Comic artist Guy Delisle draws a picture of himself slumped on the couch watching TV.
He thinks his family is about to move to Guatemala when the phone rings. His wife talks for a bit and then hangs up. “Plan’s changed. We’re moving to Burma.”
Most of us would panic upon hearing that our new home was going to be about 10,000 miles from where we originally planned. But Delisle’s wife works for Medicins San Frontieres, and he’s either used to these quick changes, or so affable and laid back that he can take just about anything in stride.
Whatever the case, Delisle’s continual moves with MSF give him endless material for new stories.
A well-known Quebecois graphic novelist, he has written four comic book travelogues set in North Korea, China and Burma.
His latest book, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, depicts his life in this Middle Eastern conflict zone.
Delisle has a unique, episodic approach to depicting life in each of the countries where his family has been stationed. Though they are always war-torn or politically dangerous locations, he’s no war correspondent.
Instead he focuses on his daily life depicting himself as a funny, fumbling yet endearing stay-at-home dad buying diapers and pushing a stroller around bomb craters and rubble strewn streets.
The juxtaposition of political strife, cultural differences and domestic routine imparts a humorous and multi-layered understanding of these conflicted places.
Graphic novels can draw on the best of both the novel and documentary filmmaking.
Like a travel writer, a comic artist can be imaginative, explore inner thoughts and create dialogue. At the same time, graphic artists can use visuals, and aren’t limited by the footage they get.
Jerusalem is predicted to become an international bestseller, having already won the Best Comic Book Album at the Angouleme International Comics Festival Prize this year. Delisle is the first Canadian to have won this prestigious award.
After exploring North Korea, Burma and Israel you might wonder where Delisle is headed next. It turns out, however, that he is living comfortably in Southern France. He and his wife decided that stints in remote and often dangerous locations were getting too difficult to manage with growing kids.
Not to worry. Although it doesn’t include travel, Delisle is currently working on a new project.
Heather Allen is a writer and reader who live in Penticton.