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Interview with Guy Delisle

Conducted in English by Kenan Kocak, 23 April 2014. This interview originally appeared in European Comic Art Volume 7 Number 2.

Guy Delisle was born in Canada’s Quebec City in 1966. He studied an­imation at Sheridan College in Oakville, near Toronto, and has worked for animation companies in Canada, France, Germany, China and North Korea. His comics career started at L’Association, where from 1995 onwards he contributed to the French periodical Lapin, whilst also working on the Canadian magazine Spoutnik. Delisle is also an active animator strongly associated with Dupuis-Audiovisuel. He has just fi n­ished the third volume of his current series, Le Guide du mauvais père [A Users Guide to Neglectful Parenting], which will be available in January 2015.

In 2012, Chroniques de Jérusalem (Delcourt) won the Angoulême fes­tival’s Best Album award. In it, Delisle follows on from previous travel accounts, in particular Shenzhen (L’Association, 2000, about China), Pyongyang (L’Association, 2003, about North Korea) and Chroniques birmanes (Delcourt, 2007, about Burma). In all of these he presents foreign, exotic and sometimes oppressive cultures through the every­day. In the case of the Jerusalem album, this is done via his own expe­riences as a child-minding father whilst his partner, Nadège, worked there for Médecins Sans Frontières in 2008.

The style of Chroniques de Jérusalem, like that of Delisle’s earlier work, is that of line drawings with clear representational elements, whilst remaining far from any notion of photo-realism. A main dif­ference, perhaps due to the possibilities offered by Delcourt is the use of sepia tone and splashes of colour, albeit sparsely, to accentuate key incidents and objects. The style draws the reader in and situates the story in an exegetic ‘reality’, whilst keeping the distance that comes with caricature. It fits perfectly with the subject matter, one that pres­ents traffic jams and the search for children’s playgrounds, allowing us momentarily to overlook the background events, those of the religious conflicts in the Middle East.

Although the book was a popular choice that frequently topped the weekly BD best sellers, it was also very much in keeping with literary trends within the graphic novel genre and beyond. Indeed, the non-A4 format, low-colour artwork and 334 pages keeps the work within the ‘graphic novel’ style championed by L’Association, Delisle’s previous publisher, and continued by the high-profile but trendy Shampooing collection to which the album belongs. Through the subject matter of the Middle East conflict, comparison with Jo Sacco is inevitable, although Delisle is considerably less politicised. Another point in common is the first-person diary format, although the viewing angle remains third person, as we look onto the line drawing of Delisle, not directly through his eyes. And the use of the everyday as a foreground to broader events plugs into the current trend for ‘everyday studies’, whilst putting the BD alongside other forms of ‘popular but intelligent’ literature that presents world-changing events via the backcloth of the preoccupations of ordinary life, as recently championed by the novels of Jean Teulé, Annie Ernaux and Jonathan Coe.


In this interview Guy Delisle broaches the key questions of artistic inspiration, personal priorities, national affinities, the links between animation and comics, and the practical constraints that direct artistic production.

KENAN KOCAK: What does producing or creating bande dessinée, or comics, mean to you? Why do you produce? Why do you do comics?

GUY DELISLE: Well, that’s a big question. Because I like to draw and I like to tell stories, and I was working in animation, [where] for me, after a certain point I felt frustrated because it was not my drawing, it was not my ideas, it was not my design. And at the same time, I was doing my own short stories for magazines and I really enjoyed doing my own stories, my own design. I always thought about that when I was young. I always read comics and I found the opportunities to do short stories and I was thinking I would do that as long as I can, and then it became bigger stories and it became books. And it all moved gradually. I didn’t start doing drawings. One day at my table thinking, ‘Oh, I am going to do books and publish them’, I just started with an idea for short stories and I had seen a magazine that was doing some independent stuff, and I thought maybe that magazine is going to like what I do. So, yeah, it goes down to because I like it.

KENAN KOCAK: When did you decide to switch from animation to comics? Exactly which year, do you remember it? Was it after Shenzhen?

GUY DELISLE: No, by the time I did Shenzhen I was already doing comics. Shenzhen was in ’97. I guess I started to do short stories around ’95. Because when I came back from Shenzhen, I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I can do a few short stories with the stuff that happened to me in China’, and then it became the first part of Shenzhen. It was not planned to be a book. I was doing short stories before that, so I would say, yeah, around ’93, ’94, ’95.

