Palestine vs. Pyongyang

Palestine by Joe Sacco and Pyongyang by Guy Delisle are exemplary works of journalistic graphic-novels, where they both attempt to portray the realities of their given countries through the use of comics. Joe Sacco explores life in Palestine, and the disastrous day-to-day its habitants must endure as cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict, while Guy Delisle attempts to show life in North Korea, whose brutally strict dictatorship creates an absurd reality for its inhabitants. Although both operate within the same pseudo-genre and make use of vignettes to tell their story, they both use different methods within the domain of graphic novels to convey the realities of their respective countries, including drawing techniques, panel organization, comic style, and vignette choice.

In Pyongyang, Delisle presents the reality in North Korea by depicting a simplistic and organized panel shape and layout. Text is displayed in an organized fashion, and the vignettes presented are easy to follow due to an almost minimalistic approach to his drawings. The artwork and layout transmit a passive vibe, which is approachable by the reader. However, Sacco’s Palestine presents a relatively disorganized panel layout. It is hard to follow, text is scattered throughout the pages, and presents abrupt art work, which in my opinion, distracts the reader from fully understanding the comic. Sacco’s comics are much more complex than Delisle’s, showing a great amount of detail not only when drawing characters, but the whole environment in which they reside in.

Another interesting difference between the two that somewhat diverges from the previously argued points is the way the main characters are drawn. In Pyongyang, Delisle portrays the main character (himself) and characters that enter his circle of meaningful interaction and trust with a lack of facial complexities. The other characters depicted in this way beside himself are Sandrine, David, and his translator, who is progressively drawn with less detail as he gets closer to guy; it seems as if Delisle uses facial complexities as a metaphorical tool to show which characters Guy gets along well with and trusts. In Palestine, there is no metaphorical meaning behind the drawings of the characters; they are all drawn to great detail and are presented up close and personal in the panels.

Both works also differ in the way vignettes inform the reader. Delisle, in his quest to inform the reader about North Korea’s situation whilst providing the entertainment of a quality graphic novel, integrates explicitly stated facts throughout the novel, sometimes doing so with humoristic-toned images. He makes sure the reader gets the best understanding out of the text by even including quizzes, providing an out-of-text interaction with the reader. The textual and graphic depiction of his vignettes is friendly, at-times humoristic, and approachable. Delisle’s vignette technique is used to show the vast amount and magnitude of absurdities North Korea has, and does not shift the focus to atrocities and sorrows. However, Joe Sacco’s tone throughout Palestine tends to be graphically hostile, intense, and raw in its nature of presenting the realities within the vignettes. The way he presents vignettes is not nearly as understandable, scattering text throughout the entire panel; it is almost as if Sacco desires to create confusion and disorientation in the readers mind. 

In a way, the way and style the graphic novels are composed are representative of the states the respective countries are in: despite the abundant number of atrocities in the country, the North Korea is in relative order, its inhabitants are somewhat at ease, and the actual conflict is easy to understand. On the other hand, the political conflict between Israel and Palestine is superior in complexity, hard to follow, and is not easily understandable; it’s nature is much more gruesome and violent, this being shown in Sacco’s comics by a chaotic arrangement of panels, text, and extreme detail. Although it could be a mere coincidence that the styles of these two authors coincided with the nature of the conflict they documented, I believe it is not a product of chance that Delisle and Sacco chose a specific style to fit the political situation they wished to show. This style-to-political-complexity match could also be a product of the way each author interpreted the conflict: it is very possible Palestine’s arrangement is a product of Sacco’s emotional interpretation of the political situation, and the same educated guess holds for Delisle and Pyongyang.

Although Sacco and Delisle had the same intention to portray the realities of their respective countries and did so by the use of vignettes rather than sticking to an overall plot, they used different comic drawing styles, employed different metaphorical tolls, and presented different textual and graphic tones.