Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City - Guy Delilse - Featured

TCAF Preview:
Guy Delisle

With Wizard World Toronto Comic Con out of the way and four long months until Toronto’s FanExpo, all roads lead to TCAF (The Toronto Comic Arts Festival). One of the major releases at this year’s festival is iconic artist Guy Delisle’s newest work, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City.

Unfamiliar with Delisle? Let me fill you in.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City - Guy DelilseFor the uninitiated, Guy Delisle is a Canadian comic book author known for his autobiographical works about his time spent abroad in places of the world suffering from totalitarian regimes or political conflict.

My first encounter with Delisle came when I stumbled upon his book Shenzhen, a diary of Delisle’s culture shock and melancholy while working in China. Delisle went abroad in his early twenties as a representative of a Belgian animation company to oversee Chinese animators working on sequences for a TV series. The problem? This isn’t Shenzhen as we know it now and Delisle found himself isolated and more than a little bored. Tie in some twenty-something disenchantment and work dissatisfaction and you have the book. The graphic novel illustrates his discoveries, both personal and cultural and the tone of the book shifts from office-humour to situational malaise; a slice of life graphic novel peppered with French Canadian humour.


Immediately I was hooked.

His next major work, Pyongyang would take a more political stance, as Delisle would once again act as a liaison, this time for a French animation company outsourcing to North Korea, something he’s less than comfortable with. In two months he meets a slew of foreigners who are also in the allegedly ‘closed state’ for business, as well as some depressed NGO staffers and Delisle reflects on the luxury that foreigners enjoy in Pyongyang compared to the highly controlled life North Koreans must bear. Despite the darker reflections in the book, one of the more memorable scenes is Delisle’s attempts to explain the music style of the band Aphex Twin to North Korean officials before entering the country.

Finally, we come to the Burma Chronicles, a more personal work reflecting his time spent in Burma with his family. (Delisle’s wife works for Médecins Sans Frontières which explains this travel.) In Burma, Delisle finally embraces his role as cultural tourist and because he’s not at work, interacts with Burmese and ex-pats alike. His storytelling in this work is much more introspective due to his new role as father to baby Louis. He becomes preoccupied with the hilarious situations Louis brings him to and the way Burmese neighbours interact with them. It’s a slice of life book, not as political as his other works, but with interesting cultural commentary.

This brings me to Jerusalem Chronicles, his latest work released in English by Drawn and Quarterly. In this book, (which is MUCH larger than his other works) Delisle explores a region of the world where each square foot is full with conflict, from discovering the East/West divide of the city, to iPod parties. With two small children in tow, Delisle documents Jerusalem and its youth in a way only now, as a father, could he comprehend. I’ve barely reached a mid-point in my copy but be sure that I’ll have it down by the time TCAF rolls around,

Guy Delisle’s newest book Jerusalem Chronicles will be available for purchase at TCAF which runs May 5th – 6th at the Toronto Reference Library. On Thursday May 3rd at 7pm at the Carlton, there is a special evening with Delisle celebrating his newest work and launching the documentary of his time in Jerusalem. The screening is $5 and tickets are available for purchase at the Beguiling.