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."