people are following me. I think I could go to Tibet or Siberia and they would just like to travel with me. In France I sold 60,000 of the Burma one and I really don’t think there are actually 60,000 people really interested in Burma who would buy a book just on Burma. I don’t think so. I think it’s because it’s fun. They get to learn things and they walk around with me in some remote place. Same thing happened with Jerusalem, but on top of that Jerusalem is famous so I even have more people. I’m selling a lot of books. It’s very successful.

WCP: That’s true for me. I just enjoyed reading your travelogues, and if you went to Tibet, I’d just buy that one as well. [We both laugh]. I like slice-of-life comics and buy [French cartoonist] Lewis Trondheim’s collections when they come out in English as well.

GD: Yeah, it’s a relaxed way even to do them. I just read back my notes when I come back from a year and then I decide if I’m going to do a book or not. I didn’t go to Jerusalem and say, “All right, this is going to be my next book,” because I never know. After Shenzhen, I went to Vietnam and worked there for two months. I had my little motor bike and all that. But everything just went fine and the people were great, the studio was working perfectly and the food was good so it was just like a big happy picnic. I didn’t have much to say so I didn’t feel like drawing that. I was having fun and it was great, so I didn’t do a book. The same happened in Ethiopia, but for a different reason. The first trip I did with my partner was Ethiopia. I drew all of Pyongyang in Ethiopia because she was working a lot, and I thought “Well, this is good. I’m just going to work on my stuff.” So I kind of missed out, in the sense that I didn’t see enough of the city and all that because I was working a lot. Which shouldn’t be a problem, but after I left Ethiopia I didn’t have much to say—I met people and it’s a great place—but I didn’t have enough personal experience. So I didn’t do a book about that. Now whenever I go someplace, as in Burma, I think let’s see what happens and either I do a book or not.
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




Living dangerously and comically: Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" adventure

Updated June 14, 2012


Far from Home: Guy Delisle's Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
BY TIM PETERS
APRIL 25TH, 2012
SLANT magazine

A question for the history of the graphic novel: Will anyone ever write a cartoon equivalent of Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? Will there ever be a cartoonist who in his or her real life does a bunch of dangerous and exciting stuff, such as work on a whaling ship, pilot a river boat, or fight in a war, and who then sublimates those experiences via the imagination into a work of fiction that's vivid and dense and spiritually substantial? More specifically, will there ever be a cartoonist who can combine with his or her comics all that you get in Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin (the audacity, the action, the energetic globetrotting) with all that you get in Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth (the disappointment, the ambiguity, the baroque psychology)?
Guy Delisle's new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a nonfictional graphic novel about being far away from home in an occasionally dangerous and precarious and confusing place. It's about living for a year in Israel while trying to be a husband, a father, and an itinerant cartoonist. Insofar as it's a memoir, Jerusalem is low-key and humorous, and brings to mind Ross McElwee's documentary Sherman's March. Insofar as it's a travelogue, Jerusalem is inquisitive and observant, and brings to mind another doc: Chris Marker's Sans Soleil. As a whole, the book is both enjoyable and instructive; it makes you chuckle and grin, and it makes you feel like a more informed, concerned citizen of the world.
The reason Delisle camps out near the holiest of the world's geopolitical hellholes is that his wife works for Médecins San Frontières and she's been assigned to work in Israel for a year (particularly in Gaza). Delisle's purpose therefore, while living in Jerusalem, is more or less—and he admits as much—to be a housewife and to help take care of his two little kids while mom is out there making a difference. Most of Jerusalem's chapters are just one, two, or three pages in length. They're all vignettes, and many of them involve driving the kids to school, taking them on vacation, or wandering around trying to find a place to get some drawing done before they have to come home. But there's also encounters and interactions, with other expats, with locals, with Jews and Muslims and Christians, with Israelis and Palestinians.
Delisle's drawing style fits nicely with his narration. His lines are plain and clean and casual without being sloppy. Most of his frames are in black and white, with color used from time to time to bring attention to a map, a memory, or an obnoxious noise. He's also a pro at compressing his scenes down to just a few beats, phrases, and gestures. In Jerusalem, there are no longwinded monologues, dialogues, or explanatory introductions—just one curious, quiet moment after another through the months of the year, from Ramadan, when Delisle gets self-conscious walking down the street eating an apple, to Yom Kippur, when the roads are blocked and everyone's out riding bikes, to Christmastime, when bombs start dropping in Gaza, to Purim, when the ultra-orthodox Jews are so drunk they're puking in the streets, to Passover, when all the food in the grocery stores that has yeast in it is covered in plastic.
Delisle has written several cartoon travelogues in the style of Jerusalem, including Shenzhen, Pyongyang, and Burma Chronicles. With respect to the question at the start of this review, it can only be hoped that Delisle, or Joe Sacco, or Craig Thompson, or Marjane Satrapi, or any cartoonist who spends or has spent some of his or her time away from the studio and out in the world living to at least some extent dangerously, that he or she will struggle to do for comics what Melville did for the novel: to make it a medium with the space for an epic, for a hero quest, for a search far from home for the big slippery something "that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain," to make comics a place where the Ahab-like reader can go.

 
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




  Zealots and assault rifles provide backdrop for Delisle's "Jerusalem"

Updated June 14, 2012


Robot Reviews | Jerusalem and Best of Enemies
Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City
April 23, 2012
by Chris Mautner
Robot6

Perhaps it’s just the tenor of the times (quite likely) or perhaps it’s the influence of Joe Sacco (not quite as likely but still a possibility) but there’s been a lot of graphic novels focusing on the Middle East lately. In the realm of fiction there’s Craig Thompson’s Habibi, G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker’s Cairo and the various works of Marjane Satrapi. In the realm of nonfiction, there’s Sacco’s own Footnotes from Gaza. and Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. Now two new books have joined the conversation on the nonfiction side of things: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem and Best of Enemies, from historian Jean-Pierre Filiu and Epileptic author David B.

Jerusalem follows a path that will be familiar to anyone who’s read any of Delisle’s previous comics (apart from Albert and the Others and Aline and the Others): facts and background about the country he’s visiting mixed in with quotidian examples of day-to-day life, usually in humorous fashion with Delisle portraying himself in a somewhat self-effacing, occasionally clueless fashion.

This time Delisle’s wife’s job with Doctors Without Borders takes them to the heart of much of the turmoil in the Middle East, the city of Jerusalem. Far from a city of wonder, Delisle is shocked to find how dirty and garbage-strewn Jerusalem is and lacking in infrastructure, at least on the Palestinian side of things. Much of the book is filled with Delisle wandering about the city and the outlying areas, making sketches and talking to denizens that hail from a variety of cultures and backgrounds.

Delisle doesn’t delve too deep into the whys and wherefores of the Palestinian situation, no doubt assuming most readers understand the two sides’ positions and issues regarding things like the Jewish settlements. Indeed, this is one of Delisle’s subtlest graphic novels to date. His sympathies clearly ally with the Palestinians, but rather than use a sledge hammer to get his points across, Delisle relies on small observations: the thin hungry wrists of a woman in his cartooning seminar, or the way everyone seems to casually carry assault rifles. More often than not he simply presents a situation and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.

If there’s an overall enemy in Jerusalem, it’s not Israel but organized religion. The book is filled with squabbling sects of various monotheistic religions, each one eager to place their own concerns and traditions ahead of the others, or of general decency. Even different sects of the same religion, like the various groups of Christians that run the Holy Sepulchre, seem incapable of getting along. A Lutheran minister, a comics fan who owns copies of Hellsing and gives Delisle a small studio space, provide a contrast to the zealotry that surrounds the city, but he’s a lone voice of sanity in a city suffocating with extremists. Despite Delisle’s considerable dry wit this might be his darkest, saddest travelogue book yet, and that’s saying something for a man that’s been to North Korea...
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Guy Delisle gets lost in Jerusalem

Updated June 14, 2012


Jerusalem: This Year in a Comic Book
Graphic novelist Guy Delisle explores the City of Gold.
Foreign Policy
BY GUY DELISLE | APRIL 6, 2012

Comic book artist Guy Delisle spent a year living in Jerusalem, where he observed the heady cocktail of religion, paranoia, and faith that makes the country such a beguiling place. From the summer of 2008 to 2009, Delisle's wife, Nadège, worked in Palestine as an administrator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while Delisle explored his new city.

Like in his three previous graphic novels about Shenzhen, China; Pyongyang, North Korea; and Burma; Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City offers a series of vignettes illustrating the personal frustrations and small victories of daily life in a foreign land: searching for booze in a Muslim supermarket, trying to outsmart Ben Gourion airport's legendary security screenings, or stumbling upon a quiet and secluded monastery. Foreign Policy has an exclusive excerpt of the book, which comes out in the United States on April 24. In the excerpt below, Delisle loses himself in Jerusalem's Old City.
On a later excursion, Delisle follows a group of women from Checkpoint Watch, and joins them, and many others, in observing the daily life at a checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Later, an MSF director asks Delisle to draw his reporting trip to Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank. On a quiet afternoon, Delisle heads to the zoo with a friend.

 
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  Guy Delisle shares scenes from everyday life in the Holy City: "Jerusalem"

Updated June 14, 2012


Graphic Novels & Art-Comics—April 2012
By Noel Murray April 2, 2012
A.V. Club

Sheer circumstance has led French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle to spend extended periods of time in China, North Korea, Burma, and Jerusalem (the first two to supervise animation studios, the latter two to accompany his girlfriend on Doctors Without Borders missions) but say this for Delisle: He’s certainly made the most of those trips. Jerusalem: Chronicles From The Holy City (D&Q) is the fourth comics travelogue that Delisle has written and drawn after returning home, and though the tensions and divisions of the Middle East’s most contentious hot-spot have been well-covered by such cartoonists as Joe Sacco, Rutu Modan, and Sarah Glidden, Delisle brings his own wry point-of-view to bear here, commenting on both the huge injustices and the tiny inconveniences of life in a divided Israel.
Using his typical diary style—rendered with small, cartoony figures set against fairly realistic landscapes—Delisle describes the compromises that even progressive Jews have to make in a city where some people are being isolated into ever-smaller, walled-off neighborhoods. Delisle covers the checkpoints, the bombings, and the differences between the Jewish parts of the city and the Palestinian parts that Jews are afraid to visit. But Delisle also plays tourist, visiting the historical sites that are sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike; and he plays parent, grumbling about how hard it is to find convenient, useful schools for his two kids, or even to find a good playground.
As always, Delisle shows an equal knack for pantomime comedy and for more involved personal observations, and while his artwork seems simple on the surface, Delisle and his colorist Lucie Firoud use their reduced palette brilliantly, creating a sense of drabness that doesn’t overwhelm Delisle’s characters but that does make the few shocks of bright color stand out. It all fits into the way Delisle depicts Jerusalem: as a city constantly on edge, where it’s common to see armed citizens walking the street, or to get yelled at by orthodox religious types in some neighborhoods. Yet longtime residents—and even visitors like Delisle—find a way to cope with the strife, and to get on with the business of raising families and making a living. Some may find Jerusalem’s emphasis on the hassles of traffic and shopping and the like to be trivial giving where these anecdotes are taking place, but whenever Delisle finds a peaceful spot to have a coffee or to stare at the ocean, the sense of freedom he feels makes the persistent inhumanity elsewhere in the city seem all the more shameful.
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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City




Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem" offers an inside look at the tumultuous city

Updated June 13, 2012


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
by Joshua Malbin
May.05, 2012

The last book of Guy Delisle’s I reviewed was about his time in Burma, and when I wrote about it I had mixed feelings about his customary form, which is to string together four- to eight-page travel vignettes almost exclusively focused on his day-to-day experiences, using what he sees or hears as an opening to discuss some broader phenomenon about the culture he’s visiting. His stance is always that of a sincerely interested, naive tourist rather than a journalist, and I felt that it simultaneously showed too much humility (in that he declined to speak for Burma) and not enough (in that he also gave space to things like his problems with air conditioning).
On the whole, though, I liked Burma Chronicles. I just wanted even more about the country. It was a closed, mysterious society and I was curious.
I came to his new book Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City with exactly the opposite predisposition. Few countries on earth receive as much consistent media attention as Israel, and its history and conflicts have already been the subject of countless books, including graphic works by some of my favorite (Joe Sacco) and least favorite (Sarah Glidden) comic book authors. I had no curiosity left about it.
As it turns out, that makes it the perfect subject for Delisle’s interested tourist routine, in part because he is a keen observer of details it turned out I had never seen before. Rather than dramatize big injustices, like Sacco, or grapple with the whole arc of modern Israeli history, like Glidden, he focuses on small ironies and oddities.
When he visits Hebron, for example, he does discuss the ongoing conflict between settlers and Palestinian residents, but does so by remarking that there are certain streets Palestinians cannot use, and that the one they can use that runs next to settlers’ homes has been roofed with netting to catch the garbage settlers try to throw down from their windows. He visits a settlement near where he’s living in East Jerusalem and notes that many Arab Christians are living there, attracted by the cheap rent. “It’s like we’re resettling the settlements!” laughs his host.
Overall, then, he presents a picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of its effect on daily life, both in Israel and in the West Bank, which turns out to be fascinating and darkly funny. (He is never able to get permission to visit Gaza, and he guesses that the Israeli official who denies that permission does so because he thinks Delisle is Sacco.)
Three elements stuck out for me in particular.
First, his year in Israel overlapped with Operation Cast Lead, and he does an incredible job of describing the surreality of going about his daily routine while a war takes place just a short drive away. One striking sequence has him and a friend at the beach, watching fighter jets go past en route to Gaza.
Second, the wall encircling Palestinians in the West Bank. He talks about it only occasionally, but is always trying to sketch it, and it shows up constantly in his descriptions of other events. It hangs over everything else silently, just as he must have experienced it.
Third, Delisle is fair-minded, and makes a point to present what he sees as the best aspects of Israeli society. Specifically he points out that the Israelis can be more critical of their government or of Israeli extremists than any American media outlet would ever dare to be.
On December 4, settlers occupying a building in central Hebron were evacuated by the Israeli army. The settlers put up a fierce fight, and six soldiers were injured during the operation. Other settlers responded with violent attacks on Arab families, all under the eyes of journalists. The story made the front page of the papers. The vast majority of Israelis vigorously disapprove of the extreme behavior of the Hebron settlers. In a statement following these incidents, Ehud Olmert spoke of “pogroms” perpetrated by Jews against Arabs. Harsh words, deliberately used by the prime minister to make an impression.

Elsewhere you might think twice before accusing Jews of carrying out pogroms… In Israel, it’s not an issue.
Delisle is interested in Israel in all its diversity. He visits the Samaritans, the Armenian Church, a Bedouin village, the Dome of the Rock. He tours an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. He even goes on a propaganda bus tour organized by a pro-settler group. In the end it is clear where his sympathies lie, and above all who he sees as villains. But the personal travelogue format allows him to be fair about all he does experience without having to throw in a lot of caveats about all he doesn’t, and I felt like he showed me a great many new things about a subject I’d thought I was sick of.
 
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  Publishers Weekly: Guy Delisle's award-winning JERUSALEM an "engaging" take on a troubled city

Updated February 28, 2012


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Guy Delisle, trans. by Hegle Dascher. (Review)

Delisle returns to his autobiographical travel format (Burma Chronicles; Pyongyang) with this engaging and troubling look at life in Jerusalem in 2008 and 2009 that won a gold medal for Best Graphic Albumat Angoulême. With his wife, who works for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontières, MSF), and their two young children, Delisle sees Jerusalem and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with the eyes of an outsider. His experiences are recorded in vignettes that touch on such topics as the wall that separates Palestinian and Israeli territories, the problems of airport security, and the very different tours visitors receive depending on the perspective of their guides. Like MSF, Delisle’s perspective tends heavily in favor of the Palestinians, particularly those killed in the bombings of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, which took place during his year there. Delisle is not religious, and his lack of identification with any of the religions of Israel allows him to comment freely on all of them. With a more simplistic style than in Pyongyang, Delisle’s use of less shading and starker line work highlights the very complex lives of Israelis, Palestinians, and foreign residents. Dascher’s translation is fluid, and the colors by Delisle and Lucie Firoud are effective at setting off distinct scenes.
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London Free Press suggest PYONGYANG for North Korean reading

Updated January 11, 2012


December 20, 2011
Dan Brown

If you’re interested in learning more about North Korea, I’d like to suggest the graphic novel Pyongyang by Quebec cartoonist Guy Delisle, who travelled to the hermit state to work as an animator on children’s programs.

Delisle’s travelogue reads like the George Orwell novel 1984 come to life. It’s like some kind of science-fiction comedy, only North Korea isn’t made up. It’s happening now, on this planet.

Delisle understates the rampant weirdness he found in the deeply secretive nation ruled by a communist family dynasty, which only makes it seem even more otherwordly.

I’m sure my friends Gord and Carol at L.A. Mood would happily help you to find a copy of the book. Tell ‘em Dan sent ya!
 
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  The Daily Star Lebanon reviews Delisle's JERUSALEM

Updated January 11, 2012


January 4, 2012
Olivia Snaije

PARIS: Rarely does another city spark such passion, from ecstasy to ire to insanity. From the historical, political, religious arena to the deeply personal, contemporary Jerusalem juxtaposes physical beauty with noxious tension.

Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle’s new graphic novel, “Chroniques de Jerusalem” (“Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City”) looks like the work of a gormless foreigner, yet ultimately this tragi-comic description of the year he recently spent in the city is impartial in all its surrealistic mania.

Trained in animation, Delisle now focuses on the successful comics that he sketches in pencil and ink. “Jerusalem” is his twelfth (and longest) effort and his fourth travelogue.

The artist said that when he moved to occupied Jerusalem he wasn’t particularly interested in the Middle East, nor the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He had done most of his traveling in Asia and his first two comic-book travelogues were about China and North Korea, where he taught animation. His more recent books about Burma and now Jerusalem develop the author’s autobiographical self as the partner of Nadège, who works for Doctors without Borders.

“We were supposed to go to Tokyo and only found out a month before that we were to go to Jerusalem,” said Delisle in a telephone interview from his home in Montpellier, France. “I didn’t mind. I thought it would be a change. I didn’t know much about the conflict. I thought it would be interesting and I would learn. For me, it’s always a strange experience, it’s simple for [his partner]: she works.”

Delisle’s character is a good-natured, stay-at-home dad, who juggles the logistics of moving to a new country, food shopping and young children while trying to get his head around the complicated situation in which he’s landed, recording everything in a sketchbook.

When the Delisle family arrives they are housed in Beit Hanina, in Arab East Jerusalem where most of the NGOs are based. He takes his daughter for a stroll and discovers overflowing rubbish bins and badly maintained roads without any parks for children. He notes that Jerusalem hadn’t looked like this in guidebooks.

He quickly finds parallel systems in the city: Israeli buses go to all neighborhoods except the Arab ones. Arab minibuses only go to Arab neighborhoods. In Beit Hanina, residents pay taxes for water and rubbish removal but don’t get the same service as in West Jerusalem. When Delisle goes to West Jerusalem, he finds the cafés, parks and markets that he’d imagined. When he returns with his family to show them, it’s Saturday and the entire city has shut down. “It reminds me of Sundays in Pyongyang [North Korea],” he remarks.

Delisle’s settling-in vignettes provide a nice sketch of the cultural setting.

When Delisle finds all the Palestinian shops closed one Thursday, he has a hilarious experience trying to shop in the enormous supermarket in an Israeli settlement not far from Beit Hanina.

NGO acquaintances have told him not to shop in settlements because “it encourages them.” Guilt-ridden yet drawn by the allure of a bountiful supermarket, Delisle is asked at the entrance if he has a gun. Once inside he spots his favorite cereal, Shredded Wheat, but he manages to tear himself away without buying anything. Then, on his way out he walks by three Palestinian women loaded down with shopping bags.

Delisle works to see the situation from all sides. He ventures to ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, where he sees men drunk during a Jewish holiday, and to the West Bank but he persistently fails in his attempts to get to Gaza. He travels to the Qalandiya checkpoint with a group of Israeli peace activists who monitor Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank. Here, he is confronted with the vision of the wall for the first time, which becomes a fixture in many of his drawings.

During his three trips to Al-Khalil (Hebron), he impartially records Israeli settlers’ devastating occupation and a settler guide’s ruthless propaganda.

The Delisle family is in Jerusalem for the start of Israel’s December 2008 attack on Gaza. Nadège had been stuck in Gaza earlier in the year. When she calls Delisle to say she has been detained, he asks if there aren’t any other ways to get out. “Ah, I see. There’s only one way to get to Israel ...”

How do the people in Gaza get out? he then asks. “Ah, they never get out, I see ...”

He asks whether she’s not inventing an excuse to party in Gaza. “Ah okay, they’re not having much fun there ...”

Delisle manages to explain the details of the conflict and in particular the Gaza war in a clear, dispassionate manner that brings home the horror.

“I go slowly, I’m a slow learner, I like things when they are clear and visible. I thought I’d make little arrows, it’s an efficient way of showing a complicated situation,” said Delisle, referring to numerous diagrams and maps that appear in the book.

The artist juxtaposes descriptions of the attack with his daily life.

“Dad, what’s war?” asks his 5-year-old son. He and his friend Nicolai, also a househusband, whose wife works at the Red Cross, take the children to the beach. “Hey, aren’t those military planes, the ones that have been flying over us for a while?” “They’re going towards Gaza if I’m not mistaken ...”

“That’s my natural way of telling a story,” Delisle said. “If it was too serious I don’t think I would have had the courage to get through 300 pages. I need to have anecdotes and little situations. I want to add everything that is weird.

“I like to talk about small things. I’m not very attracted to politics,” continued Delisle. “When I do my books I have the feeling I’m writing a really long postcard to my mom.”

Delisle also records his experiences running comic book workshops for art students in Nablus, Ramallah and Tel Aviv. In occupied Nablus he is struck by the poverty of knowledge on the subject due to his students’ general state of imprisonment. In Ramallah, his students are dynamic and informed, while in Tel Aviv the general level is excellent.

The apogee of mad humor comes together when Delisle takes his car to the Palestinian mechanic.

The mechanic asks him if he would like his windshield replaced with glass or plastic.

“Uhh ... glass,” Delisle responds, asking if plastic windshields are a kind of new technique.

The mechanic tells him the settlers prefer plastic windshields because they are more resistant when rocks are thrown at them.

“You mean settlers come here to get their cars repaired?” the comic-book artist asks, flabbergasted.

“Yes,” the mechanic replies. “We’re open on Saturdays and besides, it’s cheaper [here] than [it is] in the settlements.”

One of the moments in the book when Deslisle is the most frightened is when a settler picks up a rock to throw at him while he is traveling in a Doctor’s Without Borders van.

In the end, said Delisle, “I’m not too crazy about the place, there’s too much tension. There’s the beauty of the old city but when it’s packed with soldiers and rifles the magic goes away.”

He keeps watch on the news coming from the countries he’s traveled to, such as North Korea or Burma. But when it comes to the Middle East, “you’re still going to hear about Israeli politics even if you don’t want to hear about it,” he says.

“Chroniques de Jerusalem” is published by Editions Delcourt in French. The English translation, “Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City,” will be published later this year by Jonathan Cape in the U.K. and Drawn & Quarterly in the U.S. and Canada.


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Atlantic calls BURMA CHRONICLES "a masterpiece of graphic nonfiction"

Updated August 15, 2011


Who doesn't love comic books? While infographics may be trendy today (and photography perennially sexy), there's just something special about the work of the human hand. Good old-fashioned manual labor, literally, brings a unique richness to storytelling where words alone sometimes fall flat. I've put together a list of some of my favorite graphic non-fiction. These hybrid works combine the best elements of art, journalism, and scholarship, and provide the perfect way to mix some visual magic into your summer reading list.

9. BURMA CHRONICLES

The lovely Burma Chronicles is another fortuitous creative byproduct of Doctors Without Borders. Comic book artist Guy Delisle travels around the world with his wife, Nadège, an MSF doctor, tours which previously resulted in two other gorgeous works of graphic nonfiction -- Shenzen: A Travelogue from China, and Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Delisle lives the atypical life of an NGO house husband-cum-cartoonist, alternating between inking panels and daily perambulations near Nobel Prize winner's Aung Sang Suu Kyi's home, where the opposition figure was still under house arrest at the time he was in the country.

What makes Burma Chronicles so charming is its balance of quotidian domestic life and international affairs. Delisle's growing knowledge of the country's culture plays off the constant development of his infant son, lending the whole work (and the world) refreshing perspective.
 
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  Book Madam raves about D+Q artists!!

Updated May 19, 2011




Do comic snobs still exist? Not the people who are snobby about comics, I know those exist (and are easily dealt with via wedgie, swirly, or punching their pocket protectors until their pens break), but the luddites who refuse to see comics as a valid literary art form?

If so, they would not have had a good time at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend. I, however, managed to break the bank and walk away with signed books from Chris Ware, Philippe Girard, and Darwyn Cooke. Possibly three of the most talented comics-artists today, right along with Seth, Faith Erin Hicks, Adrian Tomine, Chester Brown, Kate Beaton, Jillian Tamaki, and Jeff Lemire. They were all there too. I'm not going to link those; I don't want to spend all day linking to incredible creators and writers who were at TCAF as that would take all damn day.

I will link to Mike Holmes. I am shameless.

What's somewhat astounding to me is how many of these amazing artists are Canadian. There seems to be a large number of Canadians in the top-tiers of comics today. No one who pays attention to indie comics today would disagree that the artists I've listed are among the top-tier of comics creators today, and all but Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware are Canadian.

A lot of that can be attributed to the ineffable Drawn and Quarterly, who really set the bar for literary comics. Based in Montreal, Quebec, they have published everyone from Daniel Clowes to Julie Doucet to Lynda Barry to Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

But the Canadian goodness doesn't stop there; Conundrum Press is an incredible Nova Scotia-based publisher with an impressive list of talent. The aforementioned Philippe Girard (If you're into Guy DeLisle or more aptly, the Michel Rabagliati Paul series, Girard is for you.), Marc Bell, David Lapp, and even Jillian Tamaki. I could go on. Owner Andy Brown has a sharp eye for the weird and wonderful.

TCAF was great, the constantly-packed house was a testament to the vibrant Canadian comics community, which, much like short stories, is an art we seem to have an abundance of excellence in, yet is unfortunately somewhat overlooked by the average reader. And because of that, I offer you a list of five Canadian artists and books which you should a) read and b) give to someone to show them that comics are awesome.

1) Skim - Jilliand and Mariko Tamaki - Coming of age story, natch. Set in a private school, this (emphatic string of words)ly illustrated tale brings to life the crushing, soul-sucking world that is teenagehood. My partner read the whole thing, which is saying something as she HATES comic books.

2) Burma Chronicles - Guy Delisle - A travelogue of a regular guy who moves to Burma with his wife, a UN worker. It's the classic slice-of-life comic, set in Burma.

3)Killing Velazquez - Philippe Girard - There's a priest and a 'boy's club' and it's autobiographical. An amazing book; Girard's raw style of illustration works disconcertingly well at portraying the torment of the story.

4) Parker: The Hunter - Darwyn Cooke - The first of four, Darwyn Cooke adapts and illustrates noir author Donald Westlakes' famous Parker series.

5) Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton - Gut-bustingly funny webcomics which are being turned into a book by Drawn and Quarterly. This is a book I will buy. I highly suggest not following this link until you have some serious spare time, as you will probably break the back button on your browser from clicking so much.
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The Washington City Paper reviews ALBERT AND THE OTHERS

Updated March 4, 2011


Albert and the Others (Drawn & Quarterly, $10) is a series of short "biographical" comic strips by Canadian animator and graphic memoirist Guy Delisle. The wordless volume has strips laid out in 15 small panels per page, and is about 26 men in surrealist situations. The publisher claims "these elastic protagonists risk damnation and dismemberment in a series of improbable slapstick relationships with women, which veer from the titillating to the downright macabre." The art is simple but adequate, and the strips can be amusing: "Isidore" is a naked fisherman who eventually reels in a naked woman, pulls his hook from her mouth with pliers, measures her breasts and bottom, and then tosses her back into the lake. I liked this book well enough, but I'd strongly recommend one of Delisle's travelogues, such as Burma Chronicles, as a much more fulfilling read.
 
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  Cartoon Brew reviews PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA

Updated November 30, 2010


“Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea” by Guy Delisle

by Linda Simensky
November 29, 2010

A guest book review by our friend Linda Simensky, PBS’s senior director of children’s programming: North Korea has been in the news lately. So where do this country and animation intersect? You probably didn’t know there is (or at least was) at least one animation studio there. For an interesting look at North Korea through the eyes of an animator who worked there, check out the graphic novel, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (originally published in French in 2003; English version published by Drawn and Quarterly in 2005) Delisle, a French Canadian cartoonist, was sent by a French animation studio to be an overseas supervisor at Scientific and Educational Film Studio of Korea (SEK) in Pyongyang. In this graphic novel, he writes about his experiences there, both in animation and in his attempts to see North Korea outside the studio. He has written graphic novels about being an overseas supervisor in Shenzhen and about his time in Burma while his wife was stationed there for Doctors Without Borders. Delisle’s a great artist, and his experiences as an overseas supervisor will seem familiar to many of you. But his insider’s take on Pyongyang is fascinating, and well worth reading in light of current events.
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"Drawn and Quarterly have done it again": Bookalicious glowingly reviews PYONGYANG

Updated November 11, 2010


Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

Bookalicious
Sept. 27, 2010

North Korean communist dictator Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, 82 years old. He is still, today, in 2010, president of the country which is now run by his son Kim Jong-Il, the admirably strange head of a republic which cartoonist sets out to portray in “Pyongyang – A Journey in North Korea”.

How is that for a country? Imagine Lenin or Nixon still hailed as the official presidents with Medvedev and Obama only nominal leaders. But even that falls short of North Korea. We are talking about a dead father still ruling the country his son is now the caretaker of.

George W. Bush back as lifelong puppet. Old man Bush still in charge.

What?

Forget it. It is too weird.

But weird is pretty much exactly what “Pyongyang” boils down to. Not necessarily intentionally, but as a consequence of one mind meeting other minds. Outsider comes in. Insiders act according to the local rules. Outsider gets completely confused. Insiders are ordered to shrug shoulders at atrocities, personality cults, poverty, and organized stupidity. Weird enters. Things take off.

The whole outlandish ambience of Delisle’s graphic novel is probably due to his entrapment in a North Korean guide-machine where he only sees foreigners’ hotels, official monuments, the inside of the workplace where he has come to oversee the work of an animated movie, and unearthly bright-lit subway stations in an otherwise darkened city.

Had he been free to move about he might not have been as humorous, bordering on sarcastic or even at times fun-poking in his storytelling, since the choreography of the communist regime only allows him sneak peaks into carefully chosen niches of life in the capital.

But had he really been free to move about he wouldn’t have been in North Korea after all, and that’s the charm of the book. Just by having been there Delisle brings back something which new to the outside world, something strange and worrying but also beautiful and artistic.

Granted, in the eyes of this particular French Canadian graphic novelist everyone but the French speaking populace of the planet come across as wickedly absurd people with wickedly absurd cultural habits.

And it makes for great and absolutely hilarious reading even if it becomes a little… one-sided, at times. But if you can get past that you are in for the full tour of North Korean propaganda paraphernalia which ends up reading like an inventory of the perverse dictatorial idolization that Delisle finds impossible to escape.

From the heart of the city to the back roads of the countryside loudspeakers, signs, billboards, and humans embrace the Dear Leader, the Intelligent Leader, the Supreme Commander, the Chairman.

It is sick. It is enlightening. And it seems almost too easy to poke fun at. But somehow I feel Delisle pulls off the trick, and I can’t even say how. Amidst all the sarcasm and exposure and countless examples of the supreme regression of power taking place in North Korea, there is something so unnervingly pushy about this book. Something which demands attention.

Drawn and Quarterly have done it again, publishing yet another important, brilliant, and different graphic novel, adding to their library a funny, witty, but also disturbing social commentary which I can only recommend as the piece of graphic fiction rooted in reality that it is.
 
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  Global Times talks with GUY DELISLE

Updated March 16, 2010


A graphic life

By Vera Penêda

If you were ever lost in translation, Guy Delisle's series of graphic novels will find resonance with you. Delisle's alter ego is the typical outsider, with a curious eye and endearing empathy. His fish-out-of-water experiences reveal the cultural diversity and idiosyncrasies of his hosts, framed in black-and-white comics, with minimal dialogue and wry humor.

Delisle's artistic stroke gets better along with his Asian trilogy. Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China (2000), Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (2003) and The Burma Chronicles (2007) are armchair travels to a bittersweet life in peculiar places.

"I'm just a normal guy wandering around. I collect information and mix it with my impressions," he says, displaying the same easygoing alter ego in his tales.

Ahead of his talk at the Literary Festival, Delisle talks about how life comically squared is just as compelling and engaging as solemn novels and straight reportage.

In an eerie land

"I like taking the reader on a tour and say, look this is strange, that's interesting and this is a bit crazy," he says of his autobiographical graphic novels. Delisle goes out on excursions to collect daily episodes and vignettes of life. "This is the way I work. I take notes, and afterwards I see if I have enough material. I take out the irrelevant and boring and choose the funny, interest-ing and quirky moments."

Delisle uses clean lines, sober, direct, and adding a pinch of sharp wit. "You can be so efficient with drawings and small captions," he says.

The comic strips are always in black and white, a compulsory trait that is actually perfect to portray a bleak routine and eerie existence under authoritarian regimes. "It was a publishing requirement, but I don't mind. I might use color in the future, but I don't really need it," the author says.

"Shenzhen is about me being lost in translation," the author explains about his China album. "I ended up being on my own, which I don't mind, but after a while I felt really alone and bored because of the difficulty communicating with Chinese people."

Delisle documents three lonely months as an animation supervisor in China. Shenzhen reveals a visit to a cold urban city that in 1997 is sealed off by electric fences and armed guards from the rest of the country. "It was a rough time. I was glad to leave. But when people read the comic, they have fun…that's the magic of storytelling," he says.

"I draw all these anecdotes [and] one day it will probably look like I had a great time here. Taken out of context, even boredom can probably sublimate itself and seem entertaining. It's a bit like memory."

Delisle's narratives are more about sipping snake bladders, paying 25 cents for a wicked dentist trip or working out in candle light at the gym. He focuses on the small details, such as all Chinese hotels look alike; there's "always a panel of buttons between the two beds to control your little universe."

There's no human rights discussion or other political statements, just hints of historical background, the ones Delisle spots along the way. "I like to work on the small details. I prefer to focus on the aspects I know I experienced because I was in a different situation than any basic tourist.

Alternative Tintin

Delisle is now a full time cartoonist. "It's really my subjective take on things, considering my background, culture and limitations. I draw myself and the reader ‘sees' me arriving with my bags to the place I've been sent to."

The author depicts himself as an alternative Tintin, bored but captivating. There are entire pages without words because pictures speak for themselves and animate the narrative. But he never yields to fiction: "It'd break the whole thing. The only manipulation I do is to select from my notes."

Set apart from history, journalism and fiction, Delisle's work is closer to a blog novel. "I'm comfortable balancing pictures, sketches and a bit of text. It's fun," he says.

Delisle feels that comics are just as valid an art form as a novel or a news article when analyzing serious topics. "Things have changed a lot in 15 years. There are more authors exploring new ways in graphic novels and more publishing houses interested in the genre. In the past, big companies would never do small format, black and white or something about a guy traveling. Now they ask me, why won't you do another Pyongyang?"

With the popularity of animated movies like Persepolis, Delisle's travelogues seem ideal to transfer to the big screen. But "I have no desire for that," he admits. "I come from animation so I know how this machine works and there's no magic."

He prefers drawing solo. "It takes a lot of people and money, and you need to compromise to make a film. I prefer to spend two years and do three comic books than just one movie," he adds. "I'm not so sure a story about a bored guy would make good films."

Changed perceptions

The author ended up in several war-torn regions because of his wife, who works for the NGO Doctors without Borders. Meanwhile his style matured. Pyongyang and Burma are sharper and bolder. "I come from animation so I tend to change style for every new project. But my perception also changed, so drawings are more concise, and easy to read."

Pyongyang was the "most impressive experience" and two months were enough for a book, which didn't happen after his stays in Vietnam and Ethiopia. "Pyongyang is more about a regime" to explain how difficult it is to be part of that reality. "They keep you in fear there, make you feel like you have to be ready for war. A lifetime in Pyongyang is beyond imagination."

Burma was a yearlong stay and different experience, with a son to take care of. The Chronicles are "about daily life as an expat among Burmese people. I had time to immerse in a routine but it was hard to understand what was going on there politically," he says. He describes himself as a father who steals some milk from his baby's bottle for coffee, revealing the lack of food and supply problems, showing a face of Burma beyond war and political control.

Delisle is working on a new book about Jerusalem, after living there for a year. "While my wife was working in Gaza, I was with my children and had the opportunity to meet journalists, and talk to foreigners from NGOs and the people from Jerusalem."

Now father of two, he's on a break. But in the future, "I'd like to go to Japan, it'd be nice to wrap up my Asian experience there. Also never been to South America. We were almost sent to Guatemala and it'd have been great. I'm curious about Peru."


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GUY DELISLE in the Montreal Mirror

Updated January 5, 2010


Despots and ink pots

by Rupert Bottenberg

Unlike the Balkan and Palestinian investigations of Joe Sacco, the sociological travelogues of Quebec City-born comic artist Guy Delisle aren’t particularly political. Shenzhen (2000), the first of his books in this mode, was born out of a run-of-the-mill animation gig in China, while 2003’s Pyongyang found Delisle in North Korea.

The most recent, 2007’s Burmese Chronicles, saw Delisle tailing his wife, a Médecins Sans Frontières administrator, to yet another totalitarian Asian state for a further round of his wry, intimate, highly observational efforts. With a simple yet effective graphic style and a knack for capturing telling little details, Delisle paints portraits that no austere foreign policy report could offer.

Delisle showcases this strain of his work with a slideshow and discussion at the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore (211 Bernard) tonight, Thursday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m., free.
 
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  In-depth interview with GUY DELISLE on The Daily Cross Hatch

Updated October 26, 2009


Interview: Guy Delisle

by Brian Heater

There’s a constant commentary coming out of Guy Delisle’s mouth as we walk down 22nd st. in Manhattan, on the way to a lecture for Matt Madden’s SVA class. “Do they have iPod parties here in New York?” he asks Drawn & Quarterly’s Peggy Burns and myself.

“iPod parties?” Given the bizarre nature of the project he’s just outlined for us involving none other than Lewis Trondheim, I’m almost afraid to ask.

It involves spontaneous parties in the street, a group of kids all hooked up to the same iPod, dancing to the same, otherwise inaudible music. “It’s big in Jerusalem,” Delisle tells us.

“No,” I answer, “they don’t have iPod parties here. Yet.”

Delisle, it seems, is forever destined to remain a stranger in a strange land–and from the looks of things, he wouldn’t have it any other way. The cartoonist was born in Canada–a native French speaker from Quebec. He’s spent much of his adult life living in Europe–that is when he’s not traveling to exotic locales like Shenzhen and Pyongyang for animation work, or to places like Myanmar and Israel for his family (Delisle’s wife works as an administrator for Médecins Sans Frontière).

All the better for us, of course. Delisle’s travels have given rise to his three strongest works: Shenzhen, Pyongyang, and The Burma Chronicles. The aforementioned trip to Jerusalem, meanwhile, provided ample fodder for his wonderful visual blog, Jerusalem, A Canadian Wandering in the Holy City.

We’re incredibly thankful for having been able to catch up with the jet-setting cartoonists on one of his rare stateside visits.

When was your last visit to the States?

I was in Montreal for a visit and I came here, so it must be four or five years.

So it was ostensibly a trip home?

I came first when I was a student to visit some museums, and I had a great time. and then I came later as a tourist.

So they haven’t brought you out on a proper book tour, yet?

No. I’ve never gone on a book tour. I’ve been to the San Diego Convention, and now I’m here for the event. But I’ve never done what you would call a tour, where you go from place to place.

Does that interest you at all?

Sure. When they ask, I’ll say “yes,” but for some reason…last time there was a crisis.

A crisis?

Well, they canceled the whole thing because I was supposed to go to Chicago, but they said it was a crisis time, so they canceled it. I suppose I could have come here after going to Toronto and Montreal, but it was canceled as well.

There’s a bit of a time delay for you, though, right? These are books that originally came out a few years ago, that you’ve since promoted. This is another wave, when they come out in the States.

Yeah, yeah.

Is it strange to revisit the works?

Well, no, not really, because they are following me a lot. Even in France, as of today, Shenzhen—which is my first comic—is selling more nowadays than when it was first released, because it was released in a period of time when comics and graphic novels weren’t so well known, and the distributor wasn’t as big. Now things have changed a lot. it’s quite funny. Now people have read The Burma Chronicles and they go back and for all these reasons, it’s selling better than it did before. Slowly but surely.

But I don’t mind. It’s part of my material. For me, Burmese Chronicles is my last book. Since I’ve been away, I didn’t participate in any signings. Even in France, I think I did just one signing for the book, so me it’s kind of new.

When it’s been a few years since you finished the book, do you feel the need to go back and revisit it?

Yeah, I should do that. I haven’t done that because I think it takes time. I’m going to have to do that with Pyongyang, because they might make a film based on that. I’m going to have to re-read it—I’ve never done that. Now it’s been more than ten years. I think now I can read it as a normal reader. If it’s too fresh, I just see mistakes in the details.

Don’t the mistakes become even more clear, as you grow as an artist?

Yeah, yeah. My perception of graphic novels is much more sharp nowadays than before. I remember in Shenzhen, I was including lots of memories that were not in the frame of the place I was. I had memories of Montreal, and I’m talking about them in Shenzhen. Today I wouldn’t do that, because I think it’s irrelevant. If I’m talking about Burma, I wouldn’t talk about old memories. It was a different process. Now I’ve done three books, so I know more about what I want to include.

So that was something of a crutch?

Well, if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t put that in the book, and lots of details like that, storytelling-wise. I can’t rush too much. Now I take more of my time when I need it. It’s nice to have one or two or four or five frames a page just to slow down, because something important happened. While I’m in the process of doing it, sometimes I think it’s too much. But when I read back, I think I should have put some time in and relaxed the whole thing at that point with more of a sense of rhythm.

When you’re referencing something from your former life, does that make the piece too much about you rather than the place you’re attempting to describe, be it Burma or Shenzhen?

Yeah. Well, the books are very different. I was in Shenzhen at a certain age. I know today I would be in China and I would talk about China—I would probably talk about the human rights aspect of the country, but I was 20-something when I was there, and I didn’t have that in my mind, that much. Nowadays it’s much more important to me. So that would be one difference. Shenzhen is about me being lost in translation, basically. Pyongyang is much more about that regime, and me, I’m a part of that, and I try to explain how the people around me are carrying that burdon. For Burmese Chronicles, it’s mixed, because I talk about the ex-pat life, all of the ex-pats that are there, me and my son, and all of these are one against each other.

I was in Burma for one year. I was in Pyongyang for two months. If I had been in Pyongyang for one year, I would talk much more about the ex-patriots. They are a different time, and they were different in my life, as well. If I were to go to Burma today, I would do a completely different book, because I would meet different people and have different experiences. It’s really very subjective, and it’s like a big postcard that I would write to my family and explain to them what I’ve experienced.

When you’re writing a postcard, it’s a very personal experience. You’re writing about your life for the benefit of someone you know. When you write a book, do you ever find yourself pulling back because it’s becoming too much about you, rather than the country?

Well, I use myself to convey my story. If you talk about Burma, you have to talk about Aung San Suu Kyi and what she represents for the country. So if you go to page 51 and see her there, it’s going to be boring. So somebody told me that she lived in a house just around the corner. I thought she was in prison. But I don’t want to just say that I thought she was in prison, but she lives there. I go with my son to try to get in front of her house, but it was impossible. So I kind of play around with that. In the end, the reader gets the information about where she is and what she represents, and I can do that two pages after I have that presentation. That’s how I use myself to convey the story and represent the country and all that.

I don’t like to be very personal about my family life. I just talk about the situation with the kids and the difficulty, but that’s just because of the situation with the country. We were there and it wasn’t that easy. Sometimes when I read Joe Matt, or even lighter stuff than that, to me it’s too personal.

Joe Matt’s stuff can be almost painfully personal.

Yeah, yeah. In an embarrassing way. For me it’s too much. When I read those type of personal stories, I quickly feel like I shouldn’t read that, even when I’m having a good laugh with Joe Matt. But when I read David B., for example, and he talks about his family and all of that, I just have the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. “I’d like to go home now. Okay, I’ll leave you, take care.” I’m not going to go into that, because I’m not very fond of that, as a reader. I don’t think it’s interesting to talk about my own personal life.

Yours specifically?

Well, to some extent. I feel embarrassed quickly when I read it, so I’m not going to do it.

When you visited Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in Burma, did you go because you were a tourist and you it’s something to do as a tourist, or were you conscious of the fact that you might be writing a book about this some day, and this would be good material?

No, because at that time, I didn’t know I would be doing a book. She was a neighbor, and I thought, that’s amazing. During the day, I was taking care of my son, so I thought I would give it a try and see if I could get right in front of the house. Six months after I was there, I was supposed to write another book, but it was impossible, so I just put it aside and I said, “well, maybe I can do something on Burma.” It was not a good idea to work on the book while I was there, because I read back on my notes, and I did a lot of stuff that I removed after, because on the spot it worked, but when I came back and read it, the stuff I had done while I was there didn’t work too well.

You had to scrap it all?

Yeah. I took like 15 pages out. I should have taken more out, when I read it.

There’s still stuff in there that you’re not happy with.

Yeah, a few pages I should have taken out. When I’m there, I’m too close to the subject. I get back home and realize that. Just like now, because I was just in Jerusalem. I was there for a year. After the fact I realized how strange it was and how scary it was.

You didn’t have those feelings at the time?

No, because you go there and you get used to it after a year. There’s the check point and the big concrete wall. You want to see your friend on the other side of the wall, so you line up for the checkpoint. But then when you explain that to a friend in France around the coffee table, it sounds pretty weird. You get the reaction of the people, and they say, “oh, that’s fucked up.” It is a really strange place.

That’s the process. I come back and I talk about it. The same with Pyongyang. I remember I was talking about it to the director of L’Association, and he said, “you should do a comic about that.” I was talking about the airport where they give me flowers and I have to go to the statue and pay my respect to Kim Jong-Il. He said, “that’s so crazy.” That’s how I work. But I’ve been in different places taking notes. I was in Vietnam and I said I was going to do a book. I had a good time and things were fine and I had conversations about it when I came back. People were just fantastic, and when I read my notes, it just wasn’t there.

Having a great time isn’t conducive to writing a good story?

No, not for me. For a lot of writers, you need some kind of a conflict. Like when I was completely lost in Shenzhen. It was a book on the difficulty of communicating with the Chinese because we don’t speak the same language, and even when I met a fellow Canadian, we had difficulty because we didn’t really connect. It’s impossible to connect well with a culture that is as different as China is. I need a direction and I didn’t have that for the Vietnam book. If I had stayed a year, maybe it would have worked. I don’t think just two months in Jerusalem, I would have had enough. But in a year, you have enough time to meet people and make different stories than the tourists get.

Sometimes by choice, but mostly by necessity, Guy Delisle’s travels have around the world several times, to war torn areas like Jerusalem and oppressive regimes like North Korea and Myanmar. When I ask Delisle how he consistently ends up in such locations, he answers dryly, “I don’t choose them. If I chose them, I’d go to Mexico.”

