“Stranger in a strange land” / Washington Examiner / Scott Rosenberg / October 18, 2005

Cartoonist captures trip to North Korea in 'Pyongyang'

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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