Title: Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Author(s): Guy Delisle
Artist(s): Guy Delisle
Languages: English, French, Spanish, Finnish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish, Croatian, Swedish, Polish, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Danish, Norwegian
Grade Level(s): 6-12
Mature Content?: No
Pyongyang follows the story of Guy Delisle, an animator contracted to work in North Korea for a few months. He documents his travels through the country, showing a stark, barren, destitute nation, all while pointing out nonsensical policies and issues. He introduces us to a few other people he meets, invariably either his North Korean guides (incidentally the only Koreans in the entire work), or other expatriates, animators, and other foreigners. It turns out there are some foreigners working in foreign aid, trying to build some infrastructure, or animating or filming for the regime’s propaganda machine. These privileged few get what seem the only freedoms in North Korea – certainly the only “clubs” or “bars”, such as they are, and as a result, the small expat community is tightly interwoven—Delisle shows that everyone knows everyone in that circle of people.
This graphic novel could be used to show and teach a number of topics. It could be used, first, as almost a cultural study, seeing how North Korea functions, almost unique in the modern world. A social studies teacher could also make use of Pyongyang as a study of economic and social injustice, since those themes always seem to be in the background, along with the effects of propaganda. For instance, the expats are the only people with electric, lighted hotel or apartment rooms, and other than that the only light in Pyongyang at night is to illuminate statues and posters of the “dear leader.” Focusing on some of the absurdities presented might also have interesting results, since there are numerous moments that result in incredulity at best – for instance, the opulent Pyongyang subway that doubles as a bomb shelter in case of nuclear war, 90 meters underground, but which no one seems to have seen more than two stations of.