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Book Review: "Pyongyang" by Guy Delisle

I listed in my Teacher reading list a comic for high-school age and up called “Pyongyang,” but wanted to expand on my one-sentence review of the comic.

With the New York Philharmoic performing a groundbreaking concert in North Korea this week, now is a great time to have students read “Pyongyang,” a 2005 comic by Canadian-born cartoonist Guy Delisle. The concert has provided a splash of media attention to this closed, Communist country, but Delisle’s work provides a lot of simple details that show how a government can grind down people. He proves that in the modern rush to digitize and animate and YouTube, the pencil is still one of the most powerful tools a human can wield.

The grayness of his pencils perfectly suits his travelogue about his time in North Korea’s capital city while supervising an animation project. Most of us who follow the news have a mental picture of this nation controlled by one totalitarian family for the past 50 years, but Delisle provides evidence of a cultural brainwashing that goes even farther than I suspected.

The details are human and built naturally:
Peasants sweep the superhighway that no one uses.
Nothing else can hang on a wall holding a portrait of Kim Il-Sung.
Movies and TV shows continue to glorify resistance to the Japanese occupation in World War II or the American fighting in the Korean War. (There was a massive effort before this week’s concert to tear down a lot of street posters showing the same kind of images, but reporters still saw some of them.)

But the most chilling moment comes when the cartoonist notices there are no handicapped people on the clean streets of Pyongyang. His guide answers, “There are none. We’re a very homogenous nation. All North Koreans are born strong, intelligent and healthy.” And that’s that. Delisle concludes that his guide believes it – the propaganda has sunk in.

The best joke is that the North Korean handlers panic about any photography a foreigner attempts. But they never questioned Delisle’s pencil. Their mistake.

CONTENT WARNING: There is no violence or nudity and only a handful of PG-13 swear words.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2008 at 2:27 pm and is filed under Graphic Novel Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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