Books·How I Wrote It

In Hostage, Guy Delisle tells the true story of an NGO worker held captive

In 1997, Christophe André was kidnapped in the Caucasus region and held for ransom for three months. Graphic novelist Guy Delisle tells his story.
Graphic novelist Guy Delisle is the author and illustrator of Hostage. (Cecile Gabriel/Drawn & Quarterly)

Christophe André was kidnapped in 1997 while on a mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in the Caucasus region and was held for ransom for three months. When renown graphic novelist Guy Delisle met André, he knew his story would make a powerful book. Hostage captures André's agony over whether he should wait for help or risk everything for freedom.

In his own words, Delisle shares what it was like to work with André to write the book.

Meeting Christophe André

"I read about Christophe André's story in the newspaper. My friend, who was working at the same NGO as Christophe, said she was going to meet with him. I thought he wouldn't have much to say or wouldn't want to talk about his traumatic experience, but he was very open. He told us all sorts of details about what happened to him and how he escaped. It was fascinating and I thought it would be nice some day if we could make a book about it."

Collaborating with Christophe

"I recorded him for a long time, like a half a day, in 2003. When you know you're going to have to draw the story, you have all sorts of questions. He was saying my 'cell keepers,' so I had to ask, 'What did he look like and how was he dressed? Did he have a moustache?' I remember I even asked him about the bowl he had his meal in three times a day.

"I included Christophe in the process right at the beginning. I would send him the first 10 pages and he would get back to me and have a few comments. After a while, I felt much more comfortable knowing that if I was completely wrong he would say, 'Well, I've never done or thought about something like that.' It was actually easier than I thought it would be [to tell the story in his voice]."

A page a day

"In the mornings, I'd prepare the page I was going to draw and the text that was going to be on that page. I drew it in the afternoon. I did one page a day, usually. I went along with the story in chronological order. For instance, I drew three pages about the fact that they forgot to handcuff him one night and he was able to touch the wall opposite from him. That took three days. After that I went back to the recording, listened to it and started doing the sentence for the next page."

Illustrating the passage of time

"The whole idea of the book was to give the reader the same experience as Christophe. It was a very immersive type of story. I knew there would be a lot of repetition. I wanted to have the experience of how time can pass very slowly, day by day. How do you cope with that? That's why there are so many pages. It was very important to describe time and have a sense, for the reader, to turn the page because of that. At first he thought he would be there just for the weekend. Then it was three days. Then a week passed, then two weeks, then a month. It's interesting to describe how you have to cope with that."

Guy Delisle's comments have been edited and condensed.