It's Authentic, It's Honest, It's Eminently Human...
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Since I'm delivering a workshop in ten days' time on the graphic travelogue, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about what makes them so powerful for me. I'm especially fond of Guy Delisle, whose works like Jerusalem, Chronicles from the Holy City and Pyongyang, A Journey in North Korea are exceptional examples of their genre. Some of my fondness for these two titles, of course, is owed to my enjoyment of Delisle's unique style as a writer-artist.
You'd think that travelling to a far away place and undergoing a remarkable experience might well end up being a potential recipe for overwriting. If the writer has been transformed by the place he or she traveled to because it was so meaningful, so profound, so unlike what anyone else must have ever experienced, then it's possible he or she would be too carried away with it all to write effectively. I suppose from time to time this happens, but I seldom find it does in the graphic travelogue.
And I think, when it comes right down to it, that the answer lies in what a graphic travelogue is. It's a story about travel in words and pictures. And although it wouldn't be too difficult to manipulate the former to embellish one's story of travel, doing the same with the latter is much more difficult to pull off. A lot of what I find authentic about Delisle is how he depicts his reaction to a place--that way in Pyongyang that he shows himself just sort of standing or sitting in a place, looking around and shaking his head in mild to moderate disbelief.
Sometimes with Krakauer and Bryson I can sense they're taking the odd liberty in their character descriptions (with Bryson, of course, it's nearly always to create humour). But with Delisle and with a number of other writers of the graphic travelogue, the visual nearly always helps me to believe in the authenticity of the experience they're sharing with me.
And that, I think, is the great gift that graphic travel writing can give us.