Saturday, 26 February 2011

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

During Christmas I received this wonderful little comic book written by French Canadian animator Guy Delisle about his two month stay in North Korea while he worked for a French animation company. The book is essentially a diary of Guy’s exploits as he given the whirlwind and very pre-meditated tour of the country while he attempts to oversee production on an animation. Tackled with the task of working with inept animators, incessantly annoying guides and the country’s mantra forced down his throat at every turn, Guy manages to view everything with and sarcastic wit and humour, creating probably the most genuine and enjoyable portrayal of the bizarre country that I’ve come across.

More serious journalists attempt to try and rationalise within a country which has no rationality or common sense whatsoever. I remember seeing a small documentary clip where a British journalist argues with her translator/guide because she cant’ talk to a man on a bike. She was just so serious and argumentative in a situation which was really a complete a joke.

Guy’s approach would be to just not pay and blind bit of notice and amuse himself at how annoyed his guide becomes. He takes the piss at every opportunity he gets. This approach is far more enjoyable because the absurdity of the country just becomes far more apparent. He brings with him a copy George Orwell’s 1984 which is obviously banned, but because censorship is so extreme the customs officer has no idea what the book is and lets him keep it. (Which he promptly gives to his guide to read. Though not with much luck.)

Though of course the secrecy, bureaucracy and boredom start to grate with him the more time he spends in the country . Guy was working in North Korea as an animator (FYI Apparently it’s becoming too expensive for animation companies to outsource to production to China and South Korea, therefore as North Korea begins to open its to foreign investment ever so slightly, animation is now being outsourced to there instead) There’s numerous references to animation process.

For example there’s a scene where Guy visits North Korea’s school for gifted children, which is suitably kitted out with the lastest technologies. Guy notices a room where everyone is using 3DS Max to which he remarks ‘I bet they didn’t buy the licenses...’. Made me laugh anyway. I won’t make a joke about UCA and North Korea...

The lovely pared down visual style is perfect for representing the manufactured sanitation and soulessness of Pyongyang; North Korea’s picture perfect communist paradise though Guy isn’t allowed to go anywhere other than where is guide permits him. Access to anywhere else in the country tends to be strictly forbidden unless its being used to demonstrate the greatness of Kim regime. The look has given me some ideas about my next project after Dorian Gray is done and dusted.

It’s a lovely little read and my ambitions of visiting the country before the regime inevitably collapses or opens up remains unabated. I’ll be checking out his books about his stay in Burma and China as well.