I've always been a fan of comics and every year since I started working, I often make it a point to shop on Amazon and buy a new graphic novel. Before it used to be the whole Superman and Batman graphic novels that are extremely hard to find or are expensive to buy in either Fullybooked or on PowerBooks. This year, I decided to change my pattern of buying from these comic studios and instead, looked elsewhere, my search led me to Guy De Lisle's Pyongyang graphic novel.
I've always been a fan of North Korean documentaries, in fact my sister and I have watched many of the documentaries on North Korea in Discovery and in National Geographic. To see this graphic novel on one of the top 50 graphic comics to buy and see it on sale in Amazon, I just couldn't pass up the chance to buy it. When the comic arrived, thanks to my dear tita, I quickly devoured the comic with enthusiasm and interest.
The story of Pyongyang begins with French artist Guy Delisle being assigned to the eponymous North Korean capital to help out in the small animation company run by both North Koreans and foreigners. During his two month stay in the capital, he meets many of the world's foreign agencies and other expatriates who are also working in Pyongyang. Each character he meets gives him a glimpse of life inside the hermit kingdom. Eventually he too is exposed to North Korean society, being brought to monuments, shrines, striking up conversations about the true essence of being a North Korean living under the perpetual guidance and love of the deified Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung.
Comparing the documentaries that I have watched and this graphic novel, the similarities aren't to far off. Both exposes the total indoctrination and the full extent of the cult of personality that is so deeply embedded within society. Likewise, the comic also points out the social stratification within this society, where despite the rigidity of socialism vestiges of capitalism are evident and are most likely embedded within the upper levels of society. Reading Pyongyang brings me back to days when I was busy reading everything about History, the Cold War and my usual forays in Wikipedia. It was a good experience that helped me understand this part of the world better. The artist, Guy, has no qualms in drawing this world for what it truly is, oftentimes providing an honest opinion of his beliefs and his own comments on his day-to-day experience in this misunderstood and impoverished capital.
After having read Pyongyang, this was a refreshing addition to my growing comic book collection. I love the satire, the simple art but also the rich dialogue. Inasmuch as I want to really expound on the society of North Korea, I feel it best that reading Guy's novel will educate you much better than my words. So if you have the chance and spot it in Filbars or if you're lucky to have our bookstores stock it, go ahead and don't pass up the opportunity.
My name is Alfonso your nerdy history teacher, bookworm and lover of all things cultural and exciting. You can find me in a weekend market, in a bookshop, or eating in Japanese restos during the weekends.