Writing this essay was difficult to me due to the fact, that I did not know where to start and, therefore, I decided to write down all the ideas that I had and then connect them and see if I can link them to each other. I started listing similarities and differences between Palestine and Pyongyang and then I realized that I wrote down enough thoughts and ideas to start writing this essay.
The main idea of my essay is that although these two books are similar in many ways and they both use journalistic approach and effective use of vignettes, they are completely different.

Pyongyang and Palestine: Vignettes in Graphic Novels

Vignettes are a series of a small moments and stories that are used to construct a larger narrative. In the two graphic novels that we have read most recently, we see vignettes used to construct a kind of story that is different from our previous readings.  For example, our earlier reading of Maus, which centers around a personal history. The use of vignette as opposed to a strict linear narrative is a particularly strong one given the subject matter of these two graphic novels. Pyongyang centers around an illustrator’s experience in North Korea, Palestine around a journalist in Jerusalem, Palestine. Both accounts center less around the personal story of their respective narrators and more so on the illustration of the setting. We are not given the story of one single person, though we follow the narrators throughout both graphic novels, but the story of a place and the many, often opposing people and viewpoints within the place.

The settings in these books are each in some way shrouded in mystery for many Americans. In the case of Palestine many Americans receive very limited and often biased information about the conflict and history of Palestine’s occupation. We see this in the beginning of Palestine where Sacco describes reading the story of an old Jewish man who was killed on a cruise boat by a group who claimed to have done this in the name of Palestinian liberation. Sacco describes reading the account of the man killed, and of thinking that this man sounded as though he could have been Sacco’s neighbor. The details included in this news story were what made Sacco empathize with one side and demonize the other.


This one moment alone makes a strong case for the use of vignettes as a medium to make a case or an argument. Very early on Sacco makes the point that “Americans want human interest stories”. He is essentially positing that it is harder as readers to care about dying Palestinians when we are rarely given names, much less stories, as opposed to this news story about the man on the cruise, whose name and story we are told. We are additionally told how he likes his cornflakes, and several other details that make him into a unique, specific human being in our minds. Vignettes are a way to illustrate moments in great detail, and very early on it is established in Sacco’s narrative that details are what make us care about a story or about an outcome. Delisle uses this kind of intense detail throughout Pyongyang as well. There are detailed scenes of the mundane everyday activities of the narrator, down to him noticing a blemish and picking at his skin as he writes. This kind of minutia serve to build up the character and the mood through tiny moments and actions.


However, Sacco uses detail to make us care about the history and present tragedy of Palestine. He gives us many very detailed accounts to show not only human interest, but also the multifaceted nature of the conflict. The use of vignettes to showcase something or to illuminate a story that is not already well known is what makes these two books stand apart from Maus. The story of the holocaust is one with which most people in America are familiar, and as such we can trace a single person’s story through the backdrop of a history with which we are already familiar. This one story stands against an already well-known setting and time, whereas in the case of Palestine or Pyongyang even the basic facts of the setting are unknown to many. To illustrate the setting of these pieces we are given many smaller stories that gradually illuminate the place, the time, the mood and the history of a people that are in some ways isolated from our view.

This gradual enlightening, rather than straightforward telling-of-the-facts serves to give us a more naturalistic way to present a situation. Not only in sense we see our view of these places shift gradually with the narrator’s own view, but in the sense that most situations are not built from one person’s perspective. Following one narrative through a situation is a dangerous route to take if you do not go in with incomplete context.

Comparing Palestine and Pyongyang Reflection

This essay was a joy to write. But, I will admit, I did have to think a little about the topic. However, it was actually quite easy to decide upon when I looked at the two books from a broader point of view. When doing so, I saw that, as an informational book, Palestine is far better to Pyongyang in accomplishing that purpose. This is the overarching idea of the essay.

As for drafting, I went through only two or three. Most of it was done in one go, followed by adjustments to structure and length, and then adjustments to smaller details, like grammar and spelling and the points being made. Otherwise, I didn’t really change too much. I was pretty happy with the way it was written (for now), and I think it gives the message I wanted it to give.

In order to think of my idea, as stated, I just stepped back and looked at the books as a grand idea, not as individual vignettes. What’s the purpose of the book? What do they do good? What don’t they utilize enough? Through these questions, I was able to come to the idea of giving information. As we have discussed in class, these books are somewhat journalistic, and what does journalism do? It tells a story and displays a message. So which novel did this better?

I started to break down why I believed Palestine did this purpose better than Pyongyang. For this, I had to get rid of my subjective view and attempt to view it purely in the eyes of relative objectiveness. This meant I had to ignore the ease I felt when reading Pyongyang and think about how this ease hurt or helped Pyongyang. Likewise, I had to ignore the discomfort I felt when reading Palestine and why it hurt or helped Palestine.

