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Macedonia: What Does It Take to Stop a War? Paperback – June 26, 2007
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Challenged by a good argument with a political-science professor, peace-studies undergrad Roberson went to Macedonia, the small Balkan country that has avoided war despite suffering stresses very similar to those of tumultuous Kosovo. She met and talked with academics, government and NGO officials, and ordinary citizens, trying to find out how Macedonia remained at peace. She came back with no firm answers, though she had discovered several earnest efforts devoted to resolving conflict and promoting national solidarity. She also heard disparagement of those attempts on all sides and plenty of prejudice against one another among ethnic Macedonians, Albanians, and Turks. She hung out with Western-educated natives and other young foreigners as intrigued by the country as she, and came back loving Macedonian hospitality and good-fellowship. Fortunately, she told her story to nonfiction comics author Pekar, who skillfully prepared the book's text and basic layout. Unfortunately, artist Piskor isn't as skillful. The figuration is stiff, perspective is often uncertain, and Piskor seems never to have been inside an airliner or a taxi. Intrinsically interesting content and excellent panel-by-panel planning are the book's saving strengths. Olson, Ray
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About the Author
Harvey Pekar, a native of Cleveland, was best known for his autobiographical slice-of-life comic book series American Splendor, a first-person account of his downtrodden life. He was also a jazz critic whose reviews were published in the Boston Herald, the Austin Chronicle, and Jazz Times. He did freelance work for the critically acclaimed radio station WKSU and appeared many times on Late Night with David Letterman.
Heather Roberson is an American peace activist and author. She is the coauthor and protagonist of Macedonia: What Does It Take to Stop a War? Roberson is a special advisor at CIVIL, a Macedonia-based war-prevention organization, and a codirector of ACT NOW, a New York–based political organization.
Ed Piskor is a cartoon artist, illustrator, and author. He illustrated two graphic books by Harvey Pekar, Macedonia and The Beats, and is the author and illustrator of the Hip Hop Family Tree comic book series.
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As quite a big fan of serious comics, I think this succeeds less well as a comic. I agree with other reviewers that you do not really get a feel for the country/ people, as much as you do the conflicts (although the language is spot on-- many of the funny English sayings made me laugh out loud as they are just so accurate).
However, if you need to get a feel for the country/ people there are a lot of other ways you can do that that WILL NOT give you as fair a picture of the recent conflict. This is a wonderful introduction to Macedonia, to the ideology of conflict, and invites readers to explore both, quite a bit more.
Macedonia avoided the wars that broke out in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and Roberson wants to know how. To say it's at peace would be a lie. Nevertheless, Roberson, who trusts heavily in the kindness of strangers, likes it there. It's a messy proposition--long-standing ethnic discrimination, a tottering new judicial system, intermittent electricity--but without a lot of preconceived notions, she struggles to listen to everyone she meets from law professors to street artists.
The graphic format works here, telegraphing the annoyances young women alone abroad often experience; giving some idea of how people dress, travel and what they eat; capturing through dialogue the different experiences of Macedonians who cannot leave their country and visiting workers from Europe and the United States. Will this get us into the European Union? seems to be every local's favorite question, so powerful is their urge to leave behind their isolation. Since, as Roberson points out, there's very little literature about modern Macedonia and the story is constantly changing, this book is a valuable "snapshot" of a nation we should support when we talk about "spreading democracy."
Roberson finds kinship with Macedonia's people, who, she says, are direct and caring just like the folks in her native Missouri. And she finds other common ground: they have a gun problem, they are trying to address the effects of years of ethnic discrimination, and there's government corruption.
Something important happened (or failed to happen) in Macedonia in the 1990s. Pekar and Roberson and their illustrator, Ed Piskor, have laid the groundwork for discussion. Let it continue.
One has to imagine that Roberson, without any experience with the genre, wrote the entire script. Pekar tried to save it, but true salvation would have required a far greater investment of time, completely recasting the script as something far less "talky" and didactic. The book would have grown in length, too, in order to allow similar stories to be told through something other than shot-countershot frames of fillibuster.
To make a success of Macedonia would have required, at the very least, completely reconceptualizing the opening sequence. Page after page, the Heather character essentially lectures her non-responsive boyfriend about her interest in Macedonian politics.
In fairness to Pekar, Roberson's long narrative isn't exactly the "pithy vignettes on life" format for which Pekar is best known. Sure, Pekar wrote at greater length of Robert McNeil (*Unsung Hero*), but that's the exception proving the rule. Moreover, the McNeil project was likely initially conceived as a comic. Though Pekar did encourage Roberson early on to take notes for a possible comic book, she seems not to have approached the concept through the lens of comics.
The book does have its moments, however. Piskor ably presents Balkan history -- clearly the toughest assignment given -- and he moves admirably from those moments, to depicting Eastern European architecture, to Heather and friends dancing at a local disco. It is when Roberson's/Pekar's torrent of conversation finally slows, or when the words can be presented through voice-over, that Piskor finally finds a quite moment to do something more artistically organic.