I haven’t always been a fan of graphic novels. Unusually, and many people thought obtusely, I found them hard to read. I would either read the text or look at the pictures, and one without the other is either nonsensical or simply very boring. However, I’ve been giving them a go recently, and realised that for a travelogue, they are perfect. Anyone who has traveled has come back to people asking for stories, only to discover that so many things that really exemplify the trip in your mind do not make good stories. They are small stories, often hinging on a strange sight, or a person’s reaction to something. It’s little things that make you feel really out of place. A graphic travelogue means you can tell all your tiny stories, in a few panels each, and that strange feeling is translated into one simple picture.
This is such a charming book. Guy Delisle is shipped off by his animation studio to middle-of-nowhere, industrial Shenzhen. Nothing happens to him for three months. He sleeps in a soulless, identikit hotel and works in an office where only his translator understands him, and she doesn’t really want to talk to him. He is bored and isolated, and his pictures capture every minute of this. A story of a cook using more salt than you would expect is over in 6 panels, but so much funnier than the topic suggests it could be. He dreams of nearby Canton and Hong Kong, and on one weekend away is consumed by joy at the simple existence of coffee. I truly recommend this book for anyone who has lived abroad in a town firmly off the maps of tourists. Every expression in this book will be recognisable to them.
Guy Delisle has also written Pyongyang and the Burmese Chronicles, and many other non-travel books.