Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China is Guy Delisle’s first graphic novel travel story from 2006 (translated by Helge Dascher). I had already read Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Burma Chronicles. When I compare Shenzhen to these, as well as to Delisle’s fourth graphic novel travelogue which I will be reading in the coming weeks, I can see how he has evolved as an artist. Shenzhen seems as though it might have been drawn in charcoal or else a very blunt pencil. It is a very dark book. It looks as though one could get black streaks all over one’s hands just by turning the pages. Perhaps the drawings were created this way on purpose, for Delisle states “China has the unfortunate reputation of being the filthiest country on earth”. Delisle’s later travelogues have a sharper line and also a dab of colour.
Delisle has been sent to Shenzhen to replace the outgoing director of an animation studio. The former director couldn’t handle the Chinese way of doing (or not doing) things and left after eight months. While I can’t compare Shenzhen to Pyongyang for its laugh content, I did get a funnier read out of it when compared to Burma Chronicles. It doesn’t help Delisle in the least that he can barely communicate with the very people he is supposed to direct, and that his on-site translator is hardly any help. Once Delisle steps outside he is accosted by Chinese English students who are eager to practise yet can barely make themselves coherent. The only respite is a side trip to Hong Kong where English is everywhere.
The funniest part of Shenzhen was Delisle’s attempt to teach his animators the correct way to draw pupils so that figures don’t look cross-eyed. Alone in the studio, Delisle moans “Oh man! They’ve rubbed holes into some of the pages with all that erasing.”