SHENZHEN in Newcity Chicago

“Words” / Newcity Chicago / Dan Bulla / November 14, 2006

Last year, English speakers were introduced to the work of Guy Delisle through the graphic travel journal "Pyongyang," which recounted his stay in the North Korean city by the same name. Now "Shenzhen," an earlier work by Delisle about his experiences in China, is available in English as well. The premises of the two texts are ostensibly the same--both are graphic travelogues recounting Delisle's time in Asia supervising animation for a French studio. But while the two books must be considered together, they are actually very different, and in many ways "Shenzhen" is the superior book. In "Pyongyang," Delisle takes an oppressively over-politicized world and somehow manages to saturate it with even more political content, often to the detriment of the book. Maybe it was a consequence of the intensely politicized world of 2003, or maybe Delisle was just trying too hard. At any rate, in "Shenzhen" (originally published in French in 2000) his reception of Chinese culture and politics seems less forced and more insightful. This time around, we see the everyday makeup of Delisle's life in China--the way that he manages his alienation and boredom by going to the gym, biking to work, traveling, finding new restaurants, bossing around his subordinates and trying to make friends. By concentrating more on himself--even on the most banal moments of his life--his experience in China begins to come into focus. Delisle is at his best when he lets his graphical representations of spaces do the talking. In "Pyongyang," he creates crisp, clean landscapes to convey a sense of a sterilized world. But in "Shenzhen," Delisle configures the space quite differently. Shenzhen is not clean and sterile and desolate like the city of Pyongyang. Rather, it is crowded and loud and filthy. The artwork, then, is smudged and grainy, and drawn with grease and charcoal--still, it remains accessible, aesthetically pleasing and fun to read. Delisle also demonstrates his sophistication and versatility as an artist by bouncing from style to style. Style shifts can indicate flashbacks, mood swings or even a change in Delisle's role as spectator. The result is Delisle's funniest, most interesting and most creative work to be published in English to date.

"Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China"
By Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly Books, $19.95, 148 pages

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