Comics

To The Moon, Malice!

|

The graphic novel biography of New York anarcho-Objectivist-libertarian Michael Malice that Julian Sanchez mentioned a while back is officially out today. It has already won a wide range of positive, though sometimes amazed, press, everywhere from GQ to Wired–the amazement mostly from how someone as conventionally dickish as Malice is portrayed (and, he would assure us, really is) can come across so (mostly) sympathetic and charming.

Ego and Hubris: The Michael Malice Story is written by Harvey Pekar, his first major longform work after his breakthrough to wider public consciousness after decades of writing autobiographical comic books called American Splendor via the Paul Giamatti-starring movie of the same name. (Yes, Pekar had the Letterman appearances in the 1980s and '90s, but there he seemed more like just one of Dave's generic gang of peculiarities, a feisty Larry Budd Melman, not the great American writer he is.) It's drawn by Gary Dumm, a Pekar favorite (but no favorite of mine–too coloring-bookish, thick, simple lines, obvious and static framing and layout).

There's a new interview up with Malice today at Gothamist that explains a bit what he's all about. Malice was merely a peculiar, fascinating fellow Pekar met while promoting his film when Pekar decided to write his biography–one of the animators on the American Splendor movie was a member of the justly forgotten '80s band Rubber Rodeo, about whom Malice has written an unproduced screenplay (one of my favorite of many bizarre details about Malice's mind, which is explained fully in Ego and Hubris).

But Malice has since, adding some weight and truth to his relentless self-aggrandizing throughout Ego, made a name for himself as editor of the very popular Web site Overheard in New York, and co-author of the book spun off of it. Malice is self-consciously evil; Ego is mostly dedicated to tales from his childhood, college days, and early professional career as a temp, centered on his cleverness, the stupidity of everyone around him, and how he relentlessly drove his perceived inferiors–family, teachers, coworkers–to distraction, to tears, and on occasion out of their jobs.

He identifies making a goofy English teacher cry as giving him "one of the best feelings I ever had"; he elsewhere notes that "probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me" was his father taking him to the supermarket where Dad's new girlfriend worked, expecting Malice to apologize for refusing to spend the weekend hanging out with the two of them (when Dad insisted Malice do so, "I called back and filled his answering machine with the vilest obscenties.") When dealing with a girl he loved who had cancer, he notes "for once, a display of weakness didn't trigger feelings of contempt within me." That's the kind of guy Malice is.

This is also, I can confidentally state, the only graphic novel featuring David Boaz, Doug Bandow, and Jeff Friedman (of Critical Review) as characters. Malice interned at the Cato Institute, and calls it "possibly the best experience of my life." While his libertarianism is by no means central to the story (and will doubtless lead some to further cement prejudices of libertarians as antinomian and heartless), it does add a layer of extra interest for a libertarian audience. It is certainly possible that how amazingly impressed Malice is with himself (and Pekar does nothing to secondguess or complicate Malice's self-presentation; the story is told in Malice's own narrative voice) could make many readers rebel in the other direction. But the story told here–and the further success Malice has earned outside the frame of the graphic novel's story–makes for a fascinating and strangely heartening underdog-comes-from-behind tale in which the underdog is trying his hardest to be unsympathetic, with no doubts and no mercy, yet can still write to a friend that "if there's brightness and beauty and joy, somewhere, that these things are possible, anywhere."

NEXT: If You Said That In Pakistan, Somebody Might Take You Up On It

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Peter—These answers are provisional, and mostly based on internal context and Malice’s own writings on the topic in his blog: Pekar’s reason for writing a Malice bio seems to be genuine curiousity about and fascination with this strange fellow he met–or as the Pekar figure is pictured saying on the cover, “Michael Malice is a piece of work.” There is no implied judgement on his libertarianism qua libertarianism, and unless it is to be read–and there is no reason to believe this; author and subject appear to be buddies and are doing readings together–as an intentional case of giving Malice enough rope to hang himself, the author-subject relationship seems to be based on general mutual fascination and respect. As I said, the book in fact DOES read as if Malice wrote it himself, in his own voice; essentially Pekar edited and shaped notes Malice wrote and told Pekar about himself. You’d have to ask Pekar why he chose his topic and method of presenting it; I’m not sure myself, and the comic book itself doesn’t really make it clear; nowhere but on the cover does Pekar qua Pekar speak for himself.

  2. I mean, he could easily have done more on what it is to be in my situation, to be a middle class middle aged American who’s married with kids, but no one would want to read it.

  3. And will this self-described shithead be a stand-in for libertarians everywhere for Pekar?

    It seems to me that the two groups
    A) libertarians
    and
    B) people who are really, really impressed with themselves and have contempt for everybody else

    overlap a huge amount. In fact, if I meet someone in group B who has at least a college education, I can generally assume that he is in group A. In other words, he votes Republican so that he can get lower taxes.

    This generalization doesn’t include libertarian writers and intellectuals, of course.

  4. cryptic indeed.

    overheardinnewyork.com makes the internet worthwhile, objectivists or not.

  5. “Ego and Hubris: The Michael Malice Story is written by Harvey Pekar, his first major longform work”.

    There’s also been “The Quitter”, drawn by Dean Haspiel, out in 2005 – though I’m not certain it would be classified as “major”.

  6. SM–You are correct; and I even read the QUITTER. It certainly qualifies as “major longform work”–or maybe it doesn’t, since I managed to forget I had even read it, which I have.

  7. Seems like people want to apologize for Malice because they are afraid of him. Making his perceived inferiors cry {and for stupid reasons, as you pointed out above} does not make him seem like a really smart person at all. These people are clearly not inferior because they are doing jobs Malice would be scared or too weak to do. If he taught a student who acted contemptuously like himself he would run home and cry.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.