PYONGYANG reviewed in the Vancouver Courier

“Graphic memoir offers worldly view” / Vancouver Courier / Shawn Conner / December 11, 2005

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.

 

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