KENAN KOCAK: Now you have settled down into the south of France after having been to various ‘dangerous’ places worldwide, how do you feel? Do you not miss those days? Are you happy with your current life?

GUY DELISLE: No, I don’t miss those days. It was very nice to do it when it was possible to do it. And I have the feeling that I fulfi lled that part of travelling a lot. For me, it was more of a family reason to stop, be­cause the kids were a bit bigger and we knew we wouldn’t do that for our lives. So, it was the time for us to stop and it was a good time, because everybody is happy with that situation – me, my wife, my children, not to travel anymore! And yes, we did it, and it was a good time to do it, and for me, actually doing four books about travelling was enough because doing a fifth one would have been too much, I think. Maybe when I get old, I’ll have some very interesting experience, and I might do one. But now, it’s very nice for me to do different books because it’s nice to do comics and it’s nice to change and have different styles. So, yeah, that’s a big freedom. If you keep doing always the same type of books, you can lose that freedom potential you have in comic books.

KENAN KOCAK: But please don’t give up producing graphic novels, because we really look forward to reading another Jerusalem, Shenzhen or Pyongyang.

GUY DELISLE: Thanks! I am still doing a kind of autobiography. Be­cause I do the books with my children, you know, the one about being a father.

KENAN KOCAK: The Neglectful Parents.

GUY DELISLE: So, this is some kind of autobiography, except it is not on travelling, it is more on everyday life.

KENAN KOCAK: Yes, absolutely. I have read the first volume, but I believe the second one has not been translated into English?

GUY DELISLE: No, they are translating right now, so they are going to release it in a few months, I guess.

KENAN KOCAK: And I think that your training in animation has af­fected works such as Albert and the Others and Aline and the Others. We see the effect of your training as an animator in these two books, I think, because you are trying to exceed the boundaries of the comics. What do you think about this?

GUY DELISLE: Well, I have been thinking about that recently, and I think that when you do animation, especially as an animator, I was not doing storyboards. Of course, if I was working on storyboards, it would be easy to think that once you do a storyboard, then you switch to a comic book. But I was an animator, so I have spent my time trying to work on the movement. And one thing you do when you are an anima­tor is you have to observe. So, I think that is one thing I have learned from doing animation. You have to observe movements, but I have ob­served . . . more than that, I think. When I travel, I look at small details, I think this comes from animation, and when you are an animator, you have to learn to design the movement in different parts, like the antic­ipation, the movement as the second part, and then the rest, and you really have to work on that. I think I have applied the same system to a narration, to a storytelling narration, for which you have to have differ­ent parts where you start the story. I think this system of observing and observing movement, I have put that into my life as an observer. And I have put that into my storytelling as well.

KENAN KOCAK: How far do you feel that your training as a film ani­mator has affected your production of graphic novels or comic albums, especially given their references to your animation work? How do you feel the connection between them?

GUY DELISLE: Yes, it really is about a link between the movement and comic books. And it came right after I was doing animation. When I was doing animation I was thinking, maybe we could use the movement in some stories to try to describe just a moment in one page or so. I was thinking, you know, it would be nice to shrink time or compress time on just one page or have the time, for example, a year, passing from one image to another one, very quickly or very slowly. So I played with that in my short stories. I have it in one of my fi rst short stories: I have a whole life passing in two pages; the character is saying one letter and the whole letter makes the sentence of life pass so quickly! You have that sentence to show the two pages of a life. And so I was playing with time and I was thinking when I was an animator that we could do that in the comic book. When I had the chance to do short stories I was thinking, ‘Oh, I am going to try to do like a short film’, because all these short stories could be short animation films, basically.

KENAN KOCAK: Yes, definitely, and you did it really successfully, I think.

GUY DELISLE: Thanks. And I have also used that method afterwards. It is a very good exercise to do a story with no text because you realise you can actually see a lot of things, and I did the same thing when I was in Burma. I had to describe these movements where we were tourists and we were going to this nice place, but I did not want to talk about how nice it was, and I decided to use that technique where you have all very quick, small images, and so for me it is like a narration tool that I have developed. I applied it fi fteen years later in Burma Chronicles be­cause I thought, ‘Yes, that is a good solution as a narration to tell what I want but quickly, with no details.’

