Flavorwire Interview: ‘Over Easy’ Author Mimi Pond on the “Moral Swamp of the ’70s” and What Restaurants Teach Us About Life

Mimi Pond’s Over Easy is a charming fictionalized memoir/graphic novel based on Pond’s real-life experience of coming-of-age in the druggy late ’70s as an art school dropout who finds employment working at the seedy Imperial Cafe. It’s gentle and generous, a smart and well drawn look at how a girl, in this case, Pond’s alter ego Margaret, learns how to be a person through her experiences with the patrons at the diner, becoming an artist in the process. Each line and scene is infused with weight, love, and memory. Pond is one of the great cartoonists working today, with an eclectic resume that includes writing a cult classic, The Valley Girls’ Guide to Life, and writing episodes of The Simpsons and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I had the chance to talk with her about Over Easy and other highlights in her career.

Flavorwire: What questions were fueling Over Easy?

Mimi Pond: The main question is how can you love someone who you really shouldn’t love. We all were crazy about the Lazlo character, we all thought of him as our groovy beatnik dad. As the years went by it finally dawned on me that maybe he wasn’t that good of a person. I couldn’t help myself; he was too fascinating and fabulous. I think the most complex characters in storytelling are the ones who aren’t 100% good or 100% evil — but the ones who have both mixed up in them.

Not to compare Lazlo with The Talented Mr. Ripley, I got really addicted to all those Ripley novels; he was such a sociopath, he kept killing people, and you felt such sympathy for him. American Hustle [has] the perfect example [of likable, yet flawed characters] because there’s so much of that whole ’70s grey area — I describe the book as navigating the moral swamp of the ’70s — and here’s a couple of con-men who shouldn’t get away with what they’re doing, but you want them to do it.

One striking thing about the book is Margaret’s approach to figuring out her sexuality in the free-love ’70s. I’m curious about what you, having grown up during that era, tell your kids regarding sex today, since it’s so different.

I told them both that the first thing they needed to do was have protection and birth control. I told my daughter to remember that it’s her body and it’s always her body, and that she has ownership of it. She should use her instincts and her good common sense to tell her what to do.

I don’t want to get that involved — as a parent, you can’t, there are boundaries — but I said use common sense, and you have ownership of your body, because girls don’t always feel like they have ownership of them. There’s all this stuff young men will always do because they’re thinking with their dicks. It’s not necessarily that they’re horrible people, but they’re thinking with their dicks.

Over EasyHow do you express emotion in cartooning? It’s so subtle but you can really tell what people are feeling in this book.

You have to draw very few lines. It’s a mater of tremendous nuance, a millimeter of difference in a line, with what the face is expressing, and it also comes through with body language as well. You don’t need that many lines to do that many facial expressions; any basic cartooning book will run down a list of basic expressions.

You’re married to artist Wayne White [the subject of the documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing], and both of your children are artists. How did they get interested in careers like yours?

First we said, “Oh, I’ll give you something to write about!” [Laughs.] It’s really gratifying to have kids who are artists. If we had kids who are doctors, I’d have to shoot myself. Both of them exhibited tremendous talent early on, and that just made it easy, actually, to drag them into the fold.

So what do restaurants teach you about life?

I would say its really more about how working at a restaurant will prepare you for life in many different ways. Like Israel and their year in military service, I think everyone in this country should have to do restaurant service. You deal with all kinds of people, people who are hungry or cranky. The first thing you have to do is give them immediate gratification. If they have small children at the restaurant, bring a plate of food for a kids, to make them feel taken care of, and to make sure that you feel taken care of.

Every customer is different. It’s a constant dance of snuffing out every situation, do they want to be dominated, do they want to dominate you? It’s this constant improv all day long. I think what made it bearable for me was that the manager of the restaurant supported the idea that we [the employees] were artists and were were doing this as a lark and that we were taking notes for our art.

What was it like writing an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse?

Writing a script for Pee Wee’s Playhouse — at any rate it ruined me for writing for television because here’s what they did: they took our script, and they made it. Usually writing for television, they take your script and change everything around. I thought, Oh, this will be great, I could write for television.

What was it like writing the very first episode (“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”) of The Simpsons?

I don’t feel very good about that. I was friends with Matt Groening, and I’m still friends with Matt Groening. He was starting to have trouble with the producers of the show. I came in and they were having their troubles, and because I was friends with Matt, I wasn’t very welcome. And because I was a girl — it was a total boys’ club — and I wasn’t asked to be on staff. I was thrown off the gravy train and it took a couple of years to figure it out. But if it hadn’t been for that, my life would’ve been very different. I wouldn’t have worked on this book, and this was the book I was meant to write.

What are you doing next?

I’m working on part two of the story now. I started working on it as a conventional fictionalized memoir, and I finally had to break down and admit that it really wanted to be a graphic novel, which seemed really overwhelming and difficult to do. Slowly and finally, I was able to pick up speed the last couple of years and get it done. My husband and I have done some residencies and installations that we went on. I find it so much easier to get work done when you’re not home. You don’t have the interruptions of daily life.