By Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly Books)
The only things I knew about North Korea I picked up from too many comics (mostly American) and the TV so this book was a rather surprising delight. As much lyrical travelogue as pithy autobiography, it relates the bemused culture shock of Canadian animator Delisle, who, working on a French work-permit, is invited behind the bamboo curtain to train and supervise Korean artists as a production supervisor. Cheap animators, of course, being one of the few resources that North Korea can use as a means of securing capital from the decadent West.
What he finds and illustrates both reinforces and explodes much of the modern mythology surrounding the world’s only communist dynasty. Using a simplified, utilitarian style he shows us an utterly alien environment that is nevertheless populated with people who are so very similar too ourselves, albeit they do their best not to let it show. The book is stuffed with nuggets of revelation, dryly observed by the innocuous author.
Gently-paced and often dream-like in quality, the humorous tone of drawing accentuates the oddly strictured sense of foreboding. Allowed only one book (in his case, perhaps unwisely, 1984) which must be donated to the State on leaving the country, and his CD walkman (since personal radios are banned) his airport interrogation is sheer mental torture. Only once we’ve been thoroughly immersed in the culture and the personal foibles of the people he is allowed to meet does the compliant Delisle surprise us by revealing that he risked everything by smuggling in a tiny radio so he could get more than state-controlled information – and entertainment!
Subtly playing with the ominous reputation of part of “The Axis of Evil”, Delisle has produced a readable, gentle, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect.
© 2003, 2005 Guy Delisle and L’Association. All Rights Reserved.