Books

Junkies, Wannabe Artists, Criminals and Other Temporary Friends in 'The Customer is Always Wrong'

Throughout all of Pond's graphic memoir/confessional, her funny, biting, and overall authentic voice is brought to life with her expressive ink and watercolor panels.


The Customer is Always Wrong

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Length: 448 pages
Author: Mimi Pond
Price: $29.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-08
Amazon

Comic artist Mimi Pond's continuation of the memoir she began in Over Easy delves right back into the world of late '70s / early '80s Oakland, California. The Customer Is Always Wrong follows her time as a waitress at The Imperial Cafe filled with a cast of characters as colorful as the aqua watercolor filling the pages of her book; junkies, dealers, wannabe artists, and criminals fill Pond's story as she struggles to make a career as a cartoonist while also continually being drawn into a world frequently at odds with that goal.

While Over Easy documented Pond's time as a recent art school graduate, floundering in her future and recently hired as dishwasher, and then waitress at The Imperial Cafe, The Customer Is Always Wrong finds her fully immersed in the restaurant and its dysfunctional staff and weirdo regulars. Surrounded by coworkers who seem to be perpetually in some state of a drug-induced high, attempting to score drugs, and temperamenta

l, they're a motley crew headed by restaurant manager, Lazlo, who looms large as a presence both comforting and cautionary.

Lazlo is a poet, though he's certainly not actively working as one, but regardless, he's a charming raconteur who manages to understand Pond in ways that surprise and delight her. Their relationship is filled with inside jokes, wry observations on the many characters they encounter on a regular basis, and a sharp understanding of what it means to truly be creative and ambitious. Though it may seem throughout much of the story that Pond is aimless or not really serious about her goal to be a successful cartoonist, she submits her work to the National Lampoon, which is accepted, and then strives to save enough money to move to New York. That goal is always present in the story, even amidst the ongoing theater that is the Imperial. There are many setbacks along the way, not the least of which is Pond's own indecisiveness at times, but her sincere wish to achieve her goal is never in question.

The constant drama that fuels her time at the Imperial also fuels Pond's storytelling. Break ups and hook ups are commonplace, as are the high emotions that accompany the many romantic betrayals that take place at the restaurant. Pond's own relationship with her boyfriend, Bryan, is a roller coaster of highs and lows until she's finally so fed up that she ends things.

Part of what makes Pond's comics so engaging and relatable is her willingness to offer up her own faults and mistakes to the reader. She's not a removed narrator, above it all, looking down on the riff raff around her. Rather, she's in the fray, sometimes observing, sometimes complicating, and sometimes misunderstanding, but always honest.

Much, if not most, of the dramatics in the story are directly related to drugs. The ease with which everyone is able to procure drugs and the implicit acceptance of drug use, even while working, is central to The Customer Is Always Wrong and cements it in its time period perfectly. When Camille and Neville get caught up in dealing, then stealing drugs, and eventually become addicted to heroin, Pond deftly straddles the line between painting a matter-of-fact picture of the events and normalizing, if not approving, of their choices. Even Lazlo, who manages to convince them to attend a 21-day methadone rehab program sees nothing wrong with doing coke on the way to the clinic.

Later in the book, Lazlo confides to Pond, “Drugs are supposed to make you feel good, help you live better... not ruin your life, right?” It's a statement that encapsulates a great deal about the culture at the time, and the characters' choices, while also foreshadowing the future anti-drug stance that would take hold of the country.

When Lazlo is diagnosed with cancer, there's a shift that takes place for Pond that propels the story forward toward a more active approach to getting out of the Imperial and moving to New York. She's getting pressure from National Lampoon to move and, increasingly, she's losing her romantic suffering artist attachment to the restaurant. Lazlo's illness brings out a maudlin honesty in him that affects Pond greatly, and ultimately, it's the final push she needs to make her decision. Dodging a suspicious request to add a phone line in her house for her art “patrons”, Phyllis and Mitchell (another pair of junkies and dealers), she declines by saying she's moving, and it's confirmation that she's on the right path.

Throughout all of The Customer is Always Wrong Pond's confessional, funny, biting, and overall authentic voice is brought to life with her always expressive ink and watercolor panels. The aqua hue that permeates the work speaks to her singular artistic approach that transcends a biographical work. She imbues her story with insights that speak to many precisely because there's so much specificity and detail to her individual perspective. Seeing the ways in which she interacts with, reacts to, and observes and learns from those around her provides a peek into a mind brimming with curiosity and true affection for other people.

It's easy to get caught up in the lives of Pond and the Imperial crew, awash with constant drama and memorable weirdos, but more than that she has a voice that relates their stories with understanding and kindness. It's a beautiful gift and a wonderful tribute to the time.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image