Fortunately for us, the artist’s travels, conducted largely for business (first his own, and then later his wife’s) have resulted in Delisle’s best works: Shenzhen, Pyongyang, and, most recently, The Burma Chronicles.

In this second part of our interview, we delve further into Delisle’s travels, and discover what kind of obligation–if any–he feels he has as a cultural ambassador for the rest of us.

[Part One]


The trip to Jerusalem and Burma were because of your wife’s job.

Yeah. I was thinking, after traveling for myself in Europe and traveling for my work in Asia, that I would just stay home and be really happy for the rest of my life, because now I’m really fed up with travelling, even though the experience is nice.

It’s nice when you get there, but the actual process of traveling is kind of a nightmare.

Yeas, that’s so true. And with two kids, it’s plus two. I must be born under the star of traveling, though, because my wife loves her job, and she wants to continue doing that, so I support her, because it’s difficult to follow what just one part of the couple wants to do. But since I have the ability to work on what I do wherever, we choose to do it. but I hope she gets tired of it, and wants to stay home, and have the kids at the school a mile away.

When you take your experiences in China, North Korea, Vietnam, and now places like Burma and Jerusalem, you seem to tend to these areas that are war torn or authoritarian, or otherwise just sort of alien cultures and governments where it’s sometimes difficult to get a good view from the outside. Is there something that attracts you to these places?

I don’t choose them. If I chose them, I’d go to Mexico. But the work for animation, they were going where it was cheapest to go, so they would go to China, Vietnam, and North Korea. And now, with my wife, it’s wherever they go…they don’t go to Switzerland… The funny thing is, we were supposed to go to Guatemala. Sounds good, you know? I thought it was good, learning Spanish, but they said, “no, it’s too dangerous, so we’re not going to send a family. You’re going to go to Rangoon.” I was remembering the movie, and I said, “Rangoon, that’s one of the worst dictatorships,” but it’s actually very calm.

Sometimes it’s really peaceful and clean under a dictatorship.

That’s right, that’s right. Some guy from the ICOC, was saying, “I can name you ten countries today much worse than Burma.” But that’s of course from an ex-pat’s point of view. For the Burmese people, life is not that fun. But then again, if you think of Liberia or Somali, it’s probably worse than Burma.

You’ve inevitably got an outsider’s perspective when you write about these places. Do you feel a need to have a certain level of sympathy for their residents? Do you need to shed light on their point of view?

I don’t really think like that for Burma. I had that feeling when I was in North Korea, because it’s such a strange country. I still have some contact with some Burmese people, but in North Korea, it’s just impossible—the Internet, the mail, it would be dangerous for them if I just tried to contact them. You leave the country and you say you’re abandoning them to the country. It’s a real sad feeling, because after two months, you have some friendships. I felt really sorry for them. In the book, I wanted to have that feeling. At the beginning, they’re sort of annoying, because they bug me all the time, but after two months, you have some friendships going on. I wanted to have that in the book.

In Burma, I didn’t want to go specifically on that, because I met Burmese people, and the only thing we say about Burmese people is that they’re going to die in the field, being raped and we’re going to burn their village—which is terrible and which happens, of course, but me, I talk about the people that I see. The Burmese people that I met are graphic artists. Some are doing comic books. I thought it was interesting to talk about that, because we have an image of Burma being super-poor, but these guys were working on Photoshop and stuff.

We had a discussion about what kinds of brushes you use on Photoshop and things like that. We were on the same level, because we were just two artists. They were saying that they would like to do more comics, because they would like to make a living, but they have to do illustration. It was exactly the same conversation that I had with my friends in Paris, except that they are much poorer. I described that in the book—not so that you feel sorry for them or feel pity. Not at all. Because they were poor, but they weren’t miserable.

Ultimately you’re not given the opportunity to interact with the people in the fields.

Yeah, that’s right. Because I don’t go there and I don’t talk to them. But my book is about Rangoon. It’s not so much about Burma, because I spent most of my time there. But you can’t really go in these places anyhow. It’s completely forbidden, even for journalists. There’s no way you can see these things. So, yeah, it depends on who I meet and who I talk to. I’m going to put that in the book and leave the stuff I don’t think is interesting out.

Do you feel a certain obligation to be a source of information for people who don’t know about the country?

No. Frankly, no. I don’t feel any obligation at all. Again, if I were to do the book today, I would get completely different information. It would be a completely different book. But then I discovered things. I felt I was bringing something new and interesting that people might be interested to read. I did the signing in Paris, and there were some Burmese people doing their study there, who said they liked the book. That was kind of scary, because you really never know.

And probably not a lot of North Koreans have read Pyongyang, I imagine.

No, they have! I’ve never met them afterwards, though.

It doesn’t get into the country thought, right? They’ve got to read it when they’re abroad.

Yeah, but I think some of the guys know about the book and have read it, the big shots, like my boss. But the Burmese people who came to me said they liked the book, because, for once, someone is talking about Burma and every day people who are not miserable. They were so glad, I was so happy to have that comment, because I guess it’s really tough, because, when, say you talk about Africa in France, it’s always miserable and poor, and they feel very sorry about that, and it’s very frustrating for them. So, for once, they were very happy about it.

So you consider the cultural and historical asides a way of informing your own narrative about the place?

Yeah, if I have to explain. Like in Pyongyang, I was talking about the NGO that left the country, so I have to talk about why they left the country and the famine. And then to explain that, I have to explain how they were distributing food, according to the regime. So I’m not afraid to put that graphic stuff in and explain it, because at that point in the book, the reader wants to have the information. If I need information, I’m going to do some research to find out how many people died in that famine and how many people are in the camps and stuff like that. It was hard with North Korea, but with Burma, it was easy, because much more people go in out of the country. It’s much easier to know the situation about the country there. I talked about the regime, but I know that the people that read my book aren’t going to read a book about Aung San Suu Kyi, because they’re not so politically involved.

And those books already exist.

Yeah, there’s a lot of them. And I’ve read a few of them for research. They’re very interesting, especially when you’ve been to the country. But when you haven’t been to the country, you’re not going to go and look them up. I think that with the book, maybe people know a little bit about Aung San Suu Kyi and what she represents and maybe the regime. So hopefully after that, people want to know more about the country and they’re going to go and read another book about Burma. I think my book can bring more people to Burma, like I’ve done.

Do you do this sort of research before traveling to the country?

I did for North Korea. I read all of the books I could find, because I knew that once I was there, there would be a filter, and they wouldn’t answer the questions I would ask. That’s why I brought 1984 with me. I was half-done with the book. Everyone was saying, North Korea, 1984, they’re the same. I had read it when I was younger. So I brought it with me.

To you this old Orwell book was research?

Oh yeah, oh yeah. Because I use it in my book. I was so impressed. He wrote that in ’48 and he had seen so precisely a regime like North Korea, and I think a regime like the Soviet Union and some of these countries. It’s amazing. You go in there and they have these two minutes of hate with America, but then America has the same with Bin Laden.

It’s a little less formal.

Yeah, but it works the same, in structure. He comes once in a while and he’s the big enemy, especially after 2001. Because i was in North Korea before September 11th. They stopped going there to to do animation stuff. And they went to China.

In this third part of our interview with The Burmese Chronicles author, we explore the similarities between George Orwell’s “science fiction” and the current state of North Korea, and discuss why all of the independent cartoonists in France are getting really into kids’ books.

One of the pivotal moments of Pyongyang occurs when the North Korean guide hands back your copy of 1984 and says, “I don’t like science fiction.”

Yeah. I was glad to get rid of that book, because everyone was giving away their books, things like detective stories. These guys learn French, but with the classics, not the books we read today. They are quite boring, so they were very happy to have a magazine or a different book. I said, “I have a book, it’s called 1984.” He didn’t react, so I said, “well, if you want to read it,” and he said, “yeah.” I gave it to him and said that it’s kind of science fiction, just to see if he would go for it. He said, “yeah, okay, I’ll try it.”

A few weeks later I had to ask—I was waiting for his feedback. He said, “no, I didn’t read it. I don’t like these types of books.” Obviously he realized that it’s not a book you should have in your hands, being North Korean. He gave it to me, quickly, and he was quite nervous. I don’t know why, exactly, but it’s really interesting, because it says a lot about their situation, and we can fill in the blank space, easily. But I don’t want to answer all of the questions, because just exploring the situation is enough.

That’s the type of work you can do in a comic. If you’re a journalist, you have to tell what he’s feeling and all of that. When it’s just a few pictures, I can show that he’s nervous with just a few drops of sweat. And that’s perfect. It’s very efficient, and I can tell a lot. That’s why the comic book is such a powerful medium. When I have to tell these types of stories, I’m always amazed at how efficient it is.

Using that example specifically, do you get the impression that they have a similar view of their situation as we do?

Oh no. Well, that’s my interpretation. In the book with all of these details I tried to depict as much as I can how they live. I thought it might get back to them at some point, so I didn’t put their real names. But anyhow, one of these guys asked me at one point whether I had some medicine. His wife has some stomach pains. How can you answer that? I said, “I have some aspirin.” Can you imagine the situation? And these were the happy few. They were the translators for the foreigners. They won’t put foreigners in the hands of anyone. And he was asking for pills for his wife. George Orwell talks about “dual reality.” There’s their reality and then there’s another side.

Doublethink.

Doublethink, yeah. And it’s amazing, because it’s exactly that. I was asking why there are no handicap people on the streets. And he was saying, “our blood is not mixed at all. It’s strong, and one of the purest in the world.” Which is not a good thing to me… and then, because of that, they’re all born healthy, intelligent, and strong. He was saying that after almost two months. He knew that I wasn’t going to buy that. But he still told me that. He was in that dual thinking.

He had been to Paris and Rome, and he knew about the reality there. He knew that the country was not the social paradise that they said it was. And this was the happy few, so if you think about all of the people in the countryside, or the people in Pyongyang that work in a restaurant, they don’t know what’s going on. They didn’t know about the football that was going on in South Korea, 15 kilometers away. And South Korea was doing quite well. They were in the finals, and everyone else was talking about thay, but they weren’t even aware of that.

You said before that you’re at a point in your life where you’d like to stop traveling.

[Laughs] Yeah.

You’ve obviously done other comics and a children’s book.

Yeah, I have two children’s books and then I did three other books that are detective stories—but they’re funny. It’s in a classic format, 46 pages in color. And it didn’t work so well, so they stopped it. It was more classic cartoony.

But people know you best for the travel books.

Yeah, yeah, sure.

Is there a fear that once you stop traveling, you’re going to run out of things to write about?

I was thinking about that, but I still have other ideas, and I think they would be as interesting. They might still have a little bit to do with traveling, though. For example, I’m doing these sorts of trips, here and there. And I’ve started to take notes about that, because, sometimes when you do signings, you have conversations with people. Sometimes it’s quite crazy. You have some moments at a book festival, or just in traveling. So I take notes. I could make a book out of that, and it would be fine enough for me. And I have a lot of projects. You never know if it’s going to work.

When I did Shenzhen, it took a long time for the public to read these sorts of books, and now it’s selling. Shenzhen was 2,000 in France in it’s first year. Burmese Chronicles in France was 40,000. Things have changed a lot in the past 15 years in France and I think around the world. Now the graphic novel exists and has its place in bookstores. In France they have a big space now in bookstores and festivals. It’s really changing quickly. You have more choice now.

It’s funny, because people here who are into independent comics tend to idealize France, things like the album system. There’s a great history there.

Yeah, I can understand that.

But it sounds like you’re like us in that comics haven’t been fully accepted until fairly recently.

Yeah, well, historically, L’Association was a mix of very successful authors. This doesn’t happen very often , and it could have happened in Japan, it could have happened in the States. But look at who it was—David B., Lewis Trondheim, and then people like Marjane [Satrapi] came. And then you take all of the independent comics, you’ve got a wave big enough to change things, because there was Art Spiegelman with Maus. Everyone read that and thought it was amazing. People like me said, “I knew this could exist.” And now, we have this type of book.

As usual, these guys were fed up with the system and they started publishing their own books. But historically in France, there’s been a constant evolution of children’s comic books and then teenager comic books with some very dark humor. And then there’s a little gap. At one point I stopped reading comic books, because it was too much science fiction and adventure. I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. And then the independents came, five years after that.

We’re offering what people wanted—people of my age, 30, 40. And now these people have money, they love comic books. They want to read Marjane and David B. And they wanted to read more, so France is translating a lot. the situation was perfect, because we had bookstores like Forbidden Planet all over the city, and the one I saw in Brooklyn—

Rocketship.

Yeah, Rocketship. That’s a very nice store. In my town, we have two like that and a big one. So everyone is reading comic books. And it’s been a constant history, so that’s why we don’t have to call graphic novels or comics—it’s all comics. Except some are in small format and black and white, so they’re going to be more out in public. But the choice is really wide.

The kids stuff and teenage stuff is still there?

Yeah, it’s still there, which is good. And the funny thing now is that the independent artists are asked by the more classical people, “why don’t you do something for the children?” I was asked, so I did Louis au ski, which is like Aline et les autres.

Stylistically?

Yeah. It’s one drawing per page, about one day in the life of a little boy. So I did that and I mixed my independent influence with the stuff I read as a kid. Now there’s a lot of that today. There was a magazine called Cosmic Planet that had a lot of people from the independent world doing stuff for children. And there’s a lot of great stuff in there. And now they are going in other directions for children. I buy a lot of their stuff for children.

You’ve got children of your own now.

Yeah, so I buy them for them.

It’s for you and the kids.

Yeah, that’s right, because look at Lewis [Trondheim]. He does independent stuff for certain book, but then he has some books that are just for children. I read them with my kids, and they’re fantastic.

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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China
Burma Chronicles




Guy Delisle interviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated October 21, 2009


A Talk with Guy Delisle: Looking for the Details

by Ada Price

Cartoonist and animator Guy Delisle has lived and worked in both Shenzhen, China and Pyongyang, North Korea. He recorded his experiences living in these cities (and in their respective national cultures) in two well-received book-length comics works, Shenzhen (Drawn &Quarterly 2006) and Pyongyang (D&Q 2005), utilizing his unique dry humor, conversational tone, and focus on the everyday to capture the contradictions of the place and the experience of a foreigner encountering them for the first time. Delisle continued to use comics to document his experiences abroad in the book, Burma Chronicles (D&Q 2008) in which he, along with his wife and son, lived alongside expatriates and workers for non-governmental organizations. In a recent interview with PW Comics Week, Delisle discussed his experiences living around the world, his processes for creating comics and his future projects.

PWCW: What is your process? How do you go about creating your documentary comics?

Guy Delisle: Basically, I take notes, and I wait until I come back home and read the notes. It’s very simple, and from these notes I take out everything that is irrelevant, boring, and I keep everything that can answer some questions we have about the country. I try to put it in a way that if I have asked a question on page ten, the answer is going to come afterwards, and there is going to be a sense of rhythm between funny and more serious stuff, explanation, and then just ordinary life.

I like to just focus on small things, because for me that’s enough information to not understand the whole big picture, but to know a lot about their culture and the way they are thinking. I don’t like to write about stuff that anyone who takes a plane and goes in Burma for example and he’s going to see it too, and he’s going to have more or less the same experience as me. I find it boring to tell, so I try to talk about stuff I know I have experienced because I was in a different situation than any basic tourist. Then, I use all these tools that come from fiction to put it all together and to make it an interesting kind of fiction story, but its all true.

PWCW: How do you decide on what information to include in your books?

GD: Well, the way I’m going to do, let’s say, the next one on Israel, I’m going to read more about Israel, and I’m going to read my notes and see what brings back memories. I’m going to start slowly just like I was one year ago, knowing nothing about the conflict, the first time I’ve met the wall and I’ve crossed the check point and then we’ve got some rocks thrown at us and there’s some gas, and whatever to start the book.

I was in the Arab area of Jerusalem. So, I take my notes and everything that is interesting, curious, or weird—like the Arabs have that thing on the door when you go out of the building and it gives an Arab prayer when you open it, like wishing for Allah to protect you. But, it’s in a really cheapy plastic thing and it was such a nightmare, and I was glad because the battery died and it was never replaced. So, I can talk about small details like that, and I take that example to make a funny story

PWCW: You do add a lot of humor to balance out the serious aspects, is that just a natural part of your style?

GD: I think it’s just the way I tell stories; for me these books are just like a big long postcard I would send to my friends and family to explain to them what I’ve experienced. So, when I write I try to make it funny just like a weekend story, except that once in a while it’s not funny at all.

Pyongyang was easy to make jokes about, because when I was there I was not laughing so much when I was in front of the big statue [of Kim Il-Sung]. But, when you tell that to a friend here that you have to put flowers on the feet of a 22 meter statue and pay your respects to Kim Il-Sung, it’s so surreal that it’s funny. Everyday was like that there, but on an everyday basis it’s not that funny; it’s just like, wow this is so sick. When I was in Shenzhen, I was bored to death, because I couldn’t communicate with the people. It was a pretty rough time, but when people read the comic, they have fun, because that’s the magic of storytelling.

PWCW: As a foreigner in the countries do you feel uniquely situated to observe and comment on the situations?

GD: Yeah, I think it’s interesting, because I’m always thinking, I’d love to have a Chinese [cartoonist], who would be in Paris, and he would describe what he has to go through. If he is a good storyteller and he draws not so bad, that would be a great book. I’ve had Chinese people who read Shenzhen, and they like it because it’s about a foreign guy in China and he’s just having a bad time. They think he’s pretty funny.

PWCW: Does being an outsider also put you at a disadvantage?

GD: Yeah, because you don’t speak the language, it’s really hard to get into the details, and it’s really with the details that I work. You can just grab whatever you can see. I just look around and see a little thing, and I can spend weeks wondering what that thing is and what they do with that. Like in Burma, they have a strange pole in every house. It’s like 10 feet long; it’s just leaning on lots of houses, but on the top of the pole it’s flat like a big pizza turn over thing. Then, someone told me that it’s in case of fire on these houses that are wood and the roofs are made of straw, and you need these things to pat it out. For me, that’s super exotic; it’s much more exotic than seeing the temples, which are great, but I don’t have the skills to draw them and to make you feel [them].

The same with the revolution with the monks just after I’d left Burma. . I’m glad I wasn’t there at the time, because it’s kind of too big for me. I like it when it’s calm and quiet, and from that you take little details. The book now is just about everyday life in Rangoon. I’ve had a book signing in France where there were some Burmese who came, and they said they really like [Burma Chronicles], because for once we were talking about Burma another way than just the murdering and the killing and everything.

PWCW: Do you try to find a style for the books to capture the atmosphere of that place?

GD: Yeah, it was a concern, because when I started doing the book on China, China is very dirty, and I was using grease pencil, and I would smudge them together so that would give a lot of dirt onto the walls. And, that for me was the only way I could describe China. The one on Pyongyang, I couldn’t use the same technique, because it’s very clean. There’s no color, in Pyongyang it’s all white and pale gray, so I thought I need a clean line and some shading. For Burma Chronicles, I just kept the same drawing style, and I don’t think I tried there to achieve something that reflects the country; I just used the style I had, and I’ve used the computer to do the gray. Now, if I do something else it’s going to look like that.

But, then again, I want to do a book completely different about someone else’s story. [For instance] the guy that has been kidnapped in Chechnya for three months, and managed to escape by himself. I read his story in the newspaper, and I met him, and I want to talk about that story. I have to find a different style. It’s going to make a big difference, because if I use a very symbolic style, that’s a real life story and it’s a hard one, and if I do something realistic, the impact is completely different.

PWCW: Are you working on anything else?

GD: I’m preparing a book for Drawn & Quarterly, because they want to do something with the sketches I’ve done when I was in Jerusalem.

PWCW: Are you thinking of doing a book on Jerusalem?

GD: I’m thinking about it. I’ll see when the sketches are finished. I’ll see with the guy whose been kidnapped too, and then maybe the one on Jerusalem. That’d be interesting to talk about, because I think to understand the country you have to be there, and we were there for years. I want to talk about the nice part of the country that I’ve seen, and then the Israeli I’ve met and the Palestinians I’ve met as well. But, to describe the occupation, there’s no way you can do it in a very nice way cause its not, it’s an occupation; it’s pretty tough.

PWCW: Do you think comics are uniquely situated to tell these kinds of nonfiction, personal stories?

GD: The use of comics, for me, it’s the perfect medium, because, I describe Shenzhen. For me the culture shock was not being able to communicate with people. So, it’s really the non-communication process, being on your own, and being bored to death. It’s perfect in a comic, in a film it would be too boring, because you need to feel it, so time would have to go by. I was repeatedly walking in the hotel, and there was a guy who opens the door. It was funny at first; he always tried to practice his English on me, but after awhile it gets so boring and annoying. I think I put it in five or six times in the book, just to get that feeling of “come on leave me alone.” You don’t need words; you need to show the picture a lot, so that we get the feel. Its great cause you can do that and speed things up, you can slow them and talk directly with the reader, and you can bring him along with your experiences.
 
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Burma Chronicles




  JAMILTI AND OTHER STORIES and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Times Online

Updated May 19, 2009


Graphic novels: Jamilti and Other Stories by Rutu Modan and Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle
The Times review by Neel Mukherjee

One of the unquestionably joyous highlights of publishing two years ago was the introduction to the English-speaking world of the Israeli graphic novelist, Rutu Modan. Exit Wounds was a witty, authentic, visually and stylistically beautiful, all-colour account of an unexpected love story unfolding in Tel-Aviv against the context of a suicide bombing in Hadera. Jamilti & Other Stories is a collection of her earlier work and, unlike a lot of such retrospectives, which can easily give off the feel of ‘bottom drawer’ doodles, this is even better than Exit Wounds.

It is a collection of seven short stories, each one illustrated in a different style, with the final story, ‘Your Number One Fan’, executed in the Hergé-like style we saw in Exit Wounds: clean lines; black dots for eyes; mobile, intensely expressive faces; surprising depth of field. The title story, a tale of a suicide bombing witnessed by a young Israeli woman who is about to get married, contains that sting-in-the-tail that is the hallmark of the textbook short story but this twist is a subtle, devastating and endlessly interpretable one, the almost-closed eyes of the woman over the final three panels at once eloquent and unyielding with meaning. ‘Bygone’, the only one drawn entirely in black-and-white with astonishing clarity, is set in a family-run ‘theme hotel’ in Naharia and also delivers a potent punch towards the end, this time in the form of a family secret that has been staring us in the face since the beginning. ‘The King of Lillies’, a festival of chrome and ochre yellows, oranges and browns, is about a cosmetic surgeon who, haunted by the sudden disappearance of his beloved Lilly, takes to remaking scores of his patients in the image and likeness of his lost lover. When Lilly turns up towards the end, the conclusion is very far from the expected. There is even a serial killer story, ‘The Panty Killer’, drawn with gleeful grotesquery, that manages to be suffused with sympathy.

Modan tells her stories with impeccable economy, each picture really worth a thousand words. Almost every story here has the depth of an Alice Munro short story and that crucial interpretive indeterminacy, something withheld, something that resists pinning down. Above all, it’s the deep humanity of her works that is so startling; she holds it forward in all its ragged, fallible, flawed wholeness and we feel almost an enlightenment after reading them.

Far from this unbounded generosity is Guy Delisle’s tone in his latest, Burma Chronicles. Delisle garnered a lot of praise for his first travelogue graphic novel, Pyongyang, which gave a fascinating peek into North Korea, one of the truly closed societies in the world. His second, Shenzhen, while still anthropologically interesting and informative, and marked by better artwork than Pyongyang, was distorted by a crude xenophobia: page after page was devoted to whingeing about how the Chinese don’t look like ‘us’ (first-world Caucasians), smell like us, eat like us, speak like us, even urinate and defecate like us. Now that’s a blindingly original revelation.

With Burma Chronicles, the account of his year in Myanmar in the company of his wife, Nadège, a doctor for the Médecins sans Frontières, and their baby son, Louis, this attitude has become a nasty default option. What could have been another riveting piece of journalistic storytelling gets repeatedly short-circuited by the hypercomplaining presence of Delisle himself: it’s too hot, there are constant power outages, the military regime running the country is appalling, there are too many mosquitoes, the food sucks, the built structures are crap, there is a random unavailability of things in the supermarket, the bus journey to Mudon is terrible … and so it goes.

All the observations are true yet a book is not just about the ‘what’ but also about the ‘how’; swinging between the poles of faux-naiveté and an innate sense of superiority Delisle can only give these truths an unsavoury spin, which boils down to one question: why is Burma not like the white, liberal-democratic first world? This is the difference between, say, Marjane Satrapi or Joe Sacco and Delisle. Satrapi and Sacco have been incandescently critical of Iran and Israel, respectively, yet their criticism is rounded, without a trace of condescension, whereas Delisle’s chronicling of difference careens over into a sneering ‘Us vs Them’ arrogance. His clinical self-absorption works as both occluding filter and black hole so that, on one hand, nothing about Burma survives unclouded by this carping perception and, on the other, everything is sucked into the vortex of Delisle’s relentless moaning. On top of that, the details of Nadège’s MSF work show up Delisle’s self-centredness as crass and puerile. Early in the book, he observes, “I’ve often sat in on all the big questions that are the fodder of debate in humanitarian circles. I don’t have much to say.” Surprise, that.

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Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan

           Featured products

Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Telegraph

Updated May 5, 2009



Travel books: Burma Chronicles and The Best of Britain – Cotswolds
The latest travel books reviewed. This week: a comic book devoted to Burma and a guide to the voluptuous hills and the chocolate-box villages of the Cotswolds.

By Clover Stroud
Last Updated: 11:39AM BST 04 May 2009

BURMA CHRONICLES

by Guy Delisle (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)

When Guy Delisle's wife was sent to work in Burma for an NGO, he had plenty of time to observe normal Burmese life – which he then recorded in this brilliantly illustrated comic book.

Delisle is excellent at portraying the sometimes sinister details of day-to-day existence, and the comic-book format is completely engaging. Charged with looking after their young son, Louis, Delisle struggles with his new role as a house-husband, while remaining baffled by the often secretive machinations of life in such an alien society.

Though he is rarely overtly critical of the country, he makes it clear that for most people born there, life is severely restricted. For example, he sets up a small art class and discovers that some of his pupils work for comic magazines; when he asks if he can visit their office, he is told this is impossible as the various floors of the building don't mix since "it's all top secret".

As a counterpoint to the often inaccessible news stories about the country, this is an excellent portrait of a little-understood land, and makes for a deeply original and fascinating piece of travel writing.

 
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

           Featured product

Burma Chronicles




  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Time Out New York

Updated April 7, 2009


...but I wouldn't want to live there.

Go abroad on the cheap with these itinerant comic stories.

By Evan Narcisse

Burma Chronicles

Canadian Guy Delisle would have you believe that, despite all its political turmoil and persistent paranoia, Burma (or, as the current repressive regime calls it, Myanmar) proves to be a fascinating if existentially elusive place. His memoiristic Burma Chronicles (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) shows how the military dictatorship’s quirky thought control trickles down to citizens of every social stratum and to foreigners like himself. The cartoonist encounters magazines with “offending” articles cut out, ironclad e-mail filters gone rusty and protesters with water balloons. With a simple yet memorable style, Delisle captures the country’s faulty infrastructure—and its fusion of contradictory realities—with a mix of amazement and horror, ultimately realizing that when disinformation becomes routine, the only trustworthy way to navigate through the everyday is with hearsay and rumor.
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

           Featured product

Burma Chronicles




Exit Wounds, Burma Chronicles and Sleepwalk in Telegraph's Top Ten

Updated April 6, 2009


The Top Ten Comic Books

Understanding Comics: the

Invisible Art

by Scott McCloud

(HarperCollins, £14.99)

Peerless comic-about-comics, the medium’s first serious example of literary criticism and a valuable and often very funny work of popular aesthetic philosophy.

Exit Wounds

by Rutu Modan

(Jonathan Cape, £14.99)

This tremendous work of fiction perfectly captures the gloss and grime of Israel in peace and war. It has a dark wit and a distinctive look.

Burma Chronicles

by Guy Delisle

(Jonathan Cape, £14.99)

A personal chronicle of Delisle’s time under the Burmese dictatorship with his wife (an aid worker) and young son.

Persepolis

by Marjane Satrapi

(Vintage, £7.99)

A mordantly funny chronicle of the author’s childhood in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran.

Promethea

by Alan Moore

(Titan Books, various volumes)

A beginner’s guide to the history of occultism in the form of a feminist superhero epic, incorporating some of the most adventurous narrative and didactic techniques in contemporary comics.

Sleepwalk

by Adrian Tomine

(Faber & Faber, £9.99)

Ice-cool vignettes of disenchanted urban life, some with memorable stings in the tail, by one of comics’ most exciting young creators.

Achewood

by Chris Onstad

(www.achewood.com)

Hands down the funniest web comic, an extravagant tale of oversexed cats, retarded otters, robots and the like, with dialogue that rarely ventures far from comic genius. Updated twice weekly, and free to read online, it has people cackling and rolling in their office chairs.

The Invisibles

by Grant Morrison

(Titan Books, £17.99)

A full-time mental series about a band of time-travelling British anarchists seeking to avert the annihilation of world consciousness. Incredibly clever, totally barking.

Krazy and Ignatz

by George Herriman

(Fantagraphics, various volumes, £13.99 each)

The inimitable ancestor of contemporary alternative comics: the perennial love quadrilateral between a cat, a mouse, a dog and a brick. One of the most good-hearted and amusing works of mortal man.

Alice in Sunderland

by Bryan Talbot

(Jonathan Cape, £18.99)

Centuries of local history, John Lennon, Alice in Wonderland, George Formby and the Empire Theatre in Sunderland. Glorious, panoptic and precise; one of the oddest and cleverest comics there is.
 
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Featured artists

Adrian Tomine
Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan

           Featured products

Sleepwalk and Other Stories
Burma Chronicles
Exit Wounds




  Doug Wright Award nominees reviewed by The Walrus

Updated March 30, 2009


The Walrus
Monday, March 30, 2009

A Wright Awards Run-Down

Last week the nominations were announced for the 2009 Doug Wright Awards, which celebrate excellence in Canadian cartooning. By no means are the DWAs the only Canadian comics awards, but they are certainly the awards whose nominees are easiest to review. Finalists for the more mainstream/genre-friendly Joe Shuster Awards are named next week, but these awards go to individuals rather than books, making capsule reviews a smidge difficult. Nominations for the Prix Bédéis Causa came out this week, but I have been a bad Canadian and an unlettered anglo and haven’t tracked down any of the nominated works. Enough with excusing my laziness, though—let’s start off by delving into the titles nominated for the Doug Wright Awards’ Best Book.

Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle. This latest in Delisle’s series of travelogues from politically restrictive countries, following Shenzhen and Pyongyang, finds him in Rangoon. While his career in animation led him to China and North Korea in his previous books, this time it’s his wife’s position with Médecins sans frontières that has the cartoonist and their infant son wandering the Burmese capital. Along the way they interact with locals and other expats, wrestle with arbitrary bureaucracy, and learn of the nation’s customs and recent history, all while remaining definite outsiders. Of course, they’ve been encouraged to remain outsiders—as with the other nations Delisle’s cartooned about, Burma comes off as friendly enough, but aloof, if not forbidding. Drawing from everyday life, the artist’s detailed anecdotes—about the different kinds of monks one encounters, or about bus trips to outlying regions, or about the enclave-ish existence of the expat communities—reveal nuances and implications about the culture that complement the bigger-picture information he conveys in quick, diagrammatic ways elsewhere. But his insights feel strictly surface-level, and the persona Delisle has created for himself never seems self-conscious or -reflective enough to move much beyond the ins and outs of baby-walking and air-conditioning, nor is he able to make those concerns seem any less trivial. His style, too, veers dangerously close to clip-art, especially now he’s abandoned his previous books’ hand-textured greys in favour of lifeless flat tones. Some silent sequences (Delisle’s real strength), and some architectural and landscape drawing, do lend the occasional bit of vitality to the page, but otherwise the look is hurried, static, utilitarian. Lucky for Delisle that a book dealing with daily existence in Burma can’t help but be of interest, just on its own.

Paul Goes Fishing, by Michel Rabagliati. The title’s a bit misleading—Paul, Rabagliati’s stand-in, does indeed go fishing in this volume, but only for a couple of pages. More important is the trip he takes to get to his fishing hole, an outfitter’s with furnished log cabins in the country north of Montreal. Along the way, the cartoonist’s eye for detail unfussily captures what it felt like to live in decades not long past, as well as the distinctive look of both urban and rural Quebec. The pace of life on vacation, too, gives Rabagliati multiple opportunities to drift off into effortless digressions from the leisurely main narrative. So, reading in his bunk, Paul will begin to meditate on why Catcher in the Rye resonates with him, or the sight of his brother-in-law fishing will lead Paul to think for several pages about corporate downsizing, or when leaving for the country he’ll launch into a jovial tirade about how he’s been complicit in helping computers ruin everyone’s lives. More cute than funny, it’s a pleasant stroll of a book, but it doesn’t shy away from any of the messy stuff of life. Rabagliati leads Paul through reminiscences of hit-and-run accidents and child neglect and miscarriages, too, but it’s all drawn in the same jaunty, imperturbable Franco-Belgian style, full of clear lines and mild caricature. The style so influences how we read the book—we don’t gloss over ugly events so much as we take them in stride, carried along by the smooth cartooning—that it rarely feels like anything of consequence goes on. But I’m not sure that same easygoing hardiness isn’t the whole point of the book.

Next up is the Pigskin Peters Award, which continues to puzzle me a bit. The award verbiage claims this category “recognizes avant-garde comics and other non-traditional works” but I don’t really see how, say, pantomime strips (Ojingogo) or gag panels (All We Ever Do…), both formats commonly used since the early 20th century, fall under the banner of experimental work. In any case, I haven’t snagged a copy of nominee Small Victories by Jesse Jacobs yet, and I’m a little surprised not to see Marc Bell’s Illusztraijuns for Brain Police among these titles, but for the moment I’m pretty comfortable with singling out the next book as the best of this lot.

Ojingogo, by Matthew Forsythe. The monster-battle/video-game narrative has almost become its own comics genre in recent years. Forsythe’s wordless book, which follows a tough but eensy girl as she searches for her camera among mummies and squids and other beasties, is another entry in that canon of work guided by dream logic and structured according to inscrutable goals. It’s a zippy run through the type of stuff we usually see in these comics—creatures ingest strange objects and shrink or grow or transform or multiply, then chase or fight or eat each other until it all happens again. Forsythe’s creature designs can be fun—I like his lanky furry men, or the box-thing with the gaping mouth—and his rugged inkwork lends them a strong physical presence. Still, nothing seems at stake here, and the world of Ojingogo doesn’t feel especially concrete or self-contained—qualities which the best dumb monster comics are able to achieve with intensity.

All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood, by Tom Horacek. The cartoonist fills this slim collection of neatly drawn and shaded gag panels with hydrocephalic adults and animals cracking wise. The gags are clever enough, turning convention on its head—the driver in a car tells his passenger, “Sure I enjoy being in traffic, but what I really want to do is direct it,” or a man at a dinner party says, “All my puns are intended”—but their execution feels overdetermined, the amount of thought and effort that goes into the cartooning incommensurate with the quick rimshot we get from reading it. Horacek’s style may have something to do with this, in that his rounded, fully-realised, big-headed drawings impose funniness in big bold letters on the events he depicts, rather than letting it evolve naturally out of the situation. In the right hands this imbalance could prove wry or unsettling—Chris Ware and Mark Newgarden have done just that, with panels where copious text or big noses overwhelm every other consideration—but Horacek doesn’t quite pull it off.

A couple final thoughts: First, in the Best Emerging Talent category, I’m only glancingly familiar at best with the others’ works, but man, isn’t Kate Beaton something else? Her dashed-off, devil-may-care lines seem put to paper by the ghost of a harried Al Hirschfeld, while her banter is currently snappier than anyone’s in comics. That so much of it is a loving piss-take on Canadian history only makes it the more endearing. Second, two of the best Canadian comics from 2008 that I read were Seth’s slow-motion lament “Thoreau MacDonald” and Shary Boyle’s serpentine, unnerving “Grow Old”—both mere two-page strips, in the new Kramers Ergot volume, and neither of which the DWAs would be able to call attention to. Not that those artists are in desperate need of more plaudits, but as with my favourite Canadian comic of 2007, I’d love to see the few strips that are getting ghettoized thanks to our current mania for book-length works share way, way more of the spotlight. Maybe when Kate Beaton’s webcomics win that award it will help me sleep easier with it all….
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Featured artists

Michel Rabagliati
Guy Delisle
Matt Forsythe

           Featured products

Paul Goes Fishing
Burma Chronicles
Ojingogo




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by POP MATTERS

Updated March 27, 2009


Burma Chronicles
Writer: Guy Delisle

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

September 2008, 208 pages, $19.95
by Brendan Kiefer

One of the greatest strengths of the hybrid nature of the comics medium, is that it creates the ability to tell a story in a remarkably personal way. Both textual exposition and visual depiction are processed almost simultaneously, giving the reader an intimate sense of someone else’s mind. In the case of a graphic travelogue, such as Guy Delisle’s Burma Chronicles, factual events and locations are symbolically recreated: allowing two languages to convey what one alone could not.

Delisle is no stranger to documenting his travels in comic form: 2000’s Shenzhen and 2003’s Pyongyang chronicled his time in China and North Korea, respectively. Burma Chronicles—as the name suggests— is an account of the year he spent in Burma (officially Myanmar) with his wife, who is part of the “Doctors Without Borders” program, and their young son.

Soon after arriving, Delisle finds himself caring for his son and shopping while his wife is treating malaria in remote locations. This leaves him ample time to observe the day-to-day workings of a country living under an oppressive military dictatorship. Burma is a country where objectionable material is cut out of magazines with scissors, the newspapers report only the most optimistic national news, and there are seemingly more soldiers than private citizens. It is also the second leading producer of opium, accounting for an incredibly high rate of heroin use—and subsequently AIDS. Yet, Delisle finds hope, humor, and respect for the culture and people of Burma while examining evidence of a comically paranoid government. In the hands of Delisle, Burma becomes a character as much as a geographical location. This relationship between man and country—awkward from the start—forms the basis of his story.

In addition to the aforementioned travelogues, Delisle is the author of Albert and the Others and Aline and the Others: two books of bizarre wordless humor comics. While the subject and tone of Burma Chronicles differ vastly, sequences of “silent” pages find their way into the book. These wordless panels do wonders to anchor the story and—paired with the heavy exposition of much of the book—offer a subtle and affective counterpart.

At times the visual pairing of dialogue and image is a bit perfunctory and even clunky, but it’s easily forgivable in the service of the storytelling and strong pacing. Just the same, it often gives rise to beautifully candid drawings and sequences. The drawings in Burma Chronicles are direct and sketchy, employing a loose line and seemingly off-the-cuff renderings. While more flawed than his wordless books, Burma Chronicles is admirable for its ambition and voice.

Burma Chronicles is a solid example of cartoon journalism: a genre becoming ever more vital as it continues to be explored. Delisle’s story is certainly biased, but that’s to its advantage. Instead of simply reporting the facts, it explores culture-shock, conviction, and the capacity of the human spirit to overcome oppression. The book, though rather unassuming, soon reveals itself as a vibrant portrayal of a country most of us will find quite foreign. Like other autobiographical cartoonists, Delisle’s honest storytelling gives not only a view of Burma, but his view of Burma. For those of us who will probably never visit the country, Burma Chronicles is the next best thing. Actually, it might be better.

RATING:
— 17 March 2009
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




  Guy Delisle, Joe Sacco and Chester Brown in BC Local News

Updated March 25, 2009


GOOD READ: These pictures are worth much more than a thousand words


The Tri-City News


Text
Published: March 24, 2009 10:00 AM
Updated: March 24, 2009 10:41 AM

By Jason Colantonio

Graphic novels are all the rage among young readers but non-fiction, particularly history and current events, told through the graphic novel format is gaining ground.

Popular notions of comic books are that they are light and, well, comic. But the following graphic non-fiction titles show that they are suitable to a wide range of real world topics, including history, current events and biography.

Art Spiegelman, early on, explored the comic book’s non-fiction potential in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, an anthropomorphic recount of the Holocaust, and in his post-9/11 work In the Shadow of No Towers. Maus (originally published in 1973) and its sequel Maus II (1986) were later compiled into one book. The story is of Spiegelman’s father’s life as a Holocaust survivor as well as of his own troubled relationship with his father.

In the Shadow of No Towers (published in 2004) is a large format board book with pages arranged like those of a newspaper. Spiegelman, through the use of drawings taken from news images, his own memory of 9/11, Cold War propaganda and turn-of-the-20th century comic strips, effectively captures the surreal and frightening political and psychological landscape of life during and after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Both of Spiegelman’s books remain powerful examinations of their respective historical events.

Safe Area: Gorazde (set in Bosnia, 1992 to ’95) and Palestine, both by Joe Sacco, tell of the horrific conflicts in both regions. Sacco’s style is journalistic, the points-of-view on both side of each conflict are examined through the characters portrayed; Sacco himself appears in both books, observing and taking notes. Safe Area and Palestine also provide some historical background to the events shown and make good study material for those seeking to know more about them.

Originally from Quebec City, globetrotting animator Guy Delisle has published three award-winning graphic travelogues: Pyongyang: A Journey to North Korea; Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China; and Burma Chronicles. Each of these features the animator/narrator teaching animation and comic-strip skills to students in these countries and, along the way, dealing with culture shock with a good dose of humour and pathos. The best thing about these books is that, as Delisle learns about his host countries’ political cultures and social norms through everyday interactions, so do we.

The Complete Persepolis combines the two autobiographical volumes written and drawn by Marjane Satrapi, who was born and grew up in Iran during the 1979 revolution and its aftermath. In Persepolis, Satrapi struggles to define herself and her relationship with her family, friends and authority figures in home country as well as abroad when her parents send her to school in Austria at the age of 14. The second half of the story has Satrapi returning home at 18 to settle down but ultimately to resolve past issues before deciding to move again six years later, having found some inner balance between traditional and modern attitudes. Persepolis was later made into an animated film (produced by Satrapi) that won the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.

Chester Brown’s moving four-part Canadian history epic Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography, like Delisle’s books, is drawn in a style reminiscent of Herge’s Tintin series, although he suggests in his introduction that his main influence was Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. As the story of the rebellions at the Red River settlement in 1869 and in the Northwest Territories in 1885 unfolds, we are introduced to a large cast of supporting characters, including prime ministers John A. Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie, George Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Cree chiefs Big Bear and Poundmaker. We know how the story ends, nevertheless, the impact of the last scene is heartbreaking.

Ho Che Anderson’s King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King Jr. is stylized in the manner of a TV docudrama with an almost non-linear narrative (e.g. flashbacks). Told mostly from King’s point of view, King zeroes in on his early life, his entering the ministry and becoming a civil rights leader during the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-’56, his founding of the civil rights organization the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the 1963 March on Washington, the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement and the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike during which King was assassinated. All the while, the story contrasts King the person with King the media image to create a fresh, new take on one of the major social movement leaders of the 20th century.

The Big Book of the 70s, part of Paradox Press’ Factoid Big Book series, is a compilation of vignettes about that decade of excess and identity crisis each drawn by a different artist in a different style. The narrator, Biff Lothario, appears in the first and last chapters as well as in a few in between. A variety of social, political and cultural events and trends are covered: Watergate, the oil crisis, TV programs such as The Brady Bunch and The Gong Show, disco music, the Bay City Rollers, Skylab and punk rock among them. The Big Book of the 70s manages to alternate between serious and humourous, all the while providing a fascinating panorama of a much-mythologized era.

Check these and other graphic non-fiction books out of your local library today.

A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Jason Colantonio works at Coquitlam Public Library.


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Sacco
Guy Delisle

          



BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed in Lancette Arts Journal

Updated March 25, 2009


By Alidë Kohlhaas

Guy Delisle draws travelogs. He is a Canadian, who is mainly based in France, but publishes his graphic travel stories through the aptly named Montreal publisher, Drawn & Quarterly. His latest work I have come across is his 2008 Burma Chronicles, an illustrated report that dwells on his experiences in Burma, or Myanmar as its current rulers like to call the country. One of the most repressive places in the world, it is ruled by a right-wing military junta that keeps the population under very tight control.

Delisle is married to an administrator for Medécines sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) usually just called MSF, an organization that attempts to bring medical help to refugee camps in underdeveloped countries, or those in war-torn places. In the case of Burma, it tried to help the sick in those areas that the junta most suppresses because of political opposition.

Because of his wife's latest assignment, it meant the move of Delisle's family to Rangoon, Burma's capital where they settled first into an MSF guest house with their small son Louis, and then into their own home after some considerable search. In Delisle's case he has to cope with role-reversal. He is the stay-at-home dad while his wife visits clinics in and around Rangoon, and eventually even in a danger zone, though not the one MSF had wanted to aid.

What Delisle manages to do well is capture the day-to-day mundane existence in a city ruled by a paranoid dictatorship. He has good relationships with the locals once they get used to him, although he finds that what his neighbors really respond to is his son, not the father. The Burmese love children and so show their otherwise reserved nature in a way they would not to a foreign adult.

Of course, there are expat communities with some associations to help the spouses of personnel working for various NGOs to cope with conditions in Rangoon. But, as this male spouse soon discovers, they are aimed at the wives and their children, who share daily problems of how to cope. Delisle joins in, but it isn't easy for him to always fit in. Besides, he is a working dad, as well because he has publishing deadlines to meet, not always easy in a country where internet access is restricted, nor is there a steady supply of power to run air-conditioning or anything else.

What I found in this chronicle is that I discovered many similarities with my own stay in China. For one, there are the dangers that locals face who associate too openly with foreigners. Delisle discovers that the classes in animation he started at the behest of a local graphic artist have put one member of the group, a government employee, in danger because an article critical about Burma published in France carried Delisle's photo. Suddenly, his group misses one member. Just what happened to his former student is not revealed, which is one of the faults of this book. Sometimes stories begin, but have no ending. The reason for this may well be that to search out the answers may have led to Delisle's deportation. One does not mess with repressive juntas, or any other kind of repressive regime.

Delisle has a simple, lean style of drawing his episodical tale of life in Burma. He infuses it with gentle humor, careful, it seems, not to damage those with whom he came in contact. Yet, he makes his point, at least to this reviewer, who exercised a similar restrained about China. He manages to open the door just a little to those who have no idea what Myanmar is all about, what it means living in this once beautiful country now impoverished through the current regime that is busy fattening itself while the people go without.

While one may hunger for more direct reporting, more detailed stories, Delisle tells enough to show how Chinese-run jade mines pay their workers with heroin, and how prostitution is rampant in this devoutly Buddhist country. The book, sadly, came out before the Buddhist uprising last year, so we now have to wait for someone else to tell us that tale.

As for MSF, it finally pulled out of Burma because after two years there, it found that it had been placed in an untenable position. Instead of getting to the areas that MSF should serve, namely the Karen region near the Thai border, it was busy doing the Burmese government's job in clinics far away from the trouble areas. So, Delisle and his family along with other MSF staff finally leave the country, though he does not depict that event. Instead, he ends his tale with a Ferris wheel that appeared in his neighborhood. It's a fitting ending, for he lets humor express the contradictions of this country, where Buddhist monks come around Christmas time to sing carols, where doorbells to apartments hang on long strings on the outside of building, where Karen Carpenter songs are played in supermarkets, and where local news consists mostly of long lists of what officials appeared where and when, to mention just a few stories.


