Guy Delisle - Pyongyang

Rating 6.8

I'm ambivalent towards graphic novels.
On the one hand, they're at the same time a quick and a deep reading/visual experience depending on how much you want to focus on details. On the other hand, these books are bound to be extremely subjective as the author not only writes but draws what they saw and felt and thought.

This means that I'm likely to be picky in choosing a graphic novel and rather fussy in reviewing it.
As I cannot draw anything real (and struggle with abstractism too), my delight or my disappointment in leafing through a graphic novel are those of a strong reader and a lazy journalist.

All that said, the name of Guy Delisle was not unknown to me and it was in fact a long time I wished to give him a chance.
So, did I like 'Pyongyang'? Yes and no. Let's call it a draw.

What I've certainly appreciated here is that the book taught me something. I didn't know that the animation industry of the Western world relied on outsourcing as much as, say, the automotive and the textile sectors. The fact that 90% of the people involved in the production of a French cartoon actually are North Koreans working in North Korea and supervised by a Western 'chief animator' was a revelation.

Guy Delisle was that supervisor. And here he doesn't pretend not to be aware of his role thus wearing a coat of white male superiority that might either irritate or amuse the reader. In the two months Delisle spent in the North Korea he barely left his secluded exclusive hotel spending most of his spare time partying and dining with foreigners. Nevertheless, he observes, criticises and often pokes fun at the few North Koreans he's allowed to meet.
This superiority business is particularly irritating as it dismisses local culture as silly and uncouth when compared to the excellent music and literary tastes Delisle boasts to have sporting his Orwell, Aphex Twin and Daft Punk.
True, all North Koreans are brainwashed to a level and to such an extent that they cannot even choose what's good and what's bad, what rocks and what sucks. But they have other priorities such as surviving in a totalitarian regime, gathering food and avoiding purges.

 Well, Guy Delisle doesn't seem to care that much about all this here. And yet, I believe that he does care and does know about North Korea and North Koreans more that he writes and draws in 'Pyongyang'. To me, Delisle chose not to focus on the bleak part of the country (with a few exceptions) as he was well aware that the two months he spent in the North Korean capital closely surveilled by the local authorities would have never made him an expert on a whole country; thus, his lighthearted style.

If you want to read (and learn) about North Korea, Pyongyang and the North Korean regime go and take the excellent Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.
But if you're interested in the musings of a Canadian cartoonist wondering and wandering around the most inaccessible - to this day - country in the world, than this is the book to get. There are plenty of funny and well chiselled moments in 'Pyongyang' and it's always a pleasure discovering things through a clever smile.

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