I started off by saying that Mr. Clever lives in Cleverland. "It's Cleveland..." the teacher interrupted. "But there's an 'R' in it," I protested. "It's silent," she replied. I fumed all day.—Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story
With Ego & Hubris, Harvey Pekar's gaze travels beyond the lint-clogged Cleveland navels he has memorialized in the three-decades' worth of comics and graphic novels that make up American Splendor. Here, Pekar fixes upon a frustrated, but oh-so-clever Brooklyn first grader, Michael Malice. As with Unsung Hero, a former coworker's Vietnam narrative, Pekar shaped Ego & Hubris with Malice's own words, plucked from conversation and correspondence. It's largely free of Pekar's familiar neuroses and curmudgeonly mutterings, and Malice's narcissism isn't tempered by pervasive self-doubt, so it's fitting that Ego & Hubris is rendered with clean lines and ample empty space by long-time American Splendor illustrator Gary Dumm, and not as a frazzled R. Crumb caricature.
Since first grade Malice has confronted and "denigrated idiocy" at a series of magnet schools and workplaces, sought refuge from a stultifying liberal arts college at the Cato Institute, cycled through temp assignments, tried his hand at standup comedy, written an un-produced screenplay, and co-created a popular website, which paved the way for a book deal. Along the way, he's cold in the face of friends' mortality, and takes unwarranted satisfaction in the artless ridicule of a security guard's malaprops. Ultimately, Malice snags a VH1 gig, and it seems he has ascended without compromising his commitments to liberty, reason, and petty vindication.
Sniveling aside, he isn't to be taken lightly, if only because he's wrung an insufferably fanciful "happy" ending out of Pekar. Suffice it to say that sunshine, a superhero costume, and lollipops are involved. Why did Pekar bother, then? Perhaps, as he says in closing, "To familiarize oneself with [Malice's] history and compare it to one's own can lead to incidents of self-discovery." Whether or not this holds true for every reader, the chance to observe Pekar's dispassionate process of self-discovery is worth braving the sugar-high ending.