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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




  Summer Blonde, Good Life and Pyongyang in GQ

Updated March 19, 2009


THE 20 GRAPHIC NOVELS YOU SHOULD READ (AFTER ‘WATCHMEN’)
Yes, they’re comic books, but these are not for kids
By Alex Pappademas and Kevin Sintumuang


They finally made a movie out of Watchmen, God bless ’em. Perhaps you’ve heard about it. Maybe you’ve also heard that before it was un film de Zack Snyder, Watchmen was a comic book, one that, despite being made of humble ink and staples and panels and word balloons, represented as giant a leap for its medium as Citizen Kane or Easy Rider did for theirs, and though it didn’t put an end to dumb comics any more than those films put an end to dumb movies, it established a climate in which it was possible to do something grown-up, to aim over the heads of the guys in the Cheetos-dusted Punisher T-shirts once in a while. But if we can add one thing to the conventional wisdom about comics, it’s this: Those giant leaps may not happen every day, but every week a whole crapload of new comics hits the shelves (every Wednesday, to be specific—between that and Lost it’s basically the Nerd Sabbath). And while they’re not all gems, plenty of them are moving the ball forward, boldly, in terms of what kinds of stories the medium can tell. If you used to read comics but drifted away, there’s never been a better time to drift back; if you’ve never read them, there’s never been a better time to start. You can’t go wrong with the books in this slideshow. They’re risky, inventive, boundary-pushing—and (we promise) you can appreciate all of ’em whether or not you have forty-five tangled years of X-Men backstory committed to memory. And if you do have a backstory question, try the guy in the Punisher shirt. He’s there every Wednesday. So are we. Here’s why.




Summer Blonde
By Adrian Tomine

These four Salingeresque short stories are dark, tragicomic portraits of social awkwardness. A washed-up novelist dates a teenage girl for new material, the high school nerd gets his sexual initiation from a girl who recently pooped her pants, and a stalker has nothing but the best intentions for the girl he’s…stalking.


Pyongyang
By Guy Delisle

Proof that totalitarian regimes are comedy gold. Delisle’s collection of anecdotes, drawn from the time he spent in the capital of North Korea as an animator, is a witty, appropriately cynical look into the land of mandatory volunteers and institutionalized paranoia. But for all of his observations of the surreal and odd, he’s never the white guy peering into a North Korean freak show. You leave Pyongyang as Delisle did: with empathy.

It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken
By Seth

Ignore the title—this is not the indie mope-fest you’d expect. Seth’s quixotic, nostalgia-fueled quest to track the life and career of Kalo, an obscure Canadian illustrator he discovers while rummaging through old magazines, leads to some truly poetic observations and ruminations on the fading, dusty world of the ’40s and ’50s.
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Seth
Adrian Tomine
Guy Delisle

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It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken (HC)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




Guy Delisle interview in TIME OUT HONG KONG

Updated March 16, 2009


Guy Delisle interview

The writer/cartoonist tells Paul Kay why he’s happy to be a stranger in a strange land

Guy Delisle is a hard man to pin down. But given that he’s made his name creating comic-book travelogues from some of the world's most hermetic and secretive countries (such as 2003's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and 2008's The Burma Chronicles), this isn’t entirely unexpected. Even so, I’m surprised when his publisher tells me that he’s in Jerusalem. Is he working on a new book about the troubled Holy City? I put the question to Delisle when we finally connect on the phone at the third attempt.

“It’s hard to say,” he says amiably in a thick French-Canadian accent. “The way I work is I take notes, and afterwards I see if I have enough material. So far I’m just thinking about it.”

Delisle tells me he is in Jerusalem because of his wife’s job with French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, the same reason he previously found himself in Burma. “I didn’t know I would do a book while in Burma,” he says. “I had [another] book I wanted to work on, but that didn’t work out, so I started working on something about Burma. I spent one year in Ethiopia and I didn’t come back with a book, even though it was a great place with a lot of things to talk about, but I just didn’t find the right angle.”

The idea of Delisle as a man with no set plan is easy to believe from the way he portrays himself in his offbeat, autobiographical books. The classic outsider, Delisle wryly observes cultural differences and the idiosyncrasies of his hosts, but always with a large dose of empathy. Although he is the author of more than ten graphic novels, Delisle only forged an audience around the world – and translation into English, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish, among other languages – with his trio of bittersweet travelogues.

In contrast to the experiences that shaped 2000’s Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China and Pyongyang, which recount Delisle’s lone stints working for animation studios in the respective countries, his latest book sees him in Burma with his wife and baby. This, he says, forced him to experience his surroundings in a new way.

“It's completely different,” he says. “Being with a kid, you get to meet people with families and they invite you to their place very easily. In Burma, the men are very used to taking care of kids, and whenever they would see my son they would fool about with him. I realised that my watchman was going around with my son and meeting other neighbours I didn’t know about – so my son was much more integrated with the neighbourhood than I was!”

It’s little moments such as these, recounted with a deft comic touch, that stamp Delisle’s particular world view upon his books.

The author says that he also found it a challenge just to get a handle on what was going on in Burma, politically. “Trying to understand the situation was the most complicated thing. Compared to, say, Jerusalem, we don’t see images of Burma, so you end up in a political situation you don’t know anything about, which is actually quite complex. After a year I was able to [understand] the situation [better]. But the first thing I think of when I think of that country is that the people are beautiful and quiet. I see more people with guns in Jerusalem than in Burma. It’s a quiet junta. They don’t have to put much pressure on people to keep them quiet.”

Totalitarianism is a subject Delisle knows a thing or two about; one of the most memorable scenes in Pyongyang occurs when Delisle lends the copy of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four he has smuggled into the country to his state-appointed translator, billing it simply as ‘a science fiction novel’.

“I asked: ‘Did you read it? What did you think of it?’” says Delisle. “He said ‘I don’t like it, it’s not my type of book, I’m not too keen on science fiction’, then he rushed to his room and brought it back – he was literally shaking. He didn’t want to have that book in his hands at all. I think he realised this book was not supposed to be in anybody’s hands in North Korea. They must have a long list of banned books, and this must be number one.”

“[I imagine] North Korea was like being in China 50 years ago,” continues Delisle. “People have no idea what is going on inside or outside of their country. The things they tell you about the outside world are so untrue you almost don’t want to answer back because they are so brainwashed.”

Delisle had left North Korea long before Pyongyang hit the shelves but, says the author, the book has since made him persona non grata in the country.

“I think I’m on the blacklist now – you don’t have to do much to be on the blacklist in North Korea. I know that the top guy at the company [I worked for] read the book. Friends who went to North Korea after I left told me that [the company] were pretty mad that I did the book.”

Even so, Delisle hasn’t ruled out returning – although not under the current regime.

“When Kim Jong-il dies and the country collapses, then I’d like to go back and see how people are doing there,” says Delisle. “They’re going to need so much help. The countries around are not really ready to help them that much, especially China; they don’t want to have that amount of unemployed people on their land, and it’s the same with South Korea. We’re going to hear so many crazy stories [when North Korea collapses]. It’s going to make East Germany seem like a paradise.”

Given such subject matter, some might see the graphic novel form as a less weighty form than novels or straight reportage, but Delisle disagrees.

“I think now graphic novels are happening more and more,” he says. “And I’m not surprised. Look at the popularity of blogs. What is a blog but ordinary writing, pictures and drawings? The stuff I do is kind of like a picture blog.”

So, with his animation experience and the recent success of ‘serious’ animated movies such as Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir, does Delisle harbour hopes of adapting his travelogues for the big screen?

“I don’t push for that,” he says resolutely. “I wouldn’t spend two years working on a film of one of my books. I prefer to spend two years and do three comic books than just one movie. Because I come from the animation industry, I know exactly how it works and what kind of big machine it is. It doesn’t sparkle, in my eyes. I prefer to be on my own and do comics. Plus I don’t think Pyongyang would make a good film… but it’s a good comic book.”

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Guy Delisle

          



  KASPAR, BALONEY and more reviewed by Guttersnipe

Updated March 13, 2009


Some terrific books from Drawn & Quarterly have been collecting sawdust lately. So to rescue them from the stacks of oblivion in middle of renovations, I crammed a bunch into my weekend. Plus, maybe guttersnipe can ride the crest of the Watchmen wave just a little longer by tagging the term “graphic novels.” (Note that some of the publication dates are embarrassingly out-of-date, but better late than never, non?)

Aline and the Others, Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 2006). Delisle has (rightfully) earned a reputation as a first-class travelogue artist for his graphic memoirs on Pyongyang, Shenzhen, and Burma. Aline and the Others, like its companion Albert and the Others, is a small (D & Q refers to this series of elegant little tomes as “petits livres”), modest collection of sight gags in thumbnail-size panels. Many focus on identity and gender roles: in “Bernadette”, a large woman works off her weight, her slimmer self gets picked up by a large photographer, she merges with him and she’s back to her old self (he, meanwhile, has disappeared, leaving behind just his camera). An interesting way to pass a bus ride.

Kaspar, Diane Obomsawin (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009). If the name “Kaspar Hauser” sounds familiar, it could be because of the 1974 Werner Herzog film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. A mysterious foundling (birthdate unknown) in 19th century Germany, Hauser claimed to be raised in total isolation. When he was found, he carried a note: “I wish too be a cavalryman, just as my father was.” Obomsawin’s graphic retelling uses minimal lines, almost stick figures, and gray tones to recount the story, based on research. The artist’s technique well-suited to the fascinating story, another in D & Q’s petits livres series.

Jamilti and Other Stories, Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). Boy, D & Q really does it up right sometimes: Jamilti and Other Stories is just an outstandingly handsome volume. Modan is the Israeli author of Exit Wounds, a stunning graphic novel first published and translated in 2007 and winner of the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album. Collecting some of her early stories, Jamilti includes black and white and colour work and shows Modan’s growth as both a story teller and artist; by “Your Number One Fan”, the grimly funny last story (I’m assuming thes are chronologically ordered), Modan has grown into the artist capable of pulling off the themes and art in Exit Wounds.

Dogs & Water, Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007). I’ve really been enjoying Nilsen’s series Big Questions, with its shifting narrative (crows and finches at a plane crash in the middle of nowhere are the main characters). A friend reading Dogs & Water said she thought the book took too long to tell its story, and she might have a point; but Nilsen’s art has a great line, and that’s what kept me reading this story of a man walking through a mostly deserted landscape, a teddy bear strapped to his back.

Baloney, Pascal Blanchet (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). As a follow-up to 27-year-old Blanchet’s ridiculously accomplished 2007’s White Rapids, Baloney is a bit of a disappointment; on its own, it’s another stylishly told tale (Blanchet seems to have learned his craft from Gene Deitch’s art deco jazz album covers of the 50s), albeit one without the autobiogrophical heart of the previous work. More of a fable, Baloney has style to burn, and is worth a look simply as an instructive lesson on new ways to tell old(fashioned) stories.

Aya, Margerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). Bucking trends, Aya is a collaborative effort (Abouet writes, Oubrerie draws)—and just plain sweet. As such, I had misgivings, and it sat on my shelf for awhile. But the story of teen love problems on the Ivory Coast in the 1970s (based on Abouet’s childhood memories), Oubrerie’s lighthearted lines and the bright colours of Africa won me over.
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Guy Delisle
Pascal Blanchet
Diane Obomsawin

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Aline & the Others
Kaspar
Baloney




JAMITLI, AYA OF YOP CITY and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Star Tribune

Updated February 27, 2009


Books
Tom Horgen
December 25, 2008
STAR TRIBUNE

Here is proof that the power of comic books has reached a worldwide audience. And I'm not talking about all the money that superhero movies make overseas. These three stories -- set in Israel, the Ivory Coast and Myanmar -- represent the field's rich diversity, which is celebrating an all-time high thanks to publishers like Drawn & Quarterly. These comics (or graphic novels) each tell stories specific to a different small corner of the globe. Lucky for us that comics speak a universal language.

Jamilti And Other Stories
Rutu Modan

When the graphic novel "Exit Wounds" was released last year, it heralded the arrival of a top-tiered talent in Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan. Her colorful art popped off every page with lifelike movement. And her story was a page-turner, as it followed a young Tel Aviv man on the trail of his estranged father who might have been killed in the latest suicide bombing. Modan also took a controversial stance: As an Israeli, she spoke firsthand of the random violence that informs daily Tel Aviv life, but she also voiced a deep empathy for the other side.

It's a surprise, then, that Modan's second book isn't another full-length story, but instead a collection of stories, many of which aren't even new (most were made pre-"Exit Wounds"). But "Jamilti and Other Stores" is still a fascinating read. Storywise, she is again focused on the sudden violence that numbs everyday Israeli life. Artistically, you can watch Modan bloom from an early sketchy style to her current love of defined lines, which give her characters a three-dimensional quality.

From these seven stories we learn that she's a bit of a mystery writer, often leading us down twists and turns until the big reveal. Take the 10-page title story that opens "Jamilti." In it, a young Israeli woman storms off after a fight with her crude fiance, only to be nearly killed in a suicide blast outside a Tel Aviv cafe. Searching for other survivors, she finds a dying man with his legs blown off. As she leans over him, he suddenly kisses her and says "Jamilti" before paramedics rush him away. Later, without mentioning the kiss, she asks her fiancé if he knows what "Jamilti" means. He says it's Arabic for "my beautiful one." It's classic Modan.

Aya of Yop City
Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie

Writer Marguerite Abouet, a native of the Ivory Coast, has done something extraordinary for her Western readers. She's given us a vision of her homeland that has nothing to do with war, famine or any of the many atrocities that clog our minds when we think of Africa. That's not to say we should forget those images of suffering; it's just foolish to view an entire continent through a one-dimensional lens.

Abouet's viewfinder is focused on everyday life in the Ivory Coast's capital city, Abidjan, a place filled with bright colors and mischievous comedy. She sets "Aya of Yop City" during the 1970s, a time when the country's booming economy was the envy of Western Africa. In a working-class district nicknamed Yop City, the characters Abouet introduced in her must-read 2007 debut (simply titled "Aya") are still struggling with one intense, uncompromising problem: young love.

Chief among them is Aya, a young woman who acts like a den mother to her group of girlfriends, each on the prowl for Mr. Right. Abouet finds humor in their unpredictable exploits, and has the perfect artist to bring it all to life. Clement Oubrerie's artwork is light, almost doodling pencils flushed out with bold colors. He adds a whimsy to every interaction. Even the panels that frame everything are loosely hand-drawn, as if they were floating on the page.

Of course, life in the Ivory Coast wouldn't always be so cheery, as the country would fall into economic and political turmoil during the 1980s. But for this moment, in "Aya of Yop City," Abouet isn't concerned with that. And isn't that a statement in itself?

Burma Chronicles
Guy Delisle

Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle has carved out a niche for himself, traveling to oppressed Asian countries and writing about his experience. He's not an aid worker or a journalist. His day job is in animation, which has landed him gigs in China and North Korea. He just happens to be a keen observer of cultural ambiguities and the way life carries on under repressive conditions. So after each trip, he publishes a comic travelogue in stylized black-and-white.

First came "Pyongyang" and "Shenzhen." Now he's on to Myanmar (formally Burma), where the country's military dictatorship made headlines in 2007 for brutally crushing anti-government protests. Delisle was there two years earlier, not as an animator but as a companion to his wife, who's with Doctors Without Borders.

Delisle is a humorist, which makes writing about Communist states or the junta in "Burma Chronicles" a bit unusual. That's why he uses a familiar comedic motif: He's a stranger in a strange land. While this approach can generate passages of humor and peculiar discovery (they play Karen Carpenter nonstop in Burmese grocery stores), Delisle can sometimes come off as the snooty foreigner. He's also prone to rambling on about his trivial, culture-clash discomforts. But all this has a purpose. Delisle loves depicting his own cultural naivete in order to give readers a better understanding of what he saw.

In one instance, Delisle naively assures his Burmese friend that change will come once the country's 76-year-old dictator dies. His friend explains that change was expected after the last dictator, but he was replaced by another. "So I don't see much reason for hope," he tells Delisle. The cartoonist doesn't say anything else.

 
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Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Oregonian

Updated February 27, 2009


Graphic Novel Review: Burma Chronicles
Steve Duin
December 16, 2008
The Oregonian


When I finally picked up Guy Delisle's Burma Chronicles earlier this week, I arrived with a unique array of biases:

I have not read either Pyongyang or Shenzhen, Delisle's previous two travelogues from Drawn & Quarterly. I was, however, fresh off Secret Invasion Dark Reign.

I was in transit, in other words, from a primitive world in which the Marvel Illuminati -- in this case Harry Osborn, Dr. Doom, Emma Frost and Loki, among others -- sit around large board-room tables in "secret" meetings" (what is this, 1963?) ... to a Third World country where the deceased are quickly cremated because their heirs are afraid of ghosts.

A country where you can find Marilyn Manson t-shirts, even if you must go to Thailand to hear his music.

A country that features a "Water Festival" in which you wash away your misdeeds by letting others pour water down your back, an exercise that quickly evolves into the world's greatest water fight ("In principle," Delisle tells us, "you're not supposed to spray monks and cops.")

A country where "crime is virtually nonexistent" ... other than the occasional bomb, of course. A country where each house must have an odd number of steps.

A country that keeps its Nobel Prize winner -- Aung San Suu Kyi -- under house arrest.

("Actually, the Burmese don't refer to her by name," Delisle tells us. "They just call her 'The Lady.' It's like Voldemort in Harry Potter, 'He who must not be named.'")

Let me put it this way: After spending 10 minutes with Brian Michael Bendis in the ol' Marvel Hovel of Ideas, spending 263 pages with Guy Delisle in Burma felt like quite the holiday.

For 14 months in 2005-06, Delisle hung out in Yangon, the former capital of Burma -- now known as Myanmar by the counties that take the current junta seriously -- while his wife, Nadege, worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

The Canadian cartoonist's primary responsibility is taking his infant son, Louis, for walks in his baby stroller, and teaching the occasional animation class. But Delisle has a sharp eye and a caustic, self-deprecating wit ("That's Karen Carpenter," he notes as the Muzak blares in the City Mart, "the musical equivalent of the laughing cow"), both of which serve him well in a country where the powers that be wield the same "xenophobic, paranoid and hawkish rhetoric that all dictatorships use."

A country where the bills come in denominations of 15, 45 and 90 kyat -- which, Delisle notes, drives people nuts or turns them into math wizards.

A country that will throw any motorist who hits a monk into prison without a trial, but one in which the military gunned down monks on the streets of Yangon only 15 months ago.

A country where 86 percent of the population in some tiny villages are opium addicts ... and yet one that Doctors Without Borders chooses to abandon at book's end. ("At some point," an MSF administrator explains to Delisle, "if we agree to stay, we end up abetting the government's actions, and in the process, we become an instrument of discrimination.")

Because I've never been to Burma, I don't know that Burma Chronicles is the perfect travel guide to this land of sweltering heat and monsoons. But it is a marvelous graphic memoir of a year in the life in a remote world that is beyond the ability of most readers to grasp. Just as Secret Invasion Dark Reign betrays the medium's prolonged, even terminal adolescence, Burma Chronicles presents an ever-maturing format to an adult audience.
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Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Pop Matters

Updated February 27, 2009


The Burma Chronicles
Karen Zarker
17 December 2008
POP MATTERS

Part travel literature, part cultural criticism, part humor chronicle, part graphic art, the reputable Guy Delisle (Pyongyang (2007) and Shenzhen (2006) –- English language versions) has done it again: capturing the entire experience of expat life –- complete with family –- in a region far from home. While his wife works in Pyongyang (formerly Burma) for Doctors Without Borders (her work being the catalyst for his far flung travels), Delisle takes his artful view of everyday life (and the baby, too) for daily strolls into cultural and physical environs far different from his own. His natural curiosity, respect and ease with people transcends difference. Upon return to wherever he’s staying -– often without electricity and other luxuries –- he applies intellectual compassion to the stories conveyed in pictures with words, here and there, as needed. People who like travel writing and cultural reporting will find themselves surprisingly taken by this and all of Delisle’s graphic fiction books, wherein panel after panel conveys a wealth of meaning and provides valid documentation of a time and place.
 
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Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Chicago Sun Times

Updated February 27, 2009


Graphic novel roundup
BURMA CHRONICLES
BY GUY DELISLE
The Chicago Sun-Times
23 November 2008
Chicago Sun-Times


Cartoonist and animator Guy Delisle has performed an impressive bit of literary sleight of hand by hiding a piece of advocacy journalism inside a humorous travelogue with his latest graphic novel, Burma Chronicles. In it he chronicles the misadventures of a year spent in Burma in the company of his wife, an administrator for Doctors Without Borders, and infant son. Delisle's wry but affectionate style of observational humor provides a unique -- and uniquely affecting -- portrait of the embattled nation and its citizens.

With no ideological biases or political motivations to shape his perceptions, he doesn't have to see the Burmese as victims, the NGO workers as saints or the military junta as inhuman monsters -- just people. He puts everyone's triumphs, tragedies and (especially) foibles on full display. It's journalism the way journalism should be: readable, educational and, hopefully, transformative.

Featured artist

Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Washington Post Express

Updated February 27, 2009


ARTS & EVENTSAround the World: Graphic Novel Travelogues
December 2nd, 2008
WASHINGTON POST EXPRESS

Veteran cartoonist Guy Delisle created a new graphic novel, "Burma Chronicles" (Drawn & Quarterly), while Enrico Casarosa released his debut comic, "The Venice Chronicles" (AdHouse).

Delisle has made a career out of visiting unfriendly places and creating fascinating graphic novel travelogues about them. His first two, "Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China" and "Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea," offered in-depth views of these Communist countries from the perspective of a long-term visitor.

For his new volume, "Burma Chronicles," Delisle looks at the country of Burma, aka Myanmar, but unlike the first two books, where he was on assignment as an animator, this comic is the first where he's a dedicated graphic novelist, going his wife, who works for Doctors Without Boarders, to the Southeast Asian country.

Delisle, who at this point is an expert on capturing foreign cultures, provides a riveting look at the oppressive country. He goes beyond the normal travel book which focusing on the touristy attractions and captures the people and the daily minutiae that you'd experience only by immersing yourself into Burmese society. He even goes as far as going to a Buddhist meditation retreat, capturing the traditions of a religion that are likely to be foreign to most readers...
 
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Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




  JAMILTI, AYA OF YOP CITY and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Patriot News

Updated February 27, 2009


CHRIS MAUTNER
Novels focus on foreign culture
Friday, November 28, 2008
Patriot-News

One of the things that comics do remarkably well is provide the reader with a tangible sense of place.

Unlike prose, which must rely on verbal descriptions, or photography, which can only show you a small section of a scene, comics can immerse you in a landscape, be it town or country, giving you a concrete feel for a particular area, real or imaginary.

Three new graphic novels from the small press publisher Drawn and Quarterly underscore that idea by focusing on cultures and countries far outside of the U.S.'s boundaries.

"Jamiliti and Other Stories" by Rutu Modan.

Though not an official follow-up to her acclaimed 2007 book "Exit Wounds," this collection of short stories by Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan nevertheless proves that she's much more than a one-trick pony.

Modan's tales deal with longing and isolation, though a sly bit of satire frequently shines through, as in "The Panty Killer," an unusual murder mystery, or "Homecoming," about a family that is forever waiting for the return of the prodigal soldier son.

The early stories here tend to take on a fairy tale tone, while more recent work, such as the title story, focus on the characters and the way they brush against one another.

No doubt some of Modan's themes are lost to American audiences. You get the sense that there are issues specific to Israeli concerns. That doesn't change the fact that these are wonderful, haunting tales though, that should only further cement Modan's reputation as a first-class storyteller.

"Aya of Yop City" by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie.

This is a sequel to last year's "Aya," a charming look at life in the Ivory Coast during the late 1970s, when the country was prosperous and on the verge of modernity.

Thankfully, everything that made the first book so delightful is evident here as well. More soap opera than social drama, "Yop City" finds its characters continuing to make fools of themselves in the pursuit of love and/or success, with issues of gender, class and colonialism well hidden in the background. Only headstrong Aya, the Greek chorus of the book, has any sense.

The book risks turning its large cast into cartoonish types at times, but they remain winning and likable even when some of them are exhibiting inane or frustrating behavior.

This is a sumptuously illustrated book; Oubrerie's art gives you a real sense of the particular place and time. Ultimately though, it's the characters you remember best. Even if you don't know the country, you know these people.

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"Burma Chronicles" by Guy Delisle.

Having already chronicled his travels to China and North Korea (in "Shenzhen" and "Pyongyang," respectively), Delisle ventures into Myanmar with his young son and wife, (her job for Doctors Without Borders providing the reason for the trip).

This is Delisle's best book, a subtle yet pointed look at life in a totalitarian state. Delisle focuses on the everyday minutiae of expatriate life with humor and insight.

At times it seems as if Myanmar could be anyplace, until he abruptly runs into the poverty and cruelty pushed down upon the country. A visit with a bed-ridden elderly woman, for example, strikes home hard, and not for the reasons you might suspect.

Delisle exhibits a basic, blocky style here but is able to convey a wide range of emotions and issues. It's an indelible portrait of a people forced to live in ugly circumstances that stays with you long after you've put the book down.
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Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by North Adams Transcript

Updated February 27, 2009


BURMA CHRONICLES BY GUY DELISLE
John Mitchell
11.23.08
NORTH ADAMS TRANSCRIPT

Travel is such a natural topic for graphic novels that it’s surprising there aren’t more collections of graphic essays or just travel memoirs littering the landscape. Or perhaps it’s for the best, since I imagine few could live up to Guy Delisle’s mastery of the form. The Quebecois cartoonist previously recounted his work in Asian animation studios in “Shenzhen” and “Pyongyang” — his new book, “The Burma Chronicles” takes him into different territory at the mercy of his wife’s job, administrator for Doctors Without Borders.

Delisle’s main job and purpose during his year in Burma seems to be to raise his son, do some work and to wander around and get to know the country in the name of curiosity and another graphic novel. The latter purpose twists its way through the former two — managing to include peeks into his wife’s work along the way — and creates a multi-faceted look at an expatriate community in a mysterious and troubled country.

Burma is now called Myanmar, but its old name sticks in the world’s recognition despite the official change by the military junta in charge there. As presented by Delisle, it’s an oppressive but not amusing world, grim with disease and poverty but alive with quirky personality and culture. Many of the country’s positive attributes are endangered by the military dictatorship, which also hastens the negatives that demand the presence of humanitarian efforts.

In “The Burma Chronicles,” Delisle wrestles with his own discomfort and alienation to find his way in the strange foreign land. His role as a parent gets him out of the house with his kid and opens up the world around him, with his young son Louis acting as an immediate conduit to the local people who will approach a child but not an adult. Delisle is able to further explore this world through interactions with visiting foreigners, including other parents, as well as locals interested in an animation coarse, mainstays in Doctors Without Borders and others.

Through his connections, conversations and personal observations, Delisle is able to present the stories behind the oppression with wit and candor. He also manages to get beyond his neighborhood for some investigative jaunts — he stays in a Buddhist temple and visits some remote regions with his wife’s organization.

Delisle’s art style is deceptively simple — just when you are lulled into the comfort of his cartoonish presentation, he pulls back a panel or slips in an unexpected perspective to reveal the strange world you have dropped into. It all helps make Burma alien but not alienating and Delisle as a friendly guide who you’d love to have a beer with makes the presentation all the more lovely — there’s lots of information in here, visual and written, that captures Burma in subtle ways that don’t wholly strike you until the book is done.
 
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  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Mother Jones

Updated February 27, 2009


Burmese daze
Gilson, Dave
1 September 2008
Mother Jones

In 2005, French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle spent a year living in Burma with his wife, a Medecins Sans Frontieres administrator, and their toddler son. Burma Chronicles explores the absurdities and anxieties of life in the military dictatorship, from asking the government-run Internet provider to stop blocking (and presumably reading) emails to suddenly realizing that an innocuous comment made to a Western journalist could land a Burmese friend in jail. Delisle is constantly trying to burst through his expat bubble, whether he's sneaking a peek at his neighbor Aung San Suu Kyi's house, traveling into the countryside without a permit, hanging out at the local Buddhist monastery, or quietly teaching computer animation classes. As in his previous Asian travelogues, Pyongyang and Shenzhen, Delisle navigates politics and culture shock with a keen eye and gentle humor.--D.G.

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MOOMIN 3, AYA OF YOP CITY, JAMILTI and more reviewed by The Boston Phoenix

Updated January 16, 2009


RED COLORED ELEGY
MOOMIN 3
BURMA CHRONICLES
BERLIN: CITY OF SMOKE
JAMILTI
AYA OF YOP CITY
Mike Millard
December 2, 2008
THE BOSTON PHOENIX

...Meanwhile, Seiichi Hayashi's RED COLORED ELEGY (Drawn and Quarterly, $25), drawn in 1970 and 1971 in all spare lines and stark minimalism, uses techniques derived from anime for a story exploring the tension between the personal and the political.

Elegy is just one of many globe-hopping books (each of them $20) put out this year from Montrûal's consistently excellent Drawn and Quarterly. MOOMIN: BOOK THREE is the latest compilation of Finnish cartoonist Tove Jansson's charmingly peculiar Moomin comic strips, which took her hugely popular Scandinavian hippopotamus-esque trolls and syndicated them first in London's Evening News in the '50s and later across Europe and the world.

Guy Delisle's BURMA CHRONICLES finds the Quûbûcois cartoonist traveling to another part of the planet few outsiders have seen. In his previous books, Pyongyang and Shenzhen, Delisle experienced the walled-off worlds of authoritarianism by himself. This time, having his wife (a worker with Mûdecins Sans Frontières) and child in tow makes for a slightly different perspective on life behind the curtain of a censorious, soul-crushing regime. Delisle deals with serious subjects, but his cartoony, workmanlike style is well-suited to his genial observations of the good-hearted people in this profoundly damaged nation.

Jason Lutes's BERLIN: CITY OF SMOKE, the second volume in his fiction trilogy chronicling the gloaming of the Weimar Republic, is drawn in a detailed and assured ligne claire style — one that's all the more remarkable for the vastness and exactitude of Lutes's scope: communists and national socialists, Jews and American jazz men, all interacting in a city fraught with tension as fascism and war gather on the horizon.

Israel's Rutu Modan, introduced to North America last year with the excellent graphic novel Exit Wounds, quickly established herself as one of the most humane and creative artists around — one whose bold sense of color and composition is as refined as her feeling for the subtle undercurrents of her characters' emotions. JAMILTI AND OTHER STORIES, a collection of her shorter pieces, continues to cement that reputation.

Finally, Côte d'Ivoirian Marguerite Abouet and Frenchman Clement Oubrerie's AYA OF YOP CITY (a continuation of last year's Aya) is drawn with happy, vibrant strokes: perfect for these warmhearted tales of an earthy cast of characters living together in 1970s Abidjan. It's nice to see, as Abouet puts it, a continent not defined by "war and famine, an Africa that endures despite everything because, as we say back home, life goes on."

 
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  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Pop Matters

Updated December 17, 2008


Burma Chronicles - Guy Delisle
—Karen Zarker
POP MATTERS
December 17, 2008

Part travel literature, part cultural criticism, part humor chronicle, part graphic art, the reputable Guy Delisle (Pyongyang (2007) and Shenzhen (2006) –- English language versions) has done it again: capturing the entire experience of expat life –- complete with family –- in a region far from home. While his wife works in Pyongyang (formerly Burma) for Doctors Without Borders (her work being the catalyst for his far flung travels), Delisle takes his artful view of everyday life (and the baby, too) for daily strolls into cultural and physical environs far different from his own. His natural curiosity, respect and ease with people transcends difference. Upon return to wherever he’s staying -– often without electricity and other luxuries –- he applies intellectual compassion to the stories conveyed in pictures with words, here and there, as needed. People who like travel writing and cultural reporting will find themselves surprisingly taken by this and all of Delisle’s graphic fiction books, wherein panel after panel conveys a wealth of meaning and provides valid documentation of a time and place.
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BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by NPR

Updated November 28, 2008


Burma by Baby Carriage
Strolling through Rangoon: Guy Delisle's Burma Chronicles Drawn and Quarterly
by Glen Weldon
November 2008
NPR.ORG

Resolved: The best travelogue you'll read this year is a funnybook. About a not particularly funny place.

Writer-artist Guy Delisle has previously documented his stays in Shenzhen, China, and Pyongyang, North Korea, in two well-received graphic novels.

Both books are marked by Delisle's deceptively simple, cartoony style, by his eye for architectural detail, and by an easy, unforced sense of humor.

And, when you put it all together, some of the most effective and fully realized travel writing out there.

Here's why: Delisle's words and pictures neatly capture the sense of bemused alienation travel bestows. He's alternately fascinated and frustrated by those around him, yes, but he manages to depict them without falling into any of The Three Traps of Travel Writing.

That is to say, he never:

A: Idealizes
B: Condescends
C: Imagines that millennia-old cultural barriers can be crossed in a matter of months. By him. Because he's soooo much more sensitive and insightful than any stupid tourist.

After the jump: How all that comes together in Myanmar ...

In his latest, Burma Chronicles, he's twice-removed from his environs: This time he tags along with his wife, a manager for Doctors Without Borders, to Myanmar, which some of us still call Burma, where he spends the first few months of their stay taking care of their infant son.

In his review of the book for Canada's The National, Joe Sacco expresses some impatience with the book's early going, where Delisle documents his efforts to navigate the terrain of professional spouse and house husband.

Now, Sacco wrote and drew the searingly good graphic novel Palestine, among others, and he knows of what he writes.

But me, I dug those moments — yep, even those Sacco dismisses as "cute baby stories" — because they bring the contrast between Delisle's domestic life and his surroundings into sharper relief.

Just outside his door, Myanmar's repressive government censors the media, keeps Nobel Prize-winning dissidents under perpetual house arrest, and permits the opium trade to flourish. Delisle deftly and often wordlessly lets us see and feel it all, from his kid's nursery to the chillingly empty streets of a village of heroin addicts.

Take a look at the images here — they'll pop up if you click 'em — and see if you don't feel like you're getting a look at something few of us will ever get to witness firsthand.
 
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  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Japan Times

Updated November 28, 2008


BURMA CHRONICLES by Guy Delisle
By JEFF KINGSTON
Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008
THE JAPAN TIMES

Life in Burma: an expatriate's point of view

Over the past 20 years Burma has sunk ever further into an abyss of political oppression and economic malaise under a brutal military junta that shot monks on the streets of Yangon during the Saffron Revolution in September 2007, and then exacerbated the natural tragedy of cyclone Nargis this past May by hampering international relief efforts. Under this regime, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has not been allowed to take control of the government despite winning a landslide victory in the 1990 elections.

The new constitution, "approved" in a rigged referendum held in May, disqualifies Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation's most prominent and popular political leader, from running for office and also institutionalizes a continuing political role for the military by reserving seats for it in Parliament. New elections are scheduled for 2010, but the junta is loading the dice so the people won't have a chance to give the "wrong" verdict again.

This witty and incisive graphic novel draws on the 14 months in 2005-06 when Guy Delisle accompanied his wife on a posting in Burma with Doctors Without Borders. Delisle, who has also published graphic novels about North Korea and China, mines the everyday life and experiences of an expatriate, often shared with his infant Louis. Even from within a relatively comfortable cocoon, Delisle helps readers understand what it means to live under an incompetent but scary dictatorship.

He muses about magazines with missing pages in the land of "censo-rama" and also makes resolutions . . . to get up and give alms to the monks every morning and to keep visiting the sentry post blocking Aung San Suu Kyi's street until he is allowed to pass . . . but lassitude prevails.

The author also draws our attention to the Buddhist doctrine of earning merit and how Burma's generals make lavish offerings and build new pagodas. Why do evil men try to earn merit? Delisle writes, "After spending one whole lifetime oppressing a nation, he wanted to avoid coming back as a rat or a frog in the next." These animals are mischievously rendered in dress uniform replete with medals.

International medical organizations have a difficult time getting access to the areas in Burma where their services are most in need because these are politically sensitive zones where armed conflict persists or is only in abeyance. Delisle has a wonderful graphic depicting the long line of uniformed ministers that need to sign off on travel permits and work permits, a tangle of red tape that constrains humanitarian initiatives and ensures that people's access to health care remains grossly inadequate.

One of the funnier segments focuses on the official newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar. He writes, "The propaganda is laid on so thick that you wonder whether a single person in the entire country believes it." We learn that the people's professed desires include, "Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy," heady words that are printed everywhere, even at park entrances and on DVDs. With portraits of Kim Jong Il in the background, he notes that this is "the xenophobic, paranoid and hawkish rhetoric that all dictatorships use." The news is heavily skewed to reporting the glorious contributions of the military while focusing on just how miserable conditions are in other countries.

However, with the advent of the Internet and vernacular radio broadcasts from Thailand, the people know well the grim realities of the gulag they live in.

They might not know so much about Golden Valley, an upscale neighborhood in Yangon for the generals and their cronies where access to electricity and water is steady year-round, an impossible dream for most citizens. Walking past the massive McMansions with their high fences and elaborate security, Delisle comments, "Barbed wire looks a bit nouveau riche, huh?"

In contrast, the troops travel in vintage trucks and rely on antiquated communication systems, causing the author to ask a friend, "With such a dilapidated army, you wonder how the junta holds onto power?" His friend responds, "Maybe it's the torture and imprisonment that do it?"

Delisle recounts various rumors and conspiracy theories about disappearances, bombings and bizarre government policies. He also ponders the new $50 million U.S. Embassy in Yangon, asking, "Why build a gigantic embassy in a country you don't recognize and that you've put under embargo?" Especially now that the capital has been moved from Yangon to distant Nay Pyi Taw.

Beyond having a laugh at the expat world and detailing the daily drudgery of life in Burma, the author reminds us that there is much to despair in the raging epidemics of AIDS, drug addiction, malaria and TB, a growing public health crisis that the junta has ignored to the peril of a people who have suffered indignities and incompetence for far too long. Deceptively innocent, this illustrated book is a searing indictment, brimming with shrewd insights and inspiring examples of resilience.
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BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Joe Sacco

Updated November 28, 2008


Burmese days
Burma Chronicles
Guy Delisle
Joe Sacco
November 06. 2008
THE NATIONAL

Guy Delisle’s third Asian travelogue is another insightful masterwork of the comics form, writes Joe Sacco.


Autobiography is perhaps the easiest refuge for aspiring North American and European comic book artists, which wouldn’t be such a drawback if their lives, mostly spent labouring over their masterpieces-to-be on kitchen tables and watching B-movie videos with their bored girlfriends, weren’t so frighteningly dull. In fact, being told to “write (or, in this case, draw) what you know” is questionable advice to a cartoonist in his or her early 20s who doesn’t know and hasn’t experienced much of anything.

Guy Delisle has entered the comics scene like a breath of fresh air, and may all young autobiographically-minded cartoonists fill their lungs with his example. With endless curiosity but without seeming to try too hard, Delisle lives a life worth documenting. He has travelled to Shenzhen, China and Pyongyang, North Korea to supervise animation projects, and he turned those adventures into two critically- acclaimed works of comics (Shenhzen, A Travelogue From China and Pyongyang, A Journey In North Korea).

In both works, Delisle managed to wring the full potential from the comic-book form, which can thrust the reader into a foreign place from the first panel. Repeated imagery – details of architecture, dress and street life – silently follow the reader from page to page in the background, allowing an atmosphere to sink in. Additionally, by varying the size of the drawings a cartoonist can shift a reader’s gears, influencing him or her to pass quickly over small, simple panels of dialogue or to dwell thoughtfully on a large, complex cityscape. Since Delisle knows what he is doing, the reader is hardly aware of the manipulations.

In both of his earlier books, the Canadian-born, French-based Delisle proved himself an amusing, self-deprecating, and often insightful guide to places few foreigners get to see or even want to visit. Delisle, who draws himself as a nondescript, beak-nosed figure, was particularly good at letting us know how he coped – or sometimes didn’t cope – along the way. In Shenhzen he seemed almost swallowed up by the gargantuan Chinese stage; in Pyongyang he good-humouredly lurched from one totalitarian absurdity to another.

Now he has turned his Asia journeys into a trilogy with Burma Chronicles. Burma, which prefers to call itself Myanmar, is another seldom-visited country, one whose military government has not endeared itself to the international human rights community. This time Delisle travels with his wife, – for our cartoonist guide is now married – who is sent to Burma as a representative of the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), known in English as Doctors Without Borders. (It is not hard to imagine Delisle marrying a woman as adventurous as he is.) They bring their baby son with them.

Because of these new domestic arrangements, Burma Chronicles feels from the start like a different sort of book than Shenhzen and Pyongyang, where Delisle immediately threw himself and his readers into the deep end of strange lands. This time, he is more or less along for his wife’s ride, and essentially relegated to the role of house husband. Readers might be forgiven for wishing they were following the wife on her visits to remote missions instead of staying home with the author as he tends to their infant. This is particularly true early on in the book, where Delisle insists on relating what can only be termed “cute-baby” stories. He spends a few precious panels documenting how the baby likes to drop objects in places where they can’t easily be retrieved. This might be a jolly family anecdote under ordinary circumstances, but Delisle has taken his readers to Burma, a repressive dictatorship few foreigners will ever visit, and they might begin to wonder when he’s going to start showing them around.

It’s a slow beginning. At first I was worried that Delisle was going to explore only the few blocks around his house, that part of Burma he could visit while pushing a baby stroller. But he keeps to his own self-assured pace and demonstrates he can integrate his little boy into a greater narrative after all. When he learns that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader who would be prime minister if Burmese electoral results were actually respected, lives under house arrest in his neighbourhood, he sets off with his baby to talk his way through a checkpoint and have a look for himself. “I can’t imagine they’d keep an innocent dad and his kid from going through,” he tells himself. Though he is stopped and sent back by a guard, the incident allows him to provide an insightful, concise (three-panel!) exposition on one of the world’s most well known political prisoners.

The episode exemplifies Delisle’s diary-like storytelling technique. Rather than well-defined chapters tackling one subject after another in series – say, politics, culture, religion – Delisle uses small encounters or passing conversations to return to these themes as they crop up. It’s a loose format, but one that manages to give the reader some sense of Burma as a whole.

For example, Delisle touches on the government’s control of information several times with great effect. In one chapter he finds some old Time magazines that are missing pages and tells us that a censorship bureau “systematically removes” articles critical of Burma. (The accompanying drawing shows a Burmese official industriously cutting away late at night next to huge piles of magazines and a rubbish bin overflowing with excised pages. Delisle takes much delight in lampooning the state apparatus any chance he gets.) Later, Delisle demonstrates the inanity of what passes for official news in Burma by including a reproduction of a paragraph from the state-run newspaper, which contains “nothing but a list of officials present at a given event.” When e-mails sent by MSF to the Paris home office keep bouncing back, Delisle solves the problem by driving to the government’s “internet fortress” and telling a technician, “Basically, I think your filter is screwed.” With characteristic brevity Delisle informs us that “Burma has two service providers. One belongs to a government minister, the other to his son.”

Intermingled with these and other commentaries on the authoritarian state are frequent, bemused depictions of local customs. On one of his strolls with his baby, Delisle, who suffers much in the heat, sees a cabinet in the street containing a pitcher of water and glasses for thirsty passers-by. “I could be dying of thirst,” he notes, “you still couldn’t pay me to take a sip.” He seems more amused, though, by the stains made by people spitting out betel juice in stairwells, the makeshift doorbells hanging down at street level from multi-story buildings and the way Burmese hook their umbrellas over the back of their shirt collars – all of which are wonderfully detailed in Delisle’s spare, grey-toned drawings.

In one hilarious episode, Delisle joins in the fun of the water festival, which marks the Buddhist new year. He is always good at pithy, informative explanations: “Traditionally, you wash away your misdeeds by letting others pour water over your back.” Whatever the religious function of the tradition, what actually ensues is a citywide water fight where participants employ pails of water, squirt guns and even fire hoses. Delisle’s drawings evoke the mayhem beautifully, and he tops off the sequence with a series of wordless panels that show him ducking out of the way and out of range until finally he surrenders to a dignified older woman carrying a bowl of water whom he could probably easily have escaped.

Delisle employs drawings-only sequences elsewhere, namely in three separate chapters where he and his wife set out to holiday in different parts of the region. (Don’t worry, the baby is at home safely with a caretaker.) These pages are minor masterpieces of the comics form. Delisle is able to convey sensations like heat and serenity without using a word. His landscapes of the Burmese countryside and his architectural renderings of pagodas and lake houses resting on stilts are always vivid without ever being fussy. On the most striking trip, to Bangkok, Delisle deftly paints a picture of an overwhelming, consumerist mega-city, which contrasts jarringly with the relatively quiet, if repressive, Burma we’ve come to know. At one point, a ride on the back of a Thai motorcycle taxi is rendered all the more harrowing by Delisle’s considerable animator’s understanding of depicting speed.

More trips ensue when Delisle – always chomping at the bit to get out of the house – finally attaches himself to a couple of his wife’s expeditions and accepts an invitation to visit humanitarian workers in a distant northern region. This is Delisle at his best. The long journeys give him a chance to complain – always humorously – about the long road or the bumpy aeroplane ride; the rural surroundings give him a chance to draw more gorgeous landscapes; and the troubled areas visited give him a chance to expound upon a few of Burma’s disturbing realities. In his trip to Myitkiyina, for instance, Delisle tells us about foreign-run (mostly Chinese) jade mines that pay their workers in heroin. He walks down the eerie, silents streets of one village where “at least 86 per cent of the people shoot up at least once a day.” Elsewhere, Delisle touches on Burma’s many other problems, including Aids and, too briefly, the Karen insurgency and refugee crisis on the Thai border.

Burma Chronicles is strangely short on fleshed-out Burmese characters. Though Delisle details numerous encounters with locals, one never gets the sense he knows any Burmese intimately. In one telling scene, Delisle finds himself with a crippled elderly woman who “talks to me about the past, her youth, Rangoon in its golden days.” But Delisle never tells us what she says. She seems critical of the regime and claims, “I can speak my mind,” but if she does, Delisle doesn’t give us a word of it.

There might be more to this than negligence on Delisle’s part. He puts together an informal class for local animators. At one point, a European journalist who Delisle showed around ends up writing an article critical of the Burmese regime. One of the would-be Burmese animators, who works in the government, is now suddenly afraid of losing his car and apartment and spending up to 10 years in jail for associating with Delisle. Our author is distraught: he might be indirectly responsible for getting someone into a mess of trouble. Perhaps it is no wonder that Delisle seldom identifies the Burmese he has met or relates any details the regime might use to identify them. He has tasted firsthand the bitter reality of the country’s dictatorship. Despite its hodgepodge of charms and its general good humour, Burma Chronicles leaves the same taste in the reader’s mouth.
 
