HEADS up. Mimi Pond’s new graphic novel The Customer is Always Wrong is one of the treats of the summer. A funny, scary vision of 1970s Boho America set in a diner, it’s all sex, drugs and doing double shifts waitressing.

It’s a sequel to the National Lampoon and New Yorker cartoonist’s previous graphic novel Over Easy.  “The only reason it is two volumes is that it was too unmanageable and overwhelming for me to think about doing it all in one volume,” says Pond.

Like its predecessor, the new book is a compelling read full of smart lines – “If it isn’t Drink No Evil, Snort No Evil  and Shoot No Evil.” – real insight and genuine emotion, based loosely on Pond’s life as a waitress in Oakland, California back in the day. That said, this is clearly labelled fiction. Her central character Madge isn’t her. Or not totally.

In a recent interview in Jezebel Pond revealed that though she wrote the very first episode of The Simpsons ever to air she was not asked to join the all-male writing team on the series. The Customer is Always Wrong shows up what they missed.

Here she talks to Graphic Content about a woman’s right to choose, finding happiness in New York and leaving good tips:

The Customer is Always Wrong draws on your own days in the service industry in California in the 1970s but it is fictional. Why did you decide to put in that distance? What does it allow you to do that a memoir wouldn’t?

There were so many real people who worked in the real restaurant that it would have been like a Russian novel. I chose to compress a lot of them for the sake of clarity and simplicity. There was always some kind of drama happening but it was chaotic and unwieldy. Fictionalising it allowed me to make this a metaphor for that place and time.

Maybe I’m getting old but it seems like a harum-scarum existence you are describing in the graphic novel. How do you remember that time?

At the time it seemed to me pretty crazy, but for everyone else – especially the people heavily involved in drugs – it was their normal. That’s part of the reason I knew right away that it was a story I needed to tell. It was also, for a long time, a lot of fun – until one day, when it wasn’t anymore.

HeraldScotland:

If you could remove one thing from your life back then what would it be?

I would have chosen not to leap into bed with so many undeserving morons. I regret treating people badly, and for allowing myself to be badly treated. Then again, that’s how you learn. People in their twenties treat one another horribly.

And conversely, is there anything from that era that you’d like to see brought back for the present day?

In the midst of that sexual revolution, in that place and time, everyone of every persuasion was having sex with everyone else, and there was no judgement around it.  There wasn’t a “walk of shame.” What? You had sex, you walked home. No big deal. Abortion was safe and legal and a perfectly reasonable option. I don’t see why it can’t still be that way. I’m sick of people legislating morality and trying to take away women’s autonomy and control of their own bodies. 

When were you first aware that comic strips could be a form of expression for you? What were the influences that led you in that direction?

My father was an amateur cartoonist and introduced me very early to the Signet paperback collections of Harvey Kurtzman’s EC Mad Magazine, the 1960s Mad, also L’il Abner, Pogo, Peanuts, loads of New Yorker cartoon collections, and more. I was always told I was going to be a cartoonist. Who was I to disagree?

After your recent Jezebel interview I was wondering, do you watch The Simpsons?

That’s actually the first time anyone has ever asked me that. I find no joy in watching the Simpsons. I much prefer “King of the Hill.” I think it has more depth and more fully-fleshed out characters.  

What’s the next thing on the horizon? 

I’m not exactly sure. I’ve been doing some web cartoons for the newyorker.com. I find those very satisfying to do. With a web cartoon, unlike print publications, there’s no restrictions on size, so, like my experience doing two massive graphic novels, I have the room to spread out and tell stories in exactly the way I think they should be told without having to compress and leave out good details.

Everyone wants to see how Madge fares in 1980s New York, but I haven’t quite wrapped my head around how that would work. Once I got there, I was happy! I was no longer surrounded by drug-addled punk junkie short order cooks and drama-obsessed waitresses.

I suppose if there was any conflict, it was trying to make it in a sexist world. At the time I took it for granted, but now when my women friends of that period and I exchange notes, we say to each other, “can you believe we put up with that?” 

HeraldScotland:

Oh and finally, do you leave good tips?

I always try to leave good tips. I find myself perplexed by that service where you order at a counter and then are given a stick with a number on it. Eventually someone drops a plate at your table. I’m never sure what the percentage should be on that. 


The Customer is Always Wrong, by Mimi Pond, is published by Drawn & Quarterly