Macedonia by Harvey Pekar, et al.

Categories:  Reviews

Macedonia: What Does it Take to Stop a War?
By Harvey Pekar, Heather Roberson, Ed Piskor
Villard Books

pekarmacedonia.gifThere’s a scene in the film version of American Splendor, in which Harvey Pekar’s new wife, Joyce Brabner, temporary abandons the artists, in order to attend a conference in Jerusalem, in hopes of culling together material for a graphic novel. She hopes to create something serious and important, further realizing the potential of the medium whose limits have been stretched by Pekar himself.

In terms of the film, the scene is important primarily as a vehicle by which the Pekar character spirals downward into the worst funk in a film full of them, fueled by loneliness and the discovery of what turns out to be lymphoma, culminating in a meltdown on national television, in front of David Letterman’s desk. Brabner’s efforts are largely forgotten, eclipsed by her more important collaboration with Pekar, which would become Our Cancer Year.

Macedonia feels a bit like the realization of the concept put forth by Brabner, nearly two decades before. Pekar’s collaboration with author Heather Roberson is an attempt to create something as meaningful as Our Cancer Year, and while the book will likely never be regarded with the same reverence as its predecessor, hopefully history will someday regard it a milestone in the author’s career.

Thus far, Macedonia hasn’t managed to get a fair shake—and it’s easy to see why. The book is textually dense, even in terms of Pekar’s oft dialog-heavy work, and while some readers’ complaints about an advanced vocabulary level hardly pertain to the majority of the book, there are a few occasions in which it would certainly help to grasp the meaning ‘hegemony,’ a perfectly understandable scenario, being that the story is largely told from the persepective of co-author, Roberson, a UC Berkeley graduate who travels to Macedonia in an attempt to understand the region’s current political climate.

The area particularly interests Roberson due to that fact that, despite some cultural skirmishes, the residents of Macedonia and its surrounding areas somehow managed to avoid all-out war. This leads us to our second problem: unlike the Sgt. Furys, and even the Joe Saccos (to whom Pekar gives something of a shoutout, in his brief appearance in the book) of the world, Macedonia is a book that explores the absence of conflict, rather than focusing on its sometimes perverse thrills (sorry, Joe), which is part of the reason that there’s so much talking in the first place.

follows Roberson around as she interacts with citizens in the area, sometimes hostile, sometimes helpful, and engages most everyone in a debate about the subject, both abroad and back at home, in Berkeley.

This debate is the heart of the book. Roberson and Pekar present their argument in the first few pages, as the former engages a professor randomly seated across from her due to  special constraints at a local restaurant. Roberson argues, much to the professor’s chagrin, that war is not the inevitability that he insists it is, eventually winning the debate by citing the Macedonian/Albanian conflict in which war was avoided. Its her limited knowledge on the subject (due to the limited amount of printed resources available), however, that eventually leads her to Macedonia.

This concept—the comic book as a thesis—is Macedonia’s true power. It’s an exploration of the medium as a device for both education and intellectual engagement. Pekar and Roberson do a fairly good job humanizing the conflict, both through Roberson’s own character (an attractive and intelligent American, serving as an easy reference point for the reader, most likely entering with little to no prior knowledge of the subject matter) and the wide range of citizens she encounters.

The execution is far from perfect, however, and the density of the book makes one wonder if it might not have been more gracefully executed as a prose piece, Ed Piskor’s deceptively cartoony artwork often taking a backseat to overcrowded word bubbles.

However, Macedonia should be regarded as a valiant attempt at re-reinventing the medium by one of its most talented living masters. Hopefully the initially lukewarm response won’t ultimately thwart future attempts at perfective its delivery.

–Brian Heater 

No Comments to “Macedonia by Harvey Pekar, et al.”

  1. Scott Witmer | July 18th, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Joyce Brabner wrote a forgotten book of comics journalism called Brought to Light, which chronicles the CIA’s terrorist activities in Nicaragua. The second half of the book, by Alan Moore and Bill Seinkiewicz, exposes the CIA’s involvement with drug trafficing and dictators.

  2. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » July 23, 2007: Surviving the Plastic Age
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