The globetrotting comics-journalist Guy DeLisle stopped by Magers & Quinn Booksellers on Tuesday, May 1 2012 to share some of his life expeirences, provide insight into his drawing process, and to promote his new book Jerusalem: Chronicles of the Holy City (Drawn & Quarterly).
How does an author read from a graphic novel? Do they describe the image in words, or does an audience member need to have a copy of the book to follow along? Also, what if the author writes in French, as Delisle does? Though some of his work has been translated into as many as twelve different languages (and Drawn & Quarterly’s new edition of Jerusalem is in English), most of the work Delisle discussed included dialogue penned in French. Fortunately, he’d developed a format that overcame both of these obstacles, and Delisle turned in one of the more charming, entertaining, and impressive readings I’ve attended.
Using a multimedia layout, Guy Delisle (pronounced, adorably, “Gee De-Lee”) didn’t read an excerpt from the book, as readers typically will. Instead, he gave a decades-spanning recount of how he became the specific artist he is today: from his beginnings as an animator, which required him to travel all over the world for short-term contracts, to his daily habit of sketching notes, which developed into the autobiographical travelogues eventually published by L’Association in Quebec, such as Shenzen, Pyongyang, and Chroniques Birmanes. For each of these publications, Delisle showed slides of sketches and final images from the books, discussing his experience of drawing them, and focusing their biographical significance rather than the narrative within the book.
The question of biography vs. journalism was a prominent theme of his talk. As he explained, “For journalists, when there is an explosion, they go there to write because this is the hot story. For me, when there is an explosion, I don’t go there!” He is a visitor to these places, and his work simply describes the experience of being a foreigner in a new place—more specifically, it describes the experience of being a Canadian-born, French-speaking, infant-toting, comics-authoring foreigner consciously creating a travelogue about the place he is visiting. One panel from Jerusalem is a drawing of his own hand holding a sketchbook on which the illustrated version of himself considers a half-finished image. His work is by no means objective: it is a lesson in subjectivity.
The reading was set up in Magers & Quinn‘s smaller location, tucked between the poetry and popular fiction sections. Were it not for the space needed by the projector screen, the audience was large enough that it would have justified use of the room’s main space, where larger audiences have a better chance of finding a sight-line. The bookstore is one of the Twin Cities’s most consistent and valuable venues for readings, but it has been my experience that their events are often hindered by the lack of a devoted reading space. This one was no different, as people had to line up between aisles and crane their necks to see.
Delisle’s talk lasted about 45 minutes, during which the capacity crowd sat attentively, responding to his charming humor and rapt by his French accent. (“I am from Quebec but I am more French,” he explained. “I have the French accent now. When I go home, they explain to me what is maple syrup.”) As an artist, his work is intriguing, but as a person, his life is fascinating: in that 45 minutes he casually mentioned living and/or working in Canada, France, Germany, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Burma, Ethiopia, Rio De Janeiro, and, of course, Jerusalem. Though, he did admit he might be slowing down as far as travel goes. “Jerusalem will be my last book of this sort,” he declared in the Q+A session. “The kids are too big now, and I want to do something new. Four books like this, it’s the same themes… culture differences, politics, the children, humanitarian work.” Next, Delisle plans to turn his attention homeward, both in the sense that he’s working on a project about his relationship with his son, as well as in the sense that he’s looking forward to getting back to Quebec, to seeing his home city as an outsider. Maple syrup, anyone?
For a nice little video of Delisle’s method, check out this video. Were you at this event? Have a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!