KENAN KOCAK: There are some differences between the French and English editions of your graphic novels. In English translations, they added subtitles, for example, when it is just Shenzhen in French, in En­glish it is Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, or Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, and especially your last graphic novel, Chroniques de Jéru­salem, was published with the addition of the words ‘Holy City’. I see them as a bit problematic because these subtitles allow us to read your comics only as travelogues or chronicles. And the words ‘Holy City’ are a bit confusing. Whose Holy City is Jerusalem? Muslims? Jews? Or Christians? What do you think about this?

GUY DELISLE: Well, it is something that I do not really have control over. It is the publisher, the English publisher. I remember, he told me about Pyongyang, he said, ‘We have to add a subtitle because in the United States, nobody knows what Pyongyang is, and if we do not add a subtitle people are not going to know that it is in Korea.’ So they really wanted to underline, to make a statement that it was somewhere in North Korea. So I thought at length, you know, and said, ‘If you think it is best, I do not really mind actually’, because for me, I do not see the translation, I see one book and then they are gone and so I leave, I trust the publisher and if they do not want to put a certain colour on the cover, usually I go with them and that applies to the rest as well. So, for Shenzhen, they did Shenzhen after they added the subtitle on Pyongyang. And they said, ‘We are going to put a subtitle on Shenzhen, one which says Travelogue in China or something like that.’ So they did the same for Jerusalem: The Holy City. Well, the city is holy for the three religions. They do not change a lot by putting that. Because it is actually three times holy: it is holy for the Muslims, it is holy for the Christians and it is holy for the Jews. So, I think that the ‘Holy City’ can fi t to the three major religions that are there. So, for me, I do not really control that, and it is a bit up to them if they want to put that on the title. I have put all the translations of my books on my blog. I have one in Czech and there is a subtitle on it. I just have no idea what the subtitle means, really.

KENAN KOCAK: And they have changed the front covers of your books as well.

GUY DELISLE: Yes, they keep changing. Not so much for Jerusalem, because I did try to control the one for Jerusalem and try to say, ‘Well, enough of all these changes, I would like to keep the cover I have done.’ But it is really hard to do that because sometimes, for instance, in Asia, there is one cover that is very strange in Taiwan, I think. We do not have a lot of control. They just send the book and we say we do not like it and then you do not hear from them. Well, I do not think about that so much. So, after that, I guess they just really adapt them, that is it. But, for some reason, publishers sometimes have a collection. So they have to fit the graphics to put into the collection, which is not such a good idea. And sometimes they just want to change the drawing for, I do not know for what reason, they do not like the cover. It is a bit like movies and their posters. They keep changing in every country, I do not know why.

KENAN KOCAK: And also in English translations, the location that you are going to be is shown on the map, but we don’t see it in French editions. Is it the same selling strategy?

GUY DELISLE: No, I forgot to put them in French once [laughs]. They forgot to put the map in. And when I realised that, I said, ‘Wow’, you know. For Jerusalem, especially in France, I think most people know more or less where it is. And within the book I have a lot of small maps and I think that is OK. And I thought after a while, it is going to be a problem, but since it was with the book, I guess the other countries received the whole file. They did not forget the first page and they put it in the book.

KENAN KOCAK: As far as I know, in one of your interviews, you said that you do not read or undertake any research about the country where you will be living for a while. Why do you prefer this? How does it affect your life there? Do you prefer to learn by experiencing your daily life?

GUY DELISLE: There is a bit of that. It depends, it is different for every country. Before going to China, twenty years ago, I was a much younger person. And I did not read about the country, I just wanted to see China: I was very excited to go there. When I came back, I read a lot of books about China, the history of China, the revolution [Cultural Revolution] and all that stuff. I thought it was fascinating. And then, for Pyongyang, I read beforehand. I read as many books as I could, be­cause I knew that before going there, once I was there, if I asked a ques­tion, they would give me the answer that pleased them. And I thought, ‘Well, I am going to read as much as I can. So, I will know about the country and I will be able to ask them questions, and know the answer that we have here, to see what they say so as to compare.’ For Burma, it was different. We were going there for a year and I thought, ‘Well, once I am there, I am going to be surrounded by the people that work in MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] and they have been there for years; they know the whole country very well.’ And that is what happened. I was there for a year. I met journalists, I met people from the UN, from the Red Cross, and they knew the country very well, and some of them knew it really well. And some of them had actually met [Burmese oppo­sition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi, and some of them had been there for eight years. And they knew the country very well. And the same thing happened in Jerusalem. I did not know much about the country. We only knew one month before we left that we were going to Jerusalem. So, there was not much I could do in one month. And I looked at a few pictures and I thought it looked nice and we would see how it was there. And the same again, once I was there, I was there for a year. I could not spend the year reading books about the country. I did read a few while I was there. I read the books people advised me to read. I was with lots of friends; some of them were journalists, from the UN [United Nations] and from the Red Cross. And they knew the country very well as well.

