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 remained committed 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.