In regards to the organization of my essay, I had to avoid a five paragraph essay. My three major points were ethos, logos, and pathos of the books. While I tried to fit it all into one paragraph, it would just turn into a giant paragraph that no one would want to read. So I broke each of them up, put up my antithesis, and finished with a conclusion. With an introduction at the beginning, this came out to 6 paragraphs, which wasn’t formatted in the traditional 5 paragraph essay, so I was satisfied.

Overall, I enjoyed this essay. It was a fun way to think about how vignettes help the author portray their message AND how these vignettes could differ and give better or worse in helping the author accomplish their goal.


I decided to do my essay primarily on how each other uses stories as a way to develop each conflict just as any author would with a character. At the same time I noticed how each other does this in diffrerent ways primarily due to how they use tone and complexity. To me I saw this as the authors mirroring the tone of the experiences they depict while also highlighting the simpler state of conflict in North Korea compared to Palestine. More or less I wrote this essay in one go. I like writing this way cause I think it makes my essays more fluid. What I tried to do with organization was set up what both authors do throughout and notice how they are similar and then go on to see how they approach that same method.

Palestine and Pyongyang Reflection

Writing this essay was a bit difficult for me. In my previous experience, I only had to worry about how the author used his text to express his idea. But in this case, I also had to worry about the art style. It is an odd feeling since I always considered the graphic novel as second-tier literature, but now it changed my mind. The art style of both books is vastly different. I believe that pictures increase the tool for the author to use in their novel. The result can vary. Each book had pros and cons in their way of displaying the texts and graphics. It was hard yet interesting experience since it was my first time writing a comparison essay/vignette about a graphic novel, but it felt fresh since it wasn’t a conventional novel.

Link to Essay: Essay Link

Comparing Palestine and Pyongyang Reflection

Both considered graphic journalism, Palestine and Pyongyang tell stories of lesser known realms impacted by political instability. Although both graphic novels, Palestine with a lot of detail and the more simple Pyongyang both bring readers deep into their text, immersing them into each individual short part, or vignette. Through exploration of these texts, I wrote about how both stories impacted me as a reader, through both the complex and plain styles. Writing my essay was a challenge at first. I was scared to write about my own thoughts, as I learned early in my english career not to rely heavily on first person opinion. However, after being reassured that it was okay, I went forth with my ideas, while still staying fair to the authors of both texts. I wrote from the heart, scratching out drafts that were in the poor compare and contrast style I learned in middle school. I tried to shy away from that style and think I did better but I am still unsure. Of all of the things we have written in this class, I feel as though this was the hardest for me as I struggled with finding things to discuss in my essay. I struggled with finding similarities, especially due to my struggle with reading Palestine. I think I finally came up with a good argument and executed my essay the way I felt was necessary due to my experience with the texts.

Image taken by me

Comparing Pyongyang and Palestine Reflection

The main idea of my essay is that although Pyongyang and Palestine are graphic novels composed of many vignettes which strong together to form a narrative, the two books are different. The illustration style, use of text and narration and the way the vignettes coalesce into one narrative vary, Pyongyang’s felt to me, what I described as, like Purgatory whereas Palestine felt very real and journalistic and chaotic.

Coming up with the argument was not that hard for me. After Professor Morgen said that we should write about something that we didn’t fully understand when comparing the two books, I immediately thought of something that had been on my mind for a while: why did the two books give off such different vibes? I went back to my room that day and without thinking too much quickly had a basic outline on paper. It didn’t take too long to put sentences in and pretty soon the essay was finished. The one problem I had was defining what I meant by “Purgatory”. I didn’t want to take up too much space explaining it but I had to describe it somehow. I’m not sure I did the best I could have but I think the idea got across.

You can access the essay here.

Comparing Pyongyang and Palestine: Reflection

Writing this essay was. little more difficult than originally intended. I began by writing the “meat” of the essay, trying to organize my thoughts and decide on an overarching theme for my essay. I wrote the middle with ease, most of my ideas coming quickly and fluidly. The concluding section was by far the most difficult to write, as I took FOREVER to decide on what I though brought my whole project together coherently. Eventually I made a decision, and it all worked out pretty well.

