An Interview with Michael Malice
Question: Who is Michael Malice, and how does he rate his own comic?
Michael Malice: An interviewer once described me as a human soundbite machine, but I don't have a pithy catch phrase to sum myself up. Most people like to think of themselves as endlessly complex-though extremely few are-so to claim that I am makes me sound like a fool. I suppose the best answer is that readers will have to define Michael Malice for themselves. Harvey himself still doesn't have an answer.
Wait, I've got it. "He's the boy you hate to love."
Q: So the character of Michael Malice, who says things like, "I'm one of those smart people who, when they're bored, like to screw around with others," is an accurate portrait of the real Michael Malice?
MM: It's too mild, if anything. I do receive great pleasure from hurting those who deserve to be hurt, much like the standard comic book characters! The world would be a better place if more people were slapped once in a while, literally or otherwise.
The entire text is of course extremely autobiographical. I also think the very goal-oriented narrative is a departure from the usual American Splendor stuff. This is probably because Harvey looked for a certain routine and security in his life, whereas I am a driven zealot.
Q: Sounds like you're happy with the final result.
MM: I am beyond delighted. I can't imagine being so gauche as to criticize anything about such a great honor. Harvey and Gary accommodated all my views anyway. This book is, quite simply, accurate. And that's as big a compliment as any work like this can get.
In fact, if anything, I'm too happy. For a while I lost my edge and kind of was in an air of giddy benevolence. This is something I've been consciously seeking to dull in the recent months. (And if there's ever a sequel, this will be the theme: the reclaiming of hatred.)
Q: How did you meet Harvey? Had you been a fan of his work in American Splendor prior to that?
MM: I met Harvey through John and Gary, who did the animation for the film. Gary was the keyboardist for Rubber Rodeo.
I had not been a fan of his work and was not a fan of his after seeing the film. I had it exactly backward. I thought the film was setting out to glorify him. Then I read his comic books and I realized that, if anything, the film was a tame version! Harvey is always extremely hard on himself in his writing and does not put himself on a pedestal at all. He totally blew my mind. I have endless admiration for him. How many people can claim to have invented a new art form (i.e, the biographical comic book)?
Q: In reading the comic, the narrative voice is so strong that it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it was written by Harvey and not by you. Could you explain a little bit about the mechanics of your collaboration and why you aren't credited as co-author?
MM: I'm not credited as co-author because I'm not a brand name, which I think is the correct decision. My name and face are on the cover, so it's not like I'm being ignored!
What happened is I wrote out a huge document and mailed it to Harvey. He adapted it, with consultation with me on the phone. Then Gary sent me the rough drafts as they came out and made edits. I think the vast majority of it is verbatim from my text, something Harvey stressed he was very keen on. If you feel that I have a strong narrative voice, I can only thank you for the compliment.
Q: You and Harvey are both creative, strong-willed individuals. Was there any clashing of egos as you worked together?
MM: To allude to an idol of mine, there was less than zero. Harvey was very, very intent on having this book be something that I was proud of. We did not disagree once. People are surprised to hear that, given our very different mindsets on everything from art to politics. But I've always felt-and Harvey proved-that if people are intellectually honest with each other, then any disagreement can be resolved quickly.
Q: Here's a graphic novel, this hip art form, about a guy with a punk rock kind of name-and yet he turns out to be a serious conservative. You and Harvey both seem to enjoy turning expectations upside down.
MM: One of the things I was fascinated by when the book was done was to see how it would be received, because I knew people would have their own interpretations of the work. When I met with the book's publicist, for example, he remarked that he felt for my mom as a character. This made me apoplectic, but fortunately I'm cold-blooded so it didn't show. In this context I find your question fascinating.
I am by no standard of the word a conservative. (Though I had been in high school.) Nowadays, as an anarchist, I am against all politics and political activity. I am very opposed to the modern Republican party, which found no shame using gay-bashing as an electoral wedge and which argues for forcing women to breed by law.
I wish I lived in a world where there was a distinction between people and non-human animals. In such a place, I would be utterly banal because my views would be commonplace. Sadly, most people simply accept the thoughts -- I use the word loosely -- of their ancestors and continue with things as they were. And this is what conservatives view as the correct approach. For me, it's not about defying expectations as much as ignoring them.
