"Pekar has proven that comics can address the ambiguities of daily living, that like the finest fiction, they can hold a mirror up to life." -The New York Times
For years Heather Roberson, a passionate peace activist, has argued that war can always be avoided. But she has repeatedly faced counterarguments that fighting is an inescapable consequence of world conflicts. Indeed, Heather finds proving her point to be a little tricky without examples to bolster her case. So she does something a little crazy: She sets...
"Pekar has proven that comics can address the ambiguities of daily living, that like the finest fiction, they can hold a mirror up to life."
-The New York Times
For years Heather Roberson, a passionate peace activist, has argued that war can always be avoided. But she has repeatedly faced counterarguments that fighting is an inescapable consequence of world conflicts. Indeed, Heather finds proving her point to be a little tricky without examples to bolster her case. So she does something a little crazy: She sets out for far-off Macedonia, a landlocked country north of Greece and west of Bulgaria, to explore a region that has edged-repeatedly-close to the brink of violence, only to refrain.
In the process-and as vividly portrayed by the talented duo of Harvey Pekar and Ed Piskor-Heather is tangled in red tape, ripped off by cabdrivers and hotel clerks, hit on by creepy guys, secretly photographed, and mistaken for a spy. She also creates unlikely friendships, learns that getting lost means seeing something new, and makes some startling discoveries. War is hell and peace is difficult-but conflict is always necessary.
"Harvey Pekar wrestles the kind of things most comic book heroes wouldn't touch with a laser blaster."
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A visit with Harvey Pekar . . . will cause you to reexamine your own life . . . just as the greatest literature will."
-The Austin Chronicle
"Pekar lets all of life flood into his panels: the humdrum and the heroic, the gritty and the grand."
-The New York Times Book Review
This illustrated peace polemic and lesson in international relations is often educational but only occasionally engaging. The unusual collaboration teams Roberson, formerly a peace-studies major at Berkeley, with artist Piskor and writer Pekar, who established his reputation through graphic memoir (and whose American Splendor series inspired the well-received film). More recently, Pekar has been telling stories other than his (Ego and Hubris, 2006, etc.), and here he recounts a student research trip taken by Roberson to discover how Macedonia was able to avoid the civil war and ethnic cleansing that had beset so much of what was formerly Yugoslavia. The challenge is to convey the complexities of the situation in graphic form, which amounts to large stretches of Roberson engaging in debate or explanatory dialogue. In the first part, a boyfriend seems there only to serve as a sounding board, allowing Roberson to expound on the history of the Balkans and the peacekeeping efforts in Macedonia. After Roberson decides to go on a quixotic mission to Macedonia for thesis research, the boyfriend drops out of the picture, without explanation. Her travel adventures make for livelier reading, as she becomes frustrated with men hitting on her and a hotel clerk trying to cheat her, while absorbing as much of the culture as she can, forging strong friendships and learning how Macedonia has been able to avoid the fate of its neighbors. The narrative doesn't whitewash the situation. The Macedonians aren't necessarily more noble than anyone else, and the ethnic tensions with Albanians threaten the same sort of strife as has torn neighboring Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Yet the Macedonians have remainedcommitted to war prevention, rather than using the threat of war as a means of sustaining peace. Though there's a lot of personality in Piskor's illustrations, a picture plainly isn't worth a thousand words in this text-heavy work (that ends with an all-text epilogue, presumably written by Roberson). Reads more often like a lecture than a graphic novel.