Comparing Palestine and Pyongyang Reflection

The controlling idea of my essay is the similarities and differences from the vignettes in both Pyongyang and Palestine and an analysis on how they affect the reader and the books.  In order to start writing this assignment, I had to first lay out three ideas that I wanted to write about.  So, I decided to make three paragraphs-either two similarities and one difference or one similarity and one differences.  Then I settled on my three ideas.  I also wrote my thesis statement after I wrote my body paragraphs.  For me, this is uncommon.  This draft cannot be quantified because I wrote each paragraph individually, and then I edited each.  So, the “nth number” of draft is not sufficient to characterize hod I revised this piece.  A method I used was writing my notes on the top of my paper, and then following it while I wrote my paper.  Also, as aforementioned, I wrote the paragraphs separately like different prompts.  The organization broke down to five paragraphs: One introduction, two differences, one similarity, and a conclusion.  Overall, this project challenged me to further analyze both texts.  Surprisingly, I also had to analyze the pictures as well because they had the same amount of information.  Overall, I extracted more information from the comics from this essay.Comparing Palestine and Pyongyang

Comparing Palestine and Pyongyang

Palestine by Joe Sacco and Pyongyang by Guy Delisle are both journalistic graphic novels whose diegesis revolves around the portrayal of a foreign culture. In Sacco’s case, we get a brutal and uncensored retelling of the ongoing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. From Delisle, we get the humorous yet harrowing narrative of an animator’s trip to North Korea that explores the “hermit country” in a depth that is rarely seen in any form of media. Both Sacco and Delisle considered how their art style, tone, and moments selected would affect their story as well as their portrayal of foreign cultures and ended up creating works that land at extremely opposite ends of the graphic novel genre, yet serve a similar purpose through their use of vignettes. 

The most obvious aspect of the journalistic approach to graphic novel is the main feature of the genre: the art itself. And in their attempts to convey a different culture, Delisle and Sacco chose art styles that couldn’t be more different from one another. In Palestine, Sacco chooses to use a highly complex and detailed black and white lined style. At times, the art style itself can seem aggressive and over the top with so much happening on the page. Delisle, on the other hand, chooses a more simplistic art style that boils down to very basic shapes. He even describes himself as lazy in one panel where he refuses to draw cars because he feels like it would be too much work. 

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This is in contrast to Sacco, who depicts every inch of war torn Palestine in painstaking detail. At times, the art itself seems to be assaulting the reader because it spills off the page and fills every inch of it. There is also a lot more text when compared to Pyongyang. Perhaps the most illustrative moment of this is an entire section that becomes a like a normal book with minimal pictures. Sacco goes into excruciating detail in this section, which is very much unlike any moment in Pyongyang. Screen Shot 2018-04-12 at 8.00.58 PM

Pyongyang and Palestine also have extremely different tones overall. Pyongyang is a humorous but surprisingly realistic commentary on the state of the most secretive country on Earth, North Korea. Delisle often makes jokes at the expense of his North Korean counterparts and complains about how inept the North Korean animators are at understanding basic direction. In Palestine, Sacco restrains his judgement when telling the stories of the people, but will often comment from time to time. 

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Palestine however features a more menacing and brooding tone in contrast to Pyongyang. In Palestine, it is expected that every man has been in an Israeli jail and if he hasn’t, then it is a matter of time till that happens, the conditions of which are horrible. In contrast, Pyongyang often uses the fact that people are taken to labor camps or disappear in North Korea as a running gag. 

But perhaps the most important similarity between the two texts is their choice of vignettes in order to explore the cultures and issues of foreign nations. Pyongyang’s choice of vignettes are used to show the absurdities and humor in the ways of North Korea. One of the most obvious vignettes is the trip to the museum. By showing the relationship that the supreme leader has with the rest of the world and how everyone holds him as a God. This is clearly a misconstrued idea perpetrated by the North Korean government, but North Koreans who visit the museum who have been brainwashed their entire life will fall for this. In fact, Delisle finds the museum so funny that when he enters the room with the statue of Kim Il-Sung, he has to restrain himself from laughing out loud because of the absurdity of bowing to a statue. 

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In Palestine, the purpose of the vignettes is a journalistic approach to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The vignettes showcase the stories of Palestinians in their interactions with Israelis. The most harrowing stories are the ones that come out of Israeli jails. The scariest part about this is that every man has to go through this in Palestine, a rite of passage into manhood of sorts. The Israeli jails are run by a few bad apples that torture their prisoners and the stories that are given to Sacco describe the harsh reality of them. 

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Although different in purposes, the vignettes in both Pyongyang and Palestine serve the higher purpose of building the characters and the world of both stories. In Pyongyang, the purpose of the vignettes is to explore the secretive country of North Korea and to build the attitude and tone that a foreigner has to the country. In Palestine, the purpose of the vignettes is to explore the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis at the civilian level, but also to show a foreigners perspective on the conflict. 

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