The latest from the renowned graphic memoirist offers a fascinating character study of a character who isn’t Harvey Pekar.
Though Cleveland’s Pekar (American Splendor, 2004, etc.) has mined his own life for stories that have taken him from the comic-book pages to late-night TV to the big screen, the writer here turns the spotlight on another character. Meet Michael Malice, whose issues with authority, ambition and political correctness will strike a familiar chord with Pekar’s readers. Through the illustrations of Gary Dumm, the reader enters the world of this Brooklyn-raised son of Russian immigrants, a young man who quickly realizes that the American dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. From grade school through college and into the workforce (where he finds his comfort level as a temp), he always seems to be something of a misfit or an outcast, feeling that he’s so much brighter than those who would attempt to teach him or judge him. As the title of the book suggests, Michael might be a little too smart for his own good—quick to reject conventional wisdom and common sense in favor of an intellectual rigidity that puts him in a league with the likes of Ayn Rand. Pekar and Dumm invite the reader to identify with Malice, telling his story through his eyes in his words, yet the course of his life puts his vaunted intelligence at odds with the realities of the world around him. The narrative has all the deadpan realism of Pekar’s autobiographical work, and even has some sort of happy—or at least optimistic—ending that the writer has never previously permitted himself.
Whether or not Pekar has exhausted the storytelling possibilities of his own life, fans will appreciate this change of pace.