KENAN KOCAK: And you also learned many things from them in Je­rusalem? From the people who work for Médecins Sans Frontières and the other organisations?

GUY DELISLE: Yeah, and the UN, the Red Cross, some of them were journalists from famous English newspapers and they knew the coun­try very well. And I was learning on my own by just walking around and looking at stuff, but sometimes I was thinking how come this works like this here, how come you need papers to go there, and they would know and they would say, ‘Oh, it is because this was granted there and they decided to do it this way because blah blah blah . . .’ In this way it would be very quick to get information.

KENAN KOCAK: In my thesis, I am writing a chapter on nationalism and national identities, and their interaction with graphic novels. What does nationalism or national identity mean to you?

GUY DELISLE: Oh, for me, like my nationality is Canadian, which I still feel.

KENAN KOCAK: What do you think about nationalism or patriotism?

GUY DELISLE: Oh, patriotism. Indeed, I do not hold this value very strongly. Probably because I am from Quebec and when you are from Quebec, you are from the French part and you are part of Canada, of course, but you don’t really feel that you are part of Canada when you are in Quebec, but you feel it when you go outside the country. But you feel that you are from the French part of Canada. We have the English and the French [Canadians], so we do not have deep roots for patriotism, at least not for the whole country. A lot of French Canadi­ans have very strong patriotic roots for Quebec, but I do not really have that either. And given that I moved when I was twenty – I moved to France – and have roots in France now, I feel that I’m half French and half Canadian. So it is hard to feel patriotic when you have parts from different countries, because which one are you going to choose? But I think if there were, for example, a basketball game, and it was France against Canada, I would go for Canada. I would give my vote to them. So I guess, I am more patriotic for the Canadian side.

KENAN KOCAK: Actually, Quebec identity is my next question. Does that Quebecois identity affect the way you portray other national identities?

GUY DELISLE: Well, of course, when you are from a minority – be­cause Quebec is a minority in North America – well, then you tend to see the other minorities in that perspective. Coming to France, you look at the language in the south of France, and you have to think about whether you are going to learn that language, since if you are in Que­bec the English speakers have to learn French, so you do have a reac­tion like that because you have been in that situation. So I guess this also gives a perspective in countries like Burma, there are so many mi­norities right now, there is actually a lot of trouble with all the islands, where very small minorities are having a very tough time. It is surpris­ing that Burma is doing that to these minorities, now that it is a much freer country. I have this kind of reaction, I don’t know, maybe because I am Canadian and it is a minority, but I guess it is a part of my culture.

KENAN KOCAK: How do you use visual and verbal irony to refl ect national differences? How do you depict nationalities in your comics? For example, how can you show people from different religions in Je­rusalem? Or how do you distinguish yourself or Europeans in your Shenzhen, Burma or Pyongyang? How do you achieve this?

GUY DELISLE: In Burma, it was easy to draw Burmese people, because if you draw a guy, you have the Asian face and you can really portray that easily, as with all the Asian countries, it is easy to draw the people because they have a distinct face. Especially in Burma, the guys were all wearing those long skirts; it was easy to show it was a Burmese person. The con­text helped a lot because if I go outside on the street in Burma, people know that I am going to meet some­one from outside the coun­try, that it is going to be a foreigner. So the context helped a lot to explain that. In Jerusalem, it was differ­ent because in Jerusalem, I could be mistaken for a local person, I remember people would talk to me in Hebrew. Because they have so many different roots, I mean European, they all have very different faces. So, I needed to specify that in this context but not to explain them. I don’t really have to explain.

KENAN KOCAK: Could we say that you follow national stereotypes, or Oriental stereotypes, for Jerusalem?