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  BURMA, ACME 19, RED COLORED ELEGY and JAMILTI reviewed by Georgia Straight

Updated November 26, 2008


Seven graphic novels to draw you in
By Amanda Growe and John Lucas
October 16, 2008
GEORGIA STRAIGHT

Burma Chronicles
(By Guy Delisle. Drawn & Quarterly, 263 pp, $19.95)
Guy Delisle's books play to our fascination with unusual parts of the world. His latest, Burma Chronicles, comes after journeys to Pyongyang and Shenzhen (detailed in graphic novels named after these cities). Here, he and baby Louis follow his wife, Nadège, who works for Médecins Sans Frontières, to Burma. The art is playful and cartoony, lending humour to the numerous episodes that make up the book. While it captures aspects of life in Burma from the political to the pedestrian, at times reading the book feels like being subjected to someone's vacation photos in which they, rather than the place they visited, are the star.
> Amanda Growe

The ACME novelty library #19
(By Chris Ware. The Acme Novelty Library, 80 pp, $15.95)
The latest installment of Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library collects Rusty Brown strips first published in the Chicago Reader between 2002 and '04. Rusty himself doesn't appear, however, as this volume focuses on his father, William "Woody" Brown, and the girl who stomped on his heart-and indirectly launched his career as a science-fiction author-in strait-laced 1950s Omaha, Nebraska. As usual, Ware's drawing is deceptively simple yet painfully precise, which in this case underscores the horn-rimmed innocence of his socially stunted protagonist and the transgressive nature of his first sexual relationship. Lightening the tone just a shade, Ware's tributes to 1950s pulp-magazine covers are as fun as the strips' story line is emotionally devastating.
> JL

Red Colored Elegy
(By Seiichi Hayashi. Drawn & Quarterly, 235 pp, $24.95)
Though you never find out what's red in Red Colored Elegy, it's safe to assume the book is an elegy for main characters Sachiko and Ichiro's tortured relationship. It's the '70s, and the two are living together despite the fact that Sachiko's family wants her to have an arranged marriage. As they struggle to strike a balance between getting by and working at what they love, they alternate between affection and contempt. Their biggest conflict, however, is over whether they are a couple. While the story sometimes falters, the drawings-which often evoke the clean lines of Inuit art-make this translation of an influential comic from the '70s worth your while.
> AG

Jamilti and Other Stories
(By Rutu Modan. Drawn & Quarterly, 174 pp, $19.95)
This collection of early short works by Rutu Modan, creator of last year's acclaimed graphic novel Exit Wounds, showcases the Israeli artist's ability to tell a compelling story in just a few pages. It also chronicles the development of her drawing, from the muted tones and stylized figures of "The King of the Lillies" to the deceptively straightforward cartoon realism of "Your Number One Fan", for which Modan adopted the ligne claire style pioneered by The Adventures of Tintin's Hergé. Of the seven stories here, "Jamilti" is the most affecting. Through its depiction of a fleeting encounter between a Tel Aviv nurse and a Hamas suicide bomber, Modan reveals something about the absurdity of war and the power of human connection.
> JL
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BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The New Yorker

Updated November 26, 2008


BOOKS BRIEFLY NOTED
BURMA CHRONICLES
by Guy Delisle, translated from the French by Helge Dascher
NOVEMBER 3, 2008
THE NEW YORKER

“Burma Chronicles” (Drawn & Quarterly; $19.95); Delisle, Guy; Dascher, Helge (translated by); Burma; Graphic Memoirs; French; Animators
In previous graphic memoirs, Delisle, a Québécois animator, has documented in spare, whimsical black-and-white line drawings his visits to North Korea and China. Here, he turns his hand to another authoritarian Asian regime, Burma, where he spent a year after the 2004 tsunami with his wife and their infant son. Drawn with charming simplicity and brio, the book mixes traditional travelogue with glimmers of the unexpected, as when Delisle notes that in the local newspaper “some articles contain nothing but a list of officials present at a given event,” or discovers a lit light bulb placed in a drawer to keep paper dry during monsoon season. Delisle takes a whimsical approach but also logs political realities—the increasing difficulty of getting travel permits for humanitarian work, the abrupt banishment of foreign videos from stores.
 
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  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by ComicMix

Updated November 26, 2008



Review: 'Burma Chronicles' by Guy Delisle
A third trip to an oppressive Asian land by the author of Pyongyang
Burma Chronicles
By Guy Delisle
by Andrew Wheeler
Mon Oct 20, 2008
COMICMIX

Delisle has a quirky history for a newish graphic novelist: he’s in his early forties, a Canadian long resident in France who spent ten years working in animation (both in France and overseeing animation production various places in Asia) before quitting that to concentrate on his graphic novels. And his first two major books – Pyongyang and Shenzhen – were both the stories of long trips to those cities (the capital of North Korea and a booming city in southern China, respectively) during the course of his animation career.

I should point out here that the country calls itself Myanmar now – since a coup in 1989 – but that many governments, including both France and the USA, still call it Burma to show that they don’t accept the legitimacy of the current government to make that change. It’s not clear if Delisle intends his title to be a political statement, though he does explain the difference between the two names on the very first page of this book.

Burma Chronicles is the story of another long stay in an Asian country – another relatively oppressive dictatorship, at that – but it wasn’t for his work, this time. Delisle’s wife works as an administrator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, an international non-profit organization that brings doctors and health care to parts of the world desperately in need of it – and this trip was because her work took her there, for a posting of fourteen months.

So this time, Delisle is a hanger-on – more than that, he’s a house-husband and the stay-at-home dad of his infant son Louis. And thus Burma Chronicles has a different shape than the two previous books did – Pyongyang, in particular, was the story of Delisle trying to entertain himself in his off hours, alone for an extended period of time in a cold, foreign, dictatorial country far away from home. This time, not only is his wife with him, but he’s spending more of his time directly dealing with his own son. There are some sequences about work – Delisle was finishing up a children’s book and apparently working on one of the previous graphic novels during this trip – but more of Burma Chronicles has to do with his day-to-day life, and the small moments of life.

Burma Chronicles is organized into short stories, of usually one to five pages apiece, each with an understated title panel. Delisle mostly keeps to a six-panel grid, breaking that to spread across tiers (or, rarely, farther than that) or to have smaller panels to show quick or extended action. (And by “action,” I mean something like taking a plane to Bangkok – this is the story of a real person’s real life.)

Burma Chronicles gives a touching and deep view of Burma and its people, and a glancing look at its politics. (The government mostly comes up inasmuch as it keeps Delisle’s wife from doing what she came to Burma to do – they’re minutely controlling, paranoid and bizarrely whimsical.) Delisle clearly connected with the people of Burma more than he did with the people of Pyongyang or Shenzhen, and this is the best of his three travelogues because of that. His art is still quietly competent, unobtrusive and slightly cartoony in unexpected ways, but Burma Chronicles has more carefully crystallized moments than Shenzhen did, and even manages to outdo Pyongyang, which had the uniquely oddball land of North Korea to give it life and shape. Reading Burma Chronicles, you’ll slip into the rhythms and ways of a land very unlike your own, and you’ll be sorry to leave it when the book comes to an end.
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Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




BERLIN 2 and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The San Antonio Current

Updated November 26, 2008


THE ARTS > BOOK REVIEWS
Spiegelman, before and after the Holocaust
Framed (graphic novels and comix)
BY JOHN DEFORE
10/22/2008
SAN ANTONIO CURRENT
...

If Spiegelman has now said his goodbyes to Holocaust comix, others are still working in related fields: Berlin: City of Smoke is the second collection of Jason Lutes’ acclaimed comics tracing the path of Weimar Berlin toward catastrophe. Meanwhile, the inimitable Guy DeLisle continues globetrotting through the contemporary world’s politically itchy zones with Burma Chronicles, which finds our hero taking care of a newborn while his wife tries to get medical aid to those who need it in Myanmar. Both titles come from Drawn & Quarterly; if you can’t find them in bookstores yet, they’re available at drawnandquarterly.com.

 
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Jason Lutes
Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles
Berlin, Book Two: City of Smoke




  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Boston Bibliophile

Updated November 26, 2008


Graphic Novel Monday (Late!): Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle
Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2008
BOSTON BIBLIOPHILE

Burma Chronicles is an autobiographical account of the time French-Canadian cartoonist Guy DeLisle spent in that country in 2005 with his wife, an administrator in Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders). Previously, DeLisle published two graphic novels documenting his travels in Asia, Shenzhen (2000) and Pyongyang (2003).

This book is a somewhat lengthy collection of cartoons spanning their year in Burma, from the couple's departure to the isolated Asian country, till their departure from it.

In between, DeLisle covers a lot of ground. He talks about day to day life- shopping, taking care of his infant son while pursuing his comics career while his wife works- in country where censors cut articles out of newspapers before the public can read them and you can go to jail just for knowing the wrong people. Although DeLisle has the opportunity to witness many of the peculiarities of life in Burma, including the hard political and social realities he comes up against at every turn, I got the feeling that he only ever really skimmed the surface of Burmese life. As a foreigner, and an unemployed one at that, he saw a lot, certainly, but his life also came across to me as privileged and somewhat sheltered. Even the cover drawing- DeLisle walking by with his baby while Burmese people interact in the background- speaks to his status as an outsider. To his credit, he seems to be aware of his position and plays with it in self-deprecating, humorous ways.

For the most part, DeLisle's observations are succinct but emotionally neutral, almost reporterly in their preference of fact over emotion. Much of what he sees- and he witnesses tragedies and travesties and injustices- seems to leave him untouched. Strong emotions are centered around issues of creature comforts, like the misery of a long hot bus ride or the relief of a cool shower. The style of the artwork echoes this sense of detachment. Presented as line drawings in washed out black and white, his characters are simple and iconic. He is a distinct character himself, but his face is more a series of lines than a distinctly human visage. His Burmese characters are also more collections of features than individuals. DeLisle's background drawings are sometimes quite detailed and lovely, but the lack of color prevents the reader from experiencing the landscape as exotic or glamorous, and instead focuses the attention on the nitty-gritty of the Burmese people's difficult, impoverished lives. I wonder if this choice doesn't represent his politics showing through just a little. His writing is simple, clear and strong, but he tells stories just as well through silent panels too.

Burma Chronicles would be of interest in particular to people with an interest in southeast Asia, a part of the world that receives little attention in American popular culture. DeLisle includes quite a bit of material on political life in Burma/Myanmar insofar as its effect on everyday people- everything from government censorship to tacit complicity in growing heroin addiction and HIV epidemics. It's actually quite horrifying and DeLisle's matter-of-fact tone brings the horror home in a understated fashion. I would place DeLisle's work here alongside that of Joe Sacco and other journalistic comics artists- although it has its funny moments, Burma Chronicles is I think intended to be on the serious side. It's a good read if you're up to it.
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Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




JAMILTI, BURMA CHRONICLES and AYA 2 reviewed by The National Post

Updated November 26, 2008


Sharpening themes, gaining focus
Ian McGillis
Friday, October 3, 2008
Nationalpost.Com

Jamilti and Other Stories
By Rutu Modan

Aya of Yop City
By Marguerite Abouet
and Clement Oubrerie

Burma Chronicles
By Guy Delisle

Even at this advanced date, reviews of graphic literature are apt to slip into a faintly apologetic tone. Praise is common but often qualified, as if it's assumed that true literary depth comes in spite of the form instead of growing naturally from
it.

Well, can we all just get over that? No less a figure than Chip Kidd has observed that "graphic novels have taken over the conversation about American literature," and a similar trend is happening worldwide. The field, in which Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly is arguably among the world's top two or three publishers, is experiencing a renaissance that shows no sign of fading. Three of D&Q's new titles, coincidentally all drawing on international themes, can serve as perfect examples.

Held up by consensus as one of the peak achievements of the genre is the Israeli Rutu Modan's 2007 book Exit Wounds, a novel that - in its classically clean visual lines and sharp, unsentimental portrayal of young love amid political turmoil- feels like a dream fusion of Herge, Truffaut and Coetzee. Jamilti and Other Stories now gives fans a chance to see how Modan honed some of the elements that came to full fruition in Exit Wounds.

Often depicting how everyday life learns to accommodate random violence, these stories also trace Modan's arc from an artist prone to romanticizing others' pasts into a confident chronicler of her home country's present reality, with special emphasis on family and identity.

As Modan's themes sharpen and gain focus, so too does her visual style, to the point where the final piece, Your Number One Fan, leads seamlessly into the flawless economy of Exit Wounds.

Aya of Yop City continues the story begun in Marguerite Abouet's award- winning 2007 debut, Aya. Set in a working-class district of Cte d'Ivoire's former capital city, Abidjan, in the late 1970s, the books offer a time-capsule slice of life in a place that, at the time, was a shining example of indigenous post-colonial success.

In many ways, Abouet's deceptively complex interwoven narratives - of female bonding, awkward courtship, class tension, unwanted pregnancy - could be happening in any reasonably comfortable late-20th-century setting. But that, paradoxically, is the key to Abouet's power: She presents her stories with unassuming universality, letting the specific political dimensions work their way in from the margins by implication.

Aiding her immeasurably is the French artist Clement Oubrerie; theirs is the perfect complementary relationship, producing something greater than the sum of its considerable parts. Saturated with rich colour, Oubrerie's work is stylized enough to evoke West African folk art without losing the crucial element of realism that gives the reader a you-are-there sensation.

The Aya stories have attracted a strong following among African expatriates in France, as well as readers internationally, so it will be very interesting to see whether Abouet - and, one hopes, Oubrerie along with her - extends the chronology into Cote d'Ivoire's more recent history. The essential sweetness of the Aya books would presumably come under severe stress should harder times be depicted; how the authors respond to that challenge would surely make for a fascinating continuation of an already unique body of work.

Quebec comics artist and animator Guy Delisle made his first book-length impact in 2006 with Pyongyang, an autobiographical account of a surreal stay in North Korea. That book's strength was its ability to inspire amused sympathy for its feckless (and not always likeable) narrator while offering documentary-quality perspective on a mystique-shrouded hot spot. The author's follow-up, Shenzhen, employed a similar strategy, and now Delisle returns with Burma Chronicles.

This time the everyman is a house husband, largely confined to Rangoon while his wife does field work with Mdecins Sans Frontires. The necessity of caring for his preschool son, and the occasional forays afforded by his wife's job, give Delisle the opportunity to mix domestic minutiae with broader observations and reportage.

There's little narrative flow to this account, something emphasized by Delisle's style of inserting blocks of explanatory type at the top of his small black-and-white frames while employing minimal dialogue.

Nor is the incorporation of historical background always handled smoothly. Nonetheless, by the end, the reader has a real sense of the strangeness - sometimes sinister, sometimes comical, sometimes downright baffling - of life under an oppressive and secretive regime.

"In a country without journalists, gossip is king," observes our narrator.

Delisle provides his own kind of journalism, though, one that incorporates gossip and seemingly everything else an observant if often queasily disoriented visitor can glean.
 

Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




  WHAT IT IS, BURMA CHRONICLES, GENTLEMAN JIM and BERLIN 2 reviewed by Globe and Mail

Updated November 26, 2008



What It Is
by Barry, Lynda (May 2008 | Out of Stock)
978-1-897299-35-7 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $24.95

The Burma Chronicles
by Delisle, Guy
978-1-897299-50-0 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $19.95

Berlin
City Of Smoke, Book Two
by Lutes, Jason
978-1-897299-53-1 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Paperback | Price: $19.95

Gentleman Jim
by Briggs, Raymond (Jun 2008)
978-1-897299-36-4 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $14.95

Drawing from life
The Globe And Mail
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Page: D10
Section: Book Review
Byline: Nathalie Atkinson
Source: Martin Levin

The best books are often hard to classify. Lynda Barry's autobiographical, instructional and inspirational graphic novel What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 210 pages, $24.95) is one of these, because it's both an intensely personal memoir of Barry's creative life and a writing guide. Oh, and it's a DIY creative activity kit too. So where to shelve it? The newly minted graphica section? Art? Psychology? Activity books? Memoir? Although the most autobiographical of Barry's books, What It Is is also a creative text presented in a very original way, so it most naturally belongs next to Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.

Regardless of where it's shelved, What It Is is unique. It starts with Barry herself, whose creative life has stalled. Working through and diagnosing her malaise and writer's block, she becomes introspective. "The thing I call 'my mind' seems to be kind of like a landlord that doesn't really know its tenants, " she begins. Her path as an artist began in childhood and Barry establishes a connection between the importance of imaginative childhood play and art and creativity in adulthood; both, she argues, are essential to well-being.

Art and embellishment fill page after page of yellow legal paper, divided into three distinct sections identified by the colour of page borders. Over these 200 pages of dense, personal material, Barry examines the nature of imagination and memory, combines comics and collage and blurs the distinction between drawing and handwriting. It's much the same way someone might doodle while talking on the phone. Barry thinks most adults continue to do this long after they've given up on art, "because it helps us maintain a certain patient state of mind and there is a part of us which has never forgotten this ... a place where one line can still follow another without a plan."

Stamps and postmarks appear both as decoration and reminders of the passage of time when Barry considers memory and its use in creativity. Here, she poses many questions: "Is a dream autobiography or fiction?" "What makes us able to imagine something?" and the two supreme questions that haunt every artist, whatever the medium: Is this good? Does it suck?

The middle section, called Activity Book, is filled with the exercises Barry uses in her popular creativity workshops: helping others mine their creativity functions as an inspiration to her own. In the final section, Barry provides the essentials of a DIY writing kit, such as words to cut out and tips on materials (a three-ring binder and loose-leaf paper - all in Barry's unique baroque collage style.

Text and image interplay in many ways: Text lies inside an image (unlike a word balloon) and strips of found typography add texture. Ad slogans, sentence fragments, lists of names and random words become a sort of poetry, interspersed with product advertisements clipped from old newspapers and magazines and even glitter. Occasionally, Barry uses vintage primer page for practising children's letters as her sketch paper, superimposing her recurring menagerie of fish, squid, dogs and monkey sketches or cutout pictures of birds. All these images decorate Barry's text rather than merely illustrate it, like an illuminated manuscript. It's an extraordinary peek into the mind of the artist.




After visits to Pyongyang and Shenzhen, Guy Delisle shifts his autobiographical travelogue shtick with Burma Chronicles (Drawn & Quarterly, 264 pages, $19.95). By now a habitué of culture shock, Delisle is chocked by nothing. His talent is noticing the peculiar mundane details of whatever latest totalitarian milieu (this time Rangoon, thanks to his partner Nadège's year- long posting with Médecins sans Frontières).

This time, their toddler son Louis is in tow and Delisle is a househusband, which enables him to add a few new notes to his repertoire of Seinfeldian nothingness, as when he pushes Louis's stroller up to armed guards at a barricade ("a white-skinned baby is a big draw here") to get close to the world's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, a dissident under house arrest since 1988 and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Delisle's observations are at once banal and absurd: Currency is in denominations of 15, 45 and 90 kyats, a "nice way to drive people nuts or make them math wizards." At the supermarket, Nescafé's ubiquitous grinning cow is "the real face of globalization," and he points out the irony of a grocery store playing the songs of anorexic fatale Karen Carpenter in constant loop for ambience.

Nathalie Atkinson is a Toronto freelance journalist who very much wishes she could draw.

***

A cluster of comix

BERLIN
City of Smoke: Book Two
By Jason Lutes, Drawn & Quarterly, 210 pages, $19.95
This long-anticipated sequel to Berlin: City of Stone (2001) recreates the Volatile Weimar Berlin of 1929, a world of Nazis and communists, Jews and gentiles. Lutes handles the sense of menace with delicacy and force.

GENTLEMAN JIM
By Raymond Briggs, Drawn & Quarterly, 32 pages, $14.95
A welcome reissue of a 1980 work by the wonderful author of Ethel & Ernest marks the first appearance of the Bloggs family, stand-ins for Briggs's own parents. Cartoonist Seth adds an illuminating introduction.

Martin Levin

© 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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Guy Delisle
Lynda Barry
Raymond Briggs

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What It Is
Gentleman Jim
Burma Chronicles




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by the Savage Critic

Updated November 6, 2008


Burma Chronicles
Brian Hibbs
THE SAVAGE CRITIC
Wednesday, October 01, 2008

BURMA CHRONICLES HC: This is Guy Delisle's third "travelogue" book (the previous two are PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA and SHENZHEN: A TRAVELOGUE FROM CHINA). I quite liked the first, but thought the second was kind of flat. Maybe because North Korea is more mysterious than China? Maybe because there's more dramatic tension (such as one can get in an autobiographical comic!) in the repressive dictatorship than the less-repressive China? Maybe more interesting incidents happened in the first than the second?

Hard to say, but BURMA CHRONICLES, Delisle has a big return to form, with my enjoying this even more than I liked PYONGYANG.

This time through, incidents are often more fragmented from one another, and with a significant portion of the book being one-page relations, Delisle perhaps acts more like a cartoonist, and tries to find a punchline in each vignette.

Delisle's cartooning is deceptively simple, but there's a few places where his mastery of craft is really clear -- especially in comparison to some of the "bad panels" he shows (from lack of proper ink to draw with, or tendinitis at one point)

What I like best about these books is they both teach me something new, as well as being entertaining in their own right. Delisle comes off as an extremely entertaining person who'd you'd love to be seated next to at a dinner party while he regales you with stories of his trips. This is EXCELLENT stuff, and I highly recommend it.
 
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  JAMILTI, BURMA CHRONICLES and AYA reviewed by The Onion AV

Updated October 10, 2008


Reviewed by Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Tasha Robinson
THE ONION AV
September 29th, 2008

Rutu Modan's acclaimed graphic novel Exit Wounds offered a fine introduction to her spare style and clear-eyed representation of life, love, and armed conflict in modern Israel, though the story itself played out a little flatly—like a dry, well-meaning indie film. The pre-Exit Wounds collection Jamilti And Other Stories (D&Q) gives a fuller representation of Modan's talent, jumping from true-crime stories to subtle slices of life, with varying art styles and structural approaches. The book's best story is "Bygone," a tale of insurance fraud and non-traditional families that builds to a touching surprise ending, but really, all seven stories in Jamilti deal smartly and unconventionally with the idea of fluid family relationships and how they influence individual identity. Exit Wounds may have been overpraised, but Modan is still clearly one of the most promising creators working in comics today…A-

After the immersive "on assignment in a repressive country" stories of the superb Pyongyang and Shenzhen, animator/cartoonist Guy Delisle takes it relatively easy in The Burma Chronicles (D&Q). Delisle accompanied his wife—a Doctors Without Borders administrator—on her 14-month posting in The Union Of Myanmar, but since he wasn't working there in any official capacity, he doesn't have as many anecdotes this time out about dealing with the government via terrified low-level bureaucrats. Instead, he spends most of his days taking care of his infant son and taking note of the petty problems of authoritarian states: Internet filters, censored news reports, power shortages, and the like. At 262 pages, The Burma Chronicles is a little too exhaustive, but the accumulation of detail about supermarkets, bookstores, and local festivals goes a long way toward humanizing a country that barely gets mentioned on the evening news unless something awful is happening there…B+

In Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie's debut graphic novel Aya, Abouet introduced an eclectic cast of middle-class and scrambling-to-get-by characters living in the Ivory Coast in the late '70s. Aya Of Yop City (D&Q) picks up where the first book left off, with the teenage title character serving as the calm center of a whirlwind of extramarital affairs, babies born out of wedlock, and her best friend's romance with a rich kid. As with the first book, Yop City suffers some for being so episodic, without a clear beginning or end, but Oubrerie's art retains its delightful mix of cartoony simplicity and vivid detail, and Abouet continues to write these characters as though she just talked to them yesterday. The Aya-verse is getting richer, and more complex… B+
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Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

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Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Newsarama

Updated October 10, 2008


Burma Chronicles
Written & Illustrated by Guy DeLisle
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah
NEWSARAMA
2008-09-22

After his previous books took readers to Pyongyang and Shenzen, (former animator and) cartoonist Guy DeLisle travels with his wife, who works for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), to the politically controversial country Burma, also known as Myanmar. Though it doesn’t delve quite so deeply into the political situation as Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles mixes in political observations among anecdotes about child raising, sickness in countries with less-than-adequate healthcare, and DeLisle’s self-effacing humor. The effect is an engaging and funny register of life in a hot potato part of the world.

The political reality of Burma/Myanmar is unavoidable, and DeLisle certainly gives it plenty of page time: DeLisle frequently ponders the life and circumstances of the region’s most famous political “prisoner of conscience,” 1991 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi; copes with the complicated restrictions put on MSF and other charitable health organization in the country; and often discusses his dealings with security officials and citizens of Rangoon. It’s all done with a sense of humor, however, which may make the book less dreary for some readers, or less relevant for others. DeLisle’s not making any grand statements, however. For better or worse, Burma Chronicles is a document of a father and teacher living in an unusual land. When students in his impromptu animation class fear that their participation marks them for government rebuke, DeLisle works the scene mostly as comedic flight to obtain all the copies of a critical article that he’d given out to several colleagues and friends.

For every comment on life in Burma, DeLisle also talks about time spent with the other international parents, getting invited to join the fancy Australian Club, and the perils of unkempt Burmese airlines. The jokes are mostly funny, frequently driven by the irony of trying to accomplish deeds in a society that seems geared to preventing such successes. The cartooning is loose and lively, the characters distinct, and the storytelling clear. DeLisle’s easily able to capture the frustration, anger, humility or indifference of his characters with just a few simple lines, and his backgrounds are loose enough to fill in the setting without distracting from the joke at hand.

I’m not sure which political hotbed DeLisle intends to visit next, but if such locations continue to inspire entertaining and enlightening travelogues, many readers will be looking forward to his next venture. Burma Chronicles may not push the political as hard as many readers will want, but it does find a cartoonist at the top of his game as a humorist and observer of the human condition.
 
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Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles




  JAMILTI, AYA OF YOP CITY and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Gazette

Updated September 24, 2008


Graphic novels with drive
Local publisher brings us tales from around the world
Jamilti, Aya of Yop City and Burma
Ian McGillis
Friday, September 19
THE GAZETTE

Even at this advanced date, reviews of graphic literature are apt to slip into a faintly apologetic tone. Praise is common but often qualified, as if it's assumed that true literary depth comes in spite of the form instead of growing naturally from it.

Well, can we all just get over that? No less a figure than Chip Kidd has observed that graphic novels have taken over the conversation about American literature," and a similar trend is happening worldwide. The field, in which Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly is arguably among the world's top two or three publishers, is experiencing a renaissance that shows no sign of fading. Three of D&Q's new titles, coincidentally all drawing on international themes, can serve as perfect examples.

Held up by consensus as one of the peak achievements of the genre is the Israeli Rutu Modan's 2007 book Exit Wounds, a novel that - in its classically clean visual lines and sharp, unsentimental portrayal of young love amid political turmoil - feels like a dream fusion of Hergé, Truffaut and Coetzee. Jamilti and Other Stories now gives fans a chance to see how Modan honed some of the elements that came to full fruition in Exit Wounds.

Often depicting how everyday life learns to accommodate random violence, these stories also trace Modan's arc from an artist prone to romanticizing others' pasts into a confident chronicler of her home country's present reality, with special emphasis on family and identity.

As Modan's themes sharpen and gain focus, so too does her visual style, to the point where the final piece, Your Number One Fan, leads seamlessly into the flawless economy of Exit Wounds.

Aya of Yop City continues the story begun in Marguerite Abouet's award-winning 2007 debut, Aya. Set in a working-class district of Côte d'Ivoire's former capital city, Abidjan, in the late 1970s, the books offer a time-capsule slice of life in a place that, at the time, was a shining example of indigenous post-colonial success.

In many ways, Abouet's deceptively complex interwoven narratives - of female bonding, awkward courtship, class tension, unwanted pregnancy - could be happening in any reasonablycomfortable late-20th-century setting. But that, paradoxically, is the key to Abouet's power: She presents her stories with unassuming universality, letting the specific political dimensions work their way in from the margins by implication.

Aiding her immeasurably is the French artist Clément Oubrerie; theirs is the perfect complementary relationship, producing something greater than the sum of its considerable parts. Saturated with rich colour, Oubrerie's work is stylized enough to evoke West African folk art without losing the crucial element of realism that gives the reader a you-are-there sensation.

The Aya stories have attracted a strong following among African expatriates in France, as well as readers internationally, so it will be very interesting to see whether Abouet - and, one hopes, Oubrerie along with her - extends the chronology into Côte d'Ivoire's more recent history. The essential sweetness of the Aya books would presumably come under severe stress should harder times be depicted; how the authors respond to that challenge would surely make for a fascinating continuation of an already unique body of work.

Quebec comics artist and animator Guy Delisle made his first book-length impact in 2006 with Pyongyang, an autobiographical account of a surreal stay in North Korea. That book's strength was its ability to inspire amused sympathy for its feckless (and not always likeable) narrator while offering documentary-quality perspective on a mystique-shrouded hot spot. The author's follow-up, Shenzhen, employed a similar strategy, and now Delisle returns with Burma Chronicles.

This time the everyman is a househusband, largely confined to Rangoon while his wife does field work with Médecins Sans Frontières. The necessity of caring for his preschool son, and the occasional forays afforded by his wife's job, give Delisle the opportunity to mix domestic minutiae with broader observations and reportage.

There's little narrative flow to this account, something emphasized by Delisle's style f inserting blocks of explanatory type at the top of his small black-and-white frames while employing minimal dialogue. Nor is the incorporation of historical background always handled smoothly. Nonetheless, by the end, the reader has a real sense of the strangeness - sometimes sinister, sometimes comical, sometimes downright baffling - of life under an oppressive and secretive regime.

"In a country without journalists, gossip is king," observes our narrator. Delisle provides his own kind of journalism, though, one that incorporates gossip and seemingly everything else an observant if often queasily disoriented visitor can glean.
click here to read more


Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Rutu Modan
Abouet & Oubrerie

           Featured products

Aya of Yop City
Burma Chronicles
Jamilti and Other Stories




BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by the Charleston City Paper

Updated September 24, 2008


Charleston City Paper
BOOK REVIEW | The Burma Chronicles
Lost in Translation: Guy Delisle's new graphic memoir recalls heat and oppression in Rangoon
BY ERIC LIEBETRAU
SEPTEMBER 24, 2008


A few weeks ago, I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker by George Packer (The Assassins' Gate), in which he revealed the near-incomprehensible government corruption that plagues the country of Burma (or Myanmar, as it's called by the United Nations since the "official" name change in 1989).

"When I asked a Burmese journalist to describe the regime's philosophy," Packer writes, "he suggested the word sit-padaytharit, or 'military feudalism.' The generals regard the population as unruly children incapable of taking responsibility for themselves; they believe that they alone can prevent Burma from dissolving."

The Burma Chronicles, Guy Delisle's latest work of graphic memoir/reportage, doesn't necessarily paint a rosier picture, but it does offer punctuated moments of hope and a neat delineation of life in the third-world country.

In 2005-2006, Delisle moved to the oppressed nation with his wife, an administrator for Doctors Without Borders. As she traveled to various rural outposts, the author stayed home with their toddler, Louis, chronicling life in Rangoon.

Like he did in Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China, Delisle eagerly explored his surroundings, attempting to experience as much native culture and tradition as possible. He learned early on that the censorship and secrecy of the military regime would make things exceedingly difficult.

"In Myanmar, all magazines go through the censorship bureau," he writes. "Articles that are unflattering to the country are systematically removed."

Left with only mangled magazines and very few books, Delisle ventured into the neighborhood, taking Louis to play groups and mingling with locals to grasp the local customs.

One of Burma's oldest traditions is Buddhism. As Delisle casually explains many of its central tenets — including alms-giving, karma, and merits — he wryly notes the sanctimonious practice of many of the country's leaders.

"Merits can be obtained in any number of ways: by making temple offerings, helping to maintain a pagoda or, better yet, building one. As did Win, the first in a long line of generals who have ruled the country with an iron fist since 1962. After spending one whole lifetime oppressing a nation, he wanted to avoid coming back as a rat or a frog in the next."

I found these moments of understated humor to be welcome respites from Delisle's constant struggles with the suffocating heat, rampant power outages, health threats, unreliable transportation, and confounding government bureaucracy.

It was his new role as father, though, that seemed to pose the biggest challenge.

"Louis' latest game involves letting small objects fall into hard-to-reach places. And then crying for them," he writes. "And the harder it is for me to get at the object, the more he laughs."

Louis is probably the most charming character in the narrative — his bulbous head and clueless innocence remind me of Ike, Kyle's little brother on South Park — and he proves especially useful to the author when they are invited to join the Australian club, which features a pool and other rare amenities.

Delisle's drawings are rendered in clean, spare lines, and the wordless vignettes are well-placed throughout the story. The material is often depressing — aside from the repressive regime, Burma is also plagued with widespread prostitution and heroin abuse — but the author's tangential, Everyman approach deflects some of the impact of the harsh reality.

The author also takes a few appropriate shots at failed American foreign policy in Burma.

"There's still an embassy, but no ambassador," he writes. "The U.S. is now represented by an attaché. The building, situated downtown, has turned into a bunker since September 11. The street is blocked to traffic and cameras are prohibited.

"Strangely enough, they've begun building a new embassy on the south side of the lake. And not a little one — we're talking $50 million. It's one of the mysteries of American diplomacy: Why build a gigantic embassy in a country you don't recognize and that you've put under embargo?"

In the end, Delisle finds plenty of common humanity, and his three-day stint in a Buddhist monastery is an appropriately humbling experience.

"After 42 hours of meditation in three days, I feel more peaceful than ever before, but also very alert," he writes. "How long can this state of grace last? It could be a hard landing."

The Burmese will continue to face countless hard landings in the years to come. Hopefully, Burma Chronicles will open a few eyes to a government's reprehensible behavior.
 
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  BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Newsarama

Updated September 24, 2008


Burma Chronicles
by Guy DeLisle
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah
2008-09-22
NEWSARAMA

After his previous books took readers to Pyongyang and Shenzen, (former animator and) cartoonist Guy DeLisle travels with his wife, who works for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), to the politically controversial country Burma, also known as Myanmar. Though it doesn’t delve quite so deeply into the political situation as Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles mixes in political observations among anecdotes about child raising, sickness in countries with less-than-adequate healthcare, and DeLisle’s self-effacing humor. The effect is an engaging and funny register of life in a hot potato part of the world.

The political reality of Burma/Myanmar is unavoidable, and DeLisle certainly gives it plenty of page time: DeLisle frequently ponders the life and circumstances of the region’s most famous political “prisoner of conscience,” 1991 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi; copes with the complicated restrictions put on MSF and other charitable health organization in the country; and often discusses his dealings with security officials and citizens of Rangoon. It’s all done with a sense of humor, however, which may make the book less dreary for some readers, or less relevant for others. DeLisle’s not making any grand statements, however. For better or worse, Burma Chronicles is a document of a father and teacher living in an unusual land. When students in his impromptu animation class fear that their participation marks them for government rebuke, DeLisle works the scene mostly as comedic flight to obtain all the copies of a critical article that he’d given out to several colleagues and friends.

For every comment on life in Burma, DeLisle also talks about time spent with the other international parents, getting invited to join the fancy Australian Club, and the perils of unkempt Burmese airlines. The jokes are mostly funny, frequently driven by the irony of trying to accomplish deeds in a society that seems geared to preventing such successes. The cartooning is loose and lively, the characters distinct, and the storytelling clear. DeLisle’s easily able to capture the frustration, anger, humility or indifference of his characters with just a few simple lines, and his backgrounds are loose enough to fill in the setting without distracting from the joke at hand.

I’m not sure which political hotbed DeLisle intends to visit next, but if such locations continue to inspire entertaining and enlightening travelogues, many readers will be looking forward to his next venture. Burma Chronicles may not push the political as hard as many readers will want, but it does find a cartoonist at the top of his game as a humorist and observer of the human condition.
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BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Daily Cross Hatch

Updated September 2, 2008


Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle
Brian Heater
DAILY CROSS HATCH
August 20, 2008

If there’s a major complaint to be levied against Guy Delisle’s new book, it’s a simple matter of unfortunate timing. When the Myanmar’s government was reluctantly thrust into the world’s spotlight by outrightly refusing aid following the devastating effects of Cyclone Nargis, many US residents were sadly left to our own devices, cobbling together what small scraps of information about the region that had been gleaned from latter day episodes of Seinfeld and strangely-named Boston post-punk bands.

It would have, perhaps, given a few of our more comics-savvy residents a bit of relief in the face of their own geographical ignorance to know that, in a matter of months, Drawn & Quarterly would deliver a book by Delisle that does for the region what Pyongyang and Shenzhen had done for their respective cities.

Burma Chronicles is, in many ways, the logical successor to those volumes, detailing Delisle’s life under yet another politically oppressive regime. Things are, however, a touch different from the outset. Where both Pyongyang and Shenzhen found the artist traveling alone as part of his life as a supervisor of animation, this time out it’s his wife, an employee of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), whose career prompted the move with their infant son Louise in tow.

The shift in motivation affects Delisle’s storytelling in a couple of key ways. The work feels a bit more fragmented, particularly when contrasted with Pyongyang. The artist’s motivation feels decidedly less linear, this time out. Rather than maintaining a focus on his own livelihood, his day-to-day interactions largely revolve around the care of Louise, a cyclical existence that results in a more episodic breakdown of the author’s narrative. By the same token, his wife’s career affords him the opportunity to explore key subjects that generally play a minimal role in the existence of a studio animator, occasionally following the group around as they make calls to Myanmar’s most rural and impoverished regions.

As always, Delisle is unafraid to tackle the most grave aspects of the region he’s exploring, producing a book as unflinchingly informative as that associated with Satrapi or Sacco, but like the artist’s other work, Burma is steeped in a far more comic tradition, always seeking humorous moments in even the most unfortunate surroundings, a manner reflective in the artist’s characteristically cartoony shaky-handed line-style, which, rendered in black and white, might fit comfortably on the pages of a New Yorker issue.

Delisle’s humor, however, is seemingly careful not to make light of the issues themselves, but rather the business-as-usual routines of those who have ably survived in them (and his own occasionally thwarted attempts to do so). It’s these snapshots of everyday existence—a supermarket playing the same Karen Carpenter song on repeat or Delisle running around feverishly, apparently the only one concerned by his seemingly inevitable death by avian flu—that add up to a complete picture of what it’s like to be a stranger in such a strange land.

The artist’s focus on humor also makes Burma, like its predecessors, an incredibly readable book. Due in part to Delisle’s own situation at the writing of the travelogue, Burma sometimes falls short of the powerful moments induced by the work-a-day life of Pyongyang and Shenzhen, but it’s still another fantastic testament to the medium’s incredible power to simultaneously inform and entertain.
 
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  BERLIN: CITY OF SMOKE and BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by The Christian Science Monitor

Updated June 27, 2008


GRAPHIC NOVELS, ALL GROWN UP
Art form's influence rises, and broadens. A look at three of the genre's stars.
By Matthew Shaer
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
June 27, 2008

NEW YORK - In 1969, the American writer John Updike famously declared, "I see no intrinsic reason why a doubly talented artist might not arise and create a comic strip novel masterpiece."

The statement was immediately ridiculed by literary traditionalists, who disparaged comics as a "low" medium unworthy of serious critical attention. But it became a rallying cry among comic book creators, long second-class citizens in the art world.

Forty years has proved their prescience. Graphic novels – usually defined as extended-length illustrated books with mature literary themes – have risen to widespread prominence, spurred on by the work of respected talents such as Art Spiegelman ("Maus: A Survivor's Tale") and Will Eisner ("A Contract With God").

Graphic novel sales in Canada and the United States hit $375 million in 2007, five times the figure reported in 2001, according to ICv2, a pop culture site. "Jimmy Corrigan," a book by Chris Ware, has sold hundreds of thousands of copies alone; "Persepolis," originally a graphic novel by Marjane Sartrapi, picked up an Oscar for best animated film in February.

A happy problem, then: How to pick and choose among the annual flood of titles? There's no easy rubric – this year alone has seen the rise of several young talents, each with a distinctive literary and artistic style. But a reader interested in immersing in the genre could not go wrong with any of these three books, which span the globe, from World War II-era Germany, to the closed-doors of Burmese society to quotidian existence in an alternate-universe America.

Dash Shaw – 'Bottomless Belly Button'

Writing a book can be a lonely affair. One man, one idea, and days upon days penned up in a home office, hacking over words and phrases. For the graphic novelist, things are more complex still: the book must simultaneously come alive in two dimensions. The art has to breathe, and so does the dialogue, and then the two have to complement each other, each panel building off the last.

Such was the task of 20-something artist Dash Shaw, who began penning "Bottomless Belly Button" a few years ago in Virginia, where he was attending the School of Visual Arts. He finished some 700 pages later, the proud author of a kaleidoscopic chronicle of the Loony family, population five. Most of the writing he did in his room, behind closed doors, letting his imagination spill messily onto the page.

"I wanted to do a story that was about characters," Mr. Shaw says, over lunch in New York, where he now lives. "With family stories, you don't have a lot to establish, in terms of background. These are people forced into a situation – forced into one space."

At the heart of "Bottomless Belly Button" is an internecine war among the Loonys – between the parents, who are divorcing after years of marriage; between the children; and between the family and the changing world outside.

But Shaw has a deft touch, and the stories in the book move faster than the bulk of the book suggests: Panels are sparely drawn, often with little movement from one to the next.

"The story itself is small," Shaw says. "I've done short stories where a lot more happens than it does here. It's about sequence."

It's also about rhythm. Like the very best illustrated fiction, Shaw's work moves between pathos and humor, between the fantastic and the familiar. "I would like the book to feel like it's a place I've traveled to – like a great movie I've watched," he says. "I was surrounded by these people for a long time."

Jason Lutes – 'Berlin: City of Smoke'

A few years ago, Jason Lutes was killing time, idly flipping through a stack of glossy magazines, when the page fell open to an advertisement for a book called "Bertolt Brecht's Berlin." Mr. Lutes was no great expert on European history or Bertolt Brecht, the famous German playwright and poet.

He was a writer of graphic fiction, and an artist, one immersed in a reverie of what he calls "my own personal feelings and thoughts." In 1996, Lutes had published the well-received "Jar of Fools," a veiled autobiography; he'd also spent some time as the art director at the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger.

But something about this advertisement – archaic and offbeat – appealed to Lutes, who was then casting about for a new project. "The basic impulse," he says, "was to try to come to grips with the outside world, and one way to do that was to pick a foreign culture and immerse myself in this completely other place. To use comics as a time machine."

The result is "Berlin," a sprawling, three-book trilogy based in pre-World War II Germany. Lutes, who teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., has worked through the trilogy slowly: "Berlin: City of Stones," was released in 2000, and "Berlin: City of Smoke" will be released by Drawn and Quarterly in August. Lutes estimates that the third installment could be finished in 2012.

"It's a laborious process," Lutes says. "The art doesn't come easily to me. I have to work at it."

And yet the art in "Berlin" is stunningly intricate: a mass of panels describing the sprawling cityscape and the myriad political factions within, all struggling for power in the vacuum left by the close of World War I. Lutes's two main characters are Kurt, a journalist, and Marthe, an art student; the action of the plot hinges mostly on their interactions. Occasionally, though, Lutes pulls the lens back, soaring over the crowded squares, and the rail yards, and the tenements stacked full of disgruntled workers.

"With comics, because it's drawn by hand, because it's so up-front, there's a personal touch on every element," Lutes says. "If you do it right, there's an intimacy there – a coherent landscape for the reader to enter into."

GUY DELISLE – 'THE BURMESE CHRONICLES'

Marriage to a Médecins Sans Frontières administrator is often a drag: the constant travel, the blizzard of foreign languages, the uncomfortable guesthouse beds. But for Guy DeLisle, a French Canadian animator and writer, his years of transience quickly translated, he laughs, into a source of "artistic inspiration."

Mr. DeLisle, who is currently based in the south of France – although he will soon decamp to Jerusalem – has joined his wife on a score of trips, from Ethiopia to Vietnam, and has journeyed on his own to Pyongyang, North Korea, and Shenzhen, a sprawling factory city in southern China.

In 2000, he began collecting the experiences in graphic form, weaving spare illustrations and a wry inner monologue into dynamic portraiture.

"Shenzhen" was released in 2000 in Canada – and in 2006 in the US – to largely enthusiastic reviews. DeLisle's third book, entitled "Pyongyang," was published in English three years ago; it was driven by its humorous take on North Korean culture.

"It's my natural way of telling a story," DeLisle says. "With these books, and with my letters home to my friends and family, I always used humor. I like to keep the audience awake."

DeLisle's latest book, "The Burmese Chronicles," was written after a 2005 trip to Rangoon, a city dominated by Burma's military junta.

Like "Pyongyang," much of "Chronicles" is related to culture shock: the strange grocery stores, the expat culture, the local traditions, the stifling heat and the thick rains of the monsoon season. But DeLisle also has a keen eye for cultural perspective and returns repeatedly to the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, the former Burmese leader currently under detention in Rangoon.

"I tend to describe the routine aspects of my life and mix it with historical events," DeLisle says. "I might talk about taking a walk with my son, but I'm also going to talk about the political situation. I didn't think I'd write about Burma, to be honest," he adds. "And then you start collecting notes, and the inspiration starts kicking in, and pretty soon, you have enough for a book."

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GUY DELISLE interviewed by Sook-Yin Lee on CBC's Definitely Not the Opera

Updated June 11, 2008


DEFINITELY NOT THE OPERA
CBC Radio
Can't someone else do it? The outsourcing episode
05/17/08

We're looking at the PERSONAL side of outsourcing. A.J.Jacobs outsourced his entire life, from arguing with his wife to reading stories to his kids. Comedian/mom Deb Williams finds out just how much of her motherly duties can be contracted out; animator and cartoonist Guy Delisle supervised outsourced animation teams in Asia; Alix Sobler reminisces about her childhood outsourcing: babysitting; Clare Lawlor hires someone to work on her love life; and Sook-Yin outsources some of her own work.
 
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  ALBERT AND THE OTHERS reviewed by Campus Circle

Updated May 8, 2008


Albert and the Others
By Mike Sebastian
CAMPUS CIRCLE
May 2, 2008

The silent panels unfolding like a flipbook, Guy Delisle’s book captures the heartache and absurdity of relationships, loneliness and the hang-ups that get in the way of happiness.
Originally published in France, Albert’s appeal is universal, which is underscored by the visually inventive ways in which Deslisle communicates his ideas. At times obscene, at times heart wrenching, Albert skewers our superficiality and inability to conquer our own petty preoccupations in relating to others.

It’s a slim work, which can be read in one sitting, but it’s the kind of insightful, poignant book that you can pick up again and again.
Grade: A
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SHENZHEN reviewed on Boing Boing!

Updated April 24, 2008


Shenzhen travelogue graphic novel
POSTED BY CORY DOCTOROW
BOING BOING
APRIL 16, 2008

Animator and comics artist Guy Delisle's travelogue Shenzhen is a fascinating, meandering look at one of China's most storied new cities: Shenzhen, the enormous, lightspeed boom-town factory megalopolis just the other side of Hong Kong. Delisle was stationed there as a supervisor for some animation that had been outsourced to China, and he dwelt there in an introspective solitude, drawing and writing about the city as he inhabited his own mind.
I'm endlessly fascinated by these Chinese new cities (I'm working on a novel that's partly set in them), where buildings can grow by a storey a day, where people flock from the countryside to do information-age labor at pre-industrial wages, where commerce and control wage an endless war for dominance in the most populous nation on Earth.

Shenzhen is a really lovely, idiosyncratic, first hand warts-and-all account of the city as seen through the eyes of foreigner. The good, bad and ugly are here, built around Delisle's running account of the daring food adventures he takes himself on
 
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  PETITS LIVRES series spotlighted by The Hour

Updated January 10, 2008


January 3rd, 2008
Hit List
Isa Tousignant
THE HOUR

Resolve to appreciate good things in small packages, like a smaller house, a smaller car, smaller meals and the latest in Drawn & Quarterly's Petits Livres series, three gorgeous little comics by, respectively, nouveau surrealist C. Von Szombathy, dreamy illustrator Julie Morstad and wordlessly witty comic stripper Guy Delisle. Swing by the D+Q store (211 Bernard W.) and see - you'll want them all.
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Chris von Szombathy

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Fire Away




PYONGYANG reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated August 15, 2007


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/11/07
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. By Guy Delisle. Drawn and Quarterly Books, $14.95. Teens and older.

French Canadian Guy Delisle's comic book memoir of his foray into North Korea's "phantom city" capital doesn't pretend to be more than a fish-out-of-water story, limited in scope because foreigners are severely restricted in movement. Delisle spent two months in Pyongyang supervising a team of animators for a French cartoon. (Because famine killed thousands of North Koreans in the 1990s, the regime cracked its doors an inch for foreign investors, though Americans are still said to be banned.)

