Guy Delisle is best known for his graphic novels about his travels and experiences in some of the most mysterious locations of Earth. He is also a geeky parent who has a lot of (bad) advice, more on that later.
He studied animation at Sheridan College in Oakville, near Toronto, and then worked for the animation studio CinéGroupe in Montreal. As an animator, he has worked for different studios in Canada, Germany, France, China and North Korea. His experiences as a supervisor of animation work by studios in Asia are all recounted in comic form, and his sketches and chronicles have since then made him really famous.
Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China, published in 2000, recounts Delisle’s three-month deployment in December 1997 to Shenzhen, a big city developed by the People’s Republic of China near Hong Kong. Once there, he struggled with boredom, outsourcing-related difficulties and Western-Eastern culture shock.
During his stay, he had language and interaction problems, and was only able to get around with lots of pointing and much more humor. He spent his time shopping and trying (very different) Chinese food. He also drew commentary about different cultural issues, sometimes literally drawing allegories to better explain his views.
What makes him so interesting is his ability to transport you toward a whole new point of view, sharing his experiences with ease and the help of very tiny drawn details that give you a feel of the place. Some of his commentaries are political, something that was undoubtedly important for his next piece: North Korea.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, first appeared in 2004. He stayed at the capital of North Korea for two months, working for TF1 and the SEK Studio (Scientific Educational Korea) company, where he again struggled with outsourcing, plus the bureaucracy of this totalitarian closed state.
The first thing that he got to do was to bring flowers to the statue of Kim Il-sung, a truly bewildering experience. Other places he visited were: the Pyongyang Metro, (which is 90 meters underground, those stairs take a long while to get down); the legation quarter; the Diplomatic Club (former Romanian embassy); the Arch of Triumph; the International Friendship Exhibition; the enormous Ryugyong Hotel; the Children’s Palace; and the Museum of Imperialist Occupation.
The blurbs in the book will tell you that the best documentary about North Korea is this graphic novel, and they would be absolutely right: not only do you get a “feel” of the place, but you wonder with him about many unspoken issues that nobody can discuss since we know so little: why are there no disabled people? Where is everybody? What will happen in the future? This book brought a lot of attention to Delisle, all well deserved.
Then, love struck. After he met and married a Médecins Sans Frontières administrator, he made a trip with her and their young son to Myanmar (Burma) in 2005, and recounted it in the Burma Chronicles.
Published in 2007, this one year-stay in this Southeast Asian country is really as quick-witted and attentive as the others: At the beginning of the trip, the family must stay in an MSF guest house while they search for more permanent housing in Rangoon, the capital. Guy stays home and takes care of Louis while Nadège is busy doing her MSF job. He takes his boy on frequent walks around the neighborhood in his stroller and interacts with the local people in Burma. This faraway land, its monsoons, terrible heath and different culture are really well depicted.
Now with two kids, their next stop is Beit Hanina in Jerusalem, again on administrative business with Médecins Sans Frontières. This stay, recounted in Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, was published in 2011, and won the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for Best Album in 2012.
His views on yet another country with lots of political issues and conflicts, (including Gaza), are really worth a read. Not only there are superb depictions of many holy and historical sites, but Delisle’s sense of humor and attention to detail can illuminate hidden aspects of the religious and political conflicts. For example, Jerusalem must administer churches and holy grounds for three main religions and many sub-branches, and sometimes that task is very burdensome, to say the least: there is a business with a ladder that no one recognizes as their own, that has stayed propped up on a church wall… for years! There are also lots of drawings of the security walls that surround this state on all sides.
Delisle now works as a stay-at-home dad, taking care of their two young children while Nadège is working, and many themes revolve around his kid’s needs: school, play-grounds and the chance to meet other foreign dads on the same page as him.
Probably because of this new task, his new books are all about being a dad. His humorous A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting, first published in 2013, has been well received, with two more titles on the subject appearing in 2014 and 2015. As Glen Weldon put it: they may not be geographical problems but they are cultural, as the views of a parent and their children really can differ, and sometimes all you can do to face some #bad dad decisions is to laugh them out…
As you can see, his work has many angles, and, whether you want to travel or to see if this geeky dad has some advice for you, Delisle is definitely your Guy.
Featured image by Guy Delisle.