PYONGYANG reviewed in the Baltimore City Paper

“Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea” / Baltimore City Paper / Stephen Snyder / October 26, 2005

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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