Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is Guy Delisle’s fourth travel graphic novel (translated by Helge Dascher). In this graphic travelogue Delisle’s partner Nadège has been transferred with Médecins Sans Frontières to Jerusalem. They move there with their two small children and while Nadège goes about her work, crisscrossing sensitive border areas, Guy is left looking after the kids and trying to find ideas to sketch or cartoon. This graphic novel is more colourful than his other three and it is also the longest of his travelogues.
Delisle crosses settlement areas and writes about the intensive security measures in place. While shopping in a mall located in a settlement, he has a crisis of conscience when it comes to buying a package of diapers. In a thought bubble above his head, an MSF official is seen pointing a finger at him and saying “When you shop in the settlements, you’re supporting them!”, while in the following frame a fellow father he befriended counters that remark with “Come on, it’s not like a pack of diapers is going to derail the peace process!”. Delisle sweats it out and I will leave it to you to discover whether or not he buys that needed package of diapers.
Delisle pokes a bit of fun at the comics scene when he witnesses an Arab wedding celebration. He remarks in three separate frames: “What a strange party. / Not a girl in sight. / Just like a comics festival.”
While teaching an art class Delisle comes across the culture shock of teaching drawing to Muslims. His students call out in the middle of class “I can’t draw pictures of human figures. It’s against my religion.” and Delisle is left hanging, uttering “uhm…” and not knowing how he can teach the class any further. He also writes about his interactions with Muslim women in full niqab: “It’s a very strange experience to have a conversation with a person when you can’t read their facial expressions. Something gets lost along the way.”
I enjoyed Jerusalem more than Burma Chronicles or Shenzhen, but nothing will top Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Thanks to that book, though, I was introduced to Delisle, the realm of graphic fiction, and a topic of conversation that has inspired other people to read the works of Guy Delisle. Since I read Pyongyang I have bought myself a copy of the book, and while in Boston and Cambridge I looked for his work in local bookstores. I found Pyongyang at Harvard Book Store and couldn’t resist picking it up and thumbing through it, giving myself a rare opportunity to smile in public.