This isn't the most comprehensive or best-researched book about the mysterious Hermit Kingdom, but it's probably the only one that will make you chuckle. And the one you're likeliest to want to reread.

That's not to say there's no depth to the narrative. Delisle balances ruminations on the world's last Stalinist regime —- many tied to his smuggled-in copy of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" —- with wry one-liners about life in Pyongyang's desolate, sterile streets.

But Delisle knows when to step back and let the pictures speak for themselves. His simple pencil drawings deftly capture scenes that will make Western jaws drop for their absurdity. From the enormous red slogan engraved in a mountainside to the towering statue of Kim Il-Sung, who remains president despite his death in 1994, these images will stick with you.

Although "Pyongyang" hardly scratches the surface of what it means to be North Korean, it's surprisingly instructive. Meant to be shelved alongside Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" books and Joe Sacco's Balkan war series, this memoir's insight could have come only from an outsider.

—- Megha Rajagopalan, mrajagopalan@ajc.com
 
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  The X-Axis reviews PYONGYANG

Updated June 4, 2007


The X-Axis, 3 June 2007

PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA

Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea has been out for a few years, but they've just done another printing in the UK, which is good enough for me.

Delisle is an animator from Quebec. Thanks to the miracle of outsourcing, he spent several months in Pyongyang, supervising the production of a French kids' cartoon which had been contracted out to the plucky, and extremely inexpensive, North Koreans. Not strictly a graphic novel - is the term really apt to cover non-fiction? - Pyongyang is a memoir of the time he spent there.

Roughly 23 million people live in North Korea, and they aren't having much fun. The country is one of the most bizarre and disturbing places on the planet, simply in terms of the extent to which human society has been distorted there. Much of what goes on in North Korea is mysterious, since the government has done a very good job of keeping the outside world at bay.

The country isn't completely closed. Economic necessity means that trade delegations, aid workers, and people like Delisle are allowed into the country. However, as far as humanly possible, they are kept separated from the public. Wandering the streets without a guide is strongly discouraged. Interacting with the North Koreans, outside the scope of work, is virtually impossible. And those North Koreans who will speak to you will stick, unfailingly, to the party line. They love North Korea. They love Kim Il-Sung.

Pyongyang doesn't really have a plot, as such, but it's a compelling and witty examination of a truly weird place. Even the Soviet Union at its worst had an underground culture, but there seems to be no evidence of that in North Korea. Art and entertainment have been effectively eradicated and replaced with bizarre tributes to Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung. All the music on the radio is about the great leaders. All the films are about the revolutionary struggle. There is simply nothing else.

Delisle compellingly and wittily explores how this bizarre place works. One obvious question is, can the North Koreans truly believe everything they say? Even Delisle isn't sure, but he lays out the evidence for you. Plainly, unless they're utterly delusional, the population can't believe all of the nonsense they're told about the prosperity of their great country. But they do seem to buy into the cult of personality. Then again, perhaps that's how the North Koreans in question got the job of meeting foreigners. Who can tell?

The country is truly Orwellian. Not only is it a totalitarian dictatorship, but the government is clearly engaged in a massive, Newspeak-style project to narrow horizons and to exclude alternatives from the intellectual vocabulary. One possibility is that the North Koreans may well not recognise the full scale of their country's deceit; their frame of reference has been distorted too badly. The other possibility is that they know full well, but are living in fear. Or perhaps it's a bit of both; North Koreans certainly know what awaits them if they step out of line.

This ought to be utterly depressing subject matter, but it's captivating in its strangeness. And Delisle finds plenty of black comedy in the sheer baffling ineptitude of North Korea. The government may be great at propaganda for the domestic audience, but it squanders its assets on demented vanity projects, and seems to delusionally believe that it might somehow manage to convince visitors of the glory of the North Korean way. Delisle explains, in beautiful detail, the absurdities of the luxury hotels for foreigners, built on a massive scale and yet operated by people who have absolutely no idea what luxury actually involves.

He also refuses to play ball from time to time when called upon to voice his support for the regime - and gets away with it. It seems that the North Koreans know better than to punish that sort of infraction from foreign visitors - especially because they're being kept quarantined from all but the specially trained.

This is a truly excellent book, which succeeds admirably in bringing North Korea to life - such as it is, in that country.

Rating: A+
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Comix Experience reviews PYONGYANG

Updated May 25, 2007


Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Je vais prendre ta douleur: Graeme likes the French Canadians, really.
posted by: Graeme McMillan @ 8:25 AM

If ever there was a back-cover blurb to strike fear into the heart of the average reader, it's probably going to be one that starts "Guy Delisle is a wry 37-year-old French Canadian cartoonist..." Not, I should immediately add, that I have anything against Mr. Delisle himself, as you're just about to read. But there's just something so matter-of-fact and dry about that opening that your average - if you will - "punter" will read it and more than likely think "Wow, that sounds like something I'd avoid on NPR" and go on to the latest issue of Tarot or something to make fun of it. And that's a shame, because PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA is Excellent.

It's not that there's anything wrong about that clinical back-cover blurb, as such - certainly, it's factually correct - it's just that there's so much more to the book than the just-the-facts presentation that the blurb provides. Yes, Delisle does "depict [the] sojourns into the heart of isolation" of working in North Korea as an animation producer while living in "'cold and soulless' hotel rooms where he suffers the usual maladies of the long-term boarder," but it's the way in which he does that that makes the book so special, so worth reading. Delisle's is both present and absent from the book, giving the book warmth and humor without overpowering the experience of the alien culture to the point where all you can perceive are his perceptions. He gives his opinion full rein on the people that he meets, and even on his work experience in North Korea, but allows the reader to make up their own minds when it comes to the oppressive regime of "the world's only Communist dynasty," as he calls it in a throwaway gag midway through the book. It's a skillful mix of reportage and memoir, each balanced perfectly against each other in a way that humanizes the reportage and legitimizes the memoir, if that makes sense - There are two pages towards the end of the book where another cartoonist takes over to tell one of their own experiences, because it adds to Delisle's own experience and also to his own fears and expectations of North Korea itself (perhaps going so far as to fulfill his fears). Going from those pages back to his own, the next line of dialogue is the perfect "It's always interesting to get another perspective on things!" which may be Delisle's guiding principle in the creation of this book.

The art also follows the same principle: Abstracted and cartoony enough so as to allow interpretation, but not so much as to genericize everything. For want of a better way of putting it, Delisle makes himself very French - a particularly European-looking cartoon for reasons I couldn't really explain coherently (It's something about the angles, and the nose in particular) - which helps him stand out against the more detailed Koreans he encounters. The greyscale wash adds weight (both visual and dramatic) to the simple linework, and the whole thing works in unison with the writing, invisible in the best way in service of the overall story.

It's a wonderful book, and highly recommended - I picked up my copy second-hand at Green Apple this weekend on one of my traditional "I have trade-in credit, so feel as if I can take a bit more of a chance on what I'm buying" visits, but as soon as I'd finished it, I immediately wanted to read Delisle's second travelogue, Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China even at full-price. And when you're as cheap as me, that means a lot.
 
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  ALINE AND THE OTHERS in The Patriot News

Updated April 9, 2007


GRAPHIC LIT
Comics don't give up easily
Comics are so French, and good
Friday, April 06, 2007

Say what you will about the French (I certainly do), but there's one thing you can't dispute: they make some really great comics. "Aline and the Others" by Guy Delisle, Drawn and Quarterly, 72 pages, $9.95. Delisle is actually from Canada, but he lives in Paris now, so we'll include him here. Unlike his recent travelogues "Shenzhen and "Pyongyang," "Aline" is a looser, more playful work.

Like "Mister I," it's a collection of wordless strips, this time focusing on a succession of female protagonists who twist and distort their bodies in a variety of bizarre attempts to garner love, social acceptance, or both. Like "Mister I," "Aline" has a current of black humor running through it that may disturb some readers. Delisle's sharp sense of humor, however, is clever and hilarious enough to win over those who don't worry about such things.

CHRIS MAUTNER: cmautner@pnco.com
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Pyongyang reviewed by Rambles

Updated March 26, 2007


Pyongyang
by Guy Delisle
(Drawn & Quarterly, 2004)



Most devotees of such programs as The Simpsons, King of the Hill and many, many children's cartoon shows know that, without a North Korea, much of our animated programming wouldn't be on TV today; it's ironic, to say the least, that some of the most iconic, counterculture and alternative programs from the decadent West are (or were, prior to 2001) funneled through one of the most the autocratic, totalitarian countries in the world.

In 2001, French-Canadian illustrator Guy Delisle went to work in North Korea for two months to supervise the production of a children's cartoon. Delisle was one of handful of foreigners, along with diplomats, allowed inside the walled-off world. His graphic novel Pyongyang details the two months he stayed in the austere city, where Kim Il Sung, father of the infamous Kim Jong Il, is still the president, even though he's been dead for 10 years.

It is, at one and the same time, a portrait of near complete despair and a warmly humanistic look at a culture that seems to have come from another planet entirely. Every citizen is required to wear pins with pictures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il; there is no Internet, no radio or TV other than government-sanctioned propaganda; pictures of both Kims must adorn every wall, except the bathroom; and "volunteers" are seen cleaning the roads and streets. Delisle's every step is shadowed, because he is never allowed to go anywhere without a translator and a guide accompanying him at all times. He isn't even allowed to have a bike or a cell phone. To say it is a stringent existence, where any sort of individuality is stamped out very early on, is putting it far too lightly.

Delisle's fascinating record of what he saw in his two-month stay never descends into satire or pointed political observation. In fact, his respect for the people of North Korea is clear on every page. Rather than be amused by the paranoia that controls their daily existence, or descending into pity, Delisle manages to convey his admiration for people who live in a world that is so distanced from reality that it is surreal, not unlike the cartoonish world in which he immerses himself at work. There is humor but it is very easygoing, extending more from Delisle's own realization that he is a stranger in a very strange land, than from any observation made at the expense of the culture itself.

There is no denying that it can be a bit of a depressing read at times. One anecdote of Delisle being told to turn down the acid jazz CD he's playing because it "could be a bad influence on others" leads to the realization that no music of any kind, other than government-approved nationalistic hymns, is allowed in North Korea. It is difficult to deal with such overpowering, repressive control on a daily basis and not feel alienated, as Delisle begins to feel quite early on in his stay. The power of the state, and the indivisibility of its occupants, is the way of life.

But what keeps the book fascinating is Delisle's sense of humor, his tiny acts of rebellion and his complete refusal to feel any sort of moral superiority, which keep the narration moving along at a good clip. Delisle's clean, clear lines and strong sense of caricature are deceptively simple: there is more contained in each panel than a first read permits. There are neat juxtapositions and fascinating angles that do more to illustrate the story than a mere travelogue could ever do.

Pyongyang is as timely as it is important. It's not only a damn good read: in a world of Patriot Acts and uncurbed governmental excess, it may even be a necessary one.
 
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  World Literature Today spolights D+Q authors

Updated March 16, 2007


WORLD LITERATURE TODAY
March- April 2007
Lynda Barry, Miriam Katin, Guy Delisle, Jason Lutes, Chester Brown
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Miriam Katin
Lynda Barry

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Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China




Weekend Journal reviews Shenzhen

Updated February 14, 2007


Books:
WEEKEND JOURNAL
Our favorites
By John Krich

9 February 2007
The Wall Street Journal Asia, W10

"Shenzhen"

By Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly)

This comic strip may be the most sobering work of the bunch. A brief stint working as an animator in China's materialist border town turns into a Kafkaesque nightmare of miscommunication for Canadian Guy Delisle, a forceful illustrator and deft observer of manners. His work is in the tradition of Art Spiegelman's harrowing Holocaust-survival comic-memoir "Maus." But where the angst of Mr. Spiegelman's Holocaust victims was real, this cartoonist's travails grow tiresome and a bit forced. Couldn't he have gone more often to nearby Hong Kong, or perhaps picked up a smattering of Chinese phrases to help break his isolation? Still, in a world full of irrelevant paeans to the Great Wall or great business prospects, "Shenzhen" documents a real and frighteningly recognizable China of gray skies, concrete construction sites and equally flattened lives.
 

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  Guy Delisle in the Ottawa Citizen

Updated February 9, 2007


The comic side of life

Graphic novels are grabbing more and more shelf space in mainstream bookstores, much to the relief of illustrators who say their time has come at last

Alexandra Zabjek, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007

When cartoonist Guy Delisle first published his graphic novel Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China in France six years ago, he was thrilled with initial sales. His account of life in a monotonously gritty, Chinese city sold just 2,000 copies.

At the time, he says, his work was considered relatively "under-ground" and was distributed by what was then a small French publishing house.

Last September, Delisle released an English-language version of Shenzhen. This time around, the book earned at least two nods from reviewers at The New York Times.

It's a big change for a cartoonist like Delisle who couldn't always find a market for comics that didn't include superheroes and bright splashes of colour.

"Cartoonists are now doing what they always dreamed of doing when they were young but there wasn't anyplace to publish (these books)," said the Quebec-born, France-based Delisle, about the current appetite for graphic novels.

In Shenzhen, Delisle chronicles in comic-book format his three month stay in the Chinese special economic zone where his animation company has outsourced drawing work.

The book is part personal diary, part cultural portraiture: Delisle draws the ubiquitous concrete apartment blocks that dominate the landscape in industrial China; the repetitive but frustrating conversations that westerners have with Chinese who speak just a few English words; the billboards featuring snapshots of Chinese criminals, some marked with a red cross to signal they have been executed.

Cartoonists who blend art, journalism and narrative story-telling are now accustomed to seeing their works dissected in major newspapers and literary websites. The sheer volume of high-profile graphic novels cannot be ignored. Last fall's release of Shenzhen was accompanied by the publication of other weighty titles such as The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon's interpretation of the bipartisan investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. There was also Cancer Vixen, New York cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto's chronicles of her battle with breast cancer.

Long-time comic-book fans may bristle at the notion their passion is part of a new trend. Most point to classics such as Art Spiegelman's 1986 Maus: A Survivor's Tale -- considered the granddaddy of "serious" comic books for its depiction of the Holocaust through the story of Spiegelman's father in Second World War Europe -- as evidence of the genre's rich history. Maus was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Still, many admit that Spiegelman's masterpiece was a relative anomaly at the time, joined by only a few other big titles in the ranks of serious-themed comics. In recent years, however, graphic novels that delve into touchy, often political, subjects have become so numerous they are the focus of university courses, and often merit their own sections in local libraries or mainstream bookstores.

"Now you would go broke before we'd run out of things to recommend to you," says Chris Butcher, manager at The Beguiling, a comic-books store in Toronto. "Once comics have got their hooks into people, there's a thousand other books out there for them to read. It's not just three mainstays anymore. No one can get bored, there's just not enough hours in the day to read everything that comes out."

Butcher describes how comics have become widely accepted as a suitable medium for telling serious stories. He recounts attending a meeting of the Association of Jewish Libraries in Canada a few years ago; librarians at the event discussed a number of graphic novels with Jewish themes, including Joe Sacco's Palestine, a disturbing account of life for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

"(Palestine) was discussed in terms of it being a contentious book and about how it approached the subject, but it didn't have anything to do with whether it was prose or comics, it was just about the message," remembers Butcher. "That's the first time I realized that people are willing to engage graphic novels and comics based on the stories they tell rather than the format."

The much-respected Sacco interviewed dozens of Palestinians and Israelis over the course of several months for his book, which is also set in the West Bank. He engaged in similar journalism for Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992-1995, which depicts the aftermath of ethnic cleansing in a Bosnian enclave.

Despite the difficult subjects tackled by Sacco, the artist has insisted his books are indeed comics, not graphic novels as many are now apt to classify comics that deal with serious subject matter.

"I have no problem with the term 'comics,' but now we're saddled with the term 'graphic novel' and what I do I don't see as a novel," Sacco told The Guardian newspaper in 2003.

Butcher, from The Beguiling, admits the name "comic books" is often associated with newspaper funny pages, causing an "issue problem" for the art form.

"We've always called them comics because people who really get the medium understand that it can be about more than just one genre," says Butcher, who uses the terms "comics" and "graphic novels" interchangeably.

Still others use the term "comics" to refer to short, serialized works, while reserving the term "graphic novel" for standalone comic books.

For Delisle, the distinction between being called a comic book artist and a graphic novelist has never been a particularly pressing issue. What has made him more uncomfortable is the crossover he's had to make between artist and journalist.

When Delisle arrived in Shenzhen, China, he started writing notes and doing quick sketches about his daily encounters in the city, not thinking they would eventually form the foundation for a book. He would employ a similar technique a few years later when his animation company sent him to Pyongyang, North Korea to oversee another drawing project. That experience resulted in the publication of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, which looks at life in a hermit state that has been largely closed off to foreigners.

"Now, if I did something again like Shenzhen I would talk more about the country and how it is structured and how it's working, or what we know about the economic situation and more about the political situation I would talk more about the contrasts between the poor and the rich," he says. "At that time, I didn't feel confident enough to ... talk to about that. I want to talk about it without being boring, which is very hard to do."

Delisle is currently working on a graphic novel about the year he spent in Burma with his wife and young son. He still seems somewhat surprised that there is a market for such a book.

"Now big publishers are asking me, 'Why don't you do something like Pyongyang or Shenzhen for us?'" he says. "That would have been impossible 15 years ago. They wouldn't have printed it 15 years ago."

Alexandra Zabjek writes for the Citizen.


Graphically ...

The top 10 of 2006

(The best -- and most popular -- graphic novels/comic books, as chosen by the staff of The Beguiling comic book store in Toronto)

Abandon The Old In Tokyo, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly).

Absolute DC: The New Frontier, by Darwyn Cooke (DC Comics).

All Star Superman #1-5, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC Comics).

Curses and Ganges #1, by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics).

Dragon Head Vol 1-5, by Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop).

Drifiting Classroom Vol 1-3, by Kazuo Umezu (Viz LLC).

Get a Life and Maybe Later, by Dupuy & Berberian (Drawn & Quarterly).

The Left Bank Gang, by Jason (Fantagraphics).

Ode to Kirihito, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical Inc).

Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughn and Nico Henrichon (DC Comics/Vertigo).


Further reading for 'funnies' fans

For further reading on the specifically "comic" side of graphic novels, consider Ottawa archivist John Bell's just-published book profiling Canada's comic-book geniuses. Invaders from the North (Dundurn, $40), looks at this country's remarkable involvement with the "funnies" -- both past and present comic masters -- and at how Canada "vaulted to the forefront of international comic art."
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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
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GUY DELISLE in the Asia Times

Updated January 26, 2007


Greater China
Jan 20, 2007

BOOK REVIEW
An animator's novel experience
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China by Guy Delisle

Reviewed by Fraser Newham

Guy Delisle was far from home in a three-star Chinese hotel, shivering in the arctic blast of an air-con on the blink. There was every indication that the project was heading for disaster - and no guarantees that his local colleagues even understood there was a problem. He was ready to snap.

The obvious next move? To attack the hotel room; in Delisle's case with a sharp roundhouse kick to the wall-mounted air-conditioner control, utterly unresponsive up to this point, presumed broken. It was only when his head cleared that Delisle, inspecting the damage, discovered the futility even of that. "The temperature control on the AC doesn't control a thing," he writes. "It's just a plastic dial held in place by a screw."

There may just be Asia Times Online readers who find all this a little bit familiar, for such is the stuff of working life on the frontiers of globalization. At the time Delisle was working in animation, a French-Canadian plying his trade among the studios of Europe - studios that by the late 1990s had largely gone out of business as work migrated to the cheaper workshops of Eastern Europe and the Far East. Delisle had stuck with his French employers, but consequently his work saw him spending increasing amounts of time in East Asia on short-term managerial contracts.

Two such jaunts he has turned into a pair of graphic novels, Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China and Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, originally published in French and now newly reissued in English-language international editions.

Chronologically, his Shenzhen trip came first; the book records a lonely two months he spent there over Christmas 1997, working on the animated version of popular French comic strip Papyrus. Meanwhile, his stint in the hardcore-sounding destination of Pyongyang came five years later; there he represented French channel TF1, one of a hardy gang of French-employed animators managing some of the cheapest animation talent in the world during a brief window of opportunity, now closed (by sanctions).

Outsourcing, both books make clear, is no picnic - or this, at least, is the view from the ground. In North Korea, life is relentlessly colored by the need to make political accommodations with the regime. On arrival he is required to pay homage to a statue of Kim Il-sung. Most of his movements are shadowed by an official minder, and at work an elderly political commissar pads around the studio drinking tea from a tin cup. At one point at work he pops a jazz compact disc into his personal computer, and his minder flies into the room insisting that he shut the door, lest the devilish beats pump forbidden thoughts of freedom through his local colleagues' veins.

In Shenzhen, by contrast, his accommodation is with the buccaneering, unsteady capitalism of China in the first months after Deng Xiaoping. He is very conscious that he is living in a cultural desert, where only construction, development and making money feature on the local agenda. The whole organization in Shenzhen is flying by the seat of its pants, and Delisle must contend with mountains of work, impossible deadlines and penny-pinching wherever possible. Soon after his arrival, for instance, he discovers that the local partner has ditched layout altogether - instead the animators only have photocopied storyboards to guide them, all to save a buck.

In both settings he has familiar-sounding difficulties communicating his requirements to his staff. Animators at the Pyongyang studio just can't nail that typically French (and seemingly quite essential) gesture, the "ooh la la"; and in Shenzhen he resigns himself to micromanaging his staff, writing out the smallest of instructions to avoid confusion and, when all else fails, even as his desk groans under the accumulated workload, in time-honored fashion rolling up his sleeves and damn-well-doing-it-himself.

To revisit these joyful times in the form of a graphic novel has novelty value - Tintin, Delisle implies at one point, never had to put up with this - and certainly the author makes the most of the format here. On one level the immediacy of cartoon strips allows Delisle as a short-term visitor to document what he finds with reasonable accuracy; he can draw what he sees, to a large extent unencumbered by his inexperience. The artwork is atmospheric, too - the Shenzhen of 10 years ago, with its skyscrapers, factories and construction sites, receives a bleak depiction; clouds of smoke and dust hang in the air, as a harassed population chase a horribly distant better life.

And as for Pyongyang - by day it may be a city of sterile, monumental architecture, of underused broad avenues and a subway system quietly humming under Muscovite chandeliers; but by night, as the lights go out and the city is given over to blackness, Delisle portrays a more mysterious form of urban life, lurking out there in the dark. The silent city, it seems, is alive with dimly perceived figures, members of a paperless underclass 6 million strong, who come out only at night, shuffling like lepers through the unlit streets, caught only for a brief second here and there in the headlights of a passing car.

Unsurprisingly, sheer novelty has meant that Pyongyang has received the more publicity of the two. In Time magazine, one commentator wrote with regret that Delisle's insights perhaps failed to penetrate beneath the party-smoothed surface, arguing that during his short stay, Delisle merely found what he went looking for, and that as a result he missed the chance to penetrate beneath the robotic North Korean veneer.

Certainly the author traveled with a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four in his suitcase (literally), and he is keen to apply Orwellian thinking to the Dear Leader's world. But perhaps there are worse guides than George Orwell to this kind of thing; and while Korea-watchers may detect a moment or two of excitability on Delisle's part, when used judiciously - as, generally, is the case here - Nineteen Eighty-Four provides him with a useful analytical framework.

At the same time, both books have a strong personal element, particularly in Shenzhen, which has less journalist content than Pyongyang. Delisle is most concerned with the experiences of globalization, of the short-contract expert fighting for a cab in some obscure airport somewhere in the developing world. Particularly in Shenzhen, he powerfully evokes the potential for this to be an isolated and lonely experience.

Unable to communicate with his colleagues, and with little contact with other foreigners, his days lack genuine connection with other people - his attempts to find a university community where he might meet multilingual locals interested in the outside world come to nothing, and instead all he has are the meaningless "hellos" and "how to do you dos" of passers-by as he wanders the streets after work; or during office hours, what probably is a brief opportunity to get married (or at least undressed), when a female colleague begins what seems to be a short-lived and silent courtship, leaving hamburgers and posed studio photos of herself on his desk over a number of days, all without a word. Delisle doesn't respond, and his admirer moves on.

Surprisingly, he seems to have more fun in Pyongyang, partying and joking around with the small European community concentrated in the city's non-governmental-organization compound and three international hotels. But even then he isn't exactly sad to leave - and perhaps this is the most unusual (and relevant) feature of the books. Delisle's employers sent him to Shenzhen and North Korea - and like more than a few on the jet-set treadmill, these weren't places where he particularly wanted to be.

Altogether, he provides an enjoyable account of his experience, one that, for some, may just ring a few bells.


Fraser Newham is a UK-based freelance journalist specializing in China.

 
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  PYONGYANG and SHENZHEN in the UK Guardian

Updated January 5, 2007


Guardian Review
Books
December 23, 2006

Michel Faber is intrigued by two graphic travelogues of animator Guy Delisle set in Pyongyang and Shezhen


Peppered goat lung, anyone?


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
by Guy Delisle
176pp, Jonathan Cape, £12.99
Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China
by Guy Delisle
148pp, Jonathan Cape, £14.99

These two graphic memoirs, written and drawn several years apart but published simultaneously in the UK, are variations of the same scenario. In each, urbane French-Canadian Guy Delisle is summoned to an Asian animation studio to oversee the completion of a mediocre kiddie cartoon. The task of the lowly paid locals is to draw "inbetweens", linking key frames produced by professional animators in Paris. Endless retakes are required as Delisle contends with incompetence and the language barrier. He lives in a sterile hotel, fails to develop any intimacy with his hosts, goes partying with other expats to break the tedium and, after several months, is released from his servitude. Despite one playful panel where Delisle depicts himself as Tintin, these books explore a plotless ennui that's the antithesis of Hergé's fast-paced adventures.

And yet Pyongyang is a fascinating, even important document. Its simple yet highly evocative artwork brings us a kind of photo-reportage from a country where photography is restricted, journalists are barred and visitors in general are discouraged. North Korea, communist dictatorship, powderkeg of military paranoia, haven of deadly "re-education" camps, and all-round insane outpost of Dubya's Axis of Evil, is opened up just a little for us.
Granted, the gap is small. Denied a bicycle or a phone, continually shepherded by guides, Delisle is dragged around the official shrines to Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. Everyone he meets appears sincerely convinced of the godlike magnificence of their "Great Leaders" and the paradisal perfection of their country. A typical exchange occurs when Delisle asks his translator to explain the absence of handicapped people: "All North Koreans are born strong, intelligent and healthy."

Prevented from being a travelogue in the usual sense, Pyongyang instead functions as a portrait of a society in denial. With deadpan humour, Delisle documents what happens when fervent anti-capitalists are employed to draw cartoon animals for the enemy. Is it mere incompetence that makes them come up with bizarrely inappropriate facial expressions? Or are such lapses only to be expected from a people constantly obliged to disown reality? The spectre of North Korea's bereaved parents, patriotically upbeat as their dissident offspring are hauled off to be tortured and killed, seems to hover over the incident when Delisle demands yet another retake: "IMPORTANT: When the father finds out the children are lost, he should not be smiling."

Delisle's clean lines, uncluttered panels and caricature aesthetic make Pyongyang a quick read. Yet it repays careful scrutiny, and there are artful details and subtle juxtapositions on every page. At a school for gifted children, Delisle shows us a group of accordion-playing girls, all with identical forced smiles. Only on second glance do we notice that the anatomies and postures have been tweaked to encourage the hallucination that the accordions are part of the girls' bodies. These children are grinning automata.

Often, the artwork does more than merely illustrate the text; it counterpoints it. In the café of his prison-like hotel, Delisle reads Orwell's 1984 until distracted by the odd behaviour of the waitresses: they are catching flies with swatters and butterfly nets. One of the women, having seized her prey, "wedges it between the mirrored surface of the gray marble floor and her rubber-heeled shoe, then crushes it with great care, grinding her heel for what seems like an inordinately long time". The accompanying image avoids the obvious - a woman's foot grinding down on a fly - and instead gives us a long shot, almost too distant for us to see what's going on. The waitress is dwarfed by the triumphalist dimensions of the hotel, the kitsch grandeur of her totalitarian world.

Shenzhen, set in southern China, is an earlier work, published in France in 2000. The style is busier and blurrier, in keeping with the profusion and mess of the locale. Whereas the eerie neatness of North Korea's showpiece capital is well suited to a sharp pen-nib, Delisle renders Shenzhen mainly with soft pencils, and there is some lovely artwork here, such as the scene where he exercises in a candle-lit gym at nightfall. Less antagonistic to his hosts' world view, he is also able to recognise moments of pathos which escape him in Pyongyang. He tenderly depicts a Christmas Eve spent with a well-meaning Chinese animator, watching tai chi videos in a darkened apartment while new-age music plays in the background. We see the building from the outside, its ugly greyness enlivened by a small white word balloon: "Mely Chlistmas."

Overall, though, the book feels like a dry run for Pyongyang. Lacking the sense of threat that lends the North Korean tale some tension, and free to roam unsupervised, the book is somewhat unfocused, including digressions on Canadian cultural identity, recollections of Delisle's other animation projects in other countries, and side-trips to Hong Kong and Canton.

Both books are arguably diminished by lack of respect for non-western mindsets and traditional values. At times, Delisle seems to believe that good coffee, hi-tech gadgets, acid jazz CDs and sexily dressed women are crucial to an evolved society, and that the communal responsibility celebrated by collectivist cultures is worthless. There's always a risk that disdain for an oppressive regime can cross the line into disdain for people too poor to be cosmopolitans. At the International Friendship Exhibition, a museum of exotic artefacts in Pyongyang, a local visitor rhapsodises: "After seeing all these gifts from around the world, I don't need to travel any more." Delisle's derision of this sentiment is scathing, but he thereby fails to acknowledge the poignant fact that for the average North Korean, this museum is the nearest thing to foreign travel that will ever be possible.

In any case, there's something to be said for exhibitions of foreign curiosities. Shenzhen and Pyongyang, replete with propaganda loudspeakers, peppered goat lung, 4,000 tons of biochemical weapons and a miniature scale model of the Grand Canyon, offer us armchair travel to very strange places, in a form so vivid we may imagine we've actually been there.

· Michel Faber's latest book is The Apple (Canongate)
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Round-Up in the Calgary Herald

Updated December 21, 2006


Books & The Arts
Graphic Fiction: Adult comic books are storming the literary world -- here's a roundup of the best of the season

Nancy Tousley
Calgary Herald
17 December 2006
C1 / Front

As few as three years ago, graphic novels were found in the Humour sections of mainstream bookstores, if they made it through the door at all. Many didn't. They looked too suspiciously like the much maligned comic book.

Now there is really no reason to keep apologizing for graphic fiction. These special books, which tell their stories with words and pictures, a.k.a. cartooning, are now being prominently displayed under their own category, with sales in North American adding up to more than $250 million a year, and climbing.

They are being published by mainstream and university presses as well as by alternative presses and self-publishers. They are being anthologized and the Best American Series has added comics to a list that includes short stories, nature and science writing, and sportswriting. The New York Times has even added a graphic fiction feature called The Funny Pages, currently running a story by the Canadian cartoonist Seth, to its trend-setting Sunday magazine. And this year, a graphic novel achieved a first by being selected as a finalist for a National Book Award in the United States.

Be warned, though. If you are after plain old comic books, don't look here. Not everything is novel length, it's true, but whatever the length don't buy graphic fiction for the kids before reading it first, unless its the chunky second volume of Hank Ketchum's Complete Dennis the Menace, 1953-54 (Fantagraphics Books, 653 pages, $29.95) or The Complete Peanuts 1961 to 1962 by Charles M. Schultz (Fantagraphics Books, 314 pages, $35.95). Some graphic fiction might contain nudity, profane language and violence, as the TV disclaimer says, or tackle issues way over the kids' heads.

Most of the graphic fiction in this roundup is in the literary vein. For readers unfamiliar with the genre, anthologies are a good place to whet your appetite. From inside the comics world come the scrumptiously printed Drawn & Quarterly's Showcase No. 4, a select menu of three new artists (Gabrielle Bell, Martin Cendreda and Dan Zettwoch), and Big Fat Little Lit, edited by Art Spiegelman (Maus) and Francoise Mouly, a banquet spread from Jules Feiffer and Maurice Sendak to Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns. And Big Fat Little Lit is intended for young readers.

Two new hardcover anthologies from hitherto unlikely publishers of graphic novels are The Best American Comics 2006, edited by Harvey Pekar and Elizabeth Moore (Thomas Allen, 336 pages, $29.95), and An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, & True Stories, edited by Ivan Brunetti (Yale University Press, 400 pages, $31.74). Pekar and Brunetti, both cartoonists, have edited very handsome books that include masters of the form and relative newcomers.

There are overlaps in the cartoonists, of course: Lynda Barry, R. Crumb, Ben Katchor and Chris Ware are included in both books. I'd give the beautifully produced Yale anthology the edge for its broader scope.

Its mix includes venerated American elders such as George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Frank King (Gasoline Alley) and Schultz (Peanuts), and Canadians Marc Bell, Chester Brown, David Collier, Julie Doucet and Seth -- artists on the cutting edge of the form.

Canada's distinctive contributions to cartooning get a new history all their own in the cleverly designed Invaders From the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe by John Bell (Dundurn, 192 pages, $40). And high time, too. Most Canadians are clueless that Superman, Prince Valiant, Cerebus the Aardvark and Spawn were all created by Canadians. Bell, a senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada, aims to introduce us to our own popular culture.

Canadian cartooning started in earnest back in 1849. Bell follows it to the present, through the Dawn of the Comic Book (1929-1940), the Golden Age of Canadian comics (1941-1946), the Comix Rebellion (1967-1974), Alternative Visions (1975-1988), and new developments since 1989.

Among the latter is Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly, 272 pages, $17,95) released in paperback this year. If you don't own this brilliant bestseller yet, now is the time.

Why keep looking south of the border? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Not the least is Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese (First Second, 233
pages, $13), which was nominated for a 2006 U.S. National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category.

Clearly drawn and nicely coloured, this funny and gentle story combines the lives of three unlikely characters -- a Chinese American boy Jin Wang who wants to fit in, the Monkey King and Chen Wei, a comical embodiment of noisy negative Chinese stereotypes -- in a surprisingly twisty story about difference and self-acceptance.

The pain of adolescence and middle age sets the melancholy tone and slow, pensive drift of Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library #17 (Drawn & Quarterly, 64 pages, $22), the second instalment of Rusty Brown.

This full-colour book, published by Ware, continues the events of the snowy school day in #16, in which Rusty discovers he has super powers and meets Chalky White. But it moves more deeply into the lives of main characters, who include Ware himself as the high school art teacher who tokes with his students in the back seat of a car.

Ware's exteriors of snow falling on the midwestern school work wordless magic that carry the distant, sad and beautiful ache of revisiting the past.

Two new books set in New York, which couldn't be more different, represent changing generations of artists and styles. Will Eisner's New York: Life in the Big City, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman (W.W. Norton, 448 pages, $37.50), is a hustle-bustle of vignettes of people, grates, streets, front stoops and buildings by the grand old man of American comics, a master of figural gesture, who died last year. The book collects four of Eisner's later graphic works, from 1986 to 1992, dedicated to the overflowing city that inspired him.

Lucky by Gabrielle Bell (Drawn & Quarterly, 112 pages, $22.95), which won an Ignatz award, is a terrific, wryly humorous journal in simply drawn black-and-white comics about the discomfort and ennui of being a poor, self-aware, twentysomething in New York, who models for art classes and dreams of becoming a successful artist. Bell's characters come from a generation also mined by Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, but they and her drawings, which begin to recall Marjane Satrapi as the diary progresses, are clearly and engrossingly her own.

Former Calgarian Jillian Tamaki gives Edmonton a stream-of-consciousness treatment in The City of Champions in her book Gilded Lilies (Conundrum Press, 120 pages, $20), which combines nearly wordless stories and pen and brush drawings. The softcover book by this graduate of the Alberta College of Art & Design has the fresh feel of a sketchbook and shows off Tamaki's adept drawing skills.

To round out our tales of cities is Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 148 pages, $24.95), a graphic memoir that takes us behind the scenes of Chinese life and customs at street level, which most of us know little about, such as going to the dentist, which freaked out the French Canadian animator, who was working in Shenzhen, a city separated from the rest of the country by electric fences and armed guards. His heavily shaded pencil drawings recreate the grim look and barebones existence of a cold, oppressive city.

Ghost of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books, 120 pages, $23.95) and La Perdida by Jessica Abel (Random House of Canada, 275 pages, $27.95) present complex stories about the misadventures of Latin American women by first and second wave graphic novelists, respectively. Ghost, the 22nd volume of the groundbreaking Love and Rockets series, continues the vivid, in-depth story of Maggie Chascarrillo, his punk chicana hero who now is divorced and managing an apartment building in the San Fernando Valley.

The lively panels of La Perdida form a complete graphic novel about Carla, a naive young woman who has a Mexican father she doesn't see and goes to Mexico to find herself -- only to wind up involved in a kidnapping.

It seems fitting to end with Kim Dietch, a first wave graphic novelist, and two non-fiction books that defy categorizing. Deitch's latest offering, rendered with his distinctive crosshatching, is Shadowland (Fantagraphics Books, 180 pages, $23.95), a collection of improbable yarns about one Al Ledicker, Jr., the owner of a sleazy carnival where the goings-on get very surreal.

Also surreal, but in an entirely different way is The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (Douglas & McIntyre, 133 pages,
$21), a dramatic and chilling way to read the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission in 2004.

Last -- this isn't everything on my desk but I have to stop somewhere -- from Scott McCloud, the cartoonist who wrote and drew Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, comes Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels (HarperCollins, 264 pages, $28.95).

Watching a cartoonist dissect and discuss the elements of cartooning in cartoon form is quite simply fascinating.

ntousley@theherald.canwest.com

Colour Photo: Courtesy, Yale University Press / Excerpt from It's A Great [sic] Life if You Don't Weaken by Seth, in An Anthology of Graphic Fiction,
Cartoons, & True Stories; Photo: (See hard copy for photo description).

 

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Chris Ware
Guy Delisle
Gabrielle Bell

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Lucky (hardcover)
Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China




  SHENZHEN reviewed in the Toronto Star

Updated December 18, 2006


The Toronto Star
Dec 17, 2006
Page: D8

Books

Guy Delisle's Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China (Drawn & Quarterly, 152 pages, $24.95) is a delight. Delisle has written four graphic novels in French and Shenzhen is the second to be translated into English (the first was a similar take on an extended business stay in North Korea by the author, the eerily effective Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (also Drawn & Quarterly).

The city of Shenzhen is a teeming metropolis slightly north of Hong Kong, and Delisle spent three months there working for a French animation company. He kept notes and sketches about his colleagues, his loneliness, observations about politics, customs, food and drink (one liquid concoction includes a snake's bladder), the giant construction sites and the electric fence to the north of the city, guarded by soldiers in watchtowers.

Some days he didn't utter a word and he spent evenings reading, working out in the local Gold's Gym or wandering through luxurious supermarkets, a new phenomenon in Shenzhen.

Though he worries in one panel whether the anecdotes might one day "look like I had a great time here," the final work brims with affection and a droll humour. It would be a pleasure to find him creating one set in his native Quebec.

-Michael Hanlon

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SHENZHEN and WALT & SKEEZIX 2: Holiday Gift Guide

Updated December 13, 2006


San Antonio Current

Framed
By: John Defore
11/28/2006

We know that not everyone on your shopping list this holiday season is a comics fan. But you might be surprised — especially after checking out the range of options on bookshelves now. Let the mind-expansion begin with these stocking-friendly new releases.

For the geo-politically curious: Shenzhen by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly); To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin by Ted Rall (NBM): Readers of altweeklies know Rall’s work quite well. His smart-ass, authority-questioning voice uses these two volumes to go beyond armchair critique and try hands-on journalism for a change, in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Delisle’s memoir, on the other hand, risks boredom instead of beheading; this chronicle of one tour of duty in a Chinese animation studio captures the mixed emotions of having too few skills to engage with an exotic locale.

For the newspaper-strip enthusiast: The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962 by Charles Schulz (Fantagraphics) and Walt and Skeezix 1923-1924 by Frank King (Drawn and Quarterly): No surprises here. If your loved ones care about the history of strip cartooning they’ll want to dig into these beautifully reproduced tomes, which leapfrog past mere nostalgia to focus on the brilliantly idiosyncratic authors.
 
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Frank King
Guy Delisle

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Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)
Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China




  SHENZHEN in Newcity Chicago

Updated December 8, 2006


Newcity Chicago
November 14, 2006

Words
NONFICTION REVIEW
Drawn Eastward
Dan Bulla

Last year, English speakers were introduced to the work of Guy Delisle through the graphic travel journal "Pyongyang," which recounted his stay in the North Korean city by the same name. Now "Shenzhen," an earlier work by Delisle about his experiences in China, is available in English as well. The premises of the two texts are ostensibly the same--both are graphic travelogues recounting Delisle's time in Asia supervising animation for a French studio. But while the two books must be considered together, they are actually very different, and in many ways "Shenzhen" is the superior book. In "Pyongyang," Delisle takes an oppressively over-politicized world and somehow manages to saturate it with even more political content, often to the detriment of the book. Maybe it was a consequence of the intensely politicized world of 2003, or maybe Delisle was just trying too hard. At any rate, in "Shenzhen" (originally published in French in 2000) his reception of Chinese culture and politics seems less forced and more insightful. This time around, we see the everyday makeup of Delisle's life in China--the way that he manages his alienation and boredom by going to the gym, biking to work, traveling, finding new restaurants, bossing around his subordinates and trying to make friends. By concentrating more on himself--even on the most banal moments of his life--his experience in China begins to come into focus. Delisle is at his best when he lets his graphical representations of spaces do the talking. In "Pyongyang," he creates crisp, clean landscapes to convey a sense of a sterilized world. But in "Shenzhen," Delisle configures the space quite differently. Shenzhen is not clean and sterile and desolate like the city of Pyongyang. Rather, it is crowded and loud and filthy. The artwork, then, is smudged and grainy, and drawn with grease and charcoal--still, it remains accessible, aesthetically pleasing and fun to read. Delisle also demonstrates his sophistication and versatility as an artist by bouncing from style to style. Style shifts can indicate flashbacks, mood swings or even a change in Delisle's role as spectator. The result is Delisle's funniest, most interesting and most creative work to be published in English to date.

"Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China"
By Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly Books, $19.95, 148 pages
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Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China




SHENZHEN in the NY Times Book Review

Updated December 5, 2006


The New York Times
Sunday Book Review

December 3, 2006

Holiday Books
Comics

by Douglas Wolk

In 1997, the Canadian-born cartoonist Guy Delisle was sent to the “Special Economic Zone” of Shenzhen in southern China to supervise an animation project. SHENZHEN: A Travelogue From China (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) is a record of his three months of culture shock. Delisle does his best to acclimate to his surroundings, feasting on dog and snake and desperately trying to communicate through improvised sign language, but the linguistic and cultural barriers prove as impassable as the electrified walls around the city. Like last year’s “Pyongyang,” about his similar stint in North Korea, “Shenzhen” is a casual, dryly witty series of observations; Delisle depicts himself as so expressionless he usually doesn’t even have a mouth, and lets details like the identical design of every Chinese hotel room speak for themselves. He’s got an animator’s eye for quirks of motion, though, analyzing the arc of a public fountain’s water and the way street vendors make popcorn in a pressure cooker. The best artwork in the book is his impressionistic, unnarrated pen-and-ink-wash drawings of Shenzhen’s drab buildings and billboards, but Delisle’s keen awareness of how and why he can’t connect to the city makes for a rarity: a thoroughly engaging memoir of being bored to distraction.
 
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  New and recent titles from D+Q reviewed in the Santa Fe New Mexican

Updated November 30, 2006


The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 26th, 2006

WEEKEND, SU-09

PANELHEAD: BEST OF THE YOUNG & RESTLESS
by BRANDON GARCIA

CANADIAN PUBLISHER'S QUALITY CONSISTENT IN STABLE OF ARTISTS

For years now, some of the best-looking books have been produced by a tiny Canadian publisher, Drawn & Quarterly. And by that, I mean the physical appearance of the books and not the enticing panels within. I'm not knocking their quality either: Drawn & Quarterly's catalog is the only one I browse, excitedly noting upcoming releases.

Many of their authors are foreign or young and often both. Take Kevin Huizenga, for example, who at 29 is only two years older than me. D&Q recently published Curses, a collection of his stories that live up to its namesake. It opens with philosophical musings on pagan superstition, juxtaposing modern and Victorian examples. Then it segues into contemporary stories about suburbia and infertility before changing themes and reconsidering the nature of curses altogether.

My reaction to Huizenga is mixed. His imitation of Victorian prose is eerily good, but the story is dull and I found myself skimming to the end. Yet his modern stories, told through the lens of folklore are much more entertaining, even if they lack the depth of the collection's opener.

As Huizenga has Glenn Ganges, our hero throughout the collection, meet his wife because of the pair's insomnia, I decided he's a big ol' softie.

Next up is Shenzen, Guy Delisle's account of his visit to the industrial Chinese city. Having already won acclaim with his journal from Pyongyang, Delisle seems determined to visit Asian cities that no one wants to visit.

Shenzen is a series of anecdotes without an overriding story. That doesn't trouble me much because I accepted the book as journalism. Shenzen looks filthy and forcibly isolated and those conditions plague. Delisle seems detached as he recounts translation problems and adventures with public toilets. The Chinese seem friendly and curious, but also distant, as does the author.

Delisle has a good eye for detail, like his sketches of shiny modern buildings amid the urban decay and his illustrations of how throngs of bicycles manage to maneuver without catastrophe. I'll also give him this: If he ate everything he claims to -- including goat lung and dog -- he has a more adventurous palate than I do, and I once applauded myself for eating veal kidney.

As brave an eater as Delisle is, I have to nod toward Julie Doucet and admit that drawing comics as discomfiting as hers takes some guts, too.

Doucet's collection, My Most Secret Desire, is mostly a series of dreams, many of them nightmares about femininity. (I guess Huizenga chose his title first.)

Here, Doucet recounts dreams of rape, menstruation and captivity. Her work is weird and sometimes repulsive. She also seems very fascinated by gender transformation, but in trite or narcissistic ways, as in the self-explanatory If I was a Man I'd Have to Shave and The Double, an ode to self-love. Most confusing was If I Was a Man, which could be read several ways, but where I think she reveals that she'd be a rapist. I don't know if its intent is to slander men for their supposed chauvinist entitlement or praise women for their supposed preening virtue.

Normally, I judge comics on entertainment value, but Doucet is aiming higher. I don't like what she has to say, but I grudgingly have to admit she's good at what she does. She challenges us while expressing an existential fear and loathing of humanity while maintaining a smile. It's quite a balancing act and I hope no one tries to duplicate it. One Doucet is enough.

Last month, I reviewed a group of anthologies, but I left one out for this column: Drawn & Quarterly Showcase No. 4, three stories by Gabrielle Bell, Martin Cendreda and Dan Zettwoch that provide a sample of the publisher's
taste.

Everything I've bought by Bell has been worthwhile, and this story is no exception. It's an ominous story about art and artists filled with self-doubt and a touch of self-loathing. But it's also hopeful, too, making the story an apt metaphor for the lives of artists I've known.

Cendreda matches Bell's strange mood with a story about kids and dogs running around separately during a sweltering summer with an unseen serial killer on the loose. Oddly, a grandpa and his Filipino superstitions hold the story together. I haven't managed to do it, but I think the key to this story is figuring out how all those pieces add up.

