A cartoonist’s view of North Korea

I never would have expected a graphic novel to truly capture the sense of a place, but recently, I was pleasantly proven wrong with a nice gift I received for Christmas.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle is a superb snapshot, perhaps the best I’ve seen, of what it is truly like to visit North Korea.

Delisle is a French Canadian who went to Pyongyang to work with the local animation studio. He was fortunate enough (or, perhaps, unfortunate enough) to spend more time there than I was permitted to during my recent visit since he was there in a professional capacity. This provided him the opportunity to explore Pyongyang a little more in depth than the average tourist does and with a more unique perspective–that of a cartoonist.Delisle’s eye for detail, for example, reveals bits and pieces of Pyongyang most people never see. For example, like every other tourist, he did not fail to notice the ubiquitous portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il that hang in nearly every room throughout the city. The difference, however, is that Delisle discovered that the portraits are thicker at the top of the frame, thus angling them in a way that not only minimizes reflection, but also makes them appear as though the Kims are looking down at you.

What’s truly wonderful about Delisle’s book, however, is that the entire thing is rendered in black and white shaded cartoons that perfectly capture the morose, stilted atmosphere of the world’s most reclusive Hermit Kingdom. In addition, the writing is sparse, succinct, powerful, and humorous, as you’d expect from a cartoonist.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I read it after visiting North Korea and found myself laughing and nodding my head in agreement throughout the entire, enjoyable read. Those who have never been, will most certainly enjoy it equally as much.