Comparing Pyongyang & Palestine

Aside from their obvious differences in plot and setting, Pyongyang by Guy Delisle and Palestine by Joe Sacco have notable variations in narrative structure. Though, the two narratives do contain various commonalties. Both narratives depict an outsider looking in, or more specifically a visitor in a foreign country: both of which happen to exist under oppressive authoritarian regimes. Both Delisle and Sacco utilize autobiographical narratives: recounting their visits as witnesses to oppression, depravity and sorrow.


In Chapter 2 of Pyongyang, two panels depict Guy Deslisle lying on his bed in his hotel room. The panels read, “The best thing about living in hotels is lying down on the bedspread with your shoes on… Here I am breaking a major family taboo before your eyes… it’s bliss” (2:21). In accordance to Ian Bogost’s depiction of vignettes, this particular vignette which displays Guy Deslisle lying on a bed with shoes on does not necessarily advance the narrative. Did Delisle intend for this illustration to serve as a crucial element to Pyongyang’s storyline? Did Delisle intend to highlight that he doesn’t like to be barefoot? Probably not. This vignette does, however, serve as a portrayal of Guy Delisle and the unideal circumstances of his environment. Perhaps he describes this trivial action as blissful because it embodies an escape from the harsh and unrelenting conditions of the North Korean regime. Maybe it is refreshing to “break a rule” in a world so stringent that violating certain rules can result in capital punishment. Only in privacy can Delisle remain undetected by the perpetual scrutiny of North Korea’s regime, and in that sense, doing something as trivial as breaking a family taboo can be blissful.

This indirect mode of storytelling is a narrative style utilized by Guy Delisle throughout Pyongyang. Delisle could have simply expressed “I thought of my hotel room as a sanctuary from the watchful eyes of the North Korean regime,” but that approach would be overly simplistic and make for poor story-telling. Rather, he describes actions which indirectly imply a certain feeling. Throughout his novel, Delisle creates these implications through narratives which appear trivial on the surface level, but are in fact significant to characterizing his experience. His illustrative style works in tandem with this narrative. His illustrations are flat, minimalist, and overall under-stimulating, which is entirely analogous to North Korea and its insipidity.

Joe Sacco’s illustrative style within Palestine is quite the opposite. The chaotic nature of his images and corresponding text is unnerving. The disarray evokes a sense of anxiety and bewilderment. This style mirrors the manner of his narrative. Unlike Delisle who predominately sticks to a singular perspective, Sacco jumps from perspectives unsystematically. Often it seems like Sacco fades into the background of the chaos that surrounds him. On page 56 of Palestine we observe policemen amidst a mob of frantic Palestinian protestors. The boisterous expressions of the citizens, the lawlessness of the mob, and the disorderly placement of text conveys a general sense of disarray.


Meanwhile, Sacco is a bystander, a quite observer documenting the episode. Though amidst anarchy, Sacco remains a neutral observer of the commotion. This is highly demonstrative of Sacco’s narrative style. This panel makes allusions to his identity as a narrator. Sacco is a reporter, and thus he remains contently detached from the disarray of his surroundings. This assures the reader that he a neutral (third party) outsider  within this foreign country, who intends to unveil the depravity of its citizens. All the while remaining uninvolved as a quiet observer of chaos.