After having thoroughly enjoyed Pyongyang - A Journey in North Korea and Burma Chronicles, I've been on the lookout for Delisle's graphical commentary on his time in China for a while now. Where bookstores have increasing number of shelves dedicated to comics and manga, really good quality graphic novels are hard to find. Delisle, a Canadian cartoonist who lives in France has often travelled all over the world to supervise outsourced animation projects even in a place as unlikely as Pyongyang. Delisle is asked to work on a similar project in Shenzen, China's first special economic zone and certified dragon city. There is no narrative in this book; only vignettes with Delisle's trademark wry but insightful observations. He too recognizes this and remarks in one frame, "If I draw all these anecdotes, one day, it will probably look like I had a great time here. Take out of context, even boredom can probably sublimate itself and seem entertaining. It’s a bit like memory." Much of what he does or doesn't do is spurred on by boredom. Shenzen seems an artificial city with little to do beyond going to the gym or to a restaurant (an adventure in itself where the nature of a dish doesn't reveal itself until you pick out the dripping rooster head from the communal bowl). He contrasts life in Shenzen with excursions to Hong Kong and Canton (Guangdong), the latter he claims he could get used to.
Like Delisle's other works, Shenzen's key strength is his perceptiveness; the way in which he notices and ruminates over things that we would let pass, whether it's a hotel room or a public lavatory.
His inability to communicate and connect with people around him drives him up the wall. He wants to desperately to crack the Chinese mind which he finds inscrutable. During his first few days in Shenzen, he resorts to pictorial conversations with colleagues from the animation firm.
So frustrated that he initiates a patter in his head to pass the time. Unlike Pyongyang and Burma Chronicles, Shenzen avoids commenting on China's political situation, for the most part. This is one of the few panels (at a restaurant that serves dog meat) in the book with overt political commentary and what an image it is!
I love his ability to use literary allusions to frame his reality like Dante's descent to hell transposed to China!
Delisle's latest work recounts his time in Jerusalem. This sneak peak drips deliciously with irony. Can't wait to read it.