[18 April 2014]
PopMatters Comics Editor
It’s just before the “real stuff” happens, as Warren Ellis writes in the highly-anticipated coda (issue #27) to his long-running Planetary, where we pick up with Mimi Pond’s autobiography Over Easy. For Pond, it’s two turns of the wheel before the intelligent, socially-aware, fun aggression of GnR and Metallica, but dead in the middle of the transition from the laid-back, almost surreal cool of the late ‘70s to the fast-paced, hyperreal aggression of punk in the early ‘80s. There’s a small economical/geographical tale that’s presented compactly in Over Easy; Pond moves from the more privileged life of college to workaday living as a dishwasher in Oakland. But that’s not where the real action is. The heart of Over Easy plays out in how Pond is able to unify two very disparate and very antithetical (counterintuitively so, at first gloss) subcultures—that of the nerd and that of the hipster. And how Pond does this in a way that relies on the coolly meditative, ethereally turquoise duotone.
At the point where Pond introduces Elvis Costello as a kind of a touchstone for the changes both happening around her and within her, she shapes a magical moment. We navigate by leveraging the familiar in our transitioning from the lived-in moment (which, as it has now, always becomes the used-up moment) to the unfamiliar, Pond seems to be saying. And saying by using this muted blue which seems to fuel the faux, humorist, socially incisive anger that we’d see in just a handful of years from the likes of GnR and Metallica.
But beyond the politics of the situation, beyond hard rock and the first stirrings of speed metal, Elvis Costello is a sublime choice. Some two decades after the likes of GnR and Metallica, Costello makes a profound change, perhaps even an evolution. At this future date, Costello completely shuffles off his punk/new wave persona and even to an extent, his from-across-the-sea persona and naturalizes himself as homespun and bluegrass and salt-of-the-Appalachian-earth. The decades-in-the-making transformation that Costello undertakes and ultimately effects is truly something to behold and speaks to how culturally savvy Pond herself is in adopting him as a flag-bearer. This is the innate beauty of Over Easy—the ease with which it forms us, shapes us, pushes us as readers into thinking about what comes next. About where we’ll get to, when it’s later. Not so much the personalities and the places as they where then, at the moment Pond writes about them, but as they will be in the future, in our present, when we can go to them and connect.
And amid this Adrienne Rich-esque dealing with human lives as lines through time, there is Pond’s unique and hauntingly fractured pale blue tone to the book. It’s so very close to the color hospitals in the ‘60s used to keep you calm, that it seems to create a kind of vacuum within you when you’re reading, and, that vacuum, once allied with historical extrapolation that Pond crafts and hones so finely, seems to lead you to the shores of a kind of rebellion, where, ultimately, you’re forced into looking for some kind of release.
“This can’t be what a life is for,” Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows croons out on This Desert Life, as if to suggest that even a rebellion by way of ennui is too much. That the languid and the slow and the painful diffusion of meaningless at some point needs to be arrested. And yet somehow, in perfect ‘90s grunge logic, the dominating faux aggression of hard rock and heavy metal isn’t quite the answer.
Pond makes a similar argument but far more articulately, and one deeply grounded in the reader-politics of comics, which at that same time that she herself moved to Oakland, was facing similar dilemmas. Think back to Phil Seuling, if you wish, Dear Reader. Think back to a time when comics vended through newsstands was quickly becoming a less viable business model. Think about what was done to arrest this—the fortification of the comicbook store as a kind of balustrade against the outside world, and its reinvention as a unique cultural boutique. The rise of nerd culture, in other words.
Dealing with the same sociocultural politics, Pond considers the wide variety of ways in which cultural buffers like comicbook shops operate—these cultural boutiques being as much the diner that she finds herself working in, as the act of writing and drawing. And, marching on into the ‘80s, Pond finds herself awash in an entirely different set of sociocultural politics, those of punk and new wave which deal less with a kind of sociocultural self-secession, and more with setting up new modes and networks for transmission and interaction. If Pond’s take on nerd culture is a very literary, very subtle critique on comics culture, performed by way of imagining the nerdist venues where we secede and seclude ourselves from the world at large, then her interest in punk suggests a more classic social-movement—one that manifests in comics culture, in our day and age with transmedia and digital distribution. As with Nate Reuss and Fun. or the Arab Spring or any social movements that’ve happened since 2011 (that could be argued to be touchstones of hipster living), the larger focus is also the interconnectedness of individuals.
As we wend our way through Over Easy we become involved in this hauntingly beautiful and deeply incisive double helix of themes. We find the focus on widespread interconnectedness latent within punk as this aesthetic begins to shape the new era (in much the same way the hipster sensibility does in our own), and simultaneously, we encounter the kind of self-secession birthed in the comicbook stores of the ‘90s. Make no mistake, Dear Reader, Pond’s autobiography exists as a comicbook for a reason—because it comments on the various cultural modes in which comics have come to exist recently in the popular imagination. And in commenting on comics, Pond is able to inscribe a kind of convergence between the precepts of nerd culture with its technical mastery and self-secession, and hipster culture which focuses mobilizing individuals from their social cliques.
Pond’s Over Easy is hauntingly beautiful, breathtaking, ferociously intelligent. It allows us to peer behind the veil of private lives in a radically different way to other biographies—in a way that allows us to see the mechanisms of social change. And in this regard, Pond is far closer to a young Norman Mailer or Allen Ginsberg or Adrienne Rich than to writers of the authorized biographies available almost everywhere these days.
Over Easy simply comes with the highest praise, and quite simply, deserves to be read.