GUY DELISLE: There were no Oriental stereotypes for Jerusalem. That’s one thing. They look like Europeans, so there were no Asians, and some of them are red-haired and they have blue eyes, so apart from that, if you want to draw an Orthodox Jew, then it is easy because with the black hat and the long beard that they have, it is going to be the guys like that, and it’s mostly with the way they dress. I would depict the ladies that are wearing long dress and the veil like the Muslim ladies, and it was easy to know where they are from, in my neighbourhood they all look[ed] like that. They all wear the headscarf and the long dress. And so, yes, for the foreigner it was easy. It is just like when you travel, if I go to Tur­key, which is quite European, and I were to draw the people, you would know that they are all Turkish, and they can be tourists as well, but that is not really my problem. I mean, if I am taking a picture I do not really have to know who are in front of the camera. I just take a picture of the country and I will draw the people in front of me without knowing where they are from. Some of them can be just tourists, I do not mind.

KENAN KOCAK: Have you ever been to Turkey?

GUY DELISLE: I have been, but from Israel. Actually, I have been on a very quick travel visit just to Antalya, which is a very touristic area. And we really needed to have a relaxing time, having been in Israel for half of a year. And we had a discount deal which was just next to the ocean and it was just relaxing and very nice. And the people were just fantastic. The children loved it as well. It is good. It is fantastic. I would like to go to Turkey.

KENAN KOCAK: In Jerusalem, I recognised that you did not draw the face of the Prophet Muhammad when you drew him on the horse.

GUY DELISLE: I was worried because I know that it can be big trou­ble. Look at the movie about Noah. They are showing it right now, it has been banned in lots of Muslim countries because it portrays God somehow, and they do not like that over there. Yeah, I have managed to put the wing over his face, so I did not face any problems.

KENAN KOCAK: My other questions will be about comics journalism, because I am writing a chapter on comics journalism. What do you think about comics journalism? As far as I know, you say that you do not do journalism like Joe Sacco does. But I analyse your works as comics journalism, because I believe that your works are more journal­istic than Joe Sacco’s. The only difference between you and Joe Sacco is your style: Joe Sacco draws very realistically, and you use basic and clear lines, and behind them we see a very realistic depiction of the environment. We can learn very specific things from Sacco, such as the massacre that happened in the past in Footnotes in Gaza, for which it was very hard for him to find people still alive who could talk about it; we also learn very many things from your books thanks to your experi­ence, your daily experience. And I personally think your journalism is actually better, because you are just showing us what you see. What do you think about this? Can we call you a comics journalist?Figure 6: The Prophet Muhammad.

GUY DELISLE: I do not know. I do not feel like a journalist. Joe Sacco is a journalist. He goes to Gaza; he knows what he is going to do, he knows he is going to work on 1956 somewhere in Gaza. He works with archives and all that. But me, I do not even know if I am going to do a book, or I go to Jerusalem because I was travelling with my wife, but I thought I would take notes. If anything interesting comes up during the year, if I can work on a book I do not know how far I could go. If something happens which is very exciting in a country, I do not think I am going to go there. I had the chance to see some of the fi ghting over Gaza during the war when we were there. And of course a journalist would go there; my friend asked me if I wanted to go and I said, ‘I do not feel like watching these poor guys dying with F16 bombs’, so I did not go. That was not a very journalistic reaction. But it is true that I put some information in: sometimes it’s just information like when I explain what the Dome of the Rock represents, and I explained some religious stuff, so that part is more pedagogic, it is like teaching, so I have a bit of that. Then I like to mix that with everyday life, my life, so the people know what kind of guy you are, what kind of life you have when you are in Jerusalem and what kind of stuff you get to see, with the people you meet and from the people that are not very pleas­ant with you, and all the religions I have met. So, this is not so much journalism. This is more like daily life. It is a diary. And for me, when I do that, I do not feel like I am doing journalism. I really feel that I am doing something like a long postcard that I would send to my fam­ily to explain to them, because there is some explanation needed here and there, such as what the situation is, what I saw while I was there, everything which is funny, strange for me or interesting. I put them in the book according to my notes, of course, it is everything I have just seen there. So that’s why for me it’s much more, as someone said once, more like anthropologists would do, which I kind of agree [with] because I go outside and I take very small details and with these small details after a year you have pictures of the whole thing. But I can look at the garbage and think, ‘Wow, we do not do that the same way here and why do they put bread on the outside of the garbage can’, and just with these small observations I like to explain the bigger thing some­how. And I think this is more observation. You try to do it on your own. But I do not try to do all the analysis. I leave the analysis to the reader. I just present the stuff I have seen and from that, you can make up your own mind. That is the good thing about comics. I can just show and I do not have to say, ‘They do not look at the poor Palestinians they are going to shoot’, terrible, which is true, everybody can agree with that. But if you write it, it does not have the same impact, and if you just show what it is to go to a checkpoint, you say nothing, you just show the way it is, and everybody will go, ‘Wow. This is a little bit crazy.’ And you do not have to say it, and I think it is better.

