Originally published in Planet magazine, Summer 2005
Pyongyang records comic book artist Guy Delisle’s time in North Korea supervising productions at a Saturday morning cartoon maquilladora, where during food shortages France’s largest television network pays its staff of animators with bags of rice. His book is a portrait of both the transnational infotainment economy and the country famously included in Bush’s Axis of Evil. “North Korea is the world’s most isolated country,” says Delisle, “Foreigners trickle in. There’s no internet. There’s no cafes…It’s hard to leave the hotel and meeting Koreans is next to impossible.” Like all foreign visitors, Delisle’s travel is tightly controlled by his government-issued translators, who shadow him at every step. Even when he is able to shake them off, they somehow know exactly where he’s been. Propaganda blares from speakers in every office and portraits of the world’s only father and son Communist dynasty, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Son, adorn every wall. Despite the country’s poverty and corruption, the most scathing public criticism Delisle encounters is when one man admits he finds the propaganda films boring. Due to his government enforced isolation, Delisle is unable to answer to the most intriguing question, whether citizens are terrified to dissent or whether they actually support the system in place.