Yesterday I discovered something important, pictures make learning fun, and easy. I know what you’re thinking, ‘way to be late to the party Alice, what tyrant withheld picture books from your childhood?’ Fear not dear reader, Peter and Jane took me through a worryingly long period of my youth.
Since reading Maus I’ve wanted to give graphic novels* more of my time, but other than Persepolis I’ve not picked up another one since reading it. Then, suddenly, last week I had a craving and went of to Dave’s Comics in Brighton to get one.
Any difficulty paying attention to words+pictures that I had before reading Maus has gone, and I’ve learned more about mathematics and North Korea in two days than I would have ever bothered to investigate before. From now on, when I need an introduction to a new subject, I’m turning to a graphic novel first.
“Famously referred to as part of the ‘Axis-of-Evil’, North Korea remains one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. A series of manmade and natural catastrophes have also left it one of the poorest. When the fortress-like country recently opened the door a crack to foreign investment, cartoonist Guy Delisle found himself in its capital Pyongyang on a work visa for a French film animation company, becoming one of the few Westerners to witness current conditions in the surreal showcase city.” GoodReads.
Despite working with someone very well-informed on the country, as informed as it allows you to be, all I’ve ever known about North Korea is that it is ‘Communist’ and has nuclear weapons. So following Guy Deslisle around North Korea was a frightening experience. Seeing it through the eyes of a foreigner working there, with their handlers and translators, the threat lies under a veil of humour and awe. And it’s not until you get near to the end that you suddenly realise what you’ve read is a completely terrifying thing. This is the country Orwell imagined. It’s East Germany in modern times. And frankly it puts my life woes into perspective, because at least I have the freedom to express my thoughts free from prosecution (within reason, but I have yet to descend into complete madness.)
I won’t say much more about Guy’s time in North Korea, because I really think you should read Pyongyang. The artwork is wonderfully bleak, free of colour, to depict this shrouded nation. Oh, and Guy reads 1984 while he is there, to just add to the overall madness of the experience.
Pyongyang is entertaining, beautifully drawn, and insightful. Read it.
(I watched The West Wing episode on North Korea as I wrote this, by complete happenstance, and C.J. Cregg was as horrified as I am.)
What have you read about recently, in graphic form?
* I’ve been told there is a difference between comics and graphic novels, and that some graphic novels are comics. However, as what I read are singular editions of one story with no continuing story in other editions, I’m going to stick to the term graphic novel.