New Brunswick's "Here" reviews PYONGYANG

“President Kim's "Ooh la la"-ing himself” / Here Magazine / Bernard C. Cormier / October 31, 2005

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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