I don’t read much comic books, only when they are very close to the novel form, or the short story, like for example those of my favorite Japanese cartoonist, Jiro Taniguchi. Pyongyang is akin to a travel book, a dark and hilarious one: the author is a professional cartoonist for TV, and as you may not know, most of the production of TV cartoons for kids has been delocalized to Asia because of lower costs… And where in Asia are the lowest costs? North Korea! Isn’t that crazy that one of the worst dictatorships of the world benefits from globalization and welcomes typically Western entertainment industry, for the sake of getting some international currency? Indeed, it’s not the craziest aspect of this regime, that could be considered as a nightmare, if it weren’t a very real one for millions of brainwashed, terrified and starved North-Korean people.
Delisle has worked there for 2 months, and this cartoon records his daily life that is nothing short of a Kafkaesque experience. His drawings are black and white, but life in North Korea is mainly dark. Delisle gives anecdotes on this secretive, paranoiac, impoverished society that are both funny (on the black humor mode) and terrifying. Sometimes his sense of alienation, boredom and loneliness is so great that he needs to make stupid jokes. He feels trapped, under constant surveillance of a personal Comrade Translator and a Comrade Guide. The only free activity he’s able to maintain is to pace up and down his empty hotel for foreigners and make little paper planes out of his cartoon pages and throw them to fly out of his hotel window. The book ends as he leaves the country after his job is completed, but for a whole population, the imprisonment goes on.