Q: Did Harvey come up with the title Ego & Hubris or did you? How would you define hubris?
MM: Gary Dumm, the artist, combined them. I had a short list that included Ego, Hubris, The Portrait of Michael Malice, and a few others. Hubris, to me, is the conviction that no one's throne is above one's own. Meaning other people's judgments are irrelevant when forming one's views and acting on them.
Q: One of the projects chronicled in the comic is your ongoing work on a novel and attempts to get it published. Where does that stand now?
MM: My novel, Infidel, is out at editors right now-including Harvey's -- and I'm desperately trying not to shoot myself from anxiousness. I'm starting the sequel in the coming weeks, because the plot won't get out of my head.
Q: You were also working on a screenplay about the band Rubber Rodeo, which sounded cool. Has there been any interest in that?
MM: That's on the back burner until Infidel gets sold. Getting a screenplay produced is much harder-especially being in New York. And I don't have any interest in being a screenwriter beyond getting The Curse of Rubber Rodeo produced.
Q: What attracted you to the libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand, which exerted such a strong influence on the portion of your life covered in the comic? Do you feel that her life and work have been portrayed fairly by the media?
MM: Ayn Rand doesn't have all the answers, but she has all the questions. And for a smart person, that's enough. Rand's life was pretty boring, and it's no surprise that the attention has been on the affair she had. If anything, I think it's unfair that she's so marginalized. As usual she herself said it best. She was on Tom Snyder's show and he said, "You know, there are people out there who think you're nuts!" "No," she replied, "they want you to think it."
Rand would not call herself a libertarian, and libertarian principles are political, not ethical. I consider myself an anarchist and an elitist. Meaning I do not recognize official social hierarchies, but I am aware that such hierarchies naturally and inevitably exist. So I try to defer to my betters and to expect respect from my inferiors. But you should always be polite to people, because it's very hard to judge which they are at first.
Q: Your website, Overheard in New York, is a daily stop for me and for many others. Hilarious, profound, tragic, pathetic -- it's amazing how much can be conveyed in just a few brief lines from an overheard conversation. Writers probably steal bits of dialogue from you all the time.
MM: The very idea of the site itself has been stolen -- including the voice that I write the headlines in -- by people in other cities. Hopefully leukemia is a word that they will become intimately familiar with. But if writers want to steal dialogue, that's totally fine. After all, the dialogue isn't original to us, but to the New Yorkers who said them!
I love Overheard in New York more than anything. I view it as O. Henry for the twenthy-first century. I always cringe when people just characterize us a humor site. I think that's goofy since we're so much more.
Q: Do you edit all the submissions to the site, or do you present them just as you receive them? Does this stuff still blow you away, or are you pretty well used to it by now?
MM: I am constantly blown away. Every day I get a submission that makes me thank god that I get to edit the site.
Many submissions never make the site, of course. I heavily edit the entries because often people don't cut at the right point -- they miss the punch line or whatever. Or I'll edit if I have a great headline. As a friend put it, "When Overheard first started, it was just these isolated, random quotes that had nothing to do with anything beyond themselves. Now it is a sprawling, specteresque montage of you. Each quote taken individually has almost nothing to do with you, but when taken as a whole, anyone who knows you can step back and see you in immense, ghostly profile. The gestalt is absolutely unmistakable: it's you."
Q: Would you live anywhere else besides New York City?
MM: I don't know that that would be considered living. Where would I go? I've been to London, and it's awful. Boston? A city whose greatest accomplishment was a tea party more than two hundred years ago? I did very much love my time in DC, but I couldn't live there now.
Q: Are you and Harvey going to work together again?
MM: I would absolutely love it!
Q: What's next for Michael Malice?
MM: This sounds absolutely pathetic, but it's the truth: All my life I've been driven to achieve the goal of success. Always with the long-term view. Now that success is here, I am for the first time thinking in the short term. I'm not thinking past March 28, when the book comes out. I honestly think I can die on March 29 and I'd be happy. So would a lot of other people, I suspect.