Zettwoch's story about the 1937 flood in Louisville, Ky. closes this collection. It's a straightforward story, but people who've never lived through a flood should check it out. All kinds of weird things happen that are well-suited to illustration and Zettwoch finds plenty of them for his story.

I started off by writing about D&Q's quality. Check out this sampler to see what I mean.

Contact Brandon Garcia at 995-3826 or at bgarcia@sfnewmexican.com.

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Julie Doucet
Kevin Huizenga
Guy Delisle

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Curses
Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China
My Most Secret Desire New Edition




SHENZHEN: Best of 2006

Updated November 28, 2006


Quill & Quire
December 2006

Books of the Year
Adult Titles

Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China
Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

It's not a story with much obvious potential: a Canadian-born cartoonist, working for a French animation company, is sent to one dismal and unwelcoming Asian city after another to oversee work on some cheaply made kiddie cartoons. He has an awful time, never really penetrating the culture he's surrounded by, and returns home after a couple of months. and yet, Guy Delisle's charming and understated graphic memoir Shenzhen, along with its earlier companion volume, Pyongyang, has become an unexpected cult favourite, even among readers who rarely pick up a graphic novel.
 

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
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  A bunch of D+Q books reviewed in the Globe & Mail

Updated October 25, 2006


The Globe & Mail

GRAPHICA
Nothing novel about these works
For NATHALIE ATKINSON, the fall's best graphic books aren't necessarily novels, but collections and anthologies

NATHALIE ATKINSON

In the recent harvest of graphic novels, no particular long-form work stands out. Marisa Marchetto's memoir Cancer Vixen (reviewed Oct. 7 in Globe Books) will be the most popular crossover title of the season; Pride of Baghdad, a story plucked from the headlines about Baghdad zoo animals freed by the stray bombs, sneaks into reviews like a lion in sheep's clothing but is simply a slight bit of well-executed genre action fiction (whoops! there it goes again); and the much-ballyhooed 9/11 Report, albeit a record of one of the most important government reports of modern times, is little more than a hastily cobbled info-graphic.

The most anticipated sophomore efforts are also light. Chicken With Plums (Pantheon, 84 pages, $22.95), Marjane Satrapi's first major work since her acclaimed graphic memoir Persepolis, is the story of her great-uncle Nasser Ali Khan, a famous tar musician in Iran. It recounts the eight days leading to his death and reconstructs the facts of his life in semi-fictitious flashbacks. It is an interesting story, but lacks the presence of a spunky young Satrapi that made Persepolis so compelling.

Similarly, Shenzhen (Drawn & Quarterly, 148 pages, $24.95) is another closely observed travelogue by Guy Delisle; while China has inherently more potential for humour than last fall's North Korea-set Pyongyang (as in a sequence where the animator abroad observes a man slipping on a banana peel), like Chicken, it doesn't have the topical hook.

No, the excitement this season comes not from a single long-form work, but from interesting anthologies and collections. The publication of two major graphic anthologies is a significant milestone for the medium, an indicator of critical mass, and both are just appearing in bookstores this week.

An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, & True Stories (Yale University Press, 400 pages, $32) is edited by cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, best known for his self-loathing comic Schizo. In this comprehensive primer, Brunetti fills every page to assemble a contemporary cartoon canon that occupies the comics position of the Norton Anthology of Literature (with a gorgeous dust jacket designed by Seth that even comix cognoscenti won't be able to resist).

He also reproduces a handful of short pieces that are not only essential, but extremely influential. Jaime Hernandez's perfectly crafted short story Flies on the Ceiling is an exemplary distillation of why Hernandez is among the best living cartoonists, and Here, by Richard McGuire, is a hard-to-find short comic often cited by Chris Ware as a key influence (it's a formalist experiment with time and panel structure).

Justin Green's Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary appears, as does Love's Savage Fury by Mark Newgarden, wherein, using Nancy and Bazooka Joe, he deconstructs cartoon panels while playing with the geometric elements of Nancy's composition. Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware's comics tributes to Charles Schulz after his death -- which simultaneously render homage to Schulz's characters and iconic style while cleverly embodying their own signature tics -- precede Schulz's own illustrated essay on developing a comic strip (first published in 1959).

For context, Brunetti provides small morsels of the most influential old material from comics history, like a Gene Deitch cover, Crockett Johnson's Barnaby (circa 1946) and a Harvey Kurtzmann. It includes a roll call of the new generation, like Kevin Huizenga, Gabrielle Bell and Lauren Weinstein, and overlooks not a single contemporary artist: there's Chester Brown, Carol Tyler, Lynda Barry, surrealist Mark Beyer (whole nihilist punk avant-garde is probably the most difficult acquired taste in comics) and, of course, several R. Crumb selections, including Uncle Bob's Mid-Life Crisis, in which the cartoonist lies in bed and ruminates on his neuroses, elaborate sexual fantasies and jazz. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction is a delicious brick of a book.

Alas, The Best American Comics 2006 (Houghton Mifflin, 293 pages, $29.95) -- the inaugural comics offering from the successful "Best American" franchise -- suffers by comparison. While accessible, it lacks both the design and vision of the Yale compendium, with a whole less than the sum of its parts.

Although guest edited by Harvey Pekar, there is little editorial point of view or mandate at work other than the strictures of year of publication. Highlights include Joe Sacco's reportage on the current war in Iraq from the Guardian, R. Crumb's Walk in the Streets and the inclusion of a few newcomers seldom seen outside of zines and comic shops, such as Canadian Rebecca Dart.

Drawn & Quarterly Showcase No. 4 (Drawn & Quarterly, 102 pages, $19.95) publishes the short stories of three emerging cartoonists (not one born before the first Star Wars movie). In the opening story, a stint in art school leads cartoonist Gabrielle Bell to a job teaching an awkward 12-year-old to draw and an emotional entanglement with him and his father; this single story is more polished than Lucky, a collection of her diary comics also published this fall.

In a personal narrative washed in olive and red tones, Dan Zettwoch recounts his father's escapades in the great 1937 Louisville flood in a homemade boat. It's intensely researched and evokes the architecture and layout of the city, while Zettwoch's diagrammatic cartoons captures details from makeshift bridges to his father's grumbling stomach.

Martin Cendreda's Dog Days conjures a hot suburban summer day where kids cheat the video game at the local liquor store, stray dogs fight after wallowing in cool water, and a childhood excursion is interrupted by reports of a serial killer on the loose.

Before Joe Sacco made a name for himself as a reportage cartoonist in war zones in Palestine and the former Yugoslavia, he was a long-haired rock-obsessed cartoonist, living the grunge life in Washington and touring Europe with Seattle-based neo-psychedelic rock band the Miracle Workers. But I Like It (Fantagraphics, 122 pages, $29.95) collects his comics of the same (with a CD of live music) as Sacco chronicles his days as a hanger-on and poster artist in Berlin; and in the best story, lays bare his Rolling Stones obsession.

The most notable collected Canadian offering is This Will All End in Tears (Insomniac, 168 pages, $21.95), the third book of collected stories by Montreal-based cartoonist Joe Ollman. Ollman's narratives aren't happy tales; in Big Boned, Charlene lives with her bossy mother, eats in secret, obsesses about her weight and nurses an unrequited crush on her pimply office-mate Donny. Other characters are burdened with sadness, alcoholism and unwanted responsibility as Ollman's characteristic cartooning captures the everyday grotesque. Ollman's increasingly complex storytelling also grows more assured with each book and it's an aptly titled collection.

Of the single-artist collections this season, Curses (Drawn & Quarterly, 144 pages, $24.95), by Kevin Huizenga, stands out as the most coherent and consistently articulate. The link throughout these disparate stories is recurring protagonist and everyman Glenn Ganges, a blank slate and stand-in for the cartoonist. Ganges's calming presence lends Huizenga's narratives a matter-of-fact quality, however fantastical or absurd the premise may be.

In Green Tea (A Glenn Ganges Remix), Huizenga adapts a Victorian suspense story by J. Sheridan Le Fanu in which Dr. Hesselius investigates the suicide of Rev. Jennings and combines strange psychic phenomena (visions of a phantom monkey, a dog carrying a severed forearm) with mundane details about college all-nighters. 28th Street is based on an Italian folk tale by Italo Calvino: Ganges and his wife Wendy struggle with infertility and he is dispatched by various strangers on a quest to pluck a plume from a feathered ogre. Navigating through the suburban sprawl cluttered with neon signs, 24-hour fresh marts and big-box stores on his quest, Ganges douses his eyes with "magic" gasoline, is presented with an enchanted Styrofoam take-home container and eventually dons a magic plastic bag to wear over his head to trick the ogre.

Using primarily a clear line style (think Tintin creator Hergé), Huizenga uses comics to articulate complex patterns, recurring motifs and connected relationships. In Lost and Found, Ganges imagines the stories that might lie in the space between photos and descriptions of abducted and abductor he reads every week on missing children's flyers, then associates this idea with a news item on the "Lost Boys" -- the bands of barefoot Sudanese orphans who crossed the desert on foot and eventually came to the United States as refugees. Here especially Huizenga is masterful at illustrating how the mind makes connections, and his ability to communicate this circularity, in comics form, is particularly elegant.

In Curses' title story, Ganges's neighbourhood is terrorized by insomnia thanks to a noisy winter roost of starlings. Huizenga mixes facts about a Mozart composition with the data that up to half the output of the starling flock (technically and evocatively called "murmurations") may actually consist of sounds related to automobiles (like the whine of power windows, traffic and screeching tires) because starlings, as cousins of the mynah bird, are outstanding mimics.

As a sleepless Ganges wanders through his sleepy neighbourhood listening for distant freight trains and the hum of power lines, the content of the starlings' word balloons slowly changes from notes to images of the sounds their song may emulate. In these panels, Huizenga's inventive use of the graphic medium's language is the quintessential example of a sequence possible only in comics.

Nathalie Atkinson is The Globe and Mail's graphic books reviewer.
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Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book Four




SHENZHEN in the Onion

Updated September 22, 2006


Following up on last year's entertaining North Korean travelogue Pyongyang, Guy Delisle recounts an earlier adventure in supervising Asian animators in Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China (Drawn & Quarterly). Like the previous book, Shenzen focuses on the repetitive grind of working, eating, and in spare moments, seeking out and appreciating the unique character of an undemocratic nation. Delisle's reportage is appealingly brisk and casual, and in a way, without even meaning to, his work has become emblematic of how we're living in a comics golden age. When a piece of graphic non-fiction like this, so smart and unpretentious, can find a place on bookshelves, then the decades-old dream of people like Harvey Pekar and Gary Groth has been realized… A-
 
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  SHENZHEN reviewed in the Quill & Quire

Updated September 21, 2006


Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China
Guy Delisle; $24.95 cloth 1-894934-79-1, 152 pp., 6 x 81?2, Drawn & Quarterly, Sept.

Reviewed from advance reading copy

Guy Delisle appropriately quotes Baudelaire in his new graphic non-fiction title, Shenzhen: “Bitter the knowledge we get from travelling!/ The world, monotonous and mean today,/yesterday, tomorrow, always, let us see our own image/ an oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.”
A French-Canadian expat living in France and working for Dupuis Animation, Delisle oversees cheap-labour animation houses in the Pacific Rim for months at a time. He does not speak the language or seem to find anyone he can connect with, so we get a unique look at the people and customs of a place the author does not understand, and can only explain in relation to his own experiences in the West.
In one sequence, the narration moves from a rumination on Delisle’s average work day – specifically, how he deals with the shoddy animation turned in by the animators under him – to a short, diagrammed lesson on basic animation (demonstrating why the work being done for him is so bad), to a one-page summary of weeks of exchanges between Delisle and someone trying awkwardly to reach out to him in a way he feels may not be appropriate, and finally to a demonstration on how to ride bikes in Shenzhen. These separate glimpses of the Shenzhen puzzle all reach us on the same emotional level, with one not seeming any more important than another.
And yet, it is hard not to be charmed by this travelogue; the art communicates a real feeling of place, and each detail kept me reading. Delisle attempts something bolder here than the clean pencil work of the companion volume, Pyongyang, using charcoal and grease pencil to give us heavy blacks with less actual line work. Geometric shapes in the design bring to mind China’s oppressive industrialization, the pushing of form over life. Shenzhen is an odd combination of intimacy and alienation.

– Dave Howard, the founder of the Toronto Comic Jam.

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SHENZHEN reviewed in Publisher's Weekly

Updated September 21, 2006


Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China
Guy Delisle. Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95 (152p) ISBN 1-894937-79-1

Last year's Pyongyang introduced Delisle's acute voice, as he reported from North Korea with unusual insight and wit, not to mention wonderfully detailed cartooning. Shenzhen is not a follow-up so much as another installment in what one hopes is an ongoing series of travelogues by this talented artist. Here he again finds himself working on an animated movie in a Communist country, this time in Shenzhen, an isolated city in southern China. Delisle not only takes readers through his daily routine, but also explores Chinese custom and geography, eloquently explaining the cultural differences city to city, company to company and person to person. He also goes into detail about the food and entertainment of the region as well as animation in general and his own career path. All of this is the result of his intense isolation for three months in an anonymous hotel room. He has little to do but ruminate on his surroundings, and readers are the lucky beneficiaries of his loneliness. As in his earlier work, Delisle draws in a gentle cartoon style: his observations are grounded in realism, but his figures are light cartoons, giving the book, as Delisle himself remarks, a feeling of an alternative Tintin. (Oct.)
 

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  Guy Delisle's SHENZHEN reviewed in Booklist

Updated August 17, 2006


Delisle, Guy. Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China. Tr. by Helge Dascher.
Sept. 2006. 152p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (1-894937-79-1). 741.5.

Delisle’s Pyongyang (2005) documented two months spent overseeing cartoon production in North Korea’s capital. Now he recounts a 1997 stint in the Chinese boomtown Shenzhen. Even a decade ago, China showed signs of westernization, at least in Special Economic Zones such as Shenzhen, where Delisle found a Hard Rock Café and a Gold’s Gym. Still, he experienced near-constant alienation. The absence of other westerners and bilingual Chinese left him unable to ask about baffling cultural differences ranging from exotic shops to the pervasive lack of sanitation. Because China is an authoritarian, not totalitarian, state, and Delisle escaped the oppressive atmosphere with a getaway to nearby Hong Kong, whose relative familiarity gave him “reverse culture shock,” Delisle’s wittily empathetic depiction of the Western-Chinese cultural gap is less dramatic than that of his Korean sojourn. That said, his creative skill suggests that the comic strip is the ideal medium for such an account. His wry drawings and clever storytelling convey his experiences far more effectively than one imagines a travel journal or film documentary would. ––Gordon Flagg


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PYONGYANG in the Toledo Blade

Updated June 26, 2006


Article published Sunday, June 25, 2006

The graphic novel as traveling companion
By JENNIFER DAY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA. By Guy Delisle. Drawn and Quarterly Books. 176 pages. $19.95.


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and La Perdida, two recent graphic novels about Westerners’ travels in the world’s underbelly, are nothing like the average travelogue. Both books are beautifully designed page-turners, offering insightful commentary on the politics and culture of places that are hardly tourist-friendly.

Guy Delisle was sent to Pyongyang by his employer, a French animation house that subcontracted work to a North Korean company. He writes:

"North Korea is the world’s most isolated country. Foreigners trickle in. There’s no Internet. There are no cafes. In fact, there’s no entertainment. It’s hard to even leave the hotel and meeting Koreans is next to impossible."

Not exactly material for TV’s Wild On.

Delisle follows in the footsteps of Joe Sacco, a "comic book journalist" who has covered the former Yugoslavia and the Palestinian territories, using spare line drawings to record the day-to-day conditions in Pyongyang — or at least as much as government officials will allow him to see.

Despite the constraints, Delisle manages to depict a country constipated by fear, ignorance, and self-preservation. Foreigners are kept in check by regime-loyal guides and translators, who take Delisle on several field trips dedicated to the glory of North Korea’s father-son dictators, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

These outings are illuminating, even if part of the propaganda machine: Two whole museums are dedicated to gifts given to the country’s dictators; objects as mundane as ashtrays and alarm clocks are offered as definitive proof of the rest of the world’s adoration of the great leaders.

But even more interesting is what Delisle finds in the crevices of everyday life. He records what seems commonplace to native North Koreans, but to Westerners feels insidious. For example, everyone is required wear a pin depicting the image of one of the Kims. Delisle asks his guides why there are so many military exercises; the answer he gets is framed by rhetoric about South Korea’s intentions to invade.

Quiet treachery lurks in Delisle’s peripheral view. "Volunteers" kneel on the ground by the side of the highway to cut grass with a small sickle. City dwellers are "invited" to transplant rice. A window-washer’s platform is weighted down simply — and precariously — by a bunch of big rocks.

Pyongyang does an excellent job of conveying the ominous quality of living in a political vacuum. The air has been sucked out, along with the life.

...Pyongyang would be a worthy supplement to a high-school history class. The impact of history is much easier to relate to when it’s rendered visually and in such a personal way.

...Both Pyongyang and La Perdida combine the power of verbal and visual art to drive home the thrills and uneasiness — the very foreignness — of being foreign. Hitching a ride with either one makes for a good trip.
 
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  PYONGYANG listed in the PSLA Top 40 Non-Fiction Books

Updated May 30, 2006


The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association includes Guy Delisle's Pyongyang among their Top 40 Non-Fiction Books list:

Delise, Guy.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.
Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2003, 2005. 1896597890. 176p. $19.95. Gr. 9+

This graphic memoir is the work of French-Canadian cartoonist Delisle who documents his two-month trip to North Korea to supervise the animation of a children's cartoon show. Delisle offers a rare first-hand view of one of the last remaining Communist societies. He is constantly monitored by Comrade Translator and Comrade Guide. The simple art effectively portrays the mood of the country and the few North Koreans Delisle is able to get to know. He presents a much needed background in North Korean history, and empathetically describes the absurdities of a people completely brainwashed into obedience. Fans of Persepolis fans will like this one too. Graphic. Memoir.

Joyce Valenza

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3 D+Q titles reviewed on Student Traveler

Updated May 16, 2006


Readings from the Road: Three Graphic Novels Draw Readers into the World's Worst Places

Article by Alexander Provan


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
(Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95)
The first time Guy Delisle sees the giant sea turtle drifting back and forth in the diminutive aquarium in the lobby of his Pyongyang hotel, he hardly notices it. The second time he draws the scene in Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Deslisle has just returned from watching a uniformed woman screaming through a megaphone to encourage the construction workers at an opera house in a country where there is barely any food or electricity, much less opera. This time, it garners a full page: From within the bowels of the darkened lobby, the turtle appears as flotsam in a chamber meant to sustain its life, but without purpose, and only for as long as that life can be totally controlled. In one of the last frames of the graphic novel, after saying goodbye to his guides and translators, Delisle turns around and offers the same confounded wave to the turtle in its cage.

The turtles cage refers to The Aquariums of Pyongyang, by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulot, which recounts the ten-year imprisonment of Kang and his family in the Yodok gulag. But in Pyongyang, 40-year-old Quebecer Deslisle's first graphic novel in English, the characters are not prisoners as such. They are the citizens of Pyongyang with whom the author is allowed to interact on his two-month stint as supervisor foreign capitalist at a French animation studio utilizing cheap North Korean labor, and they drift back and forth from one darkened city street to another, from one truth to the next, creating a din of human activity that only serves to point up the stultifying absence of humanity.

Alienation is the subject not the typical alienation of travel but the alienation produced by a total lack of understanding of a culture, coupled with the gnawing feeling that this can't be real: Someone has to crack. But in Pyongyang, no one ever does. In his occasional efforts to coax the turtles into recognizing the circumstances of their captivity, the most subversive remark is an admission from one young man that the North Korean propaganda films shown to the animators as a special treat are boring.



War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995?96
(Drawn & Quarterly, $14.95)
While Pyongyang searches for evidence of humanity, Joe Sacco's War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995?96 is seething with it. Sacco is best known for Palestine, an acclaimed account of the last days of the first intifada, and his other works include Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95 and The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo. Taken as a whole, his oeuvre represents one of the most exciting developments in contemporary war reporting the placement of the ugliest conflicts within familiar places and among familiar faces, the humanization of war.

Soba, the title character of the first profile in War's End, is a hard-partying twentysomething artist, musician, and land-mine planter a local legend in his own right. The scenes change from a bar to the front lines, from a moment of moribund introspection to a dream of making a porno flick about Hegel, from an amputation to a wild dance party. Even amid the growing sense of the conflict's futility, Soba says, if you are in the mood, if you're dancing, everybody sees that there's somebody making an atmosphere, and people join you. We're really fighting for some kind of normal life.

In Christmas with Karadzic, Sacco joins two Sarajevan radio journalists pursuing Milosevic's No. 2 man on the morning of Orthodox Christmas. The Serbian war criminal appears at a small-town church to attend services, and the two journalists are ecstatic to score a brief interview. While they celebrate, Sacco stands in front of the man responsible for the murder of thousands and can see only a modern-day Eichmann. Even when pitted against the raucous humanity of Sarajevo's club scene, forever scarred by Karadzic's fighters, the evil of war cannot be reduced to the hulking body, dreary eyes, and pristine suit of one man.



Baghdad Journal
(Drawn & Quarterly, $34.95)
Fast-forward to the present day, and a conflict whose victims are still being buried, a place as tumultuous as Pyongyang is staid Iraq. Artist Steve Mumford made three trips to Iraq between 2003 and 2004 to record the occupation through sobering, realistic drawings and watercolor paintings. The resulting images and written account of his experiences are collected in Baghdad Journal .

Mumford nonchalantly places the absurdity of life during wartime on parade across pages of interrogations and midnight raids, crowded markets and Iraqi painters in their studios, soldiers sleeping in tents and sheiks congregating in mosques from stasis to sensation, without much sense of equivalence. These are, he writes, the spaces in between the bombs.

Baghdad Journal doesn't get to the bottom of things as much as it shows that, in the middle of a war in which the fog is still too dense for the figures to be sharply limned, there is no bottom. You can only know a war as much as you can know a place and its people: in Baghdad, as in Pyongyang, there is much to see but little to know.
 
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  D+Q Nominated for 9 Eisner Awards!

Updated April 7, 2006


The 2005 Eiser Nominations have been announced, and D+Q has received a record 9 nominations.

Best Reality-Based Work: Pyongyang, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist: Guy Delisle, Pyongyang (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist: Adrian Tomine, Optic Nerve #10 (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist—Humor: Seth, Wimbledon Green (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—New: Wimbledon Green, by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint: War’s End, by Joe Sacco (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Strips: Walt and Skeezix, by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Publication Design: Walt and Skeezix, designed by Chris Ware (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Publication Design: Wimbledon Green, designed by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)


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PYONGYANG reviewed on NewsBlaze

Updated March 6, 2006


Alternative Lenses on North Korea

By Erik Mobrand

Guy Delisle, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Translated by Helge Dascher. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly Books, 2005. 176 pp. $19.95 hardcover.


Finding itself in the middle of an international dilemma over its nuclear program, North Korea is a country that the world needs to know about. But famed for its secrecy, North Korea is difficult for observers to penetrate. How can we learn what is really going on in that country?

Guy Delisle and Steve Shipp, authors of two recent books on North Korea, offer unconventional ways of presenting information on the subject - by cartoon and by quotation.

Delisle, a cartoonist for a French animation company, found himself dispatched to Pyongyang for two months for a job. His graphic novel, one of the most fun books on North Korea published to date, documents his stay in the North Korean capital. In Pyongyang: A Journey to North Korea, Delisle gives us more or less just what he sees, from his arrival (the first frame is the airport) to his departure. The author spends those two months trying to get along with locals, keep himself entertained, and help the cartoonists under his direction make an animated bear's hand wave instead of vibrate.

From Pyongyang the reader gets plenty of observations that match what others have written about North Korea: shortages of power and food, inefficiency, and the ubiquitousness of images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. (An optical trick even causes a startled Delisle to see the face of the Dear Leader in the mirror at one point.) Delisle tries to find out what kind of music people are interested in, sharing rhythms with some humorless interlocutors, only to discover that "North Korea isn't a reggae kind of country" (p. 71). Special treatment of foreigners prevents Delisle from interacting much with North Koreans, apart from the guides who follow him at all times.


[...continued]

What Delisle and Shipp have done is to throw analysis to the wind. Neither author is an expert observer of North Korean affairs - nor do they try to be. Delisle has no agenda, and doesn't pretend to know much more than what he sees. This is North Korea deliberately from an outsider's perspective, though in the rare guise of a visitor's eye. Shipp, too, withholds judgment from his material, providing no guide to the quotations he has compiled.

Both books' humble, intentionally-superficial treatment of North Korean issues is refreshing. By reporting only what is seen (in the case of Delisle) or heard (in the case of Shipp), the authors keep politics out of interpretation, avoiding a problem that plagues writing on North Korea. Because we have so little to go on when it comes to North Korea, getting "just the facts" can be more helpful than getting over-ambitious analyses.

Pyongyang offers touches of daily life, like people enjoying a stroll backwards - an exercise that could just as easily be seen on early mornings in Seoul parks. Signs of hope for North Koreans shine through at a few points, as when Delisle recognizes genuine individual talent (p. 151) and when a person flatly criticizes the country (p. 153). Delisle's refusal to judge what he sees is admirable. As a collection of reflections by an unbiased visitor, his book is valuable to those interested in North Korea.


[...continued]

These books are welcome additions to the literature on North Korea, because they present their elusive subject in new ways. North Korea in Quotation should be used cautiously as a reference on the statements of particular individuals. Pyongyang is worthwhile for entertainment value alone, and Delisle's frames with their minimal captions make the graphic novel a surprisingly appropriate medium for bringing out the absurdity of passing time in that city as a foreigner. Delisle's insights into Pyongyang as a place where people live also teaches us about North Koreans.


Erik Mobrand is an analyst of Korean and Chinese affairs, and a doctoral candidate in politics at Princeton University.
 
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  PYONGYANG in the Hartford Advocate

Updated February 27, 2006


Dim Sons

Graphic novels offer a rare view of North and South Korea

by Alan Bisbort - February 23, 2006

Smiles are the most deceptive facial expression. Smiles connote more than mere good humor or happiness; they are used to hide fear, nervousness, suffering, sadness. People in concentration camps were photographed smiling. How is it that a nation can be embodied by the smile of its ill-equipped, halfwit leader, one who's entrusted with a nuclear arsenal? No, I'm not talking about the U.S., but one of those trio of nations that our halfwit leader labeled an "axis of evil," North Korea, whose equally creepy leader, Kim Jong Il, never seems to stop smiling. Maybe that's why Guy Delisle's book, Pyongyang (Drawn & Quarterly), resonates so powerfully in the age of Bush, showing that North Korea isn't some completely freakish Other. You are not likely to find a more revealing glimpse inside this whacked out armed camp than Delisle's Pyongyang . The great surprise for some readers will be that it's in the "graphic novel" genre, though surely, with Delisle's and Joe Sacco's work, a new term is warranted, perhaps "comics journalism," since the events are nonfiction.

"It's all so cold and sad I could cry," Delisle's character says after a few weeks in Pyongyang, the sterile capital of Kim's fascist fantasy camp.

His comics chronicle perfectly captures the anomie of a "planned society" and a dictatorship in a way that mere words could not. One needs to see the vast emptiness and fear on the faces that rules the soul of North Korea. The vacuous slogans and religious cult-like smiles of the citizens, reminiscent of those horrible smiles on the wasted Holocaust victims. Never a discouraging word despite all evidence to the contrary: starvation, deprivation, checkpoints, torture, invasion of privacy, gargantuan lies accepted as truth. And where the most misery can be found there too can be found the most inspiring billboards and loudspeakers spewing out the party line. (e.g., "Advancing gladly despite the hardships"). Think Fox News 24 hours a day. Only Fox News.

Fortunately, Delisle doesn't feign superiority or take cheap shots at the unfortunate, miserable North Korean people, who've been reduced to slogan-spewing automotons by decades of brainwashing and suppression and paranoia. Instead, he tries to crack their veneer. That it's largely to no avail is no discredit to Delisle. He gave it his best shot and we are fortunate to have this unique street-level view of this closed society. How closed is North Korea? It's the only nation on earth that forbids the Internet. It only has one channel on its TV, one that runs nearly nonstop propaganda or old documentaries about beating Japan in World War II.

Delisle's portrait is achieved through little touches, like the panels that show the top of a 47-story building, with rocks and bags of sand holding in place a platform from which window washers are suspended. (A perfect metaphor for the duct-tape-and-plastic-sheeting regimen proffered by our own Homeland Security Politburo). Or a visit to the International Friendship Exhibition, North Korea's tourist Valhalla dug into the side of a mountain to protect it from nuclear attack. Inside this mausoleum are all the gifts given to the two Kims from all over the world. The centerpiece is a life-size model of the elder Kim Il Sung that moves and appears to have real facial expressions.

The isolation of the nation is mirrored by the isolation of foreigners who work there, gathering to drink and laugh behind Kim's back, to discard their humorless guides for a few hours. The real fear at North Korea's heart is the reeducation camp. One day, perhaps, we will have a Solzhenitsyn who can give us a glimpse into these hellish places; perhaps he or she is there right now, laboring in secret. Until then, Delisle's book will do.

Pyongyang
by Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95
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PYONGYANG recognized by the Young Adult Library Services Association

Updated January 30, 2006


PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA by Guy Delisle is among YALSA’s Best Books For Young Adults, announced at the ALA conference in Texas on 01/24/06.

For the complete list visit: http://www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/booklistsawards/bestbooksya/06bbya.htm

From the ALA website: “YALSA has announced its 2006 recommended list of Best Books for Young Adults. The list, prepared annually, was released during the ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Antonio, Texas held January 20–25, 2006. In beautiful San Antonio the 15-member committee worked hard to narrow its list of 217 official nominations to the final list of 91 significant adult and young adult titles. The books, recommended for ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and reading appeal for teens...The winning titles make up an extremely diverse list that includes non-fiction, science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels, contemporary and historical fiction and verse novels.”

PRAISE FOR DELISLE’S PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA:

Best of 2005: Amazon.com, TIME.com, CBC Radio One "Talking Books", San Antonio Current, Vancouver Courier and the Edmonton Journal

“Delisle has drawn an unforgettable picture of Pyongyang.”–TIME MAGAZINE

“[Delisle] cloaks his tale with a compassionate cynicism that cushions the bleak horrors of this totalitarian Lost in Translation. Grade: A-”–ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“Great stuff - and proof that the comics panel can be another kind of window on the world.”–THE GUARDIAN UK

“News coverage from North Korea is scant - the regime of the world's last true totalitarian state is not exactly welcoming to foreign journalists. But a new graphic novel gives a rare, tragicomic, glimpse into everyday life in the drabbest of world capitals.”–INDEPENDENT, UK

“The episodes are smart, sharply observed and funny, without downplaying the untold horrors (death camps, starvation) that lurk around every corner.”–GLOBE & MAIL

“ North Korea is not only awful, but absurd, Delisle does manage to inject a surprising amount of wit into his illumination of one of our world's darkest corners.”–JAPAN TIMES

“While most of the literature about North Korea is decked in punditry, Delisle's ‘Pyongyang’ is a first-person account of a place most of us would never want to see with our own eyes. Delisle's drawings make an apt envoy. Gray cells are rarely this colorful.”–ASSOCIATED PRESS

“[Delisle’s] clever drawings reflect the city's institutionalized paranoia (‘You have to turn down your jazz! It could have a bad influence on the others!’), but also great civic pride, notwithstanding shortages of everything and mandatory volunteerism."–WASHINGTON POST

“In the case of ‘Pyongyang,’ I can't think of a more personal, entertaining way to introduce Westerners to what is surely the most bizarre, pathetic and spooky nation on Earth.” –HONOLULU STAR-BULLETIN

“Delisle, a French animator, documented his trip to Pyongyang to oversee the production of a cartoon...The result is a fascinating and highly personable glimpse” –SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN

“’Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea’ not only gives a peek inside one of the world’s most secretive nations, it’s also downright hilarious.”–GEORGIA STRAIGHT

“Delisle’s account is consistently hilarious...At first read, ‘Pyongyang’ is a page-turner, a perfect blend of anecdote, reflection and pitch-perfect atmospherics."–BOOKSLUT

“Delisle recreates the absurdist nightmare that North Korea's leaders have created in a simple graphic novel, the simplicity of which would be charming if the subject matter wasn't so eerie. It's ‘Persepolis’ meets Kafka.”–OTTAWA CITIZEN

“Tinged with black humour, his observations of the country's bleakness and the mind-boggling way in which state propaganda is swallowed offers a perspective no straight-up print journalism could.”– NATIONAL POST

“[Delisle’s] experiences make up this book, a surreal and rather frightening look at life under one of the only utterly totalitarian regimes left on the globe.”–HARRISBURG PATRIOT-NEWS

“The story of his visit, his wry observations of this mysterious territory and his experiences as an outsider, are rendered appropriately in shades of grey in a book drawn entirely in pencil.”–CALGARY HERALD

“Delisle is a wry but unsparing guide to his Axis Of Evil destination...”–THE ONION

“Delisle’s first-person vantage is fresh and curious.”–MONTREAL MIRROR

“Delisle is a skilled observer and cartoonist, able to convey the reality of what he was able to see with a sense of wit and cynicism.”–NASHVILLE CITY PAPER

“Delisle employs also a deft sense of humor that serves as counterpoint (for the reader now, as it did for the author then) to the prescribed earnestness of his surroundings.”–AUSTIN CHRONICLE

“Wry impressions of this most insular city...”–ST. PETERSBURG TIMES

“Entertaining and instructive.”–WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“Pyongyang proceeds like an eerie visit to the dystopia described in George Orwell’s 1984, which Delisle naturally brings with him on the trip.”–BALTIMORE CITY PAPER

“With a delicate pencil and a droll, occasionally outraged sensibility, he captures the inanities and insanities of Pyongyang....”–VILLAGE VOICE

“An incredible work that is both appealing from an entertainment standpoint, as well as a political statement and cultural assessment. Delisle might not have the background of a highly trained North Korean scholar, but his book offers an honest view of the country and doesn't get bogged down in pedantry.”–WASHINGTON EXAMINER

“’Pyongyang’ is a true eye opener. It is an intelligent and incisive look at a place where there are mysteriously no disabled people and the elderly are few...”–METRO NEWS, Toronto

hardcover. ISBN 1-896597-89-0. 184 pages. b/w. $19.95 US. $24.95 cdn

 
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  Pyongyang in the Japan Times Review

Updated January 30, 2006


THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF

Graphic view of Pyongyang
By DAVID COZY

PYONGYANG: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2005, 176 pp., $19.95 (cloth).

A consideration of North Korea must be, one supposes, a howl of rage, a moan of despair, or some combination, and this anger and despair must certainly be molded into one of the standard forms available for expression. It could be a polemic, a memoir, an expose, or a harsh and realistic novel. It would not, one feels certain, be a wry and witty comic book, but Guy Delisle's "Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea" shatters that certainty.

This account of the two months he spent in and around the North Korean capital and his chosen form -- call it a "graphic novel" if you must -- proves to be the perfect vehicle to convey not just the absurdity and awfulness of Kim Jong Il's fiefdom, but also what it feels like to be a visitor from the West dropped into its gray and regimented midst.

Delisle, an animator and cartoonist, had the dubious privilege of parachuting into North Korea thanks to the globalization of the workplace. When animation studios in France found they could no longer pay their draftsmen First World wages they looked to illustrators in the Third World who would work for less. Even China came to seem too pricey, so the bean-counters next turned to North Korea, and thus Delisle was sent to supervise production of an animated feature at the Scientific and Educational Film Studio of Korea.

"The studio might have been intended to educate the masses," Delisle observes, "but these days it's used to attract foreign currency, most of it French." Delisle's ironic eye is evident here and throughout Pyongyang, and irony proves an effective lens through which to view the hermit dictatorship, particularly when Delisle's sardonic view is contrasted with the apparently sincere convictions of his ever-present minders.

Delisle is compelled to pay a visit, for example, to the International Friendship Exhibition. There he is marched past displays of "gifts from the four corners of the earth offered to 'the Eternal President' ": "ashtrays, pedal organs, vases, rifles, pens, swords, fishing rods, an electric coffee pot, a flat screen TV, a bayonet, a gold medal, a bronze medal, a fridge, forks, stuffed animals, dishes, an alarm clock, a machine gun, elephant tusks, etc." No comment is necessary to highlight the absurd megalomania that accounts for this odd miscellany, and Delisle has the sense to make none.

The culmination of his slog through the jumble of Kim's junk is the demigod himself, or rather a graven image thereof. Following protocol Delisle bows to the wax effigy. He bites his tongue to keep himself from laughing at the reverence accorded the dummy, but is aware that the detachment of soldiers bowing behind him have in their eyes real tears. Unstated is the fact that for any of those soldiers to see the dark humor in the situation, to express amusement by even the slightest twitch or sniffle, would mean finishing life in a gulag -- if they were lucky.

The illustrations -- an integral part, of course, of any comic book -- are effective throughout and especially good in expressing the tight control under which Kim's subjects live. Amid the panels with words -- sometimes a balloon containing a remark of Delisle's, sometimes narration contained in a box -- there are, for example, wordless pictures of a wind-up man, and full-page renderings of the kitsch monuments the Kims have built in honor of themselves. Not always clearly related to the narrative, they force home a sense of the constricted lives North Koreans lead in a way that words, or words alone, would not.

Horror, of course, underlies every moment of Delisle's months in North Korea, but unlike Kim's subjects he is able to allow himself small rebellions, as when he offers to buy a round of Coca Cola for his minders at a beverage stand catering to foreign tourists. They, of course, decline the opportunity to sample this pure product of capitalism, but Delisle partakes.

"Strangely enough, drinking coke becomes an act of defiance. It isn't glorious but it's good enough," a narrative box above a guzzling Delisle tells us. In the adjacent panel, the sentence continues: ". . . especially since I've always hated this drink." Lower down in the panel we see Delisle, with an eye on his minders, exclaiming: "Mmm! Delicious." These words and the pictures around them are as necessary to each other as music is to plot in opera. They combine to create an effect that is, in spite of the underlying horror, comic.

Far from comic, indeed almost too frightening to consider, is the question that Delisle's experiences oblige him to ask: "To what extent can a mind be manipulated?" That this comic book has allowed us to see what drove Delisle to ask the question, and to ponder its unpalatable answer, remind us that comics have never been limited to the comic, that indeed they can be profound.

David Cozy is a writer and critic and teaches at Showa Women's University.

The Japan Times: Jan. 29, 2006
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PYONGYANG selected among the Best Books of 2005 for Young Adults

Updated January 25, 2006


D+Q congratulates Guy Delisle, whose graphic novel, PYONGYANG, has been selected by The American Library Association (ALA) as one of its “Best Books of the Year for Young Adults.” This is an influential list that is compiled to help librarians across the US decide what books to buy for their library collections. The list is of all books, not just graphic novels and comics.
 
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  San Antonio Current Best of 2005

Updated January 12, 2006


Arts
Framed
John DeFore on comix
01/11/2006

2005 in graphic novels

Fans of comics and graphic novels had another good year in 2005. Pioneering cartoonist Chris Ware was awarded a weekly feature in The New York Times Magazine (he’s less pioneering there than usual, but it’s early); the supply of high-quality reprint titles turned into a near-glut; and those of us with a nostalgic love for a certain pointy-eared superhero watched with joy as Hollywood atoned for its past misdeeds with Batman Begins. In this first installment of a monthly column devoted to graphic novels, comic books, and assorted other manifestations of the cartoonist’s art, here’s a recap of the best book-length comics of the year:

[D&Q mentions:]

Wimbledon Green by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly). Ice Haven has a little fun with adults who obsess over comics; Wimbledon Green makes them the sole subject. A hilariously sarcastic tale that will sting any self-aware collector who ever dreamed of having a fortune to spend on rare comics — and which has parallels to the real-life tale of rare-map thievery recently told in The New Yorker — it contains the kind of dead-on potshots that can only be nailed by an author who sees a lot of himself in his targets.

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly). Not at all the dull political travelogue you might expect from a book subtitled “A Journey in North Korea,” this dryly funny novel recounts the author’s adventures as a temporary supervisor in one of the North Korean animation studios that do the grunt work for European cartoons.

Walt and Skeezix by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly). Back in the “labor of love” reprint category, this handsome volume is the first devoted to Gasoline Alley, the newspaper strip that ran for decades and (unusual for the funny pages) allowed its characters to age and its storylines to mature over the years. May it be greeted by the throngs of welcoming fans who embraced the high-profile Peanuts and Krazy Kat series.

By John DeFore
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Featured artists

Seth
Frank King
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




Vancouver Courier's Year's Best: PYONGYANG and PAUL MOVES OUT

Updated January 5, 2006


Year's best books include graphic novels, satire, short stories

Books don't just make you look smarter when you're sipping a half-decaf, mocha-lattte-frappa-chino, they're fun to read as well. From short story collections to graphic novels, this year's crop of notable reads was no exception, with tales of post high school hangovers, mythological trees, dead rock stars, totalitarian states and deeply shallow trendsetters.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
By Guy Delisle

If Persepolis was the breakout graphic novel of 2004, then Pyongyang is this year's, at least artistically. Like Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran, Guy Delisle's book takes us into a world few of us will ever experience. A riveting and scary read, Pyongyang leaves the reader full of awe, wonder and rage that such totalitarianism can exist in this day and age.-Shawn Conner

Paul Moves Out
By Michel Rabagliati

A wonderfully executed, sweetly innocent coming-of-age story about two young artists in Montreal. Rabagliati's bold black brush strokes are visual poetry, particularly against the cream-coloured backdrop.-SC
 
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Featured artists

Michel Rabagliati
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Paul Moves Out
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  BOOKSLUT reviews GUY DELISLE'S PYONGYANG

Updated January 5, 2006


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Famine, repression, and mind-numbing homogeneity aside, North Korea still sparks longing among an odd segment of Western society. Since perestroika and the Buena Vista Social Club sprung their geniis, it’s all that’s left of the once boundless and bottomless mystery called Communist dictatorship, and an untoward number of curious denizens of the free world now pine for Pyongyang.

It’s a good deal easier to satisfy this perverse taste for grim surrealism if you aren’t American. Though even the Europeans, who run eleven of the twelve NGO’s in the isolated pariah state, are being dismissed as of December 31, 2005. It’s unclear whether or not the eviction will extend to French animators, who, apparently, have been treating the North Korean capital as their Toronto for some time.

Who knew?

This well-kept industry secret has been blown by Guy Delisle, the cartoonist who brought us Shenzhen, an account of an animator overseeing production in China. His new book, Pyongyang offers the same spare illustration and wry interpretation of an impossibly foreign culture, but with a blacker comedy and a much higher arched eyebrow.

Pyongyang is subtitled “A Journey in North Korea,” which is a bit of an exaggeration. Delisle is trotted off to official destinations by his handlers (the museum of the friendship of the nations, in which diplomatic gifts to the “eternal president” Kim Il Sung are displayed in cavernous rooms where visitors must wear slippers, is the best portrayed), but his two month stay in Pyongyang is characterized best by the monotony of life in a glass jar. He wiles away the hours flying paper airplanes from his 15th story hotel room, itself an exercise in concentric perimeters of isolation, and in walking the destitute streets from one permitted zone to another. “Spicing it up” in the context of a prolonged stay in Pyongyang by a foreigner consists of dining in Restaurant 3 rather than Restaurant 1.

Delisle’s account is consistently hilarious, though at times the joke is quite literally on the few Koreans with whom he is in daily contact. In one scene, Delisle and a French colleague break out an impromptu rap all about their ubiquitous guide, with the refrain “Cap-tain Sin… He’s our power magnified!” They crack themselves up and the reader too, since we’re in on the joke, while the unfortunate Sin sits stony-faced.

At first read, Pyongyang is a page-turner, a perfect blend of anecdote, reflection and pitch-perfect atmospherics. (It may be a presumptuous claim when made about a place so fiercely protected from outside perceptions that it redefines the phrase “rarefied atmosphere.” Nonetheless, for anyone who has experienced vestiges of Soviet life or looked upon monuments of any brand of megalomania, Deslisle’s landscapes, both urban and lobby will evoke a visceral understanding).

At second read, more and more of Delisle’s scenes, which have the artistic nuance of diluted Ted Rall, are better than just entertaining. This is a graphic novel so well crafted that the text begins to work as secondary illustration: propaganda begins to flow freely from each cell, like the canned music and broadcast exhortations that trail into the 15th floor hotel rooms; a small frame exchange between Delisle and his handlers perfectly sets up a full-page illustration of the dialogue’s own irony.

Pyongyang is the heart of a regime which daily engages in self-mutilation along its perimeters. The country’s other internal organ is a gulag which send millions to an early grave. Rendering the irony of the self-proclaimed paradise digestible is no easy task. Guy Delisle has admirably packaged the pathos and perversity inherent in the victimized society. He has pulled out his snapshots and recommended, sadly, that we rethink our fascination.

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1896597890
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




2 D&Q books in the EDMONTON JOURNAL'S Top 5 of 2005

Updated January 3, 2006


Edmonton Journal
Culture, C2
Graphic novels, comics blossomed in '05

Gilbert A. Bouchard
29 December 2005

EDMONTON

This was a great year for graphic novel and comic book aficionados.

Not only did the once marginal art form continue its rapid development as a full-fledged and demanding adult medium, the output was almost daunting, with quality titles flooding the bookstore and comic book shop shelves from a growing stable of publishing houses.

More than just sheer quantity, the medium offered up some impressive quality and an equally impressive range, encompassing everything from edgy fictional offerings like Charles Burns's Black Hole; non-fiction, autobiographical epics like David B.'s Epileptic; and international career-spanning retrospectives like Drawn & Quarterly's collection of work by Japan's Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

In that spirit, the following Top 5 Graphic Novel Roundup for 2005 is offered up to not only reflect the best work of the past year, but to hit a handful of diverse thematic and subject matters in a naturally eclectic art form.

PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY TO NORTH KOREA
by Guy Delise

Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $24.95

Don't let the fact that Pyongyang is Canadian cartoonist Guy Delise's first major anglophone graphic narrative mislead you. This is a wildly sophisticated and artistically engaging work -- a book-length documentation of the artist's professional sojourn in North Korea, where he worked on an animation project with his Korean subcontractors, that's told with great storytelling panache and psychological complexity.

PAUL MOVES OUT
by Michel Rabagliati

Drawn & Quarterly, 120 pages, $25.95

In this second graphic novel of his Paul series (the first was Paul Gets a Job), Michel Rabagliati continues to produce work that does great justice to Canada's rich graphic novel tradition of sensitive autobiographical work produced in a Europeanesque clean-line cartooning style. This work creates an engaging picture of life in Quebec in the early '80s.
 

Featured artists

Michel Rabagliati
Guy Delisle
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

Paul Moves Out
The Push Man & Other Stories
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  PYONGYANG and THE PUSH MAN in the Santa Fe New Mexican

Updated January 3, 2006


PASATIEMPO
DRAWING POWER
ROBERT BENZIKER

23 December 2005
The Santa Fe New Mexican. PA-56


Storytelling through sequential art has been around for centuries. In the early 1500s, the conquistador Hern n Cortez acquired an ancient 36-foot-long manuscript depicting the trials of the Mixtec folk hero 8-Deer Tiger Claw. The French embroidered the Bayeux Tapestry to describe the Norman conquest of 1066. In the 1700s, William Hogarth created popular etchings and paintings like A Harlot's Progress that were intended to be read in sequence as a critique on English society. It was not until the cheap serials of the mid-1900s that comics were considered juvenile superhero punch- outs. That perception has changed with the recent emergence of interest in the graphic-novel form.

