Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #25: The Customer Is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond

Over Easy was not a fluke -- Mimi Pond really is back in the world of comics, after time spent away doing whatever else. (Writing for TV, I think, and raising a family, and probably making comics I just didn't see, like a long-running series in Seventeen.) That would be a wonderful thing even if Over Easy hadn't been a great memoir-ish story.

But it was, and The Customer Is Always Wrong picks up that same story and moves it forward. This is fictionalized, at least somewhat, with all of the names changed and details of the crimes and drug use possibly altered, enhanced, or downplayed. (I hope not the last: there's a lot of it here.)

The main character is Madge, in her early 20s at the end of the 1970s -- she went to art school the same place the real Mimi Pond did, worked in the same restaurant the real Mimi Pond did, and sold her first cartoons to the National Lampoon like the real Mimi Pond did. My sense is that it's all been fictionalized just enough to be deniable and in the direction to make it a better, more coherent story. And both of those are solid reasons.

Madge is central, but nearly as important is her boss, Lazlo, who keeps the Imperial Cafe and its crazy staff running. This story is true, more or less, which means the reader shouldn't expect the two of them to have a romantic relationship just because they're the main characters. He is important in her life, but not that way -- and it's good to see stories about other relationships among people than just "reader, I married him."

Always Wrong is more about drugs than sex, looking at the famous trio. (There's only a tiny bit of rock 'n' roll, mostly songs that get stuck in Madge's head and the punkiness of some co-workers.) Everyone is doing something at least casually, and several of those Imperial waitresses and cooks are dealing more seriously -- seriously enough for real gangsters to show up once and threaten Madge, mostly out of mistaken identity.

The book covers a year or so in Madge's life, which in retrospect is the time she got serious. The story doesn't show her working on her comics -- that would be a bit too circular for Pond, I think -- but she was, and cut back her hours in the Imperial to give more time for that. And it is the time when she started selling nationally, and when she finally decided to move away -- to go to New York and try to make a career out of this. The book opens with her finding a new love, a boyfriend who's perfect until it isn't, and it ends with Madge heading off on something just for her, pushing her career forward and proving that her ambition was justified.

Pond's art is still lovely, all green-tinted here: her people mostly too tall and thin (doing too much coke at the end of the '70s, admittedly) and the spaces they move through solid and real. It's a look back at a time and place that's worth remembering, and the memories are strong and well-chosen.

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