PYONGYANG reviewed in Chicago Sun-Times

“Traveler in a totalitarian land” / Chicago Sun-Times / Jessa Crispin / September 25, 2005

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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