I’ve been to Seoul and Pusan in South Korea, but everything I know about Pyongyang I learned from a comic book. Guy Delisle drew a marvelous book, Pyongyang, a graphic memoir of working there in 2001.
Few Americans ever visit Pyongyang. Delisle is Canadian from Quebec, He was hired by a French studio to direct animations being drawn in North Korea. Odd, how the global race to the bottom in wages means children’s cartoons are made in the least happy country on earth.
Pyongyang was a critical success. The Globe & Mail (U.K )said: “smart, sharply observed and funny, without downplaying the untold horrors (death camps, starvation) that lurk around every corner.” Canada’s National Post wrote: “Tinged with black humour, Pyongyang offers a perspective no straight-up print journalism could.”
The book was translated into a dozen languages and optioned for film. Until last week it was going to be a movie starring Steve Carell. I expect it would have been a far more interesting film than The Interview. On December 19, Guy Delisle announced on his blog that he learned Pyongyang, the film, was canceled, collateral damage to the SONY fiasco. Delisle wrote, “What saddens me the most are the reasons that lead to this. One would have imagined that a huge corporation would not bend so easily under the threats of a group of hackers from North Korea. Apparently they hit a sensitive nerve.” Delisle’s full statement in English and French can be found here.
Speaking of film, part of Pyongyang deals with the movies. Delisle learns that Kim Jong-Il, (father to today’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un) loved the movies. Believe it or not, Kim Jong-Il’s secret police kidnapped South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and forced him to make films in Pyongyang.
Get Pyongyang. Buy it, or ask for it at your library. It is a thoughtful book about an unthinkable place. You can read a free excerpt of Pyongyang at the website of Delisle’s Canadian Publisher, Drawn and Quarterly.