- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly; 1st edition (May 1, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781897299210
- ISBN-13: 978-1897299210
- ASIN: 1897299214
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 109 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paperback – May 1, 2007
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Delisle's observations and frustrations in having to deal with North Korean bureaucracy made for a hilarious read. Although Delisle is in the country on a two-month work contract, he is still led by guides everywhere. Guest workers, like tourists, must pay their reverential respect at all North Korean monuments and propaganda museums in addition to working at their job six days a week. Delisle is given the propaganda tour and he depicts himself in some drawings as barely able to contain his laughter. He expresses his frustration at not being able to find a decent cup of coffee in the whole country. I know what I have in store yet I will be prepared in that at least I have the foreknowledge to bring my own, albeit inferior, instant coffee when compared to brewed, from home when I travel there.
The drawings were made with a variety of perspectives which I admired and enjoyed. In the midst of his adventures working with westerners and North Koreans at the animation studio, Delisle inserts a running joke in the form of a police line-up in which he asks the reader "Can You Spot the Traitors?". One must look at all the people and decide from almost an identical set of characteristics who is a traitor to the fatherland. A typical answer would be Figure #1 because "he let the portrait of Our Dear Leader gather dust". I do not believe that a graphic novel about North Korea would have had the same humorous touch if it had been written and drawn by someone who hadn't been there. A book like this would be a welcome addition to my collection on account of its artwork alone, and although I have already read it I would consider buying a copy.
I read the hardcover edition, which was 176 pages printed on a very thick paper. I always had to ensure I wasn't turning two pages at once since it often felt as though I had multiple pages between my fingers.
The drawing style in Pyongyang is a minimalist black and white that captures nicely the mirthless life in North Korea. You get a sense that the leadership is desperately trying to maintain a good face for the rest of the world but like the bridge in the book that only gets half painted the rust is bleeding through and the cracks are growing. There could hardly be a better advertisement for Capitalism and Democracy than the sterile, dystopia that is North Korea where airports and restaurants operate without lights and massive construction projects sit unfinished and crumbling. Freeways are built without exits and all the people listen to the same state run radio broadcast featuring music that sounds like "a cross between a national anthem and the theme song of a children's show".
North Korea has the same kind of creepiness as a cult except on a massive scale where Kim Jung Il acts as patron deity and his smiling visage is ever present in society. Each room has his portrait and his face appears on a pin that all Korean's are required to wear. This is a land where worker can advance by ratting on their fellow citizens and slight infractions can cause people to suddenly vanish.
Guy Delisle does a superb job of capturing the bleakness and bizarreness of North Korea contrasting it with his own light hearted rebellious attitude. In the end he tries to retain a shred of normalcy throwing paper airplanes from his apartment window while the people below try and hold it together in a society permeated by fear and mistrust. One of the items that the author brings with him is a copy of George Orwell's `1984' but what he found was the physical manifestations of Orwell's deepest fears brought to life.