With so much product and variety in the world, any attempt to throw a blanket over an entire medium -- or prove that no such blanket exists -- is folly. Graphic novels cannot even be limited to a single art form. They are a marriage between visual art (a stand- alone panel), visual storytelling (panels in sequence), writing, and even music (as the stories are told in beats and rhythm from one panel to the next). This combination can increase the chances of a work being bad. But great art in any medium invents a fully realized, imaginary world and uses it to show us new and wonderful things. Graphic novels have that power as much as any medium.

Perhaps no recent work exemplifies this as much as Paul Pope's 100% (Vertigo, 2005). The book is set in New York City's future -- a run-down place where hovercars fly through row-house canyons. Nothing is shocking anymore in the art world, which bleeds into the strip-club scene while violence permeates everything. Most artists would have used such a setting for a glorified tale of guns, drugs, and hard-nosed action. Pope uses it to tell the story of six people whose lives intersect as they search for love, meaning -- anything to call their own.

In a world so ugly, this search can seem so quixotic that the characters might not realize it when beauty stares them in the face. One character struggles to get financing for his art installation: 100 teakettles all tuned to C major. This book hits its notes with a similar power and clarity. Pope's thick brushstrokes reveal the souls of these characters and this world in a "warts and all" way that feels real and reinforces the themes.

Looking for a space of one's own in an ugly, crowded city is also a major theme in Yoshihiro Tatsumi's The Push Man and Other Stories (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005). The setting is 1960s Tokyo: a place full of rats, aborted fetuses in sewers, and sex slaves hidden in apartments. It's not what comes to mind when thinking of Tokyo, but Tatsumi's work is not typical '60s Japanese art. These stories, reprinted from Tatsumi's 1969 serials, are told in a more Western form of cartooning than Japanese manga, and the pleasing line work contradicts the awful subject matter. Each story begins as a slice of life before sinking into horrific sex and violence as the protagonists' frustrations increase their depravity. The only character to enjoy a happy ending without resorting to violence is the man who comes to terms with his cross-dressing after finding a woman who loves him as a woman. Such sexual proclivities and the violent frustrations of the working class lying just under Japan's polite surface are rarely subjects in Japanese art and make this book compelling.

Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005) centers on another Asian city concerned with its surface image. With the success of Joe Sacco's Palestine, travel journalism is a growing subgenre of graphic novels and is perfectly suited to the form. An artist keeping a pictorial diary of a trip can let the reader see this world through his or her eyes in an impressionistic way. This is especially handy with a country like North Korea, which is so concerned with appearance that it won't let foreigners photograph its garbage or shantytowns. Delisle, a French animator, documented his trip to Pyongyang to oversee the production of a cartoon (the cels between the beginning and end of a movement in most Western cartoons -- the ones that create the sense of motion -- are mass-produced in Asia). The result is a fascinating and highly personable glimpse at an unfamiliar country whose leader floods the struggling population with propaganda that reinforces his image and blames America's foreign policy for all North Korea's hardships.

Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates 2: Gods and Monsters (Marvel, 2005) is an unlikely book to study America's policies. It stars reimagined versions of Marvel characters, like the Hulk and Captain America, but depicts the conflicts between left-wing and right-wing ideology rather than between heroes and villains. Millar wisely doesn't pass judgment on either viewpoint but objectively holds the ideologies up for us to consider. In this world, America is creating superheroes (or "peoples of mass destruction") to use in pre-emptive strikes in the war on terror. Captain America embodies his country as a man with outdated World War II ideals, who can be a hero as well as a bully to those weaker than himself. Much of the book retells the 1989 TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk; here, the Hulk goes on a rampage, kills hundreds of New Yorkers, and is put on trial. The story examines the morality of the death penalty, the public's thirst for a scapegoat in the face of tragedy, and the impulse to solve violence with violence, all under the guise of an obvious September 11 metaphor. Hitch's detailed, cinematic approach gives the work the feel of a blockbuster movie -- albeit one much smarter than the usual Hollywood production.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely also used the cinematic approach to tell a personal and allegorical story with their great WE3 (Vertigo, 2005). In that story the military adopts stray animals, gives them bizarre, buglike armor, and turns them into experimental, living weapons. A sympathetic trainer realizes that her subjects -- a dog, a cat, and a rabbit -- are about to be terminated and frees them. This ultraviolent retelling of The Incredible Journey is done with some of the medium's most innovative artwork (characters sometimes literally jump out of the panels) and with passionate writing from animal-lover Morrison. He gives the animals a crude form of dialogue ("Is Gud Dog?") and writes each one with a distinct personality similar to its true-life behavior. The dog is compassionate and idealistic; the cat is selfish and aggressive; and the rabbit is passive and simple-minded. Together they stay just ahead of the government's attacks and eventually realize their home is gone and they will die. Underlying this science-fiction action is a profound meditation on the value of life -- animal and human -- and as strong a statement for animal rights as any fiction out there.

Not all books need to be so serious. Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&! series (ADV Manga, 2005) is delightful, often hilarious all-ages manga. Yotsuba is a 5-year-old who moves to a new town with her father and learns about life one remarkable discovery at a time. The books are broken up into 30-page stories for each new revelation, and along the way adults can recognize little quirks from their own youth. Azuma puts the reader on Yotsuba's level and follows the mad logic of a boisterous child as she casually insults adults with her honesty, is confounded by her shortcomings, is terrified of random things like owls, and is overexcited about everything. The panels showing her reactions are even funnier than the dialogue, and every page oozes pure joy. Anyone who is 5, or has ever been 5, will find a lot to smile at in these pages.

Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




D&Q wins 3 of TIME COMIX top 10 of 2005!

Updated January 3, 2006


Best of 2005: Comix
Posted Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005

TIME.comix columnist Andrew Arnold presents the top graphic literature of the year

- 4 -
Walt & Skeezix
by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly)

Finally exposing the work of a nearly forgotten master cartoonist, Walt & Skeezix reprints the first two years of Frank King's deeply American comic strip "Gasoline Alley" in the debut of what will (hopefully) be an annual reprint series for the next twenty years or so. Famous for characters who age in real time, like Walt, the dedicated bachelor and his adopted son Skeezix, the strip amounts to a daily diary of an American family as it goes through the depression, WWII, the post-war boom and beyond. This first volume features many car gags, but they soon give way to King's fascination with the country life as Walt, Skeezix and the Alley gang go for a trip to Yellowstone. Every day they pass through a real town, with its name duly noted in the corner. Walt & Skeezix is a trip you won't want to miss.
A Bright, Well-lit 'Alley' 7/9/2005

- 5 -
Or Else
by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)

Once only available as samizdat-style photocopied pamphlets, this year fans of Kevin Huizenga's comix have finally been rewarded with a regular, aboveground series. One of the most promising of a new generation of cartoonists, Huizenga's stories use a combination of the quotidian and the surreal to explore themes of science, nature, religion and family. One episode spends twenty pages interpreting a single moment when a character becomes blinded by the sun coming through a library window. Using whimsy to explore the metaphysical, Huizenga's Or Else, consistently surprises with its intelligence and artistry.
Get It 'Or Else' 4/1/2005

- 7 -
Pyongyang: a Journey in North Korea
by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

In 2001 Guy Delisle spent several months in North Korea's capital overseeing the production of a French animated TV show. While the show may be forgotten, his comix diary of the experience will not be. With a great deal of dry humor, Delisle examines the workings of the world's most hyper-controlled society, where the only lights in the city seem to be the ones focused on monuments to the "Dear Leader." Though it lacks the deep cultural penetration of some other memoirs, like Marjane Satrapri's Persepolis series and Joe Sacco's Balkan War books, Pyongyang provides a cartoon corrective to a place that too often gets characterized in "cartoonish" ways.
From Ming to Kim 9/23/2005
 
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Featured artists

Frank King
Kevin Huizenga
Guy Delisle

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Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Or Else #3




  GUY DELISLE'S PYONGYANG on AP

Updated January 3, 2006


Drawn and quartered
Graphic novel 'Pyongyang' follows one Westerner's stay in North Korea. OTIS HART reviews this grayscaled tale.
Thursday, 15 December, 2005, 15:44 EST, US

By OTIS HART


When trying to understand the cultural and political black hole that is Kim Jong Il's North Korea, a little gray can go a long way.

In the graphic novel "Pyongyang," French-Canadian animator Guy Delisle recounts his two antiseptic months above the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, in humdrum detail. He is brought to these parts for his job as an animator. The company he works for has an office there and he is shipped in to oversee cartoon production.

Nothing much happens during Delisle's stay; he visits museums, catches some flicks, hangs with fellow Westerners. Imagine a Seinfeld episode without the convenient interlocking plotlines and catch phrases. (You can hear Delisle's pitch now: "It's a 180-page comic book about nothing!")

But this isn't your everyday nada. This is nothing in one of the most mysterious places in the world, where only foreigners fill the streets and all the radio stations play the same music. You don't need color-coded news alerts to sense the terror.

Delisle quickly (and understandably) becomes bored and frustrated by the monochromatic lifestyle. His grayscale drawings, on the flip side, rarely elicit the same reaction. Delisle's panning of the mundane often turns up gold, something he probably only recognized after looking back on his trip. I guess you had to NOT be there.

The humor is subtle, the laughs never reach more than a chuckle, but the pages keep turning nonetheless. The most impressive aspect of Delisle's humor is the restraint. He understands that the images he's conveying are more important than his one-liners about Hermit cuisine. Occasionally, he'll comment on the lunacy of it all when the image speaks for itself, but more often than not, Delisle grasps that his pencil is mightier than the word.

Perhaps the most enlightening and surprising stone unturned is the capitalist's isolation from the people who make up the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. There are restaurants, casinos and hotels that function exclusively for international visitors. In a city with more than 2.5 million residents, according to Delisle there is only one place to get ice cream. And aside from the guides and those in the service industry, the only North Koreans we see in "Pyongyang" are "volunteers" cutting grass and polishing stones.

Because of this dearth of common folk, Delisle never finds the answer to his $64,000 question: do the North Korean people really believe the propaganda Kim Jong Il feeds them? His guides steadfastly defend their "invincible" leader, one even cries when visiting a giant wax replica of founding father Kim Il Sung.

But when Delisle argues with one of his handlers late in the book about American opposition to Korean unification ("Dictatorship means shut up, democracy means keep talking!"), it's tempting to interpret his guide's mute response as concession. When 50 percent of your fellow citizens have been informants for the party, silence is the safest form of protest.

While most of the literature about North Korea is decked in punditry, Delisle's "Pyongyang" is a first-person account of a place most of us would never want to see with our own eyes. Delisle's drawings make an apt envoy. Gray cells are rarely this colorful.

___

Otis Hart is an asap reporter in New York.
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

           Featured product

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




CBC RADIO'S "Talking Books" picks WIMBLEDON and PYONGYANG in Year's Best

Updated December 19, 2005


CBC Radio One's "Talking Books"
December 17, 2005

Top 25 Books of the Year

Chosen by Ian Brown, Martin Levin (The Globe and Mail's books editor), Antanas Sileika (director of the Humber School for Writers) and Jeanie Macfarlane (editor)

Graphica:

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly), 1896597890, $24.95

Wimbledon Green, by Seth (Drawn and Quarterly), 1896597939, $24.95


 

Featured artists

Seth
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




  PUSH MAN and PYONGYANG in the Japan Times

Updated December 19, 2005


The Japan Times
December 18, 2005

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
What did you read about Asia this year?

[D&Q mentions:]

THE PUSH MAN AND OTHER STORIES by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly)

PYONGYANG: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

We shouldn't need Scott McCloud to remind us that "the art form . . . known as comics is a vessel which can hold any number of ideas and images," but there do still seem to be readers under the misapprehension that comics are necessarily concerned with men in tights. Two of the best Asia-related books this year demonstrate that comics can, in fact, consider subjects as varied as the gritty urban world of the Japanese working poor featured in Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "The Push Man and Other Stories" and a French-Canadian animator's experiences in the capital of the hermit dictatorship as recorded in Guy Delisle's "Pyongyang." We will notice, too, even if we never get beyond these two offerings, that comics can be structurally quite different from one another. The stories collected in "The Push Man," for example, are mostly austere eight-page vignettes. The constricted form Tatsumi employs, we come to feel, fits perfectly the constricted lives of his characters: a fellow who allows his arm to be severed so his girlfriend can open a bar with the insurance money, for example, or a pimp encaged by the woman who keeps him.

Much more expansive is Delisle's "Pyongyang," which is not a collection of strips but a unified book divided, as a novel would be, into chapters. Neither "Pyongyang" nor "Push Man" will make for cheerful holiday reading, but as North Korea is not only awful, but absurd, Delisle does manage to inject a surprising amount of wit into his illumination of one of our world's darkest corners.
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Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




PYONGYANG in the Washington Post

Updated December 16, 2005


Sunday, December 18, 2005; Page P02

Road Reads

"Pyongyang," by Guy Delisle
(Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95)

TARGET AUDIENCE: People seeking a virtual visa for North Korea.

Portraits of North Korean President Kim Jong-Il and his late father and predecessor, Kim Il-Sung, hang everywhere in Pyongyang, often airbrushed to make the two look alike ("same size, same age, same suit"). Nothing ever changes here, says Delisle, a Canadian graphic novelist and animator sent to Pyongyang to rescue a cinema project. The Korean Conflict is more than a memory: "To hear them talk, the war ended last week and is due to resume any day now."

Foreigners like Delisle all are housed on the 15th floor of an otherwise dark and empty hotel-casino (which North Koreans are forbidden to enter). He slips away from his assigned hosts, but returns to find them panicked -- he has taken pictures of garbage. His clever drawings reflect the city's institutionalized paranoia ("You have to turn down your jazz! It could have a bad influence on the others!"), but also great civic pride, notwithstanding shortages of everything and mandatory volunteerism.

-- Jerry V. Haines
 
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  PYONGYANG reviewed in Vancouver's GEORGIA STRAIGHT

Updated December 16, 2005


Travel Notes
December 15, 2005

INSIDE THE AXIS OF EVIL

There are some destinations that most travellers will only ever visit vicariously, no matter how intriguing they may be. North Korea is one such place, and Quebec-born Guy Delisle was one of the few westerners allowed in, when he spent six months working there for a French film-animation studio. His graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) not only gives a peek inside one of the world’s most secretive nations, it’s also downright hilarious. Who could resist poking fun at a regime devoted to Kim Il-sung, who, despite his death in 1994, is still “eternal president”?

Delisle’s cartoons portray his frustration and fascination as he tries to see behind the official façade presented by his state-sanctioned guide and interpreter. The graphics capture bleak absurdities that words couldn’t convey: his 50-storey hotel, which puts all foreigners on the 15th floor, the only one that’s lit; the total absence of streetlights at night; and the dark, robotic expressions of citizens who never seem to deviate from the party line. Do they actually believe all the propaganda? Delisle offers his smuggled-in copy of George Orwell’s 1984 to his guide and solicits comments.

This book would make great tree-side reading for expats or frequent business travellers, who can relate to Delisle’s Lost in Translation–style vignettes, as well as for anyone who’s yearned to veer off the official tour.

By Carolyn Ali
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

           Featured product

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




PYONGYANG reviewed in the Vancouver Courier

Updated December 16, 2005


Graphic memoir offers worldly view

Sun 11 Dec 2005
Source: Vancouver Courier
Section: Arts & Entertainment
Page: 40

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
By Guy Delisle
Drawn and Quarterly
1-896597-89-0
$24.95cdn, hardcover

One of the fastest-growing current trends in graphic novels and non-superhero comic books is the memoir/reportage genre. Joe Sacco's Bosnia and Palestine books broke new ground in this area, and Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran, established the form in the mainstream with coverage in respected publications like The New York Times Book Review. Add to the list Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. An account of the French (born in Quebec, based in France) artist's two-month sojourn in the nation's capital while working for a French film animation company, Pyongyang is as timely as it is compulsively readable. Delisle's shades-of-grey panels evoke the kind of impersonal, stifling atmosphere one would expect from a city under totalitarian rule. In a nice touch, Delisle is reading 1984 while working in the city, and the parallels are uncomfortable to say the least. The saddest part of the book is Delisle's encounters with the North Koreans themselves, mostly interpreters and handlers who have been so brainwashed by leader Kim Jong-Il that they can barely utter a laugh.

Delisle has an artist's and satirist's eye for the telling detail. He notices that the ubiquitous side-by-side portraits of Jong-Il and his father Kim Il-Sung, in which the two generations of despots are made to look alike, are hung at an incline. This, the author surmises, must be to prevent "any reflections that could prevent you from contemplating the sun of the 21st century and his venerable father." Indeed, the excellent Pyongyang gives the impression that the 39-year-old cartoonist has missed very little, and that he has captured this mysterious and frankly frightening country in a way few others have.

--Shawn Conner
 
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Featured artist

Guy Delisle

           Featured product

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  PYONGYANG reviewed in the CONCORD MONITOR

Updated December 15, 2005


Illustrator travels into the darkness of North Korea

By BRENDAN WOLFE
For the Monitor
December 11. 2005 8:00AM

"Christ!" Guy Delisle exclaims at one point during his two-month stay in the North Korean capital. "The things an animator has to do to get a gig."

That combination of despair, disbelief and wry humor is typical of the engrossing nonfiction graphic novel Delisle has produced about the experience, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.

A French Canadian, Delisle arrives in Pyongyang to supervise animation outsourced by a French television company. Things are strange straight away as he disembarks into a completely unlit airport. (In many respects, the Dark Ages still prevail in North Korea.) Delisle's guides, meanwhile, awkwardly present him a bouquet of flowers. Only later does he realize that he's expected to lay those flowers at the bronze feet of the late Great Leader, Kim Il Sung.

Delisle's panel shows himself and his two guides bowing low, literally overshadowed by the 22-meter-high statue. As the book often suggests, Big Brother is always looming in Pyongyang.

It's appropriate, then, that Delisle thought to pack Orwell's 1984- appropriate and a bit gimmicky, too. One night in bed, he struggles to read for lack of light when an overhead lamp mysteriously turns on. Thankfully, the incident occurs without comment. Instead, Delisle uses his art to deftly convey his confusion and anxiety.

Delisle is expert at invoking the odd, the unexpected, even the surreal, all of which Pyongyang predictably provides in abundance. How wonderfully strange, for instance, that of the 50 floors in Delisle's hotel, only a single floor is lit, and only part of that floor is occupied. Much of the regime's power, it seems, is mere artifice.
To his credit, Delisle's method is often elliptical enough that a second reading is necessary to fully appreciate the terror that lurks just below the surface of his drawings. In one incident, Delisle is listening to music alone in his office when one of his Korean handlers pokes his head through the door. "You have to turn down your jazz!" he barks. "It could be a bad influence on the others!" Delisle then pulls back to show himself in the darkly shadowed office, alone.

Delisle peppers the narrative with enough history and politics to orient the non-expert reader. He doesn't claim to be an expert himself, and he's best when noticing what only an animator would: for instance, that the omnipresent framed photos of Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, are slightly wider at the top than at the bottom. This, he tells us, is to prevent glare, but it "also intensifies the gaze in this face-to-face encounter."

On the other hand, the author stumbles when he rolls out statistics about famine deaths or rice rations that he doesn't back up with any sources. "It's estimated that 50 percent of the people here have, at some time or another, served as informants," he writes, without bothering to say how he knows this.

One might be tempted to take his word for it were this not North Korea, a closed-off place that forces its people, writes Delisle, to "live in a state of constant paradox where truth is anything but constant." Such a comment might have led to an exploration of how we can know anything about this Hermit Kingdom, but it doesn't.

Delisle also never directly questions the ethics of his being in Pyongyang, which is strange. At one point, he wonders about a project in which two French telecom engineers are installing a high-definition transmitter. "An obvious priority for a country getting the most aid in the world!" Delisle scolds. But the criticism could just as easily be reversed. Why are foreigners like himself so comfortable making a buck off a government that starves its people?

Because it would make for a sweet comic book?

Delisle frequently sketches moments charged with ambiguous meaning, but he refuses to linger or think too hard. At a museum, a wax figure of Kim Il Sung stands alone and smiling, so realistic that he seems about to speak. "Behind me, a detachment of soldiers bows down," Delisle observes, "tears in their eyes. As agreed I bend over along with my hosts, biting my tongue to keep from laughing out loud."

Absent any explanation, Delisle comes across here as a bit cruel. Sympathy for such brainwashing is hardly on order, but until there's more empathy and understanding, North Korea will forever remain unreachable.

By BRENDAN WOLFE
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PYONGYANG in the UK GUARDIAN

Updated December 12, 2005


Graphic novels
Is this really happening ... ?

Sex, horror and paranoia are at the heart of the latest crop of graphic novels - most of these stories are certainly not for kids, says Roger Sabin

Sunday December 11, 2005

The Observer

[D&Q mention:]

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly £14.99, pp184)

When the 2005 London Book Fair declared graphic novels to be 'the fastest-growing sector in publishing', nobody inside the comics business was surprised. All the indications were there - the popularity of movie tie-in superhero books among young male readers, the phenomenal success of manga for female teens, even the creeping respectability of more 'art house' fodder, as reviewed in pages such as these.

In fact, the demographic least likely to find a graphic novel in their Christmas stocking this year is kids - which is odd considering the number of definitions of comics that cling to the idea that their juvenile nature is their key characteristic.

Pyongyang, by Guy Delisle, is a 'graphic travelogue' about the author's two-month stay in North Korea. Part comic observation and part political blog, the style certainly owes a lot to Joe Sacco, and like Sacco's work you get a sense of the country that you might not have done from, say, documentary photography - the cowed populace, the fetishisation of the Kim dynasty, the mad military museums. Delisle plays his 'stranger in a strange land' role to the hilt, and even lends his (strictly mandated) tour guide a copy of 1984. Great stuff - and proof that the comics panel can be another kind of window on the world.
 
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  SETH and GUY DELISLE'S PYONGYANG in the Ottawa Citizen

Updated December 6, 2005


Ottawa Citizen
4 December 2005

The Citizen's Weekly: Arts & Books
A CanLit Top 10: Your stocking needs more Canada


Christmas Days
By Derek McCormack and Seth

In his earlier books, McCormack rewrote the themes and tropes of CanLit with his dark tales of a young gay man's self-discovery. Now he turns his attention to the history of Christmas in Canada. McCormack fans need not be worried -- he hasn't turned all cuddly. The history of fake snow for trees, for instance, lovingly meditates on cancer risks.

Illustrated by graphic artist Seth.


Pyongyang
By Guy Delisle

Graphic artist Delisle travelled to North Korea to finish work on a children's cartoon. The world he encountered was far stranger than any comic or fairy tale. Delisle recreates the absurdist nightmare that North Korea's leaders have created in a simple graphic novel, the simplicity of which would be charming if the subject matter wasn't so eerie. It's Persepolis meets Kafka.


Peter Darbyshire

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Guy Delisle

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PYONGYANG & WIMBLEDON GREEN in the NATIONAL POST

Updated December 6, 2005


National Post
3 December 2005

All I want is a book: So they told you the Xbox 360s are all sold out and that point-and-shoot digital camera you so carefully researched won't be in until March. It really doesn't matter because...

IF ONLY TOLSTOY HAD ALSO LEARNED TO DRAW

Few fans were surprised this year when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's graphic novel Watchmen was included on Time's list of the 100 best novels of all time. If anything, it was about time the mainstream recognized that the genre has been steadily growing in popularity for the past two decades.

This year's best graphic novels show that images and text combined can be used to explore any number of literary styles and themes -- memoir, journalism, bleak teen fiction, philosophical explorations of Judaism -- in surprising, engaging and entertaining ways.

[D&Q mentions:]

WIMBLEDON GREEN: THE GREATEST COMIC BOOK COLLECTOR IN THE WORLD, Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) "This book was created on a lark," Seth writes in the introduction to this send-up of comic-book collectors, but the Guelph, Ont., artist's encyclopedic knowledge of the form comes through in every one of this book's tightly packed panels. Seth recounts the life of the pompous Wimbledon Green cumulatively, allowing friends and associates to tell their tales of the man who once bought All Bedtime Funnies at auction for $28,000. There are rivals like Waxy Coombs, Chip Corners and Daddy Doats, and reminiscences from comics critic Art Stern and a few gems for the Wimbledon Green Library. The colouring sometimes falls short of the superb draftsmanship of Seth's work, but it's a minor fault in such a funny and touching look at what it means to love comics.

PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA, Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) Working in the tradition of Joe Sacco's comics journalism and bearing shades of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Delisle documents the two months he spent working as an illustrator in the hermit kingdom. Tinged with black humour, his observations of the country's bleakness and the mind-boggling way in which state propaganda is swallowed offers a perspective no straight-up print journalism could. The Montreal-born artist's childlike drawings of the people and places he encounters evoke the absurdity of a culture he can neither understand nor leave.


Dave McGinn
Weekend Post
 

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  SHOWCASE 3 and PYONGYANG in the Patriot-News

Updated December 6, 2005


Arts/Leisure
GRAPHIC LIT

4 December 2005

"Drawn & Quarterly Showcase Vol. 3," Drawn and Quarterly, 96 pages, $14.95.

Genevieve Elverum, Sammy Harkham and Matt Broersma are the featured artists in this latest edition of D&Q's squarebound anthology. All three cartoonists create striking works here, though I'm particularly taken with Elverum's surreal tone-poem involving elephants, yetis and abject loneliness. This series remains a great way to be introduced to new work, and if you haven't heard of any of these artists, this is a fine place to start.

"Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea" by Guy Delisle, Drawn and Quarterly, 176 pages, $19.95.

An animator, Delisle spent several months in the capital of North Korea overseeing the outsourcing work of a particular cartoon. His experiences make up this book, a surreal and rather frightening look at life under one of the only utterly totalitarian regimes left on the globe.

Delisle paints a rather disturbing portrait of a land where every aspect of daily life is dedicated toward slavishly honoring its leaders, the deceased Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il. Anything with implications that all is not well (and there are plenty) are ignored for fear of never being seen again.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about "Pyongyang" is that despite spending time in North Korea, Delisle gets no nearer to understanding its citizens than the rest of us. The country is a frozen mask propped up with the shakiest of equipment. Delisle does a superb job of showing us the ultimate cost of maintaining such an artifice.

Christopher Mautner
The Patriot-News

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GN round-up in the CALGARY HERALD

Updated December 6, 2005


Books & The Arts
3 December 2005

Graphic novels tell tales of collectors and other worlds


The latest graphic novel from Canadian cartoonist Seth, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (Drawn and Quarterly, 128 pages, $24.95), is a collection of short stories, pumped out in a mere six months, that add up to a satirical mystery set in the comics world, populated by eccentric collectors, colourful dealers, flunkies, "fanboys," and nerds. It's also a lovely tip of the hat to Chris Ware, author of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (only one of the echoes is in the titles), to whom Seth dedicates this wonderful book. Wimbledon Green might be a time out before Seth's eagerly anticipated Clyde Fans: Book 2, but it adds up to more than the sum of its layered, multi-panel parts in its affectionate send up of an enclosed, idiosyncratic world and what makes collectors tick.

Chris Ware's new book, The Acme Novelty Library (Pantheon, 108 pages, $39,95), is beautiful and engrossing from its scarlet, gold illuminated cover to the last page of the book. Open the door to Ware's world, created by this compendium of mock ads, things to do on rainy afternoon pages and the strips featuring characters that include nerdy collectors Rusty Brown and Chalky White, Quimby the Mouse, Frank Phosphate, Jimmy Corrigan and a masked, middle-aged superhero whose exploits are supernatural, and become immediately engrossed. Put Ware and Seth at the top of your must-have list.

The Push Man by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, edited by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, 207 pages, $25.95), a collection of short, dark, psychologically loaded stories written 36 years ago by the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics, is gripping reading. The stories are about alienated and often desperate working-class men in a large Japanese city, whose lives are governed by rage, sex and death. The strips, which are unlike anything else around, are bleak social tragedies remarkably undated in style.

A strange but real world created by ideology and politics is explored in Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 184 pages, $24.95). Delisle, a French-Canadian animator worked for a French company in North Korea, where drinking a Coca-Cola became for him an act of defiance in an oppressed society. The story of his visit, his wry observations of this mysterious territory and his experiences as an outsider, are rendered appropriately in shades of grey in a book drawn entirely in pencil.

Nancy Tousley
Calgary Herald
 

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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Wimbledon Green




  GUY DELISLE'S PYONGYANG in INDEPENDENT, UK

Updated November 28, 2005


Visions of Kim: a cartoonist's view of life in the world's most oppressive capital
By David Usborne
Published: 25 November 2005

News coverage from North Korea is scant - the regime of the world's last true totalitarian state is not exactly welcoming to foreign journalists. But a new graphic novel gives a rare, tragicomic, glimpse into everyday life in the drabbest of world capitals.

Guy Delisle, a French-Canadian cartoonist, found himself marooned north of the demilitarised zone for two months in 2001. Pyongyang, if you didn't already know it, is something of a hub for animation and he had been sent there to oversee the production of a children's cartoon series for French television.

His decision to attempt a memoir of his sojourn in North Korea resulted in his short book, entitled Pyongyang. He chronicles his long days and nights in a city that is barely lit at night and where its cowed citizens live permanently under the gaze of images and statues of Kim Jong-Il, the country's autocratic leader, and of his late father and founder of the state, Kim Il Sung.

Delisle is occasionally seen escaping from the constant company of his minders, Comrade Guide and Comrade Translator, and wandering the squeaky-clean streets of the city alone - acts of disobedience that send his guides into a flat panic.

There are other occasional moments of mischief, such as when the author gives George Orwell's 1984 to his guide - only to have him return it two weeks later with the complaint that he doesn't enjoy science fiction. Delisle has since explained that in some respects Pyongyang is not quite as desolate at first glimpse as outsiders might imagine. There is, he reports, even something approaching traffic. "I mean there weren't traffic jams, but almost. And there were lots of Chinese trucks and small cars going around. So you say, well it's not so bad, but after two months, you have a different picture of all that. It's terrible."

Among his observations is the plague of tiny lapel pins bearing the image of the Great Leader that every citizen is obliged to wear. In the strip, he also pauses to consider the claustrophobic ubiquity of the portraits of father-and-son Jong-Il and Il Sung. "In every room, on every floor, in every building throughout North Korea, portraits of Papa Kim and his son hang side by side," he writes, after noting that the pictures themselves are hung sloping slightly forward to avoid glare impeding the viewing of the images.

Delisle says that the book has been translated into Korean and about 3,000 copies have been printed in South Korea. What reaction it has drawn in the North, he doesn't know. He has received word, however, that his former superiors at the Pyongyang animation studio are less than amused.

Not that the book is without compassion. His portrayals of his guide and translator are eventually mostly sympathetic for people who have no choice but to make do in the world's most walled-in nation.

His last gesture before leaving was to deliver a bottle of French brandy to the grumpy Mr Sin, his chief guide. What it produced, he wrote, was "one of the few moments of real joy I witnessed".
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MONTREAL MIRROR features PYONGYANG by GUY DELISLE!

Updated November 18, 2005


Axis and easel

>> Guy Delisle paints a rare and insightful portrait of North Korea’s austere, autocratic capital in Pyongyang

by MATTHEW WOODLEY


Too bad the lights were off at Pyongyang airport when Guy Delisle arrived, because the bouquet of flowers he’s greeted with are about as colourful as the place gets. He knew they weren’t for him anyway.

After sweating it through security with a discman, an illegal transistor radio and a copy of 1984, the Quebec-raised animator was immediately escorted by his guide to the first of many sites befitting North Koreans’ propagandist protocol for foreign visitors: a looming 22-metre bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung (the country’s not-so-acting president... being that he died in 1994). Delisle set the flowers at the base and bowed as per custom, thinking, “Christ, the things an animator has to do to get a gig.”

That was 2001, pre-September 11, pre-nuclear threats and pre-”Axis of Evil.” Delisle was working for a French animation company and was sent to Pyongyang to supervise the production of a children’s cartoon. As such, he was among the few foreigners allowed in one of the last bastions of totalitarianism, along with ambassadors and a small handful of humanitarian workers. The insider’s experience eventually led to Pyongyang, Delisle’s light-hearted memoir of two months spent in an undeniably heavy place. Still, all things considered, his first impression of the capital didn’t meet his worst expectations.

“When you see information from the outside, you always see that 1995 video shot of the starving children running after a few grains of rice in the marketplace—which is very shocking, of course,” he says. “But when I arrived, I was not in a small city, I was in Pyongyang and that’s Disneyland compared to the rest of the country. Everything is very white and clean. It’s much cleaner than any other Asian city, in fact. In the news you have ghost streets—empty, no cars, which is not true. I mean there weren’t traffic jams, but almost. And there were lots of Chinese trucks and small cars going around. So you say, well it’s not so bad, but after two months, you have a different picture of all that. It’s terrible.”

Have problems, will travel

Delisle is on the other end of a fuzzy phone line (with five-second-delay bonus feature) in Yangon City, Burma. Seems he knows how to pick his places. Though he’s shelved the animation work that has taken him around Asia and Europe for a full-time comics career, his wife happens to work for Doctors Without Borders. Pyongyang was penned in Ethiopia on another of his wife’s contracts. In Burma, he’s working on a children’s book and keeping an eye on their two-year-old son.

All of the cultural exposure must have done something. Delisle’s first-person vantage is fresh and curious. He steers clear of big verdicts, instead providing a wry, sensitive and ever entertaining take on the people who—as if they have a choice—call North Korea home. “I was glad to have an insider’s life there,” he says, “And happy, even though they exist, not to talk about the opium, the drugs, the nuclear weapons. That’s all we hear about North Korea and just for me to talk about everyday life there, I think it’s important. It helps people to see that they’re simple human beings who live under this big regime and can’t do much. When you’re brainwashed at six years old, what can you do?”

Freedomless fortress

Granted, there’s not much normal about everyday life in North Korea. It’s an austere, walled-in world of the highest order, with almost nothing seeping in from the outside—no news, no Internet, not even music if it isn’t some grating government-issue anthem about the Great Leader.

Delisle himself was constantly flanked by his guide and translator. Though, because he was part of a company bringing in much-needed revenue to the country, he had relatively considerable freedom. The North Koreans are required to wear a pin of either Kim Il-Sung and Kim-Jong Il, his son and current leader, at all times. Every room (except the bathroom) must have portraits of the pair, which, notably are imposingly angled downward to counteract glare. “Volunteers” clean the streets and fields. Clothing stores have hundreds of just a few items. Government slogans line the streets and the rice paddies. People tend to disappear.

Bad influences

Though he was constantly shocked, Delisle’s acts of rebellion were few. One day on the 15th floor (the one for foreigners and the only one that’s lit up at night) of the sterile hotel in which Delisle spent most of his time, he put on his favourite acid jazz CD, only to be hushed by his guide, nervous that the music could be a “bad influence” on others. Another time, he broke into an ironic rendition of “Get Up, Stand Up”—which nobody understands, of course. He gets hooked on throwing paper airplanes out his hotel window, demonstrating so simply the absurdity of the situation he’s in. And one day he goes for a walk.

“I got so fed up with these guys following me everywhere that I just went outside during the daytime by myself,” he recalls. “When my translator saw me coming back he was in such a bad situation that he was almost shaking, he was sweating. If I do something stupid, he gets the blame and I think that could mean really big problems for him. I felt so sorry for him.”

The threat to people under the regime is so great that Delisle had to change the facts in his book a couple of times. “One of the people I spent a lot of time with told me that when re-unification [with South Korea] happens, he’s going to pack his bags and go to Seoul,” he says, “But I didn’t put that in the book. Another guy told me that he didn’t like North Korean movies, that they were all crap and propaganda, but I put that in the anonymous words of someone in the staircase, so if this book gets back to the higher powers, they cannot tell what floor he was on.”

Pyongyang has been translated into Korean, and 3,000 copies have been printed in the South, but Delisle hasn’t seen any reviews yet. “It’s strange,” he says. “I don’t have much news about its popularity there, but I do know that the guy from the animation company I worked for in the North has read it. They’re not very happy about it.” n

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle, Drawn & Quarterly,
2005, hc, 176pp, $24.95
 
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  PYONGYANG included in AMAZON'S Best of 2005!

Updated November 15, 2005


Editors' picks:
Black Hole
Pyongyang
Ex Machina
Marvel 1602
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
The ACME Novelty Library
Sin City: The Hard Goodbye
Conan Volume 1
Identity Crisis
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 1
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PYONGYANG reviewed in TIME MAGAZINE

Updated November 15, 2005


Arts
The Not-So-Funny Pages

A new book offers an unforgettable look at life in North Korea through an unlikely medium: cartoons?
BY AUSTIN RAMZY

Sunday, Nov. 13, 2005
Pyongyang is not a key stopover on the business-traveler circuit. There's no cushy InterContinental, and the brutal, hermetic regime that runs the place doesn't lure much foreign investment. But the communist state does see a trickle of capitalists, from telecom engineers to bottled-water vendors. And, perhaps most surprisingly, animators. North Korea has some of the world's cheapest cartoonists, typically specialists in the art of propaganda. In 2001 French-Canadian Guy Delisle went to Pyongyang to manage the production of an animated preschool special for French television. "It was based on children's books with rabbits," he says. "I don't even remember the name."

While the show may have been forgettable, Delisle's two-month visit wasn't. He was allowed to take a long look at the world's most guarded state. And after he left, Delisle set about recreating his experience using the medium he knows best: cartoons. The result, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, is a graphic novel that is a fascinating and hilarious sketch of his time in the country. Delisle admits that he didn't see anything the government didn't want him to see. But from what he was allowed to witness, he strings together a series of remarkable scenes. Many are seemingly trivial—a hotel worker slowly crushing a fly underfoot, a propaganda truck blaring encouragement to construction workers—but when seen through the keen eye of a man who spent his workdays pondering the facial expressions of animated bears, they give rare insight into life beyond the DMZ.

Part of the book's strength is its medium. The notion that comics are merely for children was buried long ago by Art Spiegelman's Maus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work on the Holocaust, and its offspring, like Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde, one of the best books on the Bosnian war. Not only do those books discuss serious subjects, but the images hone the message. In North Korea, photographers are severely restricted, and journalists use their limited access to poke tentatively at big issues like nuclear weapons, famines and economic reform. But Delisle, through the simple use of charcoal, ink and dialogue bubbles, captures aspects of life in North Korea that tend to elude observers in other media. Like light. Due to severe electrical shortages, Pyongyang makes do with dim lightbulbs and minimal streetlights. That's tough to capture in photographs, for example, save perhaps for satellite images that have shown North Korea as a (literally) benighted nation. But Delisle uses drawings of a dim hotel lobby with a lonely turtle swimming in a tank, or of people carrying loads down stygian streets, to convey a powerful sense of gloom. At one point he decides to see how many effigies to Kim Jong Il he can find in a single day. After counting more than 30 of them, he looks in the mirror and is horrified to see the Dear Leader staring back at him. It takes a minute for him to realize that it's merely the reflection of a wall portrait, but the feeling of Kim's omnipresence is disturbing.

Delisle has a deep reservoir of compassion for the people he encounters in this nation of inmates. Even his strict translators and guides, who are gently gibed throughout the book, are depicted in an engagingly human light. Shortly before leaving he takes a bottle of cognac meant for the head of the animation studio and gives it to his grumpy guide, Mr. Sin, who is ecstatic. "One of the few moments of real joy I witnessed," Delisle writes.

Sympathy aside, Delisle isn't above a little mischief. He gives a guide a copy of George Orwell's 1984, and he introduces a translator and a technician to Bob Marley ("Get up, stand up; Stand up for your rights!"). He has a beguilingly playful quality as an author, too. At the International Friendship Exhibition, he's shown thousands of foreign gifts to North Korea's founder, the late Kim Il Sung, all housed underground to withstand nuclear attack. Delisle sketches a few scenes that highlight the absurdity of a friendship exhibition in an atomic bunker, but stops short of committing all the details to paper. "There's ... an armored vehicle from Stalin, another from Mao, three fabulous Russian cars from the '50s and one or two South Korean models," he writes, "but I'm too lazy to draw them all." A pity, but even without them, Delisle has drawn an unforgettable picture of Pyongyang.
 
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  BOOKLIST on PYONGYANG

Updated October 31, 2005


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Flagg, Gordon

15 October 2005
Booklist. Volume 102; Issue 4

Pyongyang documents the two months French animator Delisle spent overseeing cartoon production in North Korea, where his movements were constantly monitored by a translator and a guide, who together could limit his activities but couldn't restrict his observations. He records everything from the omnipresent statues and portraits of dictators Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to the brainwashed obedience of the citizens. Rather than conveying his disorientation through convoluted visual devices, Delisle uses a straightforward Eurocartoon approach that matter-of-factly depicts the mundane absurdities he faced every day. The gray tones and unembellished drawings reflect the grim drabness and the sterility of a totalitarian society. Delisle finds black comedy in the place, though, and makes small efforts at subversion by cracking jokes that go over the humorless translator's head and lending the guide a copy of 1984. Despite such humor, which made his sojourn bearable and overcame his alienation and boredom, Delisle maintains empathy. Viewing an eight-year-old accordion prodigy's robotic concert performance, he thinks, "It's all so cold . . . and sad. I could cry." -Gordon Flagg

Delisle, Guy. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Tr. by Helge Dascher. 2005. 200p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (1-896597-89-0). 741.5.

Copyright Booklist Publications Oct 15, 2005

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New Brunswick's "Here" reviews PYONGYANG

Updated October 31, 2005


President Kim's "Ooh la la"-ing himself
(As seen by a Canadian animator)

Have you ever thought about places where it may be nice to visit but you would not want to live there? Perhaps you do not want to even visit?

Since we are in Canada, chances are good that North Korea is on your list of places to avoid.

What if you had to go because of your job?

That's what happened to Guy Delisle, a Canadian who had to live there for months while he supervised animators of a cartoon series. He was amazed by how bizarre life was there. So amazed, he wrote a graphic novel about his experiences titled Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea .

Pyongyang, for those who don't know, is the capital city of North Korea.

With a first person narrative, we see how ridiculous the country is. The most obvious samples are officially known as President Kim II Sung (who is dead) and his son, President Kim Jong-II.

As the author states: "In every building throughout North Korea, portraits of Papa Kim and his son hang side by side on one wall.

While in North Korea, foreigners have more freedom compared to the citizens but are strictly monitored. When traveling outside of their hotels, either, a guide or a translator must accompany them. To maintain a good relationship with his entourage, Delisle was encouraged to bring them books as gifts. At one point, he gives a copy of 1984 to his guide. Later, he is informed of the guide's opinion towards it.

His translator and guide are like customer service representatives who represent the Illogical.

When asked about the absence of handicapped people, his guide replies: "There are none… we're a very homogenous nation. All North Koreans are born strong, intelligent and healthy".

The book contains a significant amount of humor. While reading in some sections, my eyes flowed with tears of laughter. Example: Delisle (at work): "What is this? He looks like he's rubbing his belly… or something else. Too suggestive".

Subordinate: "The gesture… what does it actually mean?" Delisle: "Hm… Well…" The most disturbing part of this book is not the content. It is the cover. It depicts a group of odd girls sitting on benches. With their faces as exceptions, they look like clones with huge, forced smiles on display. On top of that, they each have oversized accordions.

And who thought this review had nothing to do with Halloween?

When looking at the frightening cover children, I noticed a not-so-obvious connection to the content. If you have the cover in front of you, look at the girl in the bottom left-hand corner.

Doesn't she look like the guy from Aphex Twin in the music videos Windowlicker and Come To Daddy? In the book, a CD Delisle brings into North Korea is of Aphex Twin.

Interesting trivia, isn't it?

There are numerous references to other forms of popular culture: Tintin, musician St.

Germain, and TV series The Prisoner are referred to in the book.

Since it is non-fiction, I find it ironic that some of cartoon animation is done in North Korea where most of the population (including the animators) cannot watch them.

It also raises the following question: "Can North Koreans see properly?" In North Korea, to conserve electricity most subways, train stations, airports, etc., do not use lights in the interior.

People are sometimes drawn as fuzzy silhouettes by the author.

For those who are monochrome phobic: avoid the book. It is printed in black and white.

Perhaps this is different for the consumer version (I read an "advance reader's copy") but another element of acquired taste some readers may not have is the un-inked look the backgrounds possess.

The foreground elements and words appear to have been inked. Maybe it is just me.

For all the prudes: do not worry. There is some language, violence, and one panel of nudity but it would probably be PG-13 by MPAA standards.

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly 3/3

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer, broadcaster, and filmmaker.
 
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  The Nashville City Paper on PYONGYANG and THE PUSH MAN

Updated October 31, 2005


By Wil Moss, wmoss@nashvillecitypaper.com
October 28, 2005

" … One of the best and most comprehensive columns on comics in America."
- Alex de Campi, author of the graphic novel Smoke


That's from the blog of the all-too-kind Alex de Campi (www.alexdecampi.com) about this very column. Nice way to start off Year Two of Graphic Content, and boy have we got a doozy for you this month.

Below are reviews of more than a dozen new releases, including four volumes of manga, five graphic novels, five comic books, and one collection of comic strips. So get cozy, check out the recommendations, and then to a comics store with ye …

[D&Q Titles:]

The Push Man and Other Stories

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
(Drawn & Quarterly)
www.drawnandquarterly.com

The first major English edition of work by the "grandfather of Japanese alternative comics," The Push Man and Other Stories is a fascinating short story collection.

The book is made up of more than a dozen tales, most of them eight pages long, all surprising in their stark look at the loneliness of man.

Tatsumi uses relatively simple, cartoony drawings to tell his stories, which contrast with the complicated actions the characters frequently end up taking.

"To survive in the crowd, you have to struggle alone," said one of Tatsumi's hopeless shlubs, which sums up the attitude many of the vignettes have - men surrounded by people in cities, but unable to really communicate with any of them - whether it be a trash man discovering his wife's infidelity or a man finding love with a woman while dressed in drag.

This is the first volume of a series, each volume focusing on one year of Tatsumi's work. This volume covers 1969. The book has lovingly been edited by cartoonist Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), a big fan of Tatsumi's. Tomine provides an introduction and a Q&A with the author all in a gorgeous looking book that collects some rare and compelling glimpses into humanity from a heretofore-unknown master of the form.


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

By Guy Delisle
(Drawn & Quarterly)
www.drawnandquarterly.com

When animator Guy Delisle was sent to North Korea to work on a cartoon, he kept a comic book diary of his time there, providing a rare glimpse into what life is like in North Korea.

What's striking is how little of the real North Korea it seems Delisle was allowed to actually observe. He was led around by a guide and translator at all times, rarely interacting with any other North Koreans. He stayed in mostly empty hotels and interacted mostly with other foreign workers.

It's like even when the veil of mystery around the country is lifted to allow Delisle in, the veil is still actually there to keep Delisle from seeing anything other than the work he's there to do.

Delisle is a skilled observer and cartoonist, able to convey the reality of what he was able to see with a sense of wit and cynicism. He brings with him a copy of George Orwell's 1984 and lends it out to his guide, curious to see if the guide would comment on the parallels between the book and the Big Brothered North Korea, but the guide just later nervously hands it back to him, saying he doesn't like science fiction.

As is the case with the guide's reaction, Delisle is able to observe a lot about North Korea based not just on what he sees or hears, but what he doesn't as well.

To find a comic store near you, call (888) COMIC-BOOK or visit www. csls.diamondcomics.com.