KENAN KOCAK: Do you think that comics journalism can be an alternative journalism to show the things that it is not possible to see in mainstream journalism? For example, your Pyongyang is still one of the few works showing life inside North Korea. Do you think comics journalism can be an alternative?

GUY DELISLE: Well, the prob­lem with comics journalism is it takes a long time and today journalism, with Internet, you have to go very, very quickly; sometimes too quickly. But for something like Pyongyang, that kind of reportage is different because I was in the perfect sit­uation, I was able to remember and draw, and this would not have been possible with a camera or with a movie camera. There is no way I would have been able to show all that, but with comics it was perfect. I could just remember touring that museum and then I could just read it, read my notes and remember it and draw it, and for that drawing was perfect and I guess unique because there is no [other] way you could do that; you can do text, but it is different. I have read books about people who have been there, but to be able to show what you think somehow, that was very different, and for that I guess it was a unique way to do it because of Pyongyang. In most of the other countries you do not have that, you can take pictures, but for that one especially it was very useful.

GUY DELISLE: Because I had the opportunity to do it, because the other books were all planned to be with a small publishing house and they cannot afford to do colour. But Jerusalem, I knew from the start that would be with a bigger one, and they said we can do colour and I knew that it would not be too expensive. Even though it is 300 pages I would do colour. But it would not be too expensive. So I thought, ‘Well, I would like to have a few colours.’ I did not use many.KENAN KOCAK: Why did you decide to use colours in Jerusalem?

KENAN KOCAK: Especially for maps and exclamations you use colours.

GUY DELISLE: Yeah, for sound. And it really comes out. But Jerusa­lem is a very monochromatic city because they use the same stones. They have to, they have no choice. And it all comes out. It is like beige everywhere. So that’s what I wanted to represent with the colours.

KENAN KOCAK: Yes, and, for example, you use red to depict the gun­shot or you use yellow to show people shouting. How do you choose them? Why did you use, for example, red for gunshot and yellow for shouting?

GUY DELISLE: Well, it is something you do in comics. In children’s comics, for example, there is some violent scene, there is some action or gunshot, and they put the whole image in red and I used to have to just do sound. That is frustrating. In comic books you do not have sound; you just write the sounds in words, but it has never really, really worked. So with a little splash of colour, especially when it is a gun, red is like a violent colour. So I thought, you know, I did not invent that, I just used what I have seen, and throughout the book you have just a few spots when it was like a shocking sound or something like that, yelling, and I just look at it and then on the page it looks nice, I just want a spot of colour.

KENAN KOCAK: If we turn back to Shenzhen, in Shenzhen, you use Chi­nese letters for some conversations, possibly the ones when you cannot understand what they say, whereas in some parts you translate them. And we do not see that style in your other works. Why did you abandon it? Why haven’t you used the same technique for your other works?

GUY DELISLE: The situation was different in China, because I was in a translation situation, so I had to explain, so that is something you can do in comics. Someone is talking to you and you do not understand at all what he is saying, but it is like a cloudy image. So you can do that, you can have someone shouting and you can do just rubbish stuff. But I was not confronted with that in the other countries, because there was no translator and I was in an English-speaking country like in Burma, [or] in Jerusalem, that never really happened, but in China, yeah, and I do not think I would use that technique now. I add a few Arabic words in Jerusalem, and I do not know, at that time I thought that is the way to transpose the experience I had in China. And today maybe I would do it differently.

KENAN KOCAK: Yes, as far as I recognised, you use the same charac­ter that you used in Albert and the Others in Jerusalem, right? I cannot remember his name, but with a fez on his head. You use the same guy in Jerusalem.

