Content Warnings: images and discussions of drug use, abortion, sex, over-dosing, and beating people up. Some insensitive portrayals of lesbian, gay, and transgender characters.
I was surprised to hear Mimi Pond created this second book, entitled The Customer is Always Wrong (Drawn & Quarterly, 2017). I was under the assumption that it took her a very long time to write and illustrate her first book, Over Easy, which I reviewed last year. Pond’s 2017 graphic novel is another glimpse into her life as a diner waitress/ unknown cartoonist in the 1970s. Pond labels her books “fictionalized memoir.” It’s a term I’m hearing more often, lately from Lidia Yuknavitch, and I haven’t decided how I feel about authors messing with “The Truth.” Are they simply changing names and places? If so, why not note that instead? Or is the memory spiced up, whittled down, twisted around?
Pond’s second graphic novel is tightly plotted. The story line always moved forward, starting with Madge (Mimi Pond) dating a beautiful but crummy guy and getting readers back to the Imperial Cafe.
One waitress, Camille, has an obvious drug problem that complicates Madge’s life when Camille and drug-addicted boyfriend Neville move in next door. While Madge and her manager, Lazlo, try to help the addicts get clean, readers learn that both Madge and Lazlo use “acceptable” 70s drugs, like pot and cocaine, so their do-gooder attempt to help their co-worker kick heroin seems hypocritical. At the same time, Madge’s cartoonist career may be taking off, which could lead to a move to NYC. The plot was clearer than that of Over Easy, although it had just as many characters, making it the more enjoyable graphic novel. Readers may feel a bit behind if they haven’t read Over Easy, but they should easily catch up if they read The Customer is Always Wrong as a standalone.
Possibly because the plot is clearer, I found The Customer is Always Wrong more interesting than Over Easy. Though Madge was doing the same job, her art ambitions developed, giving her more depth and a life outside the Imperial Cafe. I also felt like I was getting a unique perspective on labels in the 1970s. Today, everyone labels themselves — just look at Twitter bios — but in The Customer is Always Wrong, they are hard to pinpoint. Madge seems like a good girl, but her choices about sex, drugs, drinking, abortion, and being helpful all depend on the situation. She doesn’t have maxims or pre-determined choices about morals that I can see, and I found that fascinating because it’s so contrary to what we expect of people today. The characters just roll with it.
Lastly, the art is that same blue wash I saw in Over Easy. Nothing draws too much attention to itself thanks to the limited color palate. All the characters have a unique element — maybe a hat or certain hairstyle — that make them all easy to distinguish. I still don’t love the text boxes on the bottom of panels when there is a text box at the top in the panel below, too. It’s easy to miss narration because I think the words are for a different panel. Really, my eye is missing the cue that it should move all the way down, meaning the flow is disrupted in a way it should be.
Yet, The Customer is Always Wrong is an engaging portrayal of the origins of cartoonist Mimi Pond that was a pleasure to read, and I hope there will be another book that covers her move to NYC. If you’d like to know more about Mimi Pond, check out my interview with her!