Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story (Ballantine Books)

Pekar’s script for the book—constructed entirely from Malice’s own words—is compelling and, like most of his work, very text heavy; Ego & Hubris is more a fully illustrated novel than a comic book.

 

 (BALLATINE BOOKS; 176 PGS B&W; $19.95)
(W: HARVEY PEKAR & GARY DUMM)

Harvey Pekar is an endlessly interesting man. The acerbic, curmudgeonly wit with which the former Cleveland, Ohio, file clerk has captured his life in 30 years’ worth of his autobiographical comic American Splendor—the basis for the critically acclaimed 2003 film starring Paul Giamatti—has made him a favorite of discerning readers. With Ego & Hubris, Pekar turns his keen eye on someone else for a full-length project for the first time in 15 years.

Why would Pekar want to take a look at Michael Malice when his own life is so rife with material? One imagines that all you would have to do is have a brief conversation with Malice to find out. Moving from the Ukraine to Brooklyn at a young age during the late ’70s, Malice conformed every situation to his every whim through sheer force of will. Tales follow of victories over childhood friends, elementary school teachers, step-parents, college professors, co-workers, bosses, and virtually anyone who had the unmitigated gall to get in his way.

Malice’s arrogance and sense of entitlement is shocking, but when told in his own words, it seems not only believable but deserved. “I was a brilliant kid,” Malice notes on page 4, letting us know right away what we’re up against. “People think it’s bragging to say you’re brilliant, but if I were the tallest kid, it would be regarded as a mere statement of fact. So I’m not sure why it’s regarded as arrogance when I say I was smarter than everyone. Maybe because so many people think they’re smart when they’re not.” During a confrontation with a professor in college, Malice notes that the professor begins to treat him as an equal by scoffing, “He was wrong, of course, since he was my inferior. But at least he was moving in the right direction.”

Pekar’s script for the book—constructed entirely from Malice’s own words—is compelling and, like most of his work, very text heavy; Ego & Hubris is more a fully illustrated novel than a comic book. It’s funny seeing how a regular book publisher treats a graphic novel release as well; the cover’s reference to Pekar as the author of American Splendor is nearly double the size of this book’s title, and Pekar’s own name appears on the cover while that of artist Gary Dumm does not. That’s a shame, too, as Dumm does a solid job of illustrating what is basically a conversation, using Malice’s descriptions and metaphors to stir things up artistically and ground the story.

Ego & Hubris is split into two halves. The first part leads us through Malice’s childhood up through college and is, quite simply, riveting. The second half, featuring Malice’s adult life in a string of temp jobs he thinks are beneath him, seems far less interesting by comparison. While certainly an enjoyable read, the situations aren’t as captivating, and Pekar’s focus on an overall narrative seems to falter slightly as he tries to tie together all the loose ends. Still, overall, Ego & Hubris is a fascinating character study done by a skilled writer who is quite a character himself

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