Guy Delisles Asian Trilogy

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And here is another euro goodie, even if you don't like travel books, Guy Delisle's 3 travelogues are worth a read.


Outstanding among the works of the comic author and artist Guy Delisle is his Asian trilogy – Shenzen (L’association, 2000), Pyongyang (L’association, 2003) and Chroniques birmanes (Delcourt, 2007). These three albums, comprising 584 plates, grew out of time Delisle spent in Southern China, North Korea and Myanmar.

The narrator of each volume is Delisle’s alter ego. But this isn’t any adventurous "Tintin", Delisle’s anti hero is "quite normal" – not a daredevil but sort of a nice guy without obvious vices and with an expanding waistline. The drawings are in the same spirit, neither spectacular nor eccentric but sober, unfussy and direct. Guy Delisle’s work is characterized by an endearing modesty.

The drawings are always in black and white. Frequent use of grey tones very effectively conveys the empty streets and dreary day-to-day life under these barren regimes. In Shenzen the artist’s stroke is still charcoal broad, it gains sharpness in the two subsequent albums, becomes clearer, more self-confident and bold, thus resulting in better legibility. Occasionally Delisle lets the pictures speak for themselves, offering us entire pages without words, which breaks the rhythm and invigorates the flow of the narrative. 

Guy Delisle’s method – and he definitely has one – consists of sending his hero from page to page, from one experience to another, so creating a series of loosely connected stories and images of life. Each album of the trilogy encapsulates impressions, adventures and reflections, leaving a much deeper impression than any photo album. They are travelogue cum autobiography at their best.

The inclusion of personal experiences, details of everyday life, as well as historical facts, local customs and traditions is always intended to vividly convey the essence of the country in the way Guy Delisle experienced it. Here are two examples: in Pyongyang the author notes on page 30 that not only are portraits of Kim-il-Sung and his son Kim-Jong-il everywhere, but also that these posters are wider at the top so that the leaders’ penetrating gaze can cast an even more intimidating pall on the citizens. A very revealing and informative observation.

In the Chroniques Birmanes (Burmese Chronicles) the alter ego has his young son Louis with him, providing him with an even more intimate access to everyday life in Burma. In the sequence LE GUIDE DU MAUVAIS PÈRE (How to Be a Bad Father) the author confesses that when there is no milk left in the fridge, the ‘bad father’ steals some from Louis’ baby bottle for his coffee. A small detail that reveals the supply problems and lack of food in Myanmar.

Each story is supported by a framework of three aspects of the narrative, the professional life of a comic artist, the everyday life of the country visited and impressions of the cultural and political happenings there. Delisle’s style is captivating in its simplicity and clarity, showing his endless curiosity and always providing richly varied and dense content as well as his own particular subtle humour. There is nothing sketchy about his style and the tone of the drawings is distanced, often with a light humorous touch that frequently targets the alter ego.

These comic stories with their friendly modesty, their great legibility and their always gripping content demonstrate how excellent autobiographical travel reports can be when they grow out of our own efforts to get to know others better. 

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Guy Delisle - Asian Trilogy/Burma Chronicles (2008) (Minutemen-DTs).cbz 149.478 MB
Guy Delisle - Asian Trilogy/Pyongyang - A Journey in North Korea (Drawn & Quarterly) (2005) (Minutemen-DTs).cbz 77.012 MB
Guy Delisle - Asian Trilogy/Shenzhen - A Travelogue from China (2006) (fixed) (Minutemen-DTs).cbz 162.75 MB
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