GUY DELISLE: Oh, really? Is there . . . ? Yes, because they have the fez in Jerusalem. They wear the fez especially in the old pictures. If you look at the old pictures of the Palestinians they all wear the fez. And I find that hat very funny.

KENAN KOCAK: But when you draw the Ottoman sultan in Jerusa­lem, you made a chronological mistake there because the fez was intro­duced into the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, but the time that you were talking about is the sixteenth century.

GUY DELISLE: Ah, OK. I did not know that [laughs].

KENAN KOCAK: I think it was only me who noticed it!

KENAN KOCAK: It is not possible to see the fez in the sixteenth cen­tury. It was in the nineteenth century. Anyway, if we turn back again to Shenzhen, in Shenzhen you use wordless full-page splashes to separate your chapters. I find that some of them are related to the chapters that they separate, but some of them are not related. For example, what is the underlying significance of the three frames at the start of chapter 8 of Shenzhen, which depict an elegant Chinese woman entering a tradi­tional building and, if appropriate, what interrelationship is intended between them?
GUY DELISLE: I think I was mentioning the work of the Chinese artist that I discovered when I was there, and I think I have been collecting a lot of these small books that you can find in the streets of China. And I mention at one point, maybe it is not in that chapter, but [at] a certain point, I was infl uenced by the way the Chinese draw, and I have tried to do some work, like even the beginning of a comic book, and that one page of the comic book I was working on after being influenced by the Chinese graphic artist. So, that is the reason it is there. But I do not know if it is in the right chapter, because I guess I like that page and I thought, ‘Wow, I am going to use it.’

KENAN KOCAK: You don’t follow the same style, for example, in Shen­zhen, you divide your book into sixteen-page chapters, but you do not follow the same for your other works. Why did you abandon it?

GUY DELISLE: Because Shenzhen was prepublished in a magazine and in that magazine you do sixteen pages because it is a printing size. You can have your own paper if you want within the magazine. It is the printing system, where it is folded in sixteen pages. So that was the reason, because Shenzhen started as a magazine short story. And then I did one chapter and I thought, ‘Wow, I am going to do the second one’, because I liked it. Then I said, ‘I am going to do the third one’, and then people started to really enjoy it. And we thought, ‘Wow, why not do a book?’ And then I said, ‘OK. I am going to stop prepublishing it and just work on the book.’

KENAN KOCAK: To what extent do you use cultural symbolism? For ex­ample, in Pyongyang, you are obsessed with the tortoise and constantly show it to us, the one in the restaurant, in the aquarium. Although you don’t say anything about the tortoise, I know that it is a symbol for long life in Korean culture. Do you follow the ‘don’t tell only show’ style?

GUY DELISLE: Well, it is not necessary to tell if it is not . . . It was very present in our life because it was a big tortoise and it was in a very small aquarium. And every time we went to the restaurant we saw that tortoise. And you can feel sorry for that big thing being in an aquarium. And I remember one day I was drunk and I was looking at that aquar­ium. And yes, somehow it represented to me being trapped: somehow like that tortoise is trapped in the aquarium, just like the people in North Korea. They were trapped in that country. And there is no need to say it if you just feel it and if it is not felt well; it is OK too, because it is just a nice living animal in an aquarium. It is nice to draw. But if it can add to the, like, to underline between the lines, the stuff you just feel while you read the comic, well, then, it is good, yes.

KENAN KOCAK: And you wanted to show the contradiction because the tortoise is a symbol for long life, but it is trapped there.

GUY DELISLE: No, I did not have that information. I know it means long life, but it did not work as a symbol for me. No. For me the symbol was to be trapped. Like a big animal trapped in a small aquarium. For me that was the feeling I had when I was there myself, being trapped there. And to some extent, of course, the whole country where you have the citizen trapped in that small country just like the tortoise.

KENAN KOCAK: I really like the scene in Pyongyang when you talk about the Turkish del­egates. Thanks to them you ate better food in the restaurant!

GUY DELISLE: I remember that guy. He was quite big with a mous­tache. Oh, very Turkish. And I remember that one day he was talking to – I did not put it into the book – he was talking to the guy who was preparing the food and obviously he was not very happy with the food, but he was very diplomatic. But I think he went in the kitchen to show or to see how they were preparing such disgusting food somehow, and yes, I thought it was very cute. He was trying to have a good meal. But that is not likely to happen [there]!

