A sharp eye for detail, self-deprecating humor and subtle, shadowy drawings highlight this engaging, ambitious graphic narrative.
Though “graphic novel” has become the catch-all category for book-length comics aimed at adults, the genre continues to extend itself, encompassing everything from graphic fantasy to graphic memoir and diary to what Delisle (Pyongyang: A Journey to North Korea, 2005) here terms a graphic “travelogue.” The artist makes no attempt to convince the reader to visit the Chinese city from which he couldn’t wait to escape. As a Canadian native now based in France, Delisle is no stranger to cultural dislocation, yet he wasn’t prepared for the strangeness and isolation he would feel when he traveled to China to direct a team of animators on a TV series. Within the workplace, the hotel and the restaurants he stumbles upon (where he proves far more open-minded and adventurous than many readers would be), Delisle runs into so many barriers that he ends up exploring is his own psychological state here. As he attempts to place his experience amid the industrial, impersonal Shenzhen within Dante’s circles of hell, he underscores the value of the freedom he ultimately enjoys against the contrast of a city sealed by an electric fence, with armed guards in watchtowers. Even the techniques of animation become lost in translation, with standards slipping amid the crunch of deadlines, and no one seeming to care. The artist himself questions the value of sharing what he experienced during his stay in China, yet the Kafkaesque drawings that accompany his frequently droll narration are their own reward. Shenzhen may not be a nice place to live, but it’s a provocative city to visit—in graphic form, at least.
While never preaching, this volume makes a forceful case for creative license and personal liberty, as the artist discovers that there’s no place like home.