Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

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.

pyo“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.

9 thoughts on “Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

  1. I’ve been reading some Black Widow comics, and they were fine, and now I have been told I should read Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Avengers Assemble, so. That’s up next. Are you interested in reading more about North Korea? I read Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy and Suki Kim’s Without You There Is No Else, and both of those were excellent and informative and horrifying. Recommended!


    1. Oh yes, I definitely want to read more, thank you for the recommendations!

      I’m not sure I can manage superhero comics or graphic novels, I can’t get my head around them.


  2. That sounds like a pretty intense and interesting read. I have never really read many graphic novels, but I can certainly see the appeal. I can imagine it would have also added to the story in this case. 😀


  3. I’ve not had the chance to read Persepolis yet but I heard a lot off great things about it! I’m not a fan of North Korea but I’m always a little hesitant to read books about North Koreans by people who aren’t Korean because I feel like their opinion is biased based on the media attention North Korea always receives. The art looks really cute though and I definitely want to read it after reading this!


    1. It’s very much told from the point of view of someone living there who isn’t Korean, and who isn’t judging the ordinary inhabitants (mainly because he isn’t allowed to see them). But, I do agree, there is something far richer to be had from someone actually from North Korea. I also can’t recommend Persepolis enough! It is fantastic.


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