KENAN KOCAK: And until the day I fi nished Pyongyang, I didn’t know that Turkey has diplomatic ties with North Korea.

GUY DELISLE: Yes, a few countries. There are still quite a few coun­tries which have diplomatic ties.

KENAN KOCAK: Everybody knows your love for Tintin. Have you ever taken any inspiration from Hergé? I think your style follows that of Hergé closely. What do you think about that?

GUY DELISLE: For me, it was when I arrived in Hong Kong, I spent a few weekends in Hong Kong, I was really seeing the Hergé way of describing China, because in some of his books you have all these very typical scenes on the street with lots of Chinese people. I did not get that so much in Shenzhen. But when I was in Hong Kong, yes, I really felt that I was in a Tintin book somehow. It was China a bit like you imagined. I remember when I was drawing it just happened that I had a little frame [of a Tintin album], and I have that image in a frame, and I was looking at it in China and I felt, yeah, that was how I felt when I was in Hong Kong. So I took it and I just retraced it. And I have put it in the book.

KENAN KOCAK: It is going to be very hard to ask, to answer, actually, but which of your books do you like the most?

GUY DELISLE: Well, I think Pyongyang, because I like the narration of it. I really like the ending of the book, with the airplane, paper air­plane. And that country was so special, and I was in a situation where you could only do that with a comic book. You know, no matter how big a team or camera you could have, they would have never worked in North Korea. So I was in a situation and had a perfect time, had just the perfect cover working there, and for me this book is a bit special. In the other ones I could establish the way you tell a story, the narration. I really like Jerusalem, but I guess Pyongyang was after Shenzhen, with more on the funny side, with some jokes. In Pyongyang I could show that you can actually have fun, but kind of, because it is not so much fun at the end of the book . . . And you can put in some information, you can learn about a country, and some journalistic aspects. For all these reasons, for me, yes, it is a special book.

KENAN KOCAK: As far as I know, on the Amazon U.K. website, they put Pyongyang in the Korean politics section, not in the comics section.

GUY DELISLE: Ahh, really? Thank you. I remember when that book was reviewed by some like Foreign Policy magazine in which they had never talked about comics before. The interesting thing is they were talking about the book regarding the info you get from the book, and not because it was a comic. It was interesting to see a comic book talking about North Korea. But they were actually talking about what was inside the comic book. So, I thought, ‘Wow, that is interesting.’

GUY DELISLE: First, you would need to find a publishing house in Turkey. And they would contact my publishing house in France. And they would work out a deal. And then you could translate it, but you would need to find a publishing house that does independent works, because these are different comic books. Do you have a lot of comic book translations in Turkey?

KENAN KOCAK: As far as I know, none of your works has been trans­lated into Turkish. Could you suggest how one might go about trans­lating your works into Turkish? For instance, does one need to get in touch with your agency, or just yourself?

KENAN KOCAK: Yes, we have a very strong tradition.

GUY DELISLE: Oh, OK, I did not know that. So you have to fi nd a comic book publishing house that is doing like the new stuff that we have in France. And it is going to have to be able to attract the public that is interested in comics not for children, alternative comics. And then they can buy the rights easily from my publishing house. But if you just translate it and you do not get it published afterwards, it would be too bad to do all that work, I think. So, make sure you can fi nd a publishing house that my books would fit in. If they exist, I am sure they have heard about the books, because I get a lot of translations and, yes, I even have a book in Croatian, translated recently.

KENAN KOCAK: Do you want to add anything else? Do you have any additional comments?

GUY DELISLE: I think we have covered quite a lot. No, I don’t see any­thing else.

KENAN KOCAK: Absolutely. We’ve spoken for at least fi fty-fi ve min­utes, because I am recording this interview. Thank you!

KENAN KOCAK: Thank you!

GUY DELISLE: It’s a pleasure! You are welcome. I remember one word in Turkish. It’s tes¸ekkür.

KENAN KOCAK: Tes¸ekkür, yes, thanks!

GUY DELISLE: Yeah, that’s all I remember.

 

 


 

Kenan Kocak is currently completing his PhD at the University of Glasgow. His work centres on comics journalism, with particular refer­ence to Joe Sacco, Guy Delis le and Kemal Gökhan Gürses.