“Disco was horrible,” Mimi Pond told Paste. “I’ve been trying to put it into context for young people, and the people that liked disco then are the people that are complete douchebags now — like the people on Jersey Shore.” Pond, a cartoonist and the writer of the first full-length episode of The Simpsons, paints a gritty picture of the ‘70s in her new graphic novel, Over Easy. Released yesterday by Drawn and Quarterly, the book highlights Pond’s waitressing years in a cafe brimming with strong personalities.
The fictionalized coming-of-age story romps through the social landscape of late-1970s California, from hilarity to hysteria to heartbreak. Pond chatted with Paste about creating Over Easy, channeling real experiences from her past and her secret love of the Bee Gees. Check out the interview below, and then read on to learn how you could win a copy of Over Easy.
Paste: You mentioned in an interview that when you first walked into the cafe where you waitressed at the end of the ‘70s, you knew you were walking into a story. Can you elaborate on that?
Pond: It was because of the personalities involved and the place itself. As colorful as it was, I could just tell that it was seething with drama.
Paste: How much of Over Easy actually happened?
Pond: Well, let me think, I’d say at least 50% of it actually happened.
Paste: What was the creative process like — reminiscing about the past and turning it into a story — for Over Easy?
Pond: I had to outline it. First I had to make a list of the characters that would be involved — winnow it down. There were so many people who worked there that were all great, fascinating characters that I had to serve the plot and not make it into a Russian novel. I had to pare it down and condense it. Five fry cooks became one fry cook; eight waitresses became three waitresses. I had to sometimes assign unpleasant qualities to characters who would otherwise be real-life characters, simply because I couldn’t afford to have more characters in there. So sometimes some of them got to be meaner than they really were.
Paste: While working on the graphic novel, did you talk with the people the characters are based on?
Pond: I’m still very close to a lot of the people there. I talked to a lot of the people there in preparation for writing the book, about their memories of the restaurant and things and incidents that happened. I tried to condense them all into the story, so some of the things that happened didn’t necessarily happen to me. But, because the character I created is the main character, you want everything to happen to her. Otherwise, it’s sort of a list rather than a plot.
Paste: Does the Imperial Cafe still exist?
Pond: Yeah, it’s Mama’s Royal Cafe in Oakland, California. It’s a great restaurant still. It’s not the same as it was — it couldn’t be — but it’s still a great place to have breakfast or lunch.
Paste: Do you have a favorite memory from working there?
Pond: That incident with the drunk hookers at the counter, that really did happen to me.
(Madge, Over Easy’s protagonist, has to serve three obstinate hookers on her first day as a waitress. Let’s just say they are not at all impressed by the gangly, flustered girl.)
Paste: That was insane! So now that you’ve finished Over Easy, what do you hope that readers will take away from the book?
Pond: I hope they’ll be up for reading part two of the book, which I’m working on now. I hope they’ll come away with a better sense of what it was to live in the ‘70s, because the ‘70s are an era — it was such a complicated era, there were so many bad things that happened. And now people like to whitewash the whole thing and think of it as: “Oh, it was fun! They had disco, they had as much sex as they wanted! Disco was so fun!” And disco was not fun!
Paste: I’m assuming you didn’t frequent many disco halls?
Pond: No, we were all united against disco. It was punk for us. They were phony and bourgeois and middle class; cheesy, open necked shirts and a bunch of gold chains. It was gross.
The ‘70s started out with a really weird bang because of the Manson murders — that was 1969, and then going into 1970-71 with the trial. So that was like the death of hippiedom. At the same time, slightly older people were constantly reminding you that you had just missed the big party. You had missed Woodstock, and you had missed the peace marches, and you had missed communes, and the free love and too bad for you.
At the same time, the music was getting worse and worse. You were getting all this really bloated arena rock and really horrible pop music, like The Carpenters. I appreciate The Carpenters now for their harmonies and their musicianship, but at the time they represented this really middle-of-the-road bland pop. And, actually, now I will even consent to a love of the Bee Gees. My husband and I had a whole Bee Gees summer a few years ago. We are completely sold on the Bee Gees now, which is great because it’s nice to take out of context.
Paste: What other kinds of music do you enjoy listening to now?
Pond: I don’t listen to that much popular music now — I’m sort of exhausted by keeping up. Young people are constantly in this position where they feel like they have to keep up with the latest music, and back then you sort of could if you read Rolling Stone and listened to the right FM college radio station. But now it’s like “forget it.” How do you even sort through it all? I still have my old favorites like Elvis Costello — I guess that makes me a geezer. Tom Waits.
I don’t listen to music while I’m working because I have to concentrate on what I’m doing a lot, so I miss out on that. I know it’s terrible to say, but I’m just not that hip anymore!
Paste: Did you listen to music when you worked in other mediums? I know you’ve worked in TV.
Pond: I haven’t done that much in TV, but if you’re writing — I don’t know, I can’t listen to music while I’m writing because I’m trying to focus. If I’m listening to music, I want to be really listening to it, and I can’t divide my brain up that way.
Paste: Is there anything you’d like to add about Over Easy?
Pond: People should buy the book, and like it so much they’ll want to buy the second book. I think, for young people, it will give them an insight into the ‘70s that hasn’t been expressed in graphic novels before. And for older people, I think there are a lot of things they’ll recognize.
Over Easy Giveaway: We’re giving away two copies of Mimi Pond’s new graphic novel, courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly! To enter, follow @PasteBooks on Twitter and retweet this tweet by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 18 (you must have an address in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom). Good luck!