Travelogues #2 – Burma Chronicles

I finished reading Guy Delisle’s travelogue from his year in Burma (Myanmar). The book is called “Burma Chronicles” (2008) and is the third book in the familiar, cartoony style of Delisle’s travelogues. If you’re interested in checking them out, you might want to read my review of the first two books.

I have to say that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Guy Delisle’s delightful observations. First of all, this book is an educational trip into how the situation in Burma was a couple of years ago. Secondly, there are a lot of comical situations and descriptions of the daily life of a small family (Delisle, his wife Nadége, and their baby, Louis) in a tropical country. For example, a power outage becomes a very specific problem when you’re not used to the blistering heat, and rely fully on air-conditioning to keep cool. The book is loosely partitioned into sections, with the upper left panel of a section bearing a title and an illustration of something related to the story. I like this way of telling the story in episodes, and still keeping it more or less chronological from start to finish. Delisle is nonetheless a master at using the possibilities of telling a story in comic form. During a side-story where he finds a long lost pen nib in his inkwell, we see him peering over the shoulder of a younger version of himself in a flashback. He then proceeds to loudly criticize the work he was working on at the time. His younger self retorts with a very fitting “Screw you. I can do whatever I like”.

A big topic which gets revisited several times is non-profit organizations, among them Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). It is also made clear that NPO’s like Médecins Sans Frontières are very much needed, as the health care system in Burma is one of the worst in the world. Delisle’s wife, Nadége, is a part of MSF. Delisle himself is given a chance to join her on a mission, and his account of the trip gives an insight in exactly how the MSF worked to help the population in rural areas of Burma. This episode also involves extremely uncomfortable bus rides, and an unfortunate incident of stomach sickness. Just to mention a few of the not-so-great experiences he has included in the book.

Delisle writes and draws what seem like very honest stories, which I also believe they are. I mean, it’s the small, trivial stories that make travelogues, and in particular Delisle’s, so enjoyable to read. In very related news, I’m looking forward to get my hands on Chroniques de Jérusalem (Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City) when it comes out in April…


Travelogues #1 – Guy Delisle

I recently finished reading these excellent travelogues made by Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle. I found these while browsing the comic book aisle at the local library, and I consider myself lucky, because Travelogues are for some reason becoming one of my favorite kind of books to read.

In “Shenzhen – A travelogue from China” (2000), Delisle describes a three month stay in Shenzhen, China. We follow his thoughts and daily routines through many quirky and tragicomic episodes. Cultural differences are the main motif of the book, but it also makes room for topics like loneliness, food, awkwardness and the occasional brush with death.

“Pyongyang – A Journey in North Korea” (2003) describes Delisle’s experiences while working at an animation studio in North Korea’s capitol, Pyongyang. The book gives a funny and educational insight into the daily workings of the world’s most isolated country, everything through the perspective of a westerner. Strict rules, personal guides who follow you everywhere, restaurants with very limited menus and copious amounts of communist propaganda are just some of the things he had to go through during his stay. In short, a very entertaining read.

Delisle’s comic drawing style is as fascinating as it is simple. His caricatured self and the people he meets are incredibly expressive, something which must be due to very good economy of line. At first, I didn’t like the muddy gray tones which are used for most of the shading, but it’s easy to get used to. Maybe the originals are shaded with pencils? Nonetheless, Delisle’s panels are superbly timed, perhaps due to his experience as an animator. Reading the comic pages makes you almost feel like you’re there, watching the world through his eyes. As an added bonus, there are small tips on animating here and there, which is always fun to read.

I’m currently reading my way through “Burma Chronicles” (2007), and I’ll try to write a little bit about it when I’m finished.