Graphic Content, a monthly comics, manga and graphic novel review column, is published online the third Friday of every month. It will return Nov. 18.

Review copies can be sent to:
The City Paper
Attn: Wil Moss
P.O. Box 158434
Nashville, TN 37215-8434
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




PYONGYANG and SHOWCASE #3 reviewed by Austin Chronicle

Updated October 31, 2005


Book Reviews
BY WAYNE ALAN BRENNER

Drawn and Quarterly, the independent comics company responsible for some of the most artful and literary graphic volumes in the world, has been lying doggo for a while. Maybe they had to take a breather after releasing Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Datebook and Adrian Tomine's Scrapbook, two really big projects, one after the other, along with several more humble offerings? In any case, the fallow time has paid off, rewarding readers with an impressive new crop of publications (www.drawnandquarterly.com). Here's a look at two of them.

Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea
by Guy Delisle

Drawn and Quarterly, 184 pp. $19.95

What's it really like in North Korea, that putative bastion of repressive police-statery? What's it like behind the Kim Jong-il headlines, beyond the shallower Web links? There's a somewhat limited view presented in this journalistic tome by French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle, but the limitations arise from neither the man's reporting abilities nor his drawing style. The view afforded by this new book is the most Delisle could glean from his chaperoned and regimented two-month stay in the capital city, and as such it's damned revealing.
Delisle was in Pyongyang to help direct animation for one of North Korea's scientific and educational studios. He employs a softly penciled, monocolor cartoon style and a wide variety of panel sizes and pacing to depict his time working, fraternizing with expatriates in late-night hotel lounges, engaging in stunted banter with his hosts, and being toured around the country to various national shrines. Delisle employs also a deft sense of humor that serves as counterpoint (for the reader now, as it did for the author then) to the prescribed earnestness of his surroundings. Especially for those who worry that our own country is becoming more and more of a police state? Here's a friendly little blueprint to the foreign terminus of your nightmares.

Drawn & Quarterly Showcase #3
edited by Chris Oliveros

Drawn and Quarterly, 95 pp.; $14.95 (paper)

This, the third in Drawn & Quarterly's series of yearly anthologies, requires no interest in a particular country, no pre-established appreciation of comics as an art form, no conditions at all. Even more than its previous incarnations, this year's Showcase will appeal to anyone with a heart and a mind, tweaking nodes of intellectual pleasure even as it floods the emotional cortex with a mulligatawny of subtle, blatant, and – yes – contradictory feelings.

D&Q honcho Oliveros presents a mere three stories in this volume: "We're Wolf" by relative newcomer Genevieve Elverum, "Somersaulting" by Kramers Ergot founder Sammy Harkham, and "The Mummy" by former Osaka lounge singer (!) Matt Broersma. These three stories are enough. Hell, they're much more than enough.

Elverum's tale, illustrated in a delicately watercolored style that suggests Richard Scarry in the throes of an Edward Gorey obsession, is an episodic meditation on love, belonging, and personal identity. The visual metaphors for depression and home will break your heart; the care taken with their rendering will join the broken pieces back together on every page.

Harkham's "Somersaulting" examines the life of a teenage girl, the artist's sharp pen lines and strict nine-panels-per-page layout delineating characters as incisively as the chosen scenes delineate our protagonist's high-school-era existence. Who else captures this time of life so well in comics? Maybe Clowes, Tomine, or Brown. And that "maybe" is indicative of the strength and beauty of Harkham's work here.

Broersma's "Frobisher" – its look and tone, the narrative's eerie conceit – reeks of European style and flair, the way a good Roquefort reeks of the excellent taste it embodies. Observe the adventures of Malvern Yoshimoto, intrepid reporter, as her trip to Brussels (circa 1920) tangles her with the machinations of the mysterious Dr. Frobisher.

"What will it take to seduce you?" asks a passage in Elverum's "We're Wolf." This newest Showcase from Drawn & Quarterly, we suggest, might be an awful good start.
 
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Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  St. Petersurg Times on PYONGYANG

Updated October 26, 2005


TRAVEL
Drawn from experience
JERRY V. HAINES
Times Staff Writer

23 October 2005
St. Petersburg Times

"Show, don't tell," writing teachers exhort. "Don't just tell me something was beautiful or horrible or interesting - show me."

The graphic novelist (formerly known as "comic book author") literally can "show" us what the author has seen and, even more than in photography, how he or she feels about it. Thus, the technique is eminently adaptable to travel writing.

Some of the books reviewed here are fiction, some are not, but each fulfills the travel writer's primary obligation to take us along.


Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95)

The people of Pyongyang are busy: rehearsing for holiday festivals, "volunteering" to repair the North Korean capital's decaying infrastructure and preparing for "imminent attack."

"To hear them talk," writes Delisle, "the war ended last week and is due to resume any day now."

That probably is why they endure constant shortages and deprivations without complaint.

Delisle, a Canadian animator, is sent to Pyongyang by a French producer to repair a badly botched production. His efforts are frustrated by language and cultural differences, but in the course of his two-month stay he records his wry impressions of this most insular city.

Kim Jong-Il worship is intense, inescapable and, apparently, sincere. Kim's photograph and that of his father, Kim Il Sung, are everywhere, often precisely tilted so that reflections do not interfere with appreciating the images.

Delisle's official minders take him to cultural highlights, including the Museum of Imperialist Occupation and the International Friendship Museum, ironically, "dug into the side of the mountain to withstand nuclear attack."

- JERRY V. HAINES is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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Winnipeg Free Press reviews GUY DELISLE'S PYONGYANG

Updated October 26, 2005


Books
Text tells more than pictures in graphic novel

23 October 2005
Winnipeg Free Press (B8)

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea,
By Guy Delisle

Raincoast Books, 176 pages, $25

TRADITIONALLY, comic books are not really books at all. They are more like magazines.

There was a time when their market was mostly children and younger teenagers, but that has changed dramatically in recent times and they are now aimed at older teens, young adults and middle-aged collectors -- mostly odd people with eccentric interests.

There is kind of comic book that actually is a book, however. It comes in traditional book form and carries a book's price, but remains graphic with the characters speaking inside little balloons -- these are usually called graphic novels rather than comics to underline their superior intellectuality.

In Pyongyang, Quebec animator Guy Delisle has produced such a book, except that it is not a graphic novel. It is non-fiction, actually a graphic diary, a graphic travelogue based on two months he spent in North Korea supervising animation that had been out-sourced to that bizarrely Communist country by a French film company, which is a bizarre story in itself.

The book has to proven to be a sensation in its original French edition and comes in an English version translated -- even comic books need translators -- by Helge Dasche.

Delisle has previously produced in French a similar book about a visit to China and is planning another about a trip he recently made to Burma.

The question is whether a book like this is really a useful thing. It has, of course, lots of pictures, or drawings, rather, and a surprising amount of narrative. But the narration is like the voice-over of a documentary film.

There is really no plot, no action, nothing to advance events -- in fact, it has no events to advance. The book is a sequence of experiences of life in a very strange land.

A reader -- or viewer, if you prefer -- will not learn a great deal about North Korean history, culture or politics, but he will almost certainly come away from it knowing something about what it is like to live in, to visit, a country that is so completely unhinged that a dead man -- Great Leader Kim Il-sung -- remains as president even though he died in 1994; a nation completely disconnected from the reality of the world around it, a reality that North Koreans are forbidden to know; a nation so unplugged both literally and figuratively that a decaying 47-storey hotel is displayed as a monument to Communist success, even though the only part of it that is occupied and has electric lights is the 15th floor, reserved for foreigners.

There are many such vignettes in this little book. It is entertaining and instructive in the informal way that travellers' tales told at leisure often are.

Pyongyang is fun, a curious but worthwhile piece of work. Perhaps the most curious thing about is that, although it is a graphic diary of an unusual place, the text tells us far more than the drawings.

Reviewed by Tom Oleson.
Tom Oleson is a member of the Free Press editorial board.
 

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  PYONGYANG graded A- by Entertainment Weekly

Updated October 26, 2005


COMIC BOOKS 101: TOIL AND TROUBLE
Wook Kim

28 October 2005
Entertainment Weekly

PYONGYANG (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95)

Dispatched to the North Korean capital to supervise cheap-labor animators, artist Guy Delisle recounts his incredible two-month stay in the notorious Hermit Kingdom. From the local "French toast" (bread dipped in milk, then microwaved) to the criminally opulent International Friendship Exhibition (a half-million-square-foot repository of gifts to "The Eternal President"), he cloaks his tale with a compassionate cynicism that cushions the bleak horrors of this totalitarian Lost in Translation. Grade: A-

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PYONGYANG reviewed in the Baltimore City Paper

Updated October 26, 2005


Books | Graphic Novel
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

By Guy Delisle

Review by Stephen Snyder

One of the stranger offshoots of globalization is that cartoons such as The Simpsons are animated in South Korea. Do they get all the jokes? What about the pop-culture references? Certainly some of what they’re asked to draw must look pretty odd.


Things get even stranger for Guy Delisle in his new graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. A Canadian cartoonist who works for a French film company, Delisle travels to North Korea to oversee animation on a children’s TV show. While there, he gets the surreal experience of living in one of the world’s harshest totalitarian regimes. Portraits of “Dear Leader” Kim Il-Sung and his son, current dictator Kim Jong-Il, hang in every room, the frames beveled so they appear to be looking down on inhabitants. All citizens must wear pins bearing the Dear Leader’s visage or risk being considered a traitor.

Set up like a cartoon diary, Pyongyang never achieves the emotion of Joe Sacco’s Palestine or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, but that’s not the point. North Korea is so oppressed that finding real emotion there is virtually impossible. People are too scared to say what they actually feel. Instead, Pyongyang proceeds like an eerie visit to the dystopia described in George Orwell’s 1984, which Delisle naturally brings with him on the trip.

After decades of cultural and economic isolation, North Korea recently opened up slightly to foreigners, though you get the distinct impression not to Americans. In fact, near the end of the book, Delisle’s guide takes him on a tour of the Museum of Imperialist Occupation, which has two whole floors dedicated to atrocities committed by Americans during the Korean War. Chances are we won’t get an episode of The Simpsons animated in North Korea anytime soon—but, as Delisle makes clear, that should be the least of our worries.
 
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  PYONGYANG reviewed in HONOLULU STAR-BULLETIN

Updated October 26, 2005


Comic draws rare portrait of N. Korea

"Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea" by Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $19.95

Review by Clay Evans

If there's a society in today's world that qualifies as Orwellian, it has got to be North Korea. Closed and authoritarian, its people are brainwashed by propaganda and trained to abhor all things Western.

Given that, it's pretty difficult for the average American to get a handle on just how alien and alienating this totalitarian nation is. Sure, there are books out there, and the occasional Western journalist - Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times comes to mind - is allowed to visit. But to most of us, North Korea is a gray and distant nightmare, no more real-seeming than the world of "1984."

If you are looking for an accessible way to get behind the walls of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il's Communist "paradise," I can recommend no better book than the new graphic novel "Pyongyang" by French-Canadian artist Guy Delisle.

Curiously, Delisle found work supervising teams of North Korean animators working on a French television cartoon.

In 176 pages of black-and-white panels, he describes his experience in a thoroughly entertaining, educational but non-didactic way. While the North Korea he portrays is chilly and populated with frightening automatons, the book itself is warm, almost cute.

Delisle draws a city whose streets are devoid of people at night, bizarre "museums" in remote areas - accessible by highways that go nowhere else - that tout the wonder of the Dear Leader and his dead father, the Great Leader Kim Il-sung, and weird, unfinished monuments to their vanity that dot the skyline. The Koreans he meets might as well have pull-strings in their backs, for all the scriptedness of their brainwashed remarks.

Funny, yes, but also pretty creepy.

At one point, Delisle's guide (mandatory for travel within the country) suggests they visit "the highest point in the city - an elegant way of taking me on a stop that's obligatory for new-comers without being obvious: Kim Il-Sung, 22 meters of bronze. For visitors, it's a disproportionate one-on-one with the gigantic figure of the father of the nations, who, despite his death (1912-1994), is still president."

The graphic novel - a.k.a. comic book - is finally gaining currency with critics. And why not? Sometimes it's an effective way to convey experience.

In the case of "Pyongyang," I can't think of a more personal, entertaining way to introduce Westerners to what is surely the most bizarre, pathetic and spooky nation on Earth.

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




PYONGYANG reviewed in the WASHINGTON EXAMINER

Updated October 20, 2005


Washington Examiner - Washington,DC,USA
Stranger in a strange land

Cartoonist captures trip to North Korea in 'Pyongyang'

By Scott Rosenberg
Examiner Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's kind of telling that you'll only find one travel guide for North Korea. When people plan their vacations, they look at places like Paris, London and New York. You hardly ever hear someone mention his or her impending travels to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

Cartoonist Guy Delisle went to North Korea so you don't have to.

In his new graphic novel/memoir, "Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea," Delisle, a Canadian, recounts his time in the suppressed state, where his employer, a French animation studio, sent him to supervise the production of one of its cartoons. Delisle's very grey and clear artwork captures the country, from the architecture to his interpretations of the nation's leaders.

"Pyongyang" is a riveting look at a country that's shielded from the outside world by its Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. Upon arriving in the country, his mandated tour guide (North Korea travel tip: All travel must be by studio vehicle, in the company of an interpreter and/or guide) takes him on a brief tour of the city, including a 70-foot-tall bronze statute of the eternal president (even after his death in 1994) and Kim's papa, Kim Il-Sung.

Delisle's trip takes him all over the city, to various museums that all seem to focus on just how great the Kim dynasty is. The thing the author routinely points out is how enamored the people of North Korea are with their Dear Leader - perhaps for fear of speaking out against the government or maybe of not knowing a different life.

At the International Friendship Exhibition - built into a mountain to withstand a nuclear attack - Delisle bears witness to rooms and rooms of gifts for Kim Il-Sung, which is moving to his interpreter but really funny for Delisle (who has to actively try not to laugh). He's asked to write about his visit in the guest book, and responds with a whopper of a comment: "I've never walked down longer hallways in all my life. Luckily we were given slippers, or else I would have worn out my shoes." That's much different from the last statement, talking about the greatness of Korea.

"Pyongyang" is an incredible work that is both appealing from an entertainment standpoint, as well as a political statement and cultural assessment. Delisle might not have the background of a highly trained North Korean scholar, but his book offers an honest view of the country and doesn't get bogged down in pedantry.

'Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea'
- Author: Guy Delisle
- Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
- Price: $19.99

- Recommended if you like: Art Spiegelman's "Maus," "Marjane Satrapi's "Perseopolis" and Joe Sacco's "Palestine," "The Fixer" and "Safe Area Gorazde"
 
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  Metro News reviews PYONGYANG

Updated October 3, 2005


Monday, September 26, 2005

Pyongyang pokes fun at ‘perfect state’

PYONGYANG
Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly
$24.95 (Hardcover)
**** (out of five)

North Korea is a land of mystery to most — known only as an isolationist nation with an itchy trigger finger.

In a land where the communist ideal is perhaps at its strongest and "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il rules with an iron fist (and until last week the threat of a nuke), there should be little to laugh at.

Enter Guy Delisle.

A Canadian working for a French animation company, Delisle spent several months in the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang in 2001 and now takes readers through a candid illustrated look at the peculiar state.

From interactions with his zealot guides (“Nothing is impossible with the guidance of Kim Jong-Il”) and his attempts to explore (“No, no, absolutely not…”), Delisle explores the hypocrisy of the “perfect state” with perverse glee.

Pyongyang is a true eye opener. It is an intelligent and incisive look at a place where there are mysteriously no disabled people and the elderly are few; where there’s a severe power crisis, yet floodlights shine through the night on images of the “Dear Leader”; and McDonald’s, blue jeans and Coke are considered the axis of evil.

For exclusive reviews of some of the latest trade paperbacks and comic books, go to the book section at www.metronews.ca

jonathan.kuehlein@metronews.ca

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PYONGYANG reviewed in Chicago Sun-Times

Updated October 3, 2005


Traveler in a totalitarian land

September 25, 2005

BY JESSA CRISPIN

In 2001, the France-based animation company that employed Guy Delisle sent him to North Korea for two months to oversee production of a children's cartoon movie. (Animation has long been outsourced to Asia, but now countries like South Korea and China are seeing their work go to North Korea for even cheaper labor.) The results of his trip were a cartoon about a bear and his missing children and the graphic travelogue Pyongyang (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95).

Travel in a repressed society under the thumb of an unstable dictator is about as much fun as you would imagine. Delisle's movements are restricted, and most of the time he is stuck in a hotel for foreigners on an island with a greenhouse and a golf course, all enclosed within a concrete wall.

"The only thing missing on the set are the howling balls that shoot out of the water when you try to escape," Delisle writes.

Other places Delisle is allowed to visit include restaurants named No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3; the International Friendship Exhibition; and the Museum of Imperialist Occupation, which details the war crimes of Americans in a series of paintings. After Delisle visits the last, the tour guide demands, "What do you think of Americans now?"

It's a question that keeps arising, and most of the time Delisle respectfully declines to contradict the endless stream of propaganda coming from those around him. Instead, he tries to keep his sense of humor intact by tossing paper airplanes out his 15th floor hotel room window and thanking his team of animators for "allowing parents in our capitalist society to sleep in while their kids stay glued to the TV."

Jessa Crispin is the founder and conductor of the Chicago-based literary website bookslut.com.
 
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  Pyongyang Reviewed by World Hum!

Updated October 3, 2005


Welcome to Bizarroland

Guy Delisle spent two months working in North Korea, which inspired his new graphic novel, “Pyongyang.” Frank Bures finds his look inside the walled off country insightful, funny and, at times, touching.

On the north side of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, there is a giant pyramid. It’s a hotel that stands 105 floors, has 3,700 rooms and is crowned with five revolving restaurants. No one has ever stayed in it. In fact, it has stood derelict since 1989.

The Ryugyong Hotel was designed to host part of the 1988 Olympics, and would have been the largest hotel in Asia, a real triumph of the will to build hotels. But it wasn’t finished and was abandoned the following year. It has been there ever since, an omnipresent reminder of just how spectacular failure can be.

Guy Delisle, a French-Canadian cartoonist, sketched the behemoth in his new graphic novel-cum-travelogue, “Pyongyang.” In 2001, he lived in the city for two months while he oversaw subcontracted cartoon drawing for a French company. “Pyongyang” is his fourth graphic novel, including one about his travels to China, but his first in English. It also joins a handful of other graphic travelogues that have cropped up in recent years, like Josh Neufeld’s “A Few Perfect Hours,” Craig Thompson’s “Carnet De Voyagen,” and Ted Rall’s “To Afghanistan and Back.” But Pyongyang is the first such account about how things look inside of one of the most secretive and iron-fisted regimes on the planet.

The picture he draws is almost impossible to believe: a country where years are counted from the conception (not birth) of Kim il-Sung, where food aid is divided between “useful population” and “useless population,” where radios blare propaganda in every room, where gruesome stories of WWII and the Korean War replay on an endless loop, where the best store in town offers one shoe style in two colors, where people get genuinely teary-eyed about the “Dear Leader,” and-most stunning of all—where people seem to actually believe everything they’re told.

Needless to say, it was a long two months for Delisle, who was staying in the only lit floor of a 47-story hotel (one of three for foreigners), ate in empty restaurants with wet tablecloths, and was forbidden to go anywhere without a “guide.” These helpers proved utterly humorless and unflagging in their allegiance to the regime, but most of all in their devotion to the guidance and wisdom of Kim Jong-il.

This is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of life in North Korea today: the personality cult that seems to be at the heart of life there. Everything revolves around the twin stars of Kim il-Sung (deceased in 1994, but still president) and his son, Kim Jong-il, whose feats are expounded upon everywhere (he published 1,200 works as a student, scored 11 holes-in-one in his first golf game, and was born beneath a double rainbow and a shining star).

Few travelers have made it to North Korea, though there have been a few openings for South Koreans who want to stay at select mountain resorts. But Delisle and a handful of expatriate workers have been allowed in, and their accounts (along with those of refugees) make up almost all our knowledge of the country.

It isn’t much. Mostly, North Korea remains a puzzle and a paradox. How could any country still be completely offline? How could such utter Stalinist distopianism survive till now? And how can people buy the crap they’re fed?

Delisle asks questions but gets few answers. His guides and co-workers never crack, always sing along with the anthems on the radio, always issue heartfelt support for the compassionate leadership of Kim Jong-il.

There are a few hints that all is not as it seems: the stony silence when Delisle asks where a certain animator had gone; a man outside his window climbing a tree for fruit; a co-worker who tells him that films made in North Korea are “boring.” But that’s about it.

Drenched in somber gray tones, Delisle’s graphic novelization of the country does seem to capture the feel of the place. And while the medium may lack some of the emotional impact of a good narrative, “Pyongyang” is funny and insightful and even at times touching.

But most important, it’s probably the closest any of us will get to the walled off country until the abandoned hotels crumble, the regime falls and this mausoleum to the delusions of the past finally opens its doors and lets the world in.


GUY DELISLE’S BOOK PICKS

The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut by Nigel Barley.
“This is the story of an English anthropologist who goes for a few years in a small tribe in Cameroon. He has all sorts of adventures and for once you can see the other side of that kind of work. He talks about the problems he had with the translator, the visas and the authorities. Very funny.”

The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier.
“The author and a friend went on a trip from Geneva to somewhere in Afghanistan in the ‘50s with a small car. His writing style is beautiful. Simple and colorful. He took notes during his trip and he lost all of it somewhere in Iran. Ten years after, he wrote the book from memory.”

The Valley of Rubies by Joseph Kessel
“This book is about a trip in Burma by one of the France’s most adventurous journalists, and a friend who is a gem dealer in Paris. They both go in the ruby valley in the city of Mogok to find some rare gems and discover a country. Kessel’s style is very intense, like he was, I guess. You learn about the mysteries of a gem specialist who has to decide what is precious and what is rubbish. Fascinating.”


Frank Bures is the books editor of World Hum.
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Globe & Mail reviews PYONGYANG!

Updated October 3, 2005


GRAPHIC MEMOIR
The last totalitarians
By NATHALIE ATKINSON
Saturday, October 1, 2005 Page D12

Pyongyang:

A Journey in North Korea

By Guy Delisle

Drawn & Quarterly,
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176 pages, $24.95

Pyongyang is a memoir that chronicles the two months in 2001 in which cartoonist Guy Delisle, a French-Canadian animator, lived in North Korea. He was there to supervise and direct episodes of a popular children's cartoon, but the subtext of his presence is grim. Traditional animation remains extremely labour-intensive, which is why productions have bounced around the globe, ending up in such seemingly unlikely places as North Korea. The memoir is topical, coming at a time when interest in the goings-on behind the last remaining panel of the Iron Curtain is high.

Delisle arrives in Pyongyang, a "phantom city in a hermit nation," armed with a CD player and a single book: George Orwell's 1984. He finds himself in a strange world. The streets are populated with trams and vintage 1950s Hungarian buses, and the countless citizens doing menial work, polishing stones or repainting a rusty bridge, are explained away as "volunteers."

Upon his arrival, he is assigned a comrade-guide and immediately taken on a pilgrimage, bouquet of flowers in hand, to the foot of a 22-metre bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung. The city is mysteriously, unnaturally, clean: "No loitering, no old folks chatting: total sterility." Inherent in the medium is a flair for highlighting the absurd, and he relates his situation to 1984 and The Prisoner television show.

The artwork is simple, seemingly just pencil lines and shading. Every face is a non-expressive cartoon reduction, and the economy of the drawing style is echoed in the writing. Coming from animation, Delisle is an efficient storyteller, making Pyongyang a brisk read, and an especially naturalistic one for readers unaccustomed to the visual medium. Large single-panel splash pages emphasize or punctuate points in the story. These pages are almost all of clichéd propaganda-type postcard images (the grand ballrooms, imposing monuments and large-scale performances glimpsed on newsreel footage), but in the context of Delisle's story, slyly underline the negative aspects of the regime.

When Delisle isn't flying paper airplanes out his hotel room window or finding new ways to escape his handlers (venturing into restricted-access areas such as the NGO, the embassy quarter and one particularly memorable escapade into a Chinese casino, where Koreans aren't allowed), he's encouraged to go on educational day trips to landmarks. There's the enormous Pyongyang International Cinema building (used only every two years to host visiting films), the rural International Friendship Exhibition (the last stop on a lone highway from the city built just for that purpose), where, he observes, "even here in the countryside, slogans line the rice paddies," and the monumental (and unfinished) 60-storey hotel nobody dares talk about, built when North Korea attempted to "co-host" the Seoul Olympics.

The episodes are smart, sharply observed and funny, without downplaying the untold horrors (death camps, starvation) that lurk around every corner. The situation in North Korea is surely horrible for the vast majority of the population, but Delisle doesn't pander to readers' expectations by directly chronicling it. In many ways, this oblique storytelling is one of the most refreshing aspects of the book.

While the subject matter and medium invite comparison to Joe Sacco's comics reportage on the Balkan conflict, Delisle clearly didn't travel to North Korea to be an investigative cartoonist. Instead, his cartoon panels chronicle the unique personal observations of that rare foreigner allowed to work within one of the totalitarian régime's foreign cash-grabbing schemes, presented in the form of a diary.

We learn about the country at the pace he does, whether he's stating that foreign workers occupy only two floors of a 50-storey hotel (incidentally, the only floors with electricity) or discovering that the quality of the hotel menu fluctuates depending on the importance of other foreigners visiting at the time. He has an eye for detail, from the portraits of the dynastic communist leaders hung at a slight downward angle to intensify the directness of their gaze to a night sky lit only by headlights (the only constant illumination is reserved for large-scale monuments to the two Kims).

Throughout his stay, he is struck by the ever-present portraiture of Kim Jong-Il, and tries to understand the country's weird combination of idealism and idolatry. Eventually, the ubiquitous portraits begin to unnerve him, so much so that he finally does a double-take walking by a mirror, thinking his reflection is Kim Jong-Il's before realizing it's a trick of the eye (and mind): It's only the leader's portrait on the wall behind him.

It's this sort of personal observation that makes the memoir so compelling, yet it's also a pity we never truly get a sense of the deeper impression the sojourn may have made on him. Instead, Delisle relies on the telling anecdote, especially the several chronicling the sheer bizarreness of interacting with his handlers. Attempts to cajole an honest answer from his dutiful, inscrutable handlers become a bit of a game. In the end, his victory is bittersweet: After weeks of trying to elicit an unscripted reaction, the only expression of true joy Delisle finally glimpses is when he presents them with his parting gift, a bottle of cognac.

That Delisle never manages to see underneath the façade may in fact be the most telling fact, and the most powerful. The people he encounters are living the reality of 1984, a fact he poignantly underscores with the book's endpapers. They are drawings of the vast, now-famous North Korean human pixel murals, the country's unseen thousands holding up placards and living in "mute, hidden terror."

Nathalie Atkinson is the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, and prefers to read books with pictures in them.

 
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  PYONGYANG by Guy Delisle on ICV2!

Updated September 22, 2005


August 19, 2005

This week's issue of the New Yorker includes a one-page color comic, "Kim & Kim," by Guy Delisle, the creator of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea ($19.95), which will be published this September by Drawn & Quarterly. Pyongyang, an informative, personal and accessible look at a dangerous and enigmatic country, is based on Delisle's personal experiences during two months he spent in the North Korean capital while working for a French animation company. The 184-page hardcover graphic novel has already received excellent reviews, with Newsweek noting that "Books like Persepolis -- as well as Sacco's Palestine and Safe Area: Gorazde, and Guy Delisle's Pyongyang -- are held up not only as great literature but also as instructive guides to global conflict zones."

Delisle's Pyongyang demonstrates the graphic novel/comic book's ability to provide an intimate documentary-type look at exotic or war-torn areas of the globe. Kirkus Reviews raved about Pyongyang, calling it "Brilliant, passionately rendered reportage--Delisle is a good guide through this overly ordered world. He genuinely likes the North Koreans and has no ideological axe to grind... His sharp eye captures many telling details: a monstrously luxurious subway station (marble walls, chandeliers) that seems to be only for show; the empty restaurants, the 'volunteer' civilians obsessively cleaning everywhere he looks; and always the passionate reverence for Kim Jong Il, whose portrait hangs 'in every room, on every floor, in every building throughout the land.'"

With news about North Korea's nuclear threat never far from the front pages, bookstores and comic shops should consider prominently displaying this 184-page hardcover, which could well become one of the surprise graphic novels hits of the fall season, especially if it continues to get the kind of reviews it has received so far. Pyongyang was originally published in France by L'Association--and it is their second best-selling title behind only Persepolis, which has been one of the best-selling graphic novels here in the States over the past couple of years (and still continues to sell well).
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Publishers Weekly Reviews PYONGYANG

Updated September 8, 2005


In 2001, French-Canadian cartoonist Delisle traveled to North Korea on a work visa to supervise the animation of a children's cartoon show for two months. While there, he got a rare chance to observe firsthand one of the last remaining totalitarian Communist societies. He also got crappy ice cream, a barrage of propaganda and a chance to fly paper airplanes out of his 15th-floor hotel window. Combining a gift for anecdote and an ear for absurd dialogue, Delisle's retelling of his adventures makes a gently humorous counterpoint to the daily news stories about the axis of evil, a Lost in Translation for the Communist world. Delisle shifts between accounts of his work as an animator and life as a visitor in a country where all foreigners take up only two floors of a 50-story hotel. Delisle's simple but expressive art works well with his account, humanizing the few North Koreans he gets to know (including "Comrade Guide" and "Comrade Translator"), and facilitating digressions into North Korean history and various bizarre happenings involving brandy and bear cubs. Pyongyang will appeal to multiple audiences: current events buffs, Persepolis fans and those who just love a good yarn. (Sept.)
 

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  Guy Delisle's PYONGYANG in QUILL & QUIRE

Updated September 8, 2005


Pyongyang; A Journey in North Korea
Guy Delisle; $24.95 cloth 1-896597-89-0, 184 pp., 6 x 9, Drawn & Quarterly, Sept.

September 2005: Frank Sinatra sang about waking up in the city that never sleeps. For a two-month period in 2001, Quebec animator and cartoonist Guy Delisle woke up in one that apparently never dreams. Delisle’s travelogue, Pyongyang; A Journey in North Korea, recounts his almost existential sojourn in what he aptly describes as a “phantom city in a hermit nation,” a showcase capital brimming with monuments, municipal halls, and museums, yet shockingly devoid of quotidian life.

North Korea is infamously known as a secretive nation, socially fortified and with no desire whatsoever to look beyond its borders. But a shattered economy and a starving population in excess of 20 million recently led the world’s only communist dynasty to court foreign investors. Hence Delisle’s surreal, somnambulant non-adventure working on a French-produced cartoon series. Non-adventure, because Pyongyang is a graphic novel about a city where nothing happens – or if anything does, ignorance is favoured over plausible deniability. While Seinfeld and his brand of zany outrageousness would have had a field day with this material, Delisle’s own propensity for wry commentary is more powerful for affecting quiet outrage in the reader. To wit: electric lights are forbidden after dark and all radios are locked on official stations and checked every three months for tampering, but Delisle’s (smuggled) pocket radio fails to pick up any unofficial stations. Meanwhile, “eternal president” Kim Il-Sung remains in power, despite having died in 1994.

Like the best observational writing, Pyongyang is simultaneously a work of non-fiction and a fish-out-of-water story. It’s cartoonish style allows for an entire extra level of play to both document the artist’s escapades and comment on his circumstances. Delisle’s greytone style is captivatingly simple, rendering people as abstract caricatures (himself appearing as bit of a beak-nosed Fred Flintstone) and reserving careful detail for inanimate objects – buildings, clothes, buses, guns, etc. The message is that the city is more real than its citizens. And though Delisle worries for the North Korean people, detecting the “mute, hidden terror” underlying the “thin veneer of their smiles,” he opts for affable subversion (joking with his humourless translator, lending his guide a copy of Orwell’s 1984) rather than making outright judgements.

So while Pyongyang reads like cartoonist Craig Thompson’s breezy and introspective European travel diary, Carnet de Voyage, its content dictates that it be filed beside political artist Joe Sacco’s hard-hitting, from-the-trenches graphic novels about Sarajevo and Palestine – minus the first-hand accounts of violence, drama, and abject poverty. Because while a city can’t cry for help, maybe the odd cartoonist can act as a proxy.

— Gary Butler
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GRAPHIC NOVEL AND COMICS SPOTLIGHT - DELISLE, SACCO, TATSUMI

Updated September 8, 2005


GRAPHIC NOVEL AND COMICS SPOTLIGHT

A 2005 Special from the editors of KIRKUS REVIEWS


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
by Guy Delisle
September 2005 / ISBN: 1896597890

A Canadian native and inhabitant of France for the last decade, graphic novelist Guy Delisle has just published his first work in English, the story of the two months he spent working on an animation series in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kirkus called it “brilliant, passionately rendered reportage” with “no ideological axe to grind,” a pretty tough feat, given the grimly surreal Orwellian nightmare that Delisle encountered. Delisle’s knack for highlighting the peculiar details of everyday life in the somnolent capital city—the extravagant impracticality of the luxurious subway stations, cities without nighttime lights, the empty restaurants serving nothing, Kim Jong Il’s childlike visage beaming down from every possible surface—is balanced by a warm affection for his Korean guides and coworkers. Delisle renders the brutal realities of living (even temporarily) under this repressive dictatorship with a keen sense of humor, which, as comics journalist
Sean T. Collins points out, means the reader “can’t help but be moved that he’s one of the few people in the country who has the luxury of laughing.”


War’s End: Profiles From Bosnia
1995-96 by Joe Sacco
June 2005 / ISBN: 1896597920

While other writers were redefining the genre by exploring interior landscapes or bringing new soul to old action archetypes, Sacco was practically creating the sub-genre of graphic journalism with his paradigm-busting nonfiction warzone books Safe Area Gorazde and Palestine. Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros says that not only is Sacco the only person “doing this kind of work in graphic form,” but he also “brings an intimacy to the subjects that may otherwise be lacking in other mediums.” In War’s End, Sacco adapts a pair of stories from his reporting on the Bosnian conflict that didn’t fit into Gorazde and uses them as an extended coda to that sad and vicious work. In “Soba,” Sacco is led through the post-apocalyptic party that is Sarajevo after the war by a veteran soldier turned underground rock god, while “Christmas with Karadzic” follows Sacco and two other journalists racing to cover the infamous war criminal going to church, expecting a meeting with the devil himself and finding only anti-climatic banality. As Kirkus noted, “This is not a book about war, but rather about how people live with themselves in what passes for the peace that follows.”


The Push Man and Other
Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Edited, designed, and with an introduction by Adrian Tomine
September 2005
ISBN: 1896597858

After suffering more than four decades of obscurity among North American audiences, Tatsumi is destined to become one of the better-known icons of alternative comics on this side of the Pacific. The Push Man, edited and designed by acclaimed American cartoonist Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), is the first of a promised series of annual volumes that will chronicle the sometimes-sinister, sometimes-teamy, sometimes-comical work of one of Japan’s underground comics pioneers. This first volume, featuring stories originally published in 1969, reveals Tatsumi doing what he does best: examining what Tomine describes as “faces in a crowd, seemingly plucked at random and then examined down to their darkest, most private moments.” Readers might be surprised to find elements of manga enmeshed in Tatsumi’s noir sensibility. “Manga has been written off as trite ’tween reading,” says Logan Bay, of Quimby’s Comic Emporium in Chicago. “This is the kind of comic that will bring Japanese graphic novels out of the fan boy slums.” According to Drawn & Quarterly publicist Peggy Burns, “The Push
Man presents Japanese cartooning on an adult, literary level alongside North American masters such as the Hernandez Brothers, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware.”
 

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  PYONGYANG reviewed by THE ONION

Updated September 8, 2005


Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea
by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

Reviewed by Keith Phipps
September 7th, 2005

Sent abroad to oversee the progress of a low-budget cartoon, Canadian animator Guy Delisle learned that traveling to North Korea means crossing not only national borders, but the boundaries of time. While it's 2003 in the rest of the world, North Korea lives in Juche 92, Juche being the national ideology of self-reliance, and 92 being the number of years since the conception of Kim Il-Sung. The journey invariably causes culture shock in foreign visitors, but the Pyongyang cityscape helpfully provides plenty of reminders of the way things ought to be, at least by the reckoning of the North Korean regime. Statues and portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il fill the city, the details of both men blurred so they better resemble each other. The citizens wear badges for one man or the other, and the state-run radio—the only station allowed—continually sings the praises of the "Beloved Leader" and the "Sun Of The 21st Century." As chronicled in Pyongyang, his graphic-novel account of his time in North Korea, Delisle finds that the people (at least, the ones he's allowed to meet) have responded with a reverence that's indiscernible from fear.

Delisle is a wry but unsparing guide to his Axis Of Evil destination, a place that's in some respects not as bad as he's been led to believe, and in others, much worse. The streets of Pyongyang aren't as deserted as he'd imagined, and at least the booze flows freely, even if it's served with meals where the tablecloths come soaked in oil. Accompanied at all times by a guide and a translator, Delisle is allowed to visit some of the wonders of the nation Kim Il-Sung rebuilt from the wreckage of the Korean War, a journey that culminates in a visit to the International Friendship Museum, where a life-sized wax sculpture of Kim Sr. greets visitors who bow in supplication. Delisle plays along, biting his tongue to keep the laughter down.

Such moments of black comedy abound in Pyongyang, and Delisle's cartoony style and animator's sensibility prove especially well-suited to capturing the absurdity of life under a dictatorship. But Delisle emphasizes that none of the laughs come cheap. He drops references to the North Korea he doesn't see, where five or six million people live deep below the poverty line, unsupported and unacknowledged by their government. (But, hey, who needs to worry about that when there are HDTV transmitters to be installed?) The sadness is on the surface, too, for those willing to look. At the Children's Palace, an institute for North Korea's most gifted youngsters, Delisle watches as 8-year-olds clad in matching uniforms and "Miss World smiles" perform an accordion concert. "It's all so cold... and sad, I could cry," Delisle writes. After months of little rebellions and snide asides, he's come to understand his hosts.
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PYONGYANG on the cover of National Post Arts & Life Section!

Updated September 8, 2005


Rogue statements: Guy Delisle's behind-the-scenes account of life in North Korea's capital almost didn't see the light of day
 
J. Kelly Nestruck
National Post

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

In 2001, Guy Delisle's job with a French production company took him to a place few foreigners are allowed to visit: Pyongyang, North Korea. Sent to supervise outsourced animation work, the Quebecois cartoonist knew he had been thrown into a topsy-turvy world moments after his airplane hit the tarmac in the rogue nation's capital.

"A very striking part for anybody who goes there is the very beginning, when you have to bow and offer flowers to a gigantic statue of [deceased North Korean leader] Kim Il-Sung," notes Delisle, who was given a bouquet for this very purpose when he arrived at the airport. "But there were a lot of things like that after."

Delisle chronicles the two bizarre months he spent in the only country in the world not connected to the Internet in Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, a highly acclaimed graphic novel that hits bookstores in its English translation next Wednesday. Already a sensation in French, Pyongyang has been receiving great pre-press buzz from magazines like Newsweek, The New Yorker and Foreign Affairs.

Delisle was nearly prevented from telling his story in any language, however. Protecrea, the company that sent Delisle to the isolated, authoritarian nation, required the Quebec City-born artist to sign a confidentiality agreement as part of his contract. If it wasn't for the company's bad finances, Delisle may have been held to it -- and his trip would have been just one more North Korean secret. "[Protecrea] doesn't exist anymore ... which is fortunate for me and my publisher, because they wanted to sue us when they heard I was working on a book," writes Delisle in an e-mail from Burma, where he has been for the past six months.

Delisle, whose previous comic book memoirs include an account of his travels to China, is living in yet another authoritarian Asian country because his wife is an administrator with Medecins Sans Frontieres.

"My main activity here in Burma is to take care of our two-year-old son," writes Delisle, who says it is "very tempting" to write his next book about his day-to-day existence in the junta-run country. "We spent a year like that in Ethiopia. I did all of my book about Pyongyang over there."

Pyongyang owes part of its success to the recent increase in interest about North Korea, thanks to its inclusion in George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" and Chairman Kim Jong-Il's nuclear aspirations. But while there have been dozens of in-depth books published about the country over the past few years -- most recently Bradley K. Martin's Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader -- Delisle's Pyongyang, as the Village Voice observed, is "the one you'll actually read."

Easily devoured in a couple of hours, the 184-page graphic novel offers a unique visual peek into the secretive capital that other books cannot. As a cartoonist working in the country, Delisle also had an advantage over traditional journalists whose movements are sharply restricted by the Kim regime. "Nobody (even me) knew when I was there that I would make a book about my journey," explains Delisle, whose book has already been translated into Korean for South Koreans. "[It was] only when I came back that I decided to do it."

The cartoonist is clear that he does not consider himself a journalist, however. "The work I do has little to do with journalism," he says. "The book is my point of view on a peculiar society. Journalists cannot have a point of view -- or at least you should not be able to see it. Me, I do the opposite."

Delisle's wry, skeptical perspective permeates Pyongyang. He casts a light on numerous absurdities of the "paradise of the proletariat," where listening to the transistor radio he snuck in or drinking a can of Coke becomes an act of defiance. During his stay, he lived in a small room at the Yangakkdo hotel, which is on its own small island not far from downtown. One of three hotels reserved for ex-pat workers, only the 15th floor was ever lit.

Delisle, who brought along George Orwell's 1984 to read on his trip, compares the Yangakkdo to the seaside village Number 6 was confined to on the cult TV show The Prisoner. "The only things missing on the set are the howling balls that shoot out of the water when you try to escape," he writes in the graphic novel, accompanied by an illustration of a ball coming at him out of the Taedong River.

Rather than an expose of what life is like for North Koreans, Pyongyang is a personal account of what it is like to be one of the few foreigners in the country. At all times, Delisle's movements were restricted and a guide and translator kept close tabs on him. He spent most of his time in his office at the Scientific Educational Korea (SEK), where cheap labour did the grunt work on a French children's cartoon about a bear. Even there, he was isolated and only allowed to meet the actual animators once. Under the ubiquitous portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jung-Il, they worked in a room complete with a rack of wooden rifles on the wall for military drills. He thanked them for the hard work, "allowing parents in our capitalist society to sleep in while their kids stay glued to the TV."

Though Delisle took notes on a daily basis, he did not do any drawing until he had left Pyongyang. A fellow cartoonist had some of his negatives blacked out when he took photos on an unauthorized jaunt, but no one could erase Delisle's memory of the 105-storey, 3,700-room concrete shell of a hotel, which "looms over the city like Dracula and his castle in an old horror movie." Intended to host part of the 1988 Olympic trials, the hotel would have been the tallest hotel in Asia -- but work was stopped in 1989. "They don't like to talk about [it] ... maybe that one they would not have liked me to draw," says Delisle, who has been based in France for the past decade.

Though he would like to visit South Korea now, Delisle doesn't see a return to its northern neighbour in the cards. "I don't think I would be welcome there anymore," he writes.

© National Post 2005

 
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  Village Voice reviews PYONGYANG

Updated August 24, 2005


“With a delicate pencil and a droll, occasionally outraged sensibility, he captures the inanities and insanities of Pyongyang....”

Shadowlands
An animated account of life under the Kim regime

by Ed Park
August 22nd, 2005

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
By Guy Delisle
Drawn and Quarterly, 184 pp., $19.95

This year has already seen a spate of books about the situation in North Korea—including Jasper Becker's Rogue Regime, Roland Bleiker's Divided Korea, and Bradley K. Martin's massive Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader—but the one you'll actually read is Pyongyang, Guy Delisle's slim nonfiction graphic novel.

Delisle, a Quebec-born, France-based animator, totes Orwell's 1984 and an illegal portable radio into the world's most hermetic country, where he spends two months overseeing the production of a kids' cartoon. (The use of South Korean animators for Western shows is well-known—The Simpsons being the prime example—but the practice of further, cheaper subcontracting to the north has been an industry secret.)

But Delisle has a side project: this book. With a delicate pencil and a droll, occasionally outraged sensibility, he captures the inanities and insanities of Pyongyang, a "model city" where the "complete absence of handicapped people" is explained away by his translator, who credulously asserts, "All North Koreans are born strong, intelligent and healthy." Delisle is at once fantastically isolated—living on the only inhabited floor of a hotel situated on an island—and perpetually connected. A translator shadows him, turning down simple requests for visits (to the train station, to the photocopy room) and instead taking him on an endless tour of sites dedicated to North Korea's late founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son and the country's current leader, Kim Jong Il. In a particularly fine detail, Delisle notes that the portraits of the Kims, which hang in every room in the country, "have a wider edge above than below"—thus appearing to loom over the viewer while keeping free of glare. Big Brothers are watching him.

Observing that the omnipresent portraits show the Kims wearing the regulation portrait pins (every North Korean wears a picture of either Kim senior, junior, or both), Delisle imagines a "short circuit"—the kind of sequence "animators love"—in which Kim Il Sung wears a pin depicting his son . . . who wears a pin depicting his father . . . and so on, ad infinitum. (A perfect Pyongyang short circuit would involve Delisle's book being turned into a movie—and getting animated in North Korea.) The vertiginous zoom-ins are just one example of Delisle's limber style, which he adapts to suit memoiristic passages, flights of fancy, and pure information. It's a master class in the medium's narrative possibilities.

Delisle's experience of North Korea's regimented desperation ranges from the absurd to the nightmarish. Sick of the dwindling meal choices at "Restaurant No. 1" and "Restaurant No. 2" (their actual names), Delisle and some Western colleagues enthusiastically greet the reopening of "Restaurant No. 3," only to discover that its menu derives from No. 1's—and you couldn't invent a bleaker dish than its seeming specialty, the "carrot salad."

A journey through the streets after 10 p.m. reveals a desolate cityscape, dark save for car headlights and the kliegs trained on monuments to the late Great Leader, with straggling pedestrians trudging like zombies in the gloom. It's a perfect scene for Delisle's shadowy palette. The only time his gray scale fails him is the lavish subway system, with "tunnels lit up like Las Vegas"; for full-force glimpses of these underground stations in full color, watch Daniel Gordon's N.K. doc A State of Mind, or check out Jane Portal's vibrantly plated Art Under Control in North Korea, just out from Reaktion Books.

At times Delisle can barely contain himself as he listens to his keepers prattle on about the greatness of their country and the wisdom of its leaders, while empathizing with their human plight (in a secondhand anecdote, a guard "go[es] to pieces" when his charge plays hooky—it's a jaunt for the Westerner, but the native's fate could be fatal). He avoids easy condescension, but doesn't hesitate to stick it to the regime.

The supreme irony of making cartoons for kiddies in the bleakest of locales is not lost on Delisle. He thanks his animators for their hard work, which will "[allow] parents in our capitalist society to sleep in while their kids stay glued to the TV." Toggling from North Korean bizarreries to his profession's subculture makes for unpredictable resonances. In one panel, Delisle spells out obvious instructions to his culturally dissimilar illustrators, and in the process conveys both his workaday frustration and something more ominous: "When the father finds out the children are lost, he should not be smiling."


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NEWSLETTER - GUY DELISLE & PYONGYANG

Updated August 18, 2005


FYI

French Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle, the author of the upcoming D+Q graphic novel PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA, is a featured cartoonist in this week’s issue of the New Yorker. Guy’s one-page color comic “Kim & Kim” accompanies a review by critic Ian Buruma of the book “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty” by Bradley K. Martin.

PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA is an informative, personal, and accessible look at a dangerous and enigmatic country by cartoonist Guy Delisle while living in the nation’s capital for two months on a work visa for a French film