ARTicle Magazine

Five questions for Mimi Pond

Guy Somerset · 26 February 2018

Mimi Pond, author of Over Easy and The Customer is Always Wrong, thinks Taika Waititi or Jemaine Clement would be great as the cafe manager from the fictionalised graphic memoirs of her 1970s days waitressing in California should Hollywood come calling.

Mimi Pond A Graphic Life W&R18 (c) Lynda Burdick 1200x630.jpg

Mimi's sessions at 2018 Writers & Readers include: Sarah Glidden & Mimi Pond: Graphically Personal, in conversation with Sarah Laing, 10–11am, Friday 9 March, Circa 1; Mimi Pond: A Graphic Life, in conversation with Eva Radich, 11.30am–12.30pm, Sunday 11 March, Festival Club; Mimi Pond & Brent Williams: Shading Light and Dark, 4–5pm, Friday 9 March, Mahara Gallery, Waikanae.

 
Not so much Oakland as Cokeland – blimey there’s a lot of tooting of white powder and other drugs in these books. And you did inhale. What did your kids and other family make of that? What did you make of it looking back?

My kids were grown by the time the book came out. I did inhale, yes, but being the child of people who’d lived through the Depression I had tightwad bred into me. Also I worked too hard for my money to spend it on silly white powder. I only bought it once and felt awfully stupid. I inhaled when offered it, but when people stopped offering I didn’t miss it once. It’s a nasty and pernicious and stupid drug, and it sent too many people down too many rabbit holes. We didn’t have “just say no”. Everyone at the time said, “HELL, YEAH!” We were very naive, some of us more than others.

Your second book takes a darker turn on the drug and other fronts. Was it always your intention for there to be a sequel doing that?

It’s all just one story. My publisher broke it into two books just so I could wrap my mind around how I could possibly finish it. I never intended them to stand alone. 

The Imperial Cafe – and presumably real-life counterpart Mama’s Royal Cafe – sailed close to the wind #MeToo-wise as well, with all the salty banter and touchy-feeliness.

The most wonderful thing about [manager] Lazlo’s real-life counterpart was that there was never that sense that he would ever cross those boundaries. That’s what made him such a very special and trusted friend.  If anyone else crossed boundaries, he would have your back. But with everyone shagging everyone else back then, things got blurry there in the moral swamp we were wading around in. It was all at once very sexist and at the same time women were giving as good as they got. There was no slut-shaming. There was no “walk of shame”. If you spent the night with someone, you just walked home. No one had a problem with it.

“It was all at once very sexist and at the same time women were giving as good as they got. There was no slut-shaming. There was no ‘walk of shame’. If you spent the night with someone, you just walked home”

Lazlo talks about having made “a grand opera of the place, complete with a thousand extras, spear carriers, doomed heroes, multiple divas ... and, oh yeah, the gaping maw of hell as our primary set”. An opera – there’s an idea. Surely to god at least Netflix/Amazon/etc have called you. What a show it would make.

I agree! I am waiting for Hollywood to call. I think Taika Watiti or Jemaine Clement would both make a great Lazlo!

Is the cafe still there? Have you kept in touch with any of the staff? Have the books prompted them to contact you?

Yes, indeed, the restaurant is still going strong. The second owner, who had it for about 40 years, has just sold it to someone new. They took out the counter, which makes me sick. But the food is still great. I have remained very close to many of the people I used to work with. There was a unique bond for having experienced a very unique time and place, as realised by the real-life Lazlo. They shared their own stories with me, which I wove into this fictional retelling

“There was a unique bond for having experienced a very unique time and place, as realised by the real-life Lazlo”

More about cartoonist, graphic novelist, writer, and illustrator Mimi Pond on her website

Guy Somerset was the founding editor of ARTicle Magazine. He is a former Books & Culture Editor of NZ Listener